Horse Health

Movie Review: Wild Horses & Renegades

Review by Richard Marcus as printed in Blog Critics

“BLM condemns themselves through their own actions and words”

A few years back I wrote an article about the threat to America’s wild horses in general and the small herd of Mustangs on the Blackjack Mountain preserve in Oklahoma in particular. At that time I laid the blame for the mismanagement of one of America’s greatest natural resources at the feet of the Bureau Of Land Management (BLM) and their close ties to corporations buying leases on public land to run livestock. The BLM is supposedly responsible for the stewardship of all wild lands not currently national parks owned by the federal government in trust for the people of the United States. The acts which govern the terms of their stewardship spell out they are supposed to treat them in manner sensitive to the existing ecosystems. One of the pieces of legislation which applies to these territories is the Wild Free-Roaming Horse And Burro Act passed in 1971 that was designed to preserve existing populations of wild horses and burros on all government owned lands.

Unfortunately it seems the BLM have an awfully interesting interpretation of the terms of their remit and have done everything in their power to reduce the numbers of horses in the wild and find as many ways as possible to contravene not only the spirit of the law, but the letter as well. In my article of 2008, I mistakenly blamed agribusiness as the biggest co-conspirator in this effort to defraud the American public. However, while it is true they have quite a bit of pull within the BLM, they at least aren’t actively destroying the environment which the horses depend on for survival. After all, they too need the pasture land and clean water the horses require. It turns out the real problem is the fact the BLM have been hard at work selling off the last of America’s wilderness to oil, gas and mining companies.Nothing says wildlife preserve quite like uranium tailings, polluted water, radioactive waste, pools of sulphuric acid, strip mining, oil wells and a night sky light up by the flames from natural gas stand pipes. Yet while everyone’s backs are turned that’s what is happening all across the American West. From Colorado through Montana, Utah down through to Nevada and New Mexico the land is being doled out to responsible environmentalists like BP (remember the Gulf oil spill?) and their friends in the Oil and Gas business. Disappointment Valley in Colorado has a new crop – survey spikes staking out claims for Uranium mines. (There’s still a law on the books that dates back to the gold rush days that allows prospectors to lay claim to any land not privately owned in order to set up a mining operation. Once they’ve laid a claim all they need do is apply to the BLM for permission to “lease” the land and they can begin mining operations. Of course once their lease is expired the country gets it back, but unfortunately these tenants aren’t required to return the property in the same shape they found it and nobody else seems to want to clean up after them.)

It would be nice to say I’m just making this up off the top of my head and there’s no proof to substantiate any of what I’m saying, but the truth of the matter is the picture is actually a lot worse than the one I’ve been painting. All you need do is watch the soon-to-be released documentary Wild Horses And Renegades (It will have its premiere May 12  at the International Wildlife Film Festival in Missoula Montana at the Wilma Theatre at 7:00pm.) to find out not only the depth of the BML’s duplicity when it comes to their management of America’s wild lands, but the seriousness of the situation facing the few remaining horses and burros in the wild. I have to warn you though, I’ve recommended to my wife that she not watch the movie, and if you are at all easily upset by scenes of blatant cruelty to animals either be prepared to close your eyes at short notice or to have your heart broken and your stomach turned periodically. While director James Kleinert has done his best to make this movie an homage to the horses he so obviously loves, he has made the decision not to hide the truth of their situation from the viewer.

The ugly truth includes footage from slaughter houses just across the border Mexico where supposedly protected animals somehow end up, the repulsive manner in which the animals are “humanely” rounded up for removal and their treatment by BLM employees rounding them up. While not as visually ugly, truths obtained through the freedom of information act regarding the BLM’s aims and objectives for the wild horse herds, are equally disturbing as they talk about how they can best circumvent the laws meant to preserve the horses. Not only do these documents reveal an orchestrated campaign of disinformation they outline possible ways of removing animals from the wild and subsequently selling them to slaughter. You see in 2004 an amendment (The Burns Amendment, named for its sponsor Senator Conrad Burns of Montana) to the Wild Horse And Burro act was tagged onto the appropriation bill in the Senate that once again allowed for the slaughter of wild horses where it had been originally prohibited. Any animal the BLM considers excess they can now sell for slaughter no matter if its healthy or not.

