Part II: For the Love of Wild Horses

Part II in a Series by R.T. Fitch ~ author of “Straight from the Horse’s Heart

Click (HERE) for Part I

A Whisper to the Soul

(Sept. 2009) We had been waiting for quite some time.  The BLM guards told us that the helicopter was bringing in another family band of Pryor Mt. wild horses but the clock continued to tick.  High up atop the observation bluff we equine advocates sat down and crouched behind a feeble jute fence, as ordered,  in an alleged effort to “hide” ourselves from any approaching wild horses that would be some 200 yards away.

We were a small group but a potent one to say the very least, Ginger Kathrens, Ann Evans, Makendra Silverman, Ben Sussman, Pam and Tom Nickoles, Carol Walker, Elyse Gardner, Sandy Elmore, Terry and I were present with others who I may have forgotten to name.  We sat, we waited and we prayed as the guard with the radio said that the helicopter pilot reported that he “had” Cloud and his family.  All of us shared a collective shiver and drop in spirits, Cloud was running for his life.

At first we could hear the sound of the helicopter and after several moments we could see its blades just above a hill about 2 miles away.  It appeared that it would try to progress towards the mouth of the valley and then it would retreat back out of sight and try again, back and forth.  Someone whispered, “Give em hell, Cloud, give em hell.”

Sandy was on my left with a camera in one hand, Terry was on my right with a camera in her free hand as I had both of my hands in their spares and we squeezed hard and held on for dear life while we prayed.

“Run Cloud, Run” I screamed inside my head, “Don’t let them do this, don’t let them win, run free Cloud, run”.  And that’s when we saw them.  Cresting the distant hill like a darting and weaving black snake with a white head came Cloud’s band.  A wiggling and darting line of horses first going to the right and then to the left in a ordered single file line they came down the hill and onto the valley floor.  As we all inhaled a rouge gust of wind burst upon our faces and ripped my hat from my head, it shocked us, it moved us, the feeling of a great spirit rushing through and beyond us riveted us to the ground that we sat upon and no one uttered a sound. We only watched until someone remembered to breath.

Across the valley floor Cloud ran up the hills to his left only to be chased down into the valley by the marauding helicopter so Cloud would run, with family following, up the hills on the right only to be met again by the inhumane chopper.  Back and forth, back and forth went the exhausting game of tag with the band inching ever closer with each pass across the valley.

“Make them work for it, Cloud.” I heard Ginger whisper.

Slowly the giant horse snake worked its way ever closer to the chute of the trap with the funnel of jute fencing that would force the horses into the awaiting jail cell.  Foot by foot they came closer, closer and then close enough for Cattoor to release his “Judas” horse so that it would run into the trap with the wild horses right behind.  Cloud never flinched; he never looked at the traitor to the horses; he simply slowed to walk, looked and realized what was ahead and quickly came to a full stop as his family gathered around him.

We were frozen by his intelligence and transfixed by the moment as Cloud slowly turned and faced the helicopter with a contemptuous stare; it seemed as if the wild horse and the mechanical bird of prey were locked in that deadly glare for hours but I am sure it was only seconds until Cloud slowly turned and walked into the awaiting jail cell with his family close behind.  His speed on his terms, he made his way into the confining pen.

The gate slammed shut, the chopper flew away, the blood had been squeezed out of both of my hands, someone sniffed back a tear and Terry leaned into my right ear with tension and pain behind her strained whisper,

“This cannot go on, this has to stop.” She hissed, “We have to do something.”

Our souls were touched, our hearts were broken and the direction of our lives’ work was forever changed.

Tomorrow Part III: “Why are They Killing All the Wild Horses?”

Oregon Wild Horse Herd Next on BLM Chopping Block

Press Release from The Cloud Foundation

BLM aims Choppers at American Mustangs and young Foals

Pluto with his older brother ~ Photo by Makendra Silverman

Portland, OR (August 18, 2010)—The Stinkingwater wild horse herd of Southeastern Oregon is slated for a near complete removal in a summer helicopter roundup scheduled to begin today. Concerned citizens in Oregon and across the country have been calling for a stop to this unnecessary and costly action. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) proposes to roundup all 214 wild horses and young foals they claim live in the area and release back only 40, leaving 20 stallions and 20 mares. At least one mare with a less than two-week-old foal are in danger from this roundup. Horses will be pushed over miles of rugged country criss-crossed with barbed wire fences in this roundup planned to last five days.

