This morning I wondered what my favourite animal is. A lot of animals fascinate me and I think all of them, large or small are beautiful: from a fragile butterfly, fluttering through the sky, to an immense whale shark slowly moving through our oceans.
Despite my love for all animals, horses remain my favourite animals. Ever since I was a little girl I practised vaulting (gymnastics) on my dear Fjord Etna, after which I took classes in dressage and jumping. When I was old enough I wanted to take care of my own horse and given the horse-friendly area where I grew up in, I easily found one.
I loved taking care of my horse. Hearing her greet me with a neigh would make everything seem worthwhile again. I spent hours playing with her, or lying in the grass next to her, and through those special moments I built an intimate friendship with her.
On the day that she gave birth, I was the only one allowed to be present, which was an experience I will never forget. It is an incredible feeling when you can be this close to an animal and build a relationship with it. You can rightfully assume that I am one of those “horse-obsessed-girls” and that the well-being of horses deeply concerns me.
Recently I came across a documentary called ‘Unbranded’. This documentary portrayed the lives of Mustangs in the USA that are being trained for tracking. The essence of the documentary was positive, although I was shocked by some of the facts.
To give you a short history on Mustangs: they originated from horses that were taken by the conquistadores who brought them from Europe during their explorations around 1492. Before the first Spanish horses arrived, the American continent had not seen any horse species for over 8000 years. The pre-historical horse species had gone extinct by the end of the last ice age (10.000-12.000 years ago).
After the Native American and Mexican population had met the horse, they quickly integrated horses into their lives by capturing and stealing escaped horses. Around the 19th century, when the European economy was declining, many settlers were drawn to the Wild West in search of happiness and fortune (maybe the term gold digger is related to this…).
The wealthy Europeans brought their horses with them and some of these horses escaped or were intentionally released. This caused the blood lines of the Indian horses to mix with the European horses. This was exacerbated when Native Americans were forced to live on reservations, where their horses were not allowed, causing more and more herds to roam around.
It is estimated that around 1900 there were about 2 million wild Mustangs in North-America. Because of the nuisance and the large numbers, it was decided to capture many of them and to sell them to the American army, or to slaughter them to use as dog food.
The cruel method to chase horses with planes and motors was cause for the implementation of the 1959 law to protect the horses, called the ‘First Federal Wild Free-roaming Horse Protection Law’. In 1971 protection was improved through the ‘Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act’, in which it was stated that the Bureau of Land Management would protect, manage, and control the herds.
The current herds of Mustangs are cause for debate: is it a breed that is worthy of protection and conservation, or is it an inferior breed that threatens the existence of other breeds? In addition, many powerful ranchers think that the Mustangs cause a lot of damage to the grasslands by eating the grass that in their opinion is meant for their livestock. They believe this, despite the fact that the Mustangs have always functioned as a support to the opportunistic livestock settlers.
One of the solutions the Bureau of Land Management has come up with is to catch and tame wild Mustangs, especially when herds become too big. The Mustangs can be purchased for a small fee and in order to prevent them from being sold to the slaughter house, as they are still under protection from the ‘Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act’.
The horses that are sold can be recognised by the brand mark on the left side of their neck. Because there are too many Mustangs and not enough potential buyers, the designated areas are overflowing. In 2005 this resulted in an addendum to the law, stating that Mustangs older than 10 years, or Mustangs who have been sold 3 times, are allowed to be sold for slaughter.
The documentary filmmaker, Ben Masters, hopes to illustrate the diversity of the Mustangs with his film and hopes to create a better future for them. I hope that he succeeds and that a happy future awaits these horses.