William Edelen: Wild and Free as the Wind

The Contrary Minister

I recently saw a movie, “The American Mustang”, documenting the sickening cruelty of the Bureau of Land Management in rounding up the wild horses of the Western plains. Helicopters, at full throttle, were causing the herds to run wild and crazy and insane with fear; baby colts dropping dead from fear and exhaustion. Pregnant mares, finding it impossible to keep up, collapsing with cries of panic.

I cried with them from my plush seat in the theater, with beautiful memories of my childhood in West Texas riding with the cowboys daily and adoring the horses I loved.

Halted in animated expectancy or running in abandoned freedom, the mustang was the most beautiful, the most spirited and the most inspiriting creature ever to print foot on the grasses of America. ONLY THE SPIRITED ARE BEAUTIFUL.

 The words of Mahatma Gandhi filled my brain: “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

As one whose entire family was involved with horses in West Texas… and who has tenderly cared for them, I could only wince, and cry, as I watched the unbelievable cruelty inflicted upon the mustangs caught in the roundup… with horses squealing in pain, ropes binding them were made tighter and more punishing.

I have been a student of the horse and our horse culture all of my life. To me, it is the most beautiful and magnificent animal alive. Theories are…that there were no horses in the Western Hemisphere when it was discovered, nor had there ever been any of the historic type. The wild horses that became common in both North and South America were from stock introduced by the Spaniards. Horses brought over by the English, French and Dutch made history, and some of their descendants ran wild.

In the 17th century when Indians of the West acquired Spanish horses the Age of the Horse Culture began. The Buffalo hunting Indians were already nomads and horses made them more nomadic. Prized beyond sale price was the war horse. He was trained to turn quickly by pressure from legs and feet, leaving the riders hands free to shoot or lance. He was taught to receive his rider on the run and to run steadily while his rider hung on one side, shooting under his neck. The Sioux (Lakota) war horse was trained to leap over the body of a fallen enemy, and the leap counted as a coup the same as if the rider had struck the body.

The war horse was also a buffalo horse, which with reins dropped could brilliantly stay in his position on the right side within 15 feet of the stampeding buffalo. Men and boys loved and adored their horses and would say to their charges, “You are my gods… I will take good care of you.” During the hard winter months many would keep their horses in their lodges.

Many will remember the great Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Indians. In battle, they never took a “scalp” and were brilliant geneticists breeding the world famous Appaloosa horse, taking their name from the Palouse River of Western Idaho and Eastern Washington. Their hardiness was a tradition among all Indian tribes. “The fantail Appaloosa” became a phrase all over the West. Charles Russell and Frederic Remington memorialized them in paintings.

But of all the horses I have loved, the aesthetic value of the mustang tops all other values. The sight of these wild and free spirited horses streaming across the prairie made even the most hardened professional mustanger regret throwing a rope around them. Heads tossed high, nostrils dilated, wild and free, glistening in the light of a rising sun, the most magnificent of all the four legged animals.

I think you will know now why I had tears yesterday at the movie watching the noise and thunder and speed of the cruel and sadistic helicopters of the Bureau of Land Management, driving thousands, with babies and pregnant mares, into a screaming and painful and horrible death.

I see them running, running, running…
From the Spanish caballadas to be free…
From the mustanger’s rope and rifle, to keep free
Over seas of pristine grass, like fire-dancers on a mountain,
Like lightning playing against the unapproachable horizon.

I see them standing, standing, standing…
Sentinels of alertness of eye and nostril,
Every toss of maned neck a Grecian grace…
Every high snort bugling out the pride of the free…

 I see them vanishing, vanishing, vanished
The seas of grass shriveled to pens of barbed wire property
The wind-racers and wind-drinkers bred into property also…

So sometimes yet, in the realities of silence and solitude,
For a few people unhampered a while by things…
The mustangs walk out with dawn, stand high, then
Sweep away, wild with sheer life, and free, free, free
Free of all confines of time and flesh.

~Frank Dobie

Celebrating 2014… the Chinese Year of the Horse. For further information on preservation and protection of wild horses refer to the following website: http://wildhorsepreservation.org/