One night a PBS Nature documentary caught my eye — an open field, a gorgeous sunset and a herd of wild horses. I was so drawn to the story that I ordered the entire documentary series on DVD.
The beauty and majesty of the horses was captivating. Most of all, I was touched to learn about the family relationships wild horse bands share with one another. It made me think of my own family. I wanted to learn more.
In August 2012 I had the incredible opportunity to visit the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary in South Dakota. I was hooked on wild horses! But I was sad to learn that many of these horses lived at the sanctuary because in the wild they face harsh elements, compete for resources and are pushed aside for political and economic reasons.
In fact, when the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act passed in 1971, Congress stated that “wild horses and burros are fast disappearing from the American scene.” Since then, the population levels of wild horses on the range have dropped to less than 25,000. Do you know that North America’s bighorn sheep population is estimated to be less than 70,000 and they are protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). What’s being done to protect wild horses?
I decided I wanted to help preserve these beautiful animals if I could. I started learning more about wild horses through Return to Freedom’s Mustang Youth Council and when I saw a call to action posting on Return to Freedom’s Facebook page, I asked if I could be part of their work. They invited me to join a group that was meeting in Washington D.C. to bring attention to their cause. I was in!
On Thursday July 31st, my mom drove me from Pennsylvania to the ASPCA building in the Capitol Hill district. I wasn’t sure what to expect. The office was AWESOME! It was filled with amazing staff members AND THEIR PETS! I met Henry (the office cat) and Ms. Peaches a rescued bulldog. I also met Neda DeMayo, the founder of the Return to Freedom Sanctuary.
That morning I got a refresher course on the three branches of government, learned what being an advocate meant and found out which current horse-related bills I could advocate for. I learned that while horse slaughter is illegal in the United States, it is possible for horses to be sent to Canada or Mexico and slaughtered there. This is so inhumane! It was something I wanted my representatives to prevent.
Neda also talked about the issues facing wild horses. I learned about humane options to manage the herd population. I also learned that there are more wild horses in captivity than on the range and that those horses may be in danger because the program is so expensive, it may not be sustainable. What will happen to all of those horses if the program is shut down?Once I decided what I wanted to ask of my representatives, I formed a plan of action. I had just enough time over lunch to practice what I would say. (Hey – this was my first time advocating, I wanted to be polished!)
After lunch, the ASPCA staff came with me to meet with representatives from the district I live in. I met with staff from the offices of Senator Casey (D – PA), Representative Perry (R–PA) and Senator Toomey (R–PA).
All of the staff members were so nice. I asked them to thank my congressmen for voting to protect animals; then I talked about my concerns over the issues facing horses and asked them to pledge their support to protect wild horses.
My last stop was to rejoin Neda for a meeting with Senator Landrieu (D–LA) about the protection of wild horses. The Senator is a very busy lady — but during her short time with us we had her full attention. Neda presented ideas on how to get everyone to work together to correctly manage and protect the herds and I was able to share my story and my passion for these animals with the Senator and her staff.
On our way home from Washington D.C., I had a lot of questions for my mom – what did it take to work in the ASPCA office? How could I do more to protect wild horses? Was there some way for me to let others know how much these horses need our help?
There’s so much more work to be done and I want to be a part of it. In November, I’m planning a trip to visit the Return to Freedom sanctuary in California. To raise money and awareness to help these horses, I’m hosting a viewing of “American Mustang” in my community (York, PA) on October 1st. This 3D documentary is designed to start a dialogue about the management of wild horses by the Bureau of Land Management. You can learn more about it at American Mustang: The Movie.
My trip to the capitol taught me that advocating for these horses can be easy and fun. I hope you will get involved in helping protect these beautiful animals – together we can make a difference!