This is where I want to link our first podcast episode.
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There was something really beautiful about going to the Cedar Mountain Herd roundup.
Despite knowing what the day had in store and the tragedy I was about to witness on the second day, driving through the herd lands at sunrise to get to the viewing area, I felt undeniable peace. There was so much beauty in the wild Utah landscape, and as we drove father and father away from the main road towards the remote trap site, I felt a deep connection to the natural world around me. When we finally parked and started to hike up to the viewing area, I was fully enraptured by the morning’s beauty and natural world around me.
The sun was rising over the mountain ridge, streaking rays of light through the strip of fog below. Snow seemed to float off the mountaintops as clouds and snowy mountain peaks blended as one. Turn around, and an almost full moon shown bright in the morning sky. Crisp air cooled and cleaned my lungs, and I felt alive.
During our downtime at the viewing point between roundups, I couldn’t help but feel that particular bliss that comes from spending time outside. Nature has a particular way of calming and centering us in a way I feel most of have forgotten. With nothing else to do but wait and “be” outside on these wild lands, I couldn’t help but feel happy and content for no particular reason.
I am a very outdoorsy person. I am lucky enough to spend most of my waking hours outside for my work. However, this outdoor experience felt different, and it was so incredibly special. There was something about these truly wild lands that captivated me in a way I hadn’t experienced in a long time. These lands… these wild and sacred grounds… they reconnected me with something deeper in myself, something I hadn’t even realized was missing.
Sitting outside without the distractions of the Internet or cell service, I naturally tapped in to a simpler, deeper facet of myself. At times, I even seemed to forget where I was or why I was there and found myself in the present moment of it all. It sounds a little cliché, but it was actually quite profound to find myself in such a simple, deeply connected state. Somehow, being out in this natural world was enough – and I was enough. At times, the experience felt nothing short of blissful.
And so, I felt jerked rapidly and forcefully out of these beautiful moments every time another band of horses was being chased, tapped, and abducted off this sacred land of theirs. Every time I witnessed another truckload of horses hauled off the beautiful open range to a world of metal panels and cramped holding pens, it felt like a disturbing and personal violation I wasn’t fully expecting.
The peace I had felt faded into the distance like the truck and trailer disappearing into the horizon.
These beings that know the sacredness of this land more than anyone – who are as much a part of this natural world as the mountains and the sky – are disappearing at alarming rates. We are destroying the horses and the land, and soon, both may fade into simple memories of this earth.
Along with the horses, we are losing the wild places on this earth. We are replacing wildlife with cattle farming and striping the earth of her natural resources.
I don’t think we really understand how vital these lands are to our own piece of mind. I had forgotten, or perhaps never even realized, just how badly I craved time in this natural world – how healing and wonderful it is to reconnect with our nature in this way. It was cleansing and eye opening. I am craving to go back. I found pieces of myself out there I had lost touch with in our modern culture.
If we continue down this path, we will lose invaluable aspects of our lives that we will not be able to restore. Before that happens, we must ask ourselves:
Is this really the world we want to live in?
Do we really want to lose all that is wild and beautiful in the name of profit?
Can money really replace the magnificence and connection we will lose forever, both in our world and in ourselves?
We are as much a part of this natural world as the clouds above and the grass below – We are as wild the horses we admire and the mountains we climb. We are not outside of nature – we are nature. Just like all life on this planet earth, we are a part of her balance, whether we have forgotten that fact or not.
When we hurt fellow animals, we hurt ourselves. When we destroy the earth, our home, we destroy ourselves.
When we lose the wild outside, we lose the wild within… and that is a truly tragic notion.
The Cedar Mountain Herd roundup in Utah ended early this month due to bad weather with strong winds.
They did not find nor catch the paint mare who escaped the roundup last Sunday. After being separated from her herd, pursued singly by a helicopter, roped by a wrangler, and consequentially crashing through a barbed wire fence, the mare escaped capture with a dragging lasso hanging from her neck. I wrote about her story in a blog post I will link here.