“The range is beautiful with abundant water and forage but it is managed as a cattle ranch- not as a wild horse range”, explains Cloud Foundation Associate Director, Makendra Silverman, who visited the range last week in a Herd-Watch capacity. “I found a less than one-week old foal and named him Pluto, assuming he is the last foal of the season. Running Pluto over these sharp volcanic rocks and rough terrain even a mile could be fatal.”

Although outnumbered 20:1 by privately-owned livestock in Stinkingwater, BLM has determined that only 40 wild horses may live on this 133 square-mile range. Minimal genetically-viable levels are set at 150-200 adult horses. Not one Oregon herd, including the famous Kiger mustangs, have herd levels set above 150.

“We’ve seen this again and again,” explains Cloud Foundation Director, Ginger Kathrens. “BLM sets their ridiculously low “appropriate” management levels at non-viable numbers and then turns around and zeros out the entire wild horse or burro herd for being ‘too small to manage’—the American public wants our wild herds preserved, not destroyed.”

Advocates fear that deaths will occur in Stinkingwater as a helicopter runs panicked horses and foals through a maze of barbed-wire fences.

“In 1990 the Government Accountability Office Report underscored that wild horse removals did not significantly improve range conditions,” explains Kathrens. “The report pointed to cattle as the culprit as they vastly outnumber horses on BLM-managed public lands and reported that wild horse removals are not linked to range conditions, noting the lack of data provided by BLM. Oregon has lost over half of the original wild horse and burro herds designated for protection in 1971.”

“I hope that I might return to find Pluto and his family safe in Stinkingwater- enjoying the precious freedom granted to them by Congress but so often dismissed by the BLM” concludes Silverman.


Links of interest:

Wild Horses: Management or Stampede to Extinction? Reno Gazette Special

Makendra’s blog post “a visit to Stinkingwater”

Wild Horse Roundup Begins in California

PR Firm Hired for the Destruction of America’s Wild Horse and Burro Herds

‘Herd-Watch: Public Eyes for Public Horses’

Wild Horse and Burro Act

Mestengo. Mustang. Misfit. America’s Disappearing Wild Horses

Disappointment Valley… A Modern Day Western Trailer- excellent sample of interviews regarding the issues

Fact Sheet on Wild Herds & The Salazar Plan

Shortlink to this release online:

Shortlink to photos available for download:

Past Cloud Foundation press releases

Photos (online here), video and interviews available from:
The Cloud Foundation, 719-633-3842

The Cloud Foundation is a non-profit dedicated to the preservation and protection of wild horses and burros on our Western public lands with a focus on protecting Cloud’s herd in the Pryor Mountains of Montana.

107 S. 7th St. – Colorado Springs, CO 80905 – 719-633-3842

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Icon of Freedom—Wild Black Stallion Escapes BLM Capture

from our good friends at The Cloud Foundation

"Freedom" after he jumped the pen, caught in barbed wire then dashed to freedom - Craig Downer

Winnemucca, NV (January 6, 2010)—Today the Cloud Foundation honors the Calico wild stallion, named “Freedom” —an inspiration to mustang roundup protestors worldwide. On January 2nd Freedom escaped Bureau of Land Management (BLM capture) by fighting his way out of the roundup corrals, jumping a six-foot fence, and smashing through a barbed wire fence to run fee again in the wild. A storm of protests is growing following on the heels of Las Vegas, San Francisco, Chicago and Ketchum Idaho last week with more planned in Los Angeles and Lexington today, Denver and Albany, NY on Thursday, Boston on Friday and Las Vegas on Sunday. Protests in New York City, London, Santa Barbara, Toronto and Rome are being planned.

Still photos and the corresponding report from Elyse Gardner, humane observer, with ecologist Craig Downer document Freedom’s capture as well as his escape and are available on line. Link here.