What makes the movie so powerful are not just the images, too many shots of abuse and they’d lose their power to shock us. Kleinert has very wisely divided the movie up between testimony from a mixture of experts, celebrities and even interviews with BLM mouthpieces and employees, footage of wild horses on the range, images of how the West is being lost to industry and the way the BLM treats the horses under their stewardship. The experts range from former BLM employees who had the gall to believe their job was to protect the areas under their stewardship and were let go, members of Congress from the affected regions – Democrats – who want to see changes made to the way the BLM operates, people working to preserve both the horse and burro population and the wild lands, to ranchers who have seen the lands they used to run cattle on destroyed by pollution. Each of them peel away another layer of the carefully constructed skin of lies spun by the BLM of how everything they do is for the good of the animals and the land.

Of the celebrities, Viggo Mortensen, Sheryl Crow, Willie Nelson, author Scott Momaday and Raul Trujillo make intelligent and impassioned pleas based on facts and the need to conserve something supposedly precious and unique to America. So many pay lip service to the idea of the wide open spaces and how the West is emblematic of the spirit of America, yet most have no problem standing by and letting it be destroyed. The BLM position, as expressed by employees and those who support their policies, of looking at everything in terms of whether or not it is useful is not one conducive to preserving the wild intact. In fact it’s a philosophy which puts them at odds with their directive of stewarding the land and its inhabitants as any horse they deem not “useful” is now slated for slaughter.The smartest thing director Kleinert has done in this movie is to simply let the BLM condemn themselves through their own actions and words. Listening and watching their high handed behaviour in dealing with public complaints, hearing about the repeated cases of conflict of interest and mismanagement documented by the government’s internal auditors, the number of ex-oil company officials who lobby and work in the Department of the Interior under whose auspices the BLM fall and then watching footage of their safe and humane roundups tells the viewer all we need to know.Right from the start Kleinert makes no bones about his own personal bias – this film is pro-wild horse and preserve the wild lands and doesn’t care who knows it. It is an impassioned plea to his fellow citizens to do something about preserving a part of their country’s heritage and a warning that those who have been entrusted with that responsibility are failing them badly. Movies like this one are important as they expose ugly truths we might never find out otherwise. It’s one thing to listen to people talk about something, it’s another thing all together to see it with your own eyes. I seriously doubt you’ll come away from watching this movie unmoved. Hopefully it can motivate enough people to make their voices heard and help preserve the American wild horse and the land it needs for survival.

(Those wishing to reserve a copy of the DVD of this movie when it is released can do so by filling out a form at the film’s web site.)

20 replies »

  1. Great review, Richard. Thanks James Kleinert for putting your life on hold to make this film. I know it will make a difference once people start to see this. This film is needed.

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  2. Thank you RT for sharing this well written review .
    Thank You , James Kleinert and ALL participants too .

    This film will undoubtedly add additional voices of objection to the actions of the SLIMY RULING POWER’s that are Hell bent on DESTROYING the land and it’s inhabitants !!
    Sadly , there is Small chance and Little hope that any thing other than knowledge will be gained from this film , IF the MANY,
    RULING , individuals
    responsible for all this Death and Destruction ,are not removed from their RULING POWER !!!

    “How long will the land lie parched and the grass in every field be withered? Because those who live in it are wicked, the animals and birds have perished.” Jeremiah 12:4

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  3. This is what the American public will respond to. Impassioned plea with strength of purpose and understanding to connect the dots. Intelligent and well spoken enough to call it what it is. Follow this. Buy the DVD and give it to your friends and groups. Ask your local theatre to show.

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  4. Any effort FOR the horses is good news. If the DVD is not too expensive, I will purchase 2–one for me –and one for Pres. Obama 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington DC 20500. This would be wonderful family entertainment–educational,emotional,revealing. Remember Pres. Obama– you CAN stop this –and over 70,000 of us want you to make it stop!. If you can destroy an enemy in a far away land, then you can SAVE a national treasure in the USA. Yes You Can! I could/would make it stop in a nano-second. If it were a football issue, would you be more inclined to take an interest? just asking…..

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    • “family entertainment”….better watch it first….there are some pretty tough scenes in it….traumatic….true…..but traumatic….