I heard today that the BLM never found this spirited mare, and that she is still out there in the wild with this rope hanging around her neck.
I worry so much for her. If this rope gets caught or stuck on something out in the wild, she could be strangled or get tangled up & stuck in a place where she does not have access to food and water. It haunts me to think of all of the ways this mare has and may continue to suffer.
I hope so very much that she finds a way to get out of this lasso and joins a new band where she can live in peace. I really hope.
After the first day at the roundup, a friend and I drove Onaqui Herd Management Areas to herd lands to see wild horses in their natural home. Having just witnessed the very difficult to watch roundup process, I was anxious to see wild horses at peace in their homelands and get a better understanding of just what they were leaving behind.
We drove 3-4 hours through beautiful, wild Utah, and I was amazed by the magnificence of it all. Despite the car almost getting stuck in the mud multiple times, I was on cloud nine. Everything took my breath away; from the low hanging, purple clouds to the frosted mountain tops and rolling golden fields – it was all spectacular. What a remarkable home these horses are born to inhabit.
What really got to me, perhaps even more than the gorgeous scenery, was how at peace I felt out in these wild lands. There was no cell service whatsoever, only a dirt road and 1 rest stop… and I felt at total peace. I was so happy.
This happiness took me off guard; it honestly felt a bit random. Just a few hours ago I had felt pretty devastated after seeing the roundup… and even now, I had no real “reason” to feel so elated. Yet driving on this dirt road in the middle of seemingly “no where”, I felt pure bliss… the pure peace that comes from reconnecting with the natural world… and it felt forgiven.
A thought dawned on me: perhaps deep down, some part of me sees “happiness” as doing… somehow our culture has ingrained in us that happiness is earned. In my head, I know happiness is found within… that we shouldn’t look to things outside ourselves to “make” us happy. Overall, I think of myself as a pretty happy person, yet maybe there is still something within me that believes I need to earn my happiness – that I need to be working on projects or that I need to be doing more or that I need to be “doing” in general in order to be happy…
Horses have taught me the value of time just “being”, but perhaps I have never quite fully understood the pure bliss that comes simply from reconnecting with my roots… the natural world. I am lucky enough to spend most of my waking hours outside due to my job, but there was something different and really special about being on these wild lands off the grid… something quite magical. It saddens and scares me deeply to think that we are destroying these wild habitats every single day…
In this busy culture, we value the “doers” – we value what makes a profit. It is deeply ingrained in us from an early age that to make a profit, to be “useful”, is to be a success. We disregard and even shame activities and people that aren’t profitable. Time spent outside – time spent in reflection – time reconnecting with who we are – these are some of our most valuable moments that we enjoy as humans. These moments shape us and give us clarity about who we are and who we want to be – but they don’t make a profit. So they aren’t valued in this culture, despite being vital to our well being and self-understanding.
These wild horses… they don’t make a profit. They are often treated like worthless trash and are being rounded off their land because of it. They aren’t lucrative, so they have no value in the eyes of many. However, just as we are fairly unaware of our human need for all that is natural and how we continue to kill our own and only earth, we fail to see that their value goes far beyond what money can buy; when we lose the wild horses, we lose a piece of ourselves. We lose beauty and strength – we lose community and family – we lose the unprofitable yet most vital things that make life truly worth living.
In a money driven culture, the parts of this world that give life meaning but make no profit are disregarded and even destroyed; so is the case with these wild horses, our planet, and our connection to the natural world.
On the other hand, cows… beef… that makes a nice profit.
So I guess it shouldn’t have surprise me when we went out into the Onaqui Herd lands and saw hundreds and hundreds of cattle… but only 1 horse. Herds of cattle crowded the lands, and we searched every herd for signs of horses, but no luck.
Finally after a few hours, we came across this man, and I was ecstatic to see a wild horse on his own “protected” herd’s land!
