A Simple Holiday Message, “You Are My Everything”

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The Holiday season of 2014 has been an emotionally charged season on my personal and professional “fronts.”

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In the world of wild horses and burros we have some intense issues heating up. The court case on access (that has taken 3.5 years of my life) is heading for Circuit Court Mediation (this is not the same as the “settlement conferences” we had that in my opinion were a waste of time as “discussion” can only take place when issues are “discussed”). This Mediation will have not only myself and BLM in discussion but a Mediator will be present from the Circuit Court that will report the content of discussion to the court. We are awaiting the next move in the Owyhee case (illegal removals and inhumane treatment) and the Triple B/Jackson Mountain case (fighting since 2011) for humane treatment of wild horses and burros (roundups and holding). We have massive land policy issues that could change (for the worst case) life for any hope of viable herds of wild horses. We are awaiting a roundup schedule (yes, it’s coming).

On the personal front I continue my battle with breast cancer in the midst of this crazy life I have. I am having yet another surgery (after two surgeries, radiation, medication complications with my epilepsy). It is what it is.

However at the end of each year it is natural to begin to reflect on the events of the year before…. with all that has transpired my thoughts immediately go to the loss of both my dog and an amazing horse.

Elvis says "thanks"

Elvis was my constant companion. A big, calm, happy soul that gave the most amazing hugs on the planet. We had been through hell and back together even before we began the trek following wild horses. So many, many months it was just Elvis and I. One year we travelled more than 100,000 miles in that journey. In triple digit heat and sub zero temperatures his patience and outlook literally kept me focused and optimistic. They say you take on the personality of those you spend time with… and I know that it was his influence, not mine, that made the insanity of documenting the absurdity of the management of wild horses and burros bearable. Wise and wonderful… but relied on me for everything.

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Passion was a huge Percheron that was literally pulled from the packing plant. I was told it was impossible to save her… and the impossible was no such thing. Distrustful and broken physically and emotionally, Passion became the horse that would walk through fire if I asked her to. There were days I would look at her and swear I was looking in the mirror.  During her first vet visit he said to me he had no idea why she was standing (x-rays revealed some horrific injuries that spanned years)… “any other horse would be on the ground in pain, but she shows you nothing of it.” He suggested we simply see if she was standing tomorrow. Years later (and many, many stories) I had to finally release her from that pain. Not always able to be there in person for her while I was on the road wonderful friends filled in when I could not be there and she was treated with respect and love… and I was there for each farrier, vet, ache and pain. The strongest soul I will ever know… but she relied on me for everything.

My life is a bit insane and it was not always easy to make sure that “everything” was available to them.

During the holidays it becomes very tempting to bring a pup or foal into your life. We see ads on TV that show children getting a puppy with a big red ribbon. Or we see dramatic pleas to pull a pup or horse that desperately needs a home. In no way am I saying not to do it… these are some of the most important relationships of our lives… what I am saying is please remember… that if you take that step… you become “everything.”

You may have work or school. There may be social engagements or sporting events. There may be illness and financial hardship. The dog, horse, cat, bird or reptile may not fulfill whatever your expectation was (a horse that can’t jump, a dog that is hard to potty train, a cat that claws the couch) but you must remember that each relationship is different and YOU have to accept that responsibility. If you can’t, then don’t bring them into your life. Instead spend time volunteering at a shelter or rescue, foster, or help a friend in need. That is a realistic way for many to be with animals that can’t make the “everything” commitment.

To them you are food, shelter, warmth, time and most importantly love…. to them… “You are my Everything.”

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~~~~ If you have animals in your life remember to include them in your holiday plans and find time (while you prepare meals and shop) to be with them. My heart aches today for the losses of this year… but I rejoice in the new responsibilities that have come my way…. My new pup Kreiger is a challenge that brings joy… the rescues that seemed to walk right through the doorway left by Passion…. Faith, Dawn and the Sheldon girls Rosie and Kidron… create new challenges and joy.

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Happy Holidays to you and your families… furred, feathered, hoofed and clawed.

The Soundtrack of the Range

Jon Bon Jovi's under the stage dressing area

Jon Bon Jovi’s under the stage dressing area

I don’t post on this blog much any more. All of my time has been taken up with the work that Wild Horse Education does to try and gain protections for our wild horses and burros from abuse, slaughter and extinction. Not much time for the “personal side” of things, like the blog.

Recently all of that has been compounded with my breast cancer fight. I had two surgeries in June. My radiation just finished a couple of weeks ago. I begin medications on Wednesday.  My energy is low, I’m bloated and the necrotic flesh from radiation is such a joy and a smell I never thought I would know coming off my own body.

But yesterday I was given a gift. The kind of gift that is so personal you “blush” a bit and wonder if anyone will understand.

My life these last four years is basically a series of road trips strung one after another. Each trip, roundup, range survey has that perfect song that you find yourself listening to again and again. There is one band that seems to find itself  in my CD player more than any other… Bon Jovi. It’s not just that “I’m a Jersey Girl,” but the music has a way of providing the right inspiration at the right time or expressing something you can only truly express by singing along as loud as you can.

Our attorney Gordon Cowan received a call from a lovely woman that works for Bon Jovi asking if we would like to be a guest at the concert in Las Vegas. He gave me her number and I called. We spent over an hour talking about horses and growing up in New Jersey. She is a huge advocate for horse welfare and had been following what I have been doing.

On Thursday we were in court all day… I was running a fever and Friday I was so far behind I felt I could not go. I got in my truck and turned the ignition… and there was that inspiration that always seems to come out of the dusty speakers… “It’s My Life,” was playing on the radio. So that sealed the trip for me.

Our attorney Gordon Cowan and I onstage before the show

Our attorney Gordon Cowan and I onstage before the show. I really need to clean the dust off my boots!

Gordie decided he wanted to go but had to be back Sunday early. That meant if we drove down from Reno together to save gas, we would have to turn right around and head back. I gave