“This was an awe-inspiring, do-or-die effort demonstrating the wild horse’s loathing of captivity and his primal need for freedom,” said Craig Downer, Nevada Wildlife Ecologist.

“This wild stallion’s defiance calls us to back him up by telling Congress we refuse to have such actions done in our names,” says Terri Farley, celebrated children’s author of the Phantom Stallion series. “Congress must attach strings to BLM’s budget so that the Bureau is forced to cowboy up and admit our remaining mustangs are not responsible for the damage to the range.”

The Cloud Foundation with 190 other organizations, celebrities and scientists joined by thousands of members of the public from coast-to-coast have called on the President to stop this high-jacking of our American mustangs by a rogue government agency.

“Freedom’s escape has rallied horse advocates across the globe,” says Lise Stampfli Torme, a San Francisco Bay Area Mustang backer adding, “His example is a lesson in values. Just as Freedom has boldly fought for liberty, we will continue to fight the BLM’s outrageous and inhumane roundups as well as their broken range management system that favors ranchers and other commercial interests, placing them above the law and the will of the American people. This must stop. The People’s horses must remain wild and free.”

Despite their federally protected status on legally designated ranges, and an Act of Congress that states the lands on which they roam should be managed “principally” for their use, the Bureau of Land Management is continuing the roundup in Calico. The agency expects to remove more than 2,500 wild horses from Nevada’s last wild horse stronghold—the Calico Mountains.

Wild horse advocates assert that BLM is rushing to roundup 12,000 wild horses and burros based on faulty census figures and what may be a deal made with the builders of a massive natural gas pipeline project—the Ruby Pipeline.  Even BLM personnel have said that the Calico wild horses are not impacting the range as expected, despite their numbers exceeding what they (BLM) term “appropriate management levels.“ Cloud Foundation and other mustang and burro advocates dispute the BLM horse levels citing an internal system that is deeply flawed, arbitrary and indiscriminately applied without benefit of proper environmental review. (Full report and link to testimony online here).

“The BLM is spending more than $30 million dollars to quickly eradicate an irreplaceable piece of American living history. I ask myself, what’s the rush? Is it only pressure from ranchers? Does the BLM fear the ROAM Act will pass? Is it to clear the land for the Ruby Pipeline project, or is it something else?” asks Ginger Kathrens, Executive Director, The Cloud Foundation.

President Obama continues to stonewall on the issue, with only a “no comment” from his spokesperson following months of requests from the American public for his intervention.

Links of interest:

Freedom’s Escape & Roundup Report:

Video Overview of Calico horses and current roundup

Video Footage of Calico Roundup

12.28.09 USA Today: “Activists Decry Wild-Horse Roundups”

Mestengo. Mustang. Misfit.

America’s Disappearing Wild Horses

Frequently Asked Questions on Wild Horses


Ruby Pipeline Information


Stampede to Oblivion: An Investigate Report from Las Vegas Now  (

Craig Downer, wildlife ecologist: interview Nevada roundup (

Crunching Calico- An American Herds Report


Updated 2009-2010 Roundup Schedule

Unified Moratorium letter and signatories


Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971


Photos, video and interviews available from:

The Cloud Foundation

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Equine Welfare Alliance and The Cloud Foundation ask Senator Durbin for Help as Wild Horse Roundup Begins

Cloud: Even the BLM cannot break his spirit - Photo by Terry Fitch

Chicago, IL – December 30, 2009—American wild horse and burro advocates, The Cloud Foundation (TCF) and the Chicago-based Equine Welfare Alliance (EWA) are organizing a peaceful gathering today in Chicago. The public will assemble at noon in front of Senator Dick Durbin’s office at 230 South Dearborn in Chicago asking the Senator to help halt the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) massive roundup of thousands of mustangs living in the half million acre Calico Mountain Complex area in northwestern Nevada. The wild horse capture began Monday, December 28, despite a federal court ruling recommending that the action be postponed.