He was beautiful. There is something truly special about being in the presence of a wild horse. I felt totally enchanted watching him graze quietly. Such a striking stallion; he had a peaceful strength about him. We watched each other as I walked a little closer to him. Staying as present with him as possible, I took a few photos during our experience together. I caught his eyes, and we looked at each other for while. There is such raw beauty in wild horses… you can feel their vibrant spirit, even at a distance. It felt like a real honor to be in this horse’s presence.
We decided to extend our drive in hopes of finding even just a few more horses. Miles and miles away, we found 1 band of 7 or so horses. They were beautiful. When they saw us driving down the road, they immediately surrounded their one foal in a stance of protection. We obviously left them in peace and did not pursue the band, but it was really wonderful to see how much they care for their young. They are a true family, and even in this little moment we shared with them, that was very apparent.
On the way back home, we saw 100s of more cattle; sadly I was pretty focused on the horses and didn’t think to get many photos. Here’s just a bit of what we saw. It can give you an idea of what most of the herd lands looked like.
I hadn’t realized just how obvious the plight of the wild horses would be, but there is no denying what is so clearly in front of our eyes.
On day two of the Cedar Mountain Herd roundup, I witnessed something that has stuck with and disturbed me ever since.
We heard the rumbling of the helicopter as it pushed a new band of wild horses into sight, around the hillside, and across the valley towards the trap. They were running hard and covering miles and miles of land quite quickly. There was a paint bringing up the rear lagging a little; some of us thought that maybe it was the band’s stallion looking to protect the herd from behind.
The helicopter rounded the herd into the V, and they hooked onto the Judas horse, following him right into the trap, capturing them all… except for one. The paint horse avoided the trap and took off the opposite direction across the valley. It seemed that the BLM contractors usually let single stragglers go if they took off from the herd alone, but for some odd reason, the helicopter zoomed after this single horse in hot pursuit. The helicopter was right on her tale – alone now, severed from her herd and family, she galloped for her life as fast as she could. The iron predator didn’t let up, and he ran her for miles across the valley. Finally he confined her in a little ravine, but no matter how he pushed and pressured her, she seemed to refuse to back down or run back towards the trap.
We saw a wrangler take off on a horse, galloping towards the gorge where the helicopter was low, holding the mare. He had a lasso in his hand. When he reached the ravine, the strong paint mare took off towards the fence line where all of our cars were parked. He was right on her tail, attempting to lasso her maybe 4 or 5 times with no luck. She kept running as fast as she could. The wrangler and helicopter chased her down the barbed wire fence line. We watched in silence – I couldn’t believe how hard they were trying to capture this single horse. I cannot even imagine the terror and exhaustion she must have felt having lost her herd and being relentlessly chased like this.
There seemed to be no escape. She was running from a flying beast that was impossibly fast and never seemed to tire, meanwhile having ropes thrown at her neck by a rider right on her tail. With one last throw, the rider lassoed the paint mare and pulled tight as it caught around her neck. She crashed head first through the barbed wire fencing to the ground.
She had so much momentum and fell mid gallop; her body collided so hard with the ground.
She got scrambled up to her feet as fast as she could. The wrangler thought he had got her.
Despite the rope tightening when she pulled, she yanked as hard as she could, and through the strangulation, she took off the opposite way. After all of this, she wasn’t giving up. The man had to drop the lasso at this point, and so she took off up the opposite hill, looking behind only to see if he was still pursuing her. Finally after all of this time, they gave up.
She approached the viewing area.
This beautiful mare who we had just seen galloping miles away, who we had just seen crash through the fence, who we had just seen escape despite all odds, was right in front of us.
She was maybe 20 feet in front of me, and I got to look into her tired eyes. She looked so drained. Even though she was filled with fear, she just looked tired.
Just look into those eyes…
She was drenched in sweat, exhausted, and most likely pregnant.