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      • I did mean that with sarcasm– where will Obama’s family go to see “wild horses wild” after BLM destroys them….. and daughters/women are big supporters of horses……. wild/domestic….. how would the WH conversation go after viewing this film?? …….Pres. Obama is in charge of the future–or extinction– of our wild horses… it’s happening on his watch..

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  5. THank you R.T. and James Kleinert for the review. I cried for the eight horses that we were so brutually burned to death because their owner was thought to be gay. To kill the horses like they did only shows the horrible human race for what many have become. THose poor animals. I, therefore, could not watch this money without bursting to tears. But, I hope it brings to bear the disgusting agency we have in the BLM and its employees who look at themselves each day in the mirror and don’t see themselves as a KILLER. May God treat them for what they have done and I hope it is ten times worse than the poor animals pain and I still think it is too good for them, that it should be even worse. God willing, we will eventually win over the BLM and their disgusting employees. I just hope we save most of our wild horses and burros before it is too late. Dear God, please help us stop this insanity.

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  6. I hope this movie isn’t too late to help save our wild horses. At the rate they are being wiped I think they already qualify to be listed as endangered. I have ordered the DVD and will share it.

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  7. I wish it could be shown in theaters nationwide!! And, as far as endangered goes, since the stupid government doesn’t consider the wild horses & burros as “wildlife”, I doubt they would ever even think about that! Our government/BLM only wants to eradicate them from the wild, they are animal haters, & probably will never change!Any change for these beautiful creatures is in OUR hands, we can never give up!

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    • Our government declared them as a wild and free roaming, protected species. They have never been declared ‘not wild life’ by our government. BLM plays with words so much; definitions implying other than what is true. Nevada anti wild horse people must feel the few advocates there have invaded and are in danger of taking their under-the -table resource off their hands. Those Nevadans want to deny us the very rightful existence of publicly recognized and federally protected species?? Doesn’t that sound like a stretch??? Fences cannot be built without applications and red tape (although I bet the red tape is no obstacle at times) That takes time. Since there are maybe only one fifth the number of wild horses in Nevada right now as there was about 10 years ago, and I base this on losses and zeroing out and overall decline in numbers What is the big deal about the horses that are now left in Nevada???? Just an educated guess. BLM was supposed to stop at 26,000, the first inaccurate number BLM claimed was in the wild after the ’71 Act was passed.

      Do we actually allow the BLM to take the total number of horses in the wild below 6,000 in 8 states? There was no reason why the wild horses could not be put on the endangered species list Until states decided to gut the Endangered Species in order to de-list wolves. We have consistently seen states attempting to trump the feds… and the horses are under the feds.

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  8. I PERSONALLY FEEL AND PROBABLY YOU WILL DISAGREE WITH ME BUT WE MUST WORK TO GET AS MANY OF THESE HORSES INTO SANCTUARIES AS WE CAN. UNTIL THIS GOVERNMENT/BLM HAS A COMPLETE MAKEOVER AND CHANGES PERSONNEL WE ARE FIGHTING AGAINST ALL ODDS. SALAZAR IS NOT ONLY TRYING TO DESTROY THE HORSES BUT OTHER WILD ANIMALS EVEN BIRDS. ONCE THIS AGENCY COMES UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT WITH PEOPLE THAT HAVE A DIFFERENT MIND SET THEN THE WILD HORSES CAN BE RELEASED.

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  9. Very telling. I am wondering if copies of the DVD’s are being sent to Congress,the GOA, the President, and all the President’s men, DJ, FBI, and Interior IG.

    For those of you not aware of it, there is currently a bill in the House Committee of Natural Resources to protect the wild horses of Corolla, NC. Reading the testimony given in the committee was informative with regard to Interior’s strategy. These horses are cared for by s private organization and are not under the control of BLM in any way. However, part of their grazing area is part of am wildlife “refuge” managed by USFWS. USFWS wants to cut the herd size to 60, which all of us following R. T.’s site and information trail, know is non-viable. USfWS, not having been charged with the mission of caring form these horses makes no bones about it’s contention that all equines in the US are feral. Not just wild feral (as the word is sometimes used), but feral in the sense that these horses are not indigenous to the US and can not be considered.