Monkia Courtney and Susan Sutherland during Pryor Mt. Roundup - Photo by Terry Fitch

“We’re having this peaceful assembly to tell our government we want to stop this unprecedented winter Calico roundup. It will assault the last stronghold of America’s wild horses. Despite federal law that protects them, they have been relegated to the most inhospitable areas of the range.  Still, they have adapted and survived. The BLM is handling an American treasure callously, without regard for what Americans want. We want Senator Durbin’s help to pass a moratorium on all roundups, including Calico, until the American public and Congress can craft a sustainable future for our legendary wild horses and burros.” —The majority of wild horses captured are in good condition. Despite federal protection, wild horses have been relegated to the most inhospitable areas of the range. Still, they have adapted and survived.Susan Sutherland, Chicago Area resident and Cloud Foundation member.

The Cloud Foundation and over 190 organizations, authors and celebrities, including Sheryl Crow, Viggo Mortenson, Lily Tomlin, Bill Maher and others, are calling for an immediate moratorium on roundups until the American public works with Congress to craft a sustainable plan that protects and preserves wild herds on public lands in the West.

The BLM has acknowledged that at least half of the Calico roundup will be held on private land where the public will be unable to view the roundup. The Cloud Foundation discovered this two days before the roundup’s scheduled start.  Despite a public statement to the contrary by the BLM wild horse and burro program chief Don Glenn on December 7, 2009, the public is prohibited from viewing.

All of our gathers are open to the public. The public is invited to come watch all the time.” Said Don Glenn of the BLM.  Glenn delivered this message to wild horse advocates as an unannounced planned roundup was already underway in Northern Nevada.

Emmy Award Winner Ginger Kathrens of The Cloud Foundation - Photo by R.T. Fitch

“We are hopeful that Senator Durbin will see through the BLM lies and deception and stop this unnecessary and cruel winter roundup. It insults the democratic process if BLM gets away with this. They have betrayed the trust of the American public.” —Ginger Kathrens, Executive Director of The Cloud Foundation and filmmaker for the popular PBS Nature programs detailing the birth and life of Cloud, the pale palomino stallion well-known to Americans.

In his December 23, 2009 decision, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Friedman recommended that BLM postpone the Calico roundup of 2,700 horses in the more than half million acre Calico Mountains Complex in northwestern Nevada. BLM will instead, move forward to remove 80-90 percent of the estimated 3,000 horses living in the Calico Mountain wild horse complex. Low-flying helicopters will chase the horses over dangerous winter terrain into traps and temporary corrals. Respiratory illnesses, permanent injury and death are expected as horses are run, possibly over long distances, and foals are separated from their mothers.

“This is a devious ploy to displace the wild horses from their legal herd areas. It is very vicious and must be exposed and stopped.” —Craig Downer, Nevada Wildlife Ecologist and member of EWA

The government agency entrusted to manage our public land shows their disregard towards the U.S. District Court by going ahead with the roundup. In denying public access to the Calico roundup—one of the most controversial roundups—BLM also shows their disregard towards the public right to observe, by carrying out the largest-ever wild horse capture, defying what federal law requires: notification, transparency and the public right to offer comment.  The public insists that BLM has gone too far.

“To start this large-scale roundup on private land where members of the pubic are forbidden to attend, allows the BLM to hide the suffering and death that will happen during the capture of the mustangs.  The public outcry over this roundup has been massive, but this government agency is behaving as though they are accountable to no one, not the public, not even Congress.” — Mark Traverso, Chicago area resident and advocate.

Makendra Silverman (TCF) and R.T. Fitch (EWA/HfH) discuss BLM tatctics during Pryor Mt. gather - Photo by Terry Fitch

Little trust is left in the agency that has been charged by Congress to manage what many call the living history of the American West. Protests are being organized around the globe with the San Francisco event expected to be the largest.

“The whole world is watching—people are outraged by the latest assault on America’s wild horses. Protests are springing up worldwide: San Francisco ,London, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boulder, CO and Sun Valley Idaho, so far.” —Makendra Silverman, Associate Director of The Cloud Foundation

The Chicago based Equine Welfare Alliance that represents over 85 organizations and hundreds of individuals throughout the US, Canada, the  UK, South Africa and Australia will be represented at the assembly.