I could hardly believe what I had just seen… and to now see her up close… it was overwhelming and incredibly emotional to say the least.
After taking a look at all of us here witnessing on the hill, the incredible paint mare trotted around us into the hills of her homeland, the lasso still dragging from her neck.
We were silent.
With the impact she took, the cuts she must have gotten from the barbed wire, and the trailing noose around her neck… there is no saying what could happen to her out there. I hate to think about it, but we need to understand the consequence of these actions. She could very well strangle herself if the lasso gets caught on something out in the wild… she could abort her foal after such an impact… she could develop an infection from the barbed wire…
The possibilities haunt me.
I hope so much that she finds a way to get out of the lasso and finds another herd where she can live peacefully.
If any horse could make it through these struggles, I think I would be her; she proved herself to be quite the fighter. Her spirit and resilience is astonishing, and because of it, she escaped against all odds.
She embodies the strength, courage, spirit, and resilience of the horse – all that we love about these incredible souls… it’s how she made her great escape. Seeing her fight against all odds inspires me to stand up for these horses, no matter the resistance we may face. I hope her story may resonate with others and encourage them in the same way. If we honor her fight, her story and herd won’t be forgotten.
At 7:00am February 11th, we all met at the designated meeting place, a gas station called the Flying J in Tooele Utah, before the break of dawn. BLM, roundup contractors, and public viewers of the roundup all filled up their cars and got ready for the drive to the trap site, about 50 miles west of Tooele.
We joined the line of cars waiting to depart, and as soon as the clock hit 7:00, the first car took off. We all followed in a line out of town to the herd lands. The sun was rising over the snowy Utah Mountains as the paved street came to an end and we started our journey off road.
This was a truly stunning drive. The entire experience getting out to the trap spot was mystic and beautiful; such a contrast to the events to come. As we drove farther and farther from the main road, we got closer and closer to the scenic hills and mountains I had admired in the distance. I thought about how often times we experience nature in this far off way – looking at the beautiful scenery from the remote road, I had admired the magnificence and thought I was connected to nature. However, it wasn’t until we were up close and away from these lasting signs of civilization that I felt truly a part of the landscape. There is a true bliss in being so engulfed by the natural world.
This realization reminded me how sometimes we stop at civilizations edge to admire the view and forget to go deeper. It’s only when we dive in that we experience that blissful understanding that we are a part of the natural world, and that notion that nature is something we look into from the outside in is only a fallacy of our human perspective – at our core, we are just as much a part of it as the wild horses.
After 1.5-2 hours of driving, we reached the spot where we parked our cars and waited for them to set up the trap.
We waited a few hours while they got the trap, trailers, and helicopters ready for the first time at this roundup site. They set up the trap up with panels, and placed a large V of netting to direct the panicked horses inward towards the trap rather than giving them the option to escape through the sides. When the helicopter drives the herd into the V, the horses are looking for some escape and direction of where to go to find safety. This is why the wranglers hold what is known as a “Judas Horse” out in the V. The Judas Horse is a domestic horse trained to run into the trap when he is released. A human stands with the Judas horse on the sides of the netting and waits for the helicopter to push the herd of wild horses into the V. When the horses see the Judas horse and lock onto him, the human lets this horse go. The Judas Horse then runs into the trap, and the herd of wild horses follow him right in. Before they have a chance to process what has happened and turn around, men come running at them from behind with whips and plastic bags, and then they shut the panels so that they cant escape (although some horses still try and sometimes hurt/kill themselves trying to get through the panels).
When the horses are pushed in and they lock the horses inside the panels, they are then pressured down this shoot-like row of panels straight into the trailer. Once in the trailer, they are taken from their homelands to temporary holding on a private ranch.
At the end of the month, 300 or so horses will be taken to similar holding in Delta Utah.
