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article imageThey shoot horses, don't they? Special

By Larry Clifton     Apr 16, 2009 in Travel
We saw them at the most inopportune times, usually while navigating twisting two-lane roads through rugged mountain passes in Nevada and New Mexico.
On our recent cross-country RV trip , Leigh and I became emotionally attached to them. The wild horses were usually moving fast in tight herds, as though the group’s destination was telepathically broadcast among them.
Had I unhooked the Jeep and gave chase for photos they would be long gone, even if the rocky desert terrain did not shred my tires. Once we saw a group loitering after drinking water along the edge of Lake Walter in Nevada, but they were too far away to photograph.
Spending time with these living American icons of the West requires time and patience. Contacting someone who understands herd locations and movement is important as successful photographers often hike for miles in the desert. On the next trip, I will take the time to find them and observe their equine grace from close.
The horses are somewhat smaller than domestic breeds, but just as colorful and of course unbroken in spirit. Their long disheveled manes blowing in the wind as they gallop across the prairie seems a wild tribute to their freedom. Observing these beautiful animals living on hundreds of square miles of western badlands is awesome. They suddenly appear and often disappear as quickly, leaving only a cloud of dust as they move through canyons in search of the next oasis.
The wild burros have long ears, short legs and wide saggy-backed bodies. During the gold rush days, they carried supplies for prospectors and railroad companies across harsh desert terrain. Because of their hardiness, many survived after their owners perished. Today, their offspring continue to live in the desert basins and high plains of western states.
Despite various adoption programs, these magnificent horses and burros remain endangered species. Urban sprawl, industrialization and the ever-increasing human population threatens their very existence. Each year, more wild horses and burros are rounded up and killed by those who consider them a nuisance.
There are various organizations and people who understand their plight better than me, but just knowing they're still out there like ghosts of our earlier culture makes me think of them.
Somehow, seeing occasional herds out there struggling to stay alive and together, as families if you will, was deeply moving for me. Wild horses and burros are descendants of the animals that carried early American explorers, farmers, and families west. These precious animals are forever intimately linked to our American heritage.
Just as we pay tribute to Pony Express riders for delivering the US mail across rugged, lawless badlands, we should honor their steeds whose offspring still roam those very canyons. Rounding them up and shooting them seems un-American to me. Actually, it seems inhuman. Nevertheless, that is the reality. Maybe together can change some hearts and stir compassion for these wonderful creatures.
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