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Ginger Kathrens Brings Wild Horse Drama to Chicago

Wild Horse Advocate and Emmy Award-Winning Filmmaker, Ginger Kathrens Screens Latest Cloud Film in Chicago

Filmmaker Hailed as the Jane Goodall for the American Wild Mustang - Photo by R.T. Fitch

Chicago, IL (December 10, 2009)—Ginger Kathrens brings wild horse drama to Chicago this weekend with a series of screenings and public appearances for all ages beginning today through December 13th. Last Monday the filmmaker joined many other critics of Department of Interior Secretary Salazar’s proposal to move 25,000 American wild horses and burros from their native ecosystems in the West to pastures and corrals in the Midwest and East at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Advisory Board meeting in Reno, NV. Kathrens, who has studied and filmed the mustangs in their natural environment for more than 15 years, welcomes the Chicago area public to learn about the American wild mustang—their lives, their families and the threat of extinction they are facing now.
“15 years ago I set out to do a film about wild horses. My fascination with these amazing animals grows stronger every year as I discover more and more about their behavior and survival strategies. Yet, the existence of entire wild horse herds is threatened by BLM decisions allowing privately owned livestock to dominate the use of public lands designated principally for wild horses. —Ginger Kathrens, Emmy-award winning filmmaker and creator of the popular PBS Cloud Documentaries.
Kathrens’ latest documentary film, Cloud: Challenge of the Stallions, premiered on PBS’s Nature series, sponsored by WNET in New York City in October 2009.  This latest film is part of her series focusing on a small, historic wild horse herd in the Rocky Mountains and the pale palomino stallion, Cloud. The documentaries represent the only known documentation of a wild animal from birth in our hemisphere. The programs follow Cloud from the day he was born through the seasons of his life amongst the colorful wild horses of the Pryors, a remote herd with unique Spanish bloodlines.
“The American public loves mustang stories—the drama of their lives, their struggle for survival and their ability to remain strong and free, even in harsh conditions.  These wild horses are a living metaphor of our collective will to remain free, defy adversity and overcome sometimes impossible odds.” —Ginger Kathrens
In light of the controversial BLM winter roundups now going on in California (Dec. 7-14) and scheduled to start in Nevada (Dec. 28), Ginger Kathrens joins with Sheryl Crow, Lily Tomlin, Bill Maher and other celebrities as well as scientists and more than 175 organizations asking President Obama for a moratorium on wild horse roundups until a long-term solution to protect and preserve wild horses on public lands in the west is formalized.
“Ginger Kathrens is the Jane Goodall for the American wild mustang.  She is a naturalist, witness, advocate, educator and filmmaker.”—Sheryl Crow
Schedule of Events
  • Thursday evening, December 10- Cloud: Challenge of the Stallions, screening and discussion with the filmmaker, 7:30 p.m., Trinity United Methodist Church, 1024 Lake Avenue, Wilmette. Free
  • Friday evening, December 11 – Cloud: Challenge of the Stallions, screening and presentation, 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m., University of Illinois Conference Center – 1100 E. Warrenville Road, Naperville. $10 ($5 students)
  • Saturday morning, December 12 – Book, DVD signing and discussion with Ginger Kathrens. 10:00 a.m, The Book Stall, 811 Elm Street, Winnetka. Free
  • Saturday afternoon, December 12 – Cloud: Challenge of the Stallions, screening and presentation, 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., Hoffman Estates Northern Illinois University Conference Center, 5555 Trillium Blvd., Hoffman Estates $10 ($5 students)
  • Sunday morning, December 13 – A Stable-side Chat with Ginger Kathrens: film clips interwoven with discussion. 10:30am-12:30pm at Danada Equestrian Center – 3 South 501 Naperville Rd, Wheaton, IL $10 ($5 students).
  • No tickets or RSVP required
Of interest:
NY Times: US Plan for Wild Horse Round-Up Faces Opposition
Unified Moratorium letter and signatories
The Cloud Foundation and Ginger Kathrens
Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971
2009-2010 Roundup Schedule
Frequently Asked Questions on Wild Horses
Photos, video and interviews available from:
The Cloud Foundation
719-351-8187 or
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