    According to the 2010 book published by the John Hopkins Press, The Rise of the Horse, 55 Million Years of Evolution, by Jenz Frazen, wild horse ancestor fossils date back 55 million years in North America. The author does not state where the very first horse came from. However, he did say that without question horses evolved here. Through the 55 million years of evolution, more in tact fossil remains and pieces of fossil remains have been discovered here than any other region, country, or area on Earth. Not only have there more large areas of equine fossil finds, there are apparently more fossils that reveal an ever adapting series of horse ancestors. He describes horse evolution as more like a shrub than a line. In fact, one of the evolutionary stories that most supports Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is the large number of changes, particularly in the structure of the feet and change in head structure as horses adapted from leaf eaters to grass grazers. One of the early points in this book is trying to help the reader try to understand just how long 55 million years is, and in that context, how very slowly change took place. Frazen also includes theories such as plate tectonics and the Earth’s long history of naturally increasing and decreasing temperature shifts (some refer to this as Global Warming, but it looks like that is far too simple a term for such a recurring phenomenon).

    Anyway, if you are interested in the historical, paleontological, biological, and geological origins of the horse, this is a fascinating book. I purchased mine from the National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian) December 2010. The clerk who sold it told me that it is a wonderful book.

    Although Frazen locates earliest or oldest fossils of the modern horse known as Equus here in North America, he states that newer or younger fossils of Equus have also been found in Europe. He states that there were likely many subspecies of Equus here, he mentions only a few of them.

    An article appeared in Publications of the National Academy of Sciences (2010) reviewing a study performed by the Genome Project at the University Copenhagen dates the last horses in North America much later than most walker estimations. This study found equine DNA in the Alaskan Yukon region of horses that indicated that horses may have been living in North America much later than the Pleistocene Period into the modern period as recently as 6,700 years ago. A second detail which I found almost as fascinating as the fact that horses had survived much later than previously believed, was a chart that indicated that the DNA markers uncovered from these frozen ground layers was a 96 percent likely match to Equus caballus. This directly contradicts USFWS assertion that Equus caballus arrived in North America when the Conquistadors brought them.

    However, there are plenty of us that would dispute 6,700 years missing from a 55,000,000 year history is enough to quibble with, particularly since we know that these animals traveled regularly across land bridges from North America to Siberia and South America as well as the Thune Bridge that connected North America to Europe via Greenland, Iceland, and the Shetland Islands. There is even a possibility that Europe and North America may have been even more joined together (2010 Frazen). There is absolutely no question that Equus evolved primarily in North America. Some stages of evolution happened in Europe, Africa, and Asia. But North America can easily lay claim to being the historical, evolutionary home of the horse.

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  10. I wanted to provide more exact information on the links I referred to above. I was traveling and using my I-Pad.

    The Rise of Horses – 55 million years of evolution by Jens Lorenz Franzen (translated by Kirsten M Brown)
    Johns Hopkins University Press
    Hardcover 2010, 213pp incl credits, RRP $US65
    ISBN: 0801893739
    EAN: 9780801893735

    A review of this book can be found at http://www.horsetalk.co.nz/reviews/120-theriseofhorses.shtm

    James Haile, Duane G. Froese, Ross D. E. MacPhee, Richard G. Roberts, Lee J. Arnold, Alberto V. Reyes, Morten Rasmussen, Rasmus Nielsen, Barry W. Brook, Simon Robinson, Martina Demuro, M. Thomas P. Gilbert, Kasper Munch, Jeremy J. Austin, Alan Cooper, Ian Barnes, Per Möller, and Eske Willerslev a

    Centre for GeoGenetics, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen 2100, Denmark; bDepartment of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Alberta,
    Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2E3, Canada; cDivision of Vertebrate Zoology, American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY 10024; dCentre for
    Archaeological Science, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, NSW 2522, Australia; eDepartment of
    Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720; fThe Environment Institute, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of
    Adelaide, Adelaide, SA 5005, Australia; gAustralian Centre for Ancient DNA, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, SA 5005, Australia; hSchool of Biological
    Sciences, Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, Surrey TW20 0EX, United Kingdom; and iGeoBiosphere Science Centre, Department of
    Geology/Quaternary Sciences, Lund University, S-223 62 Lund, Sweden
    Communicated by P. Buford Price, University of California, Berkeley, CA,

    October 31, 2009 (received for review June 30, 2009)

    Ancient DNA reveals late survival of mammoth and horse in interior Alaska

    PNAS 2009 : 0912510106v1-pnas.0912510106.

    Click to access 0912510106.full.pdf

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