On the first day, it wasn’t until 2pm or so until we heard the helicopter bringing in the first herd of horses. We don’t know how long he had already been running them across the land, but just from the time they come into our view until they meet the trap, they have galloped miles and miles. They come in running for their lives chased by an inescapable predator. He pushes them across the valley; I was shocked at how low and close the helicopter gets to the horses.
On this day, 29 horses were captured. It was a long day of waiting and fast action viewing. In all of the adrenaline of watching this event, it wasn’t until later that night that the emotional understanding of what I had just witnessed sunk in.
On the way out, I drove past the trailer full of the wild horses who we had just seen roundup up. They were crammed together and fearful. One horse was pinned vertical against the edge of the trailer, standing only on his back legs, struggling to get his front legs off the horse next to him and back to the ground. Instead, his back legs slipped out, and landed on his back end, still pinned vertical in the trailer. I hope he found a way to stand back up again, but they were signaling us to move along before I could see.
As I drive over the desert landscape of Nevada, through the rocky canyons of Arizona, and into the snowy mountain of Utah, I find myself feeling anxious anticipation and fear of future loneliness. I am perplexed by this sudden and random anxiety. I can’t pinpoint or explain why I am experiencing these fearful thoughts… I’m driving to this roundup with my great friend, feel very supported by the ones I love, and have a good sense of community in my life, and yet, I am consumed by the fear of loneliness and loss of community. I don’t understand where this worry coming from or why I am feeling this fear, but it seems to be all I can think about.
I fear losing my place in this world… losing my sense of belonging and sense of home… I fear disconnect from my friends… the feeling of being forgotten… I fear facing this world alone… having no one… I fear loneliness… I fear the loss of those I love…
but I don’t know why I am feeling all of this worry right at this moment. I was perfectly fine only hours ago.
I don’t know where this sudden rush of fear has come from, but it weighs very heavy on my mind and squeezes deep in my chest. I start reaching out to those I love. I’m texting and calling people I care about, desperate to hold on tight.
Why this sudden anticipation of loss? I try to let it go and focus on the journey ahead instead.
I’m sitting in the car looking into the black sky, thinking about what we will experience the next few days, anticipating the struggles both horse and human alike will endure. When all of the sudden the obvious correlation between this fear of loss & loneliness and the events of tomorrow smacks me in the face. The relation between the two hits me hard and realization sinks in deep; these fears of mine will become reality tomorrow for the horses of the Cedar Mountain herd. Their lives will change indefinitely when they are rounded up and taken from their family bands forever.
Tomorrow, these horses will lose their communities… they will lose their connections to the only families they’ve ever known.
Friends that have grown up together will run side by side for the very last time.
Families as close as any will be severed.
Loved ones will be ripped apart in one swift experience of panic and fear.
This herd – this community – these horses will never be the same.
All of these fears I am experiencing inside myself are the reality of the Cedar Mountain Herd horses tomorrow… as a result of this roundup, these horses will experience trauma like nothing they’ve ever known.
In the days and years to come, separated from those they love, many of these horses will endure suffering and heartbreak.
I feel for these horses. I feel for these families. I feel deeply for this herd.
This week I am driving Utah to witness the roundup of the wild Cedar Mountain Horse herd in Utah.
The BLM is planning to roundup 700 horses and remove around 300 horses (approximately 5 and under) permanently from their homeland. The mares released back into the wild will be treated with PZP-22 fertility control vaccine – essentially birth control that lasts around 1-2 years.
Helicopters will chase and push the wild herd across their lands into a trap. The horses who are rounded up permanently will be moved to holding at Delta, Utah, and will most likely never join their herd or see their homelands again.
As a horse lover, I know this is going to be very difficult to watch. I’ve been mentally preparing myself to witness this trauma in hope that my presence and documentation of the event may give these horses a bit more of a voice. I believe it is important that we understand what is happening to America’s wild horses, and I feel the only way for me to really understand is to witness for myself. Perhaps others will get something out of my experiences as well.