Born to Run! Wild At Heart: Mustangs and the Young People Fighting to Save Them by Terri Farley
THE OLD BLACK MARE SENSES TROUBLE IN THE QUACKING AIR.
FAR OUT ON THE RANGE, GIANT HEARTBEATS PULSE. SHE CAN'T IDENTIFY THE SOUND--THE POUNDING OF MECHANICAL ROTORS ON A TEAM OF HELICOPTERS. SHE CAN'T KNOW THAT A ROUNDUP HAS BEGUN.
THE LEAD MARE SQUEALS IN WARNING. THE GOLDEN DUN STALLION SPOTS BRIGHTNESS FLASHING OFF THE WHIRLING ROTORS AND GIVES A QUESTIONING SNORT. THE LEADER'S SQUEALS AND SNORTS SEND ALARM CRASHING THROUGH THE BAND. A PREGNANT MARE FLINCHES AT THE THINGS CIRCLING LIKE CARRION EATERS. THE BAND RUNS.
PAIN FROM RUNNING ON THE ROCKS SEARS THE OLD MARE'S FORELEGS. HER PACE SLOWS UNTIL ONLY TWO FOALS TRAIL BEHIND HER. CALLING FOR MOTHERS THEY CAN'T SEE, THE LITTLE ONES STILL TRUST HER TO LEAD THEM OUT OF DANGER. THE BLACK MARE'S CRIPPLED GAIT PROVOKES ANOTHER SWOOPING ATTACK, BUT THE FOALS STILL FOLLOW. SHE GIVE A BUCK, AND HER STIFF SPINE GOES CRACK, RETURNING THE MONSTER'S CHALLENGE. SHE WILL WATCH OVER THE FOALS. IT IS THE LAW.
Something about such a roundup just seems wrong. To those who have witnessed a wild horse collection, euphemistically called a "gathering" by the Bureau of Land Management, and have heard the anguished cries of the mares calling their foals, the screams of the little ones separated from their mothers, the shrieks of the stallions who cannot protect their families from the attack from the sky, it just feels dead wrong.
Until recently, there was a biological argument for removal. The mustangs, wild horses of the West, were considered feral animals, interlopers left behind by the Spanish conquistadors, the army and the pioneers, an "exotic" species which did not belong on the western range, animals to be rounded up, sold as mounts, or worse, sold to slaughter houses that cater to pet food manufacturers or those in the world with a taste for horse flesh.
New archaeological and genetic science has shown that wild horses, E. caballus, originated in North America* and spread across the land bridge to Eurasia, and indeed only disappeared, because of the hunting of those humans who also made use of that land bridge, only 8,000 to 10,000 years before they were re-introduced to the land by European explorers and settlers. As such, America's wild horses are not an invasive species, to be uprooted and removed to make room for cattle and development. Their grazing habits are good for the dry range, promoting vegetation growth that holds water lost under the close cropping of cattle. They are native and belong in the ecology of their ancient homeland.
Terri Farley's Wild at Heart: Mustangs and the Young People Fighting to Save Them (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015) is an impassioned plea, not just for humane treatment but the recognition that our wild horses have come home, that they are in their rightful place in our land. Farley begins with the story of Wild Horse Annie, Velma Bronn, the first advocate for mustang conservation, and continues with the growth of youth advocacy for wild horses today though organizations like YEA in which children and teen advocates work for the rights of mustangs to a free life and the rights of Americans to see them running free together. "The last wild horse in America may already have been born," Farley reports, and it is up to those of us alive now to see that this prediction, that the wild horses of America face yet another extinction at the hands of humans, will not come to pass. Says School Library Journal, "An urgent call to action, supported with detailed endnotes and a substantial bibliography."
*Amazingly, the vastly different breeds of horses that came together in North America since 1500 combined, by virtue of their common DNA, into a single common type, some even exhibiting the black legs and strip down the back pictured in ancient cave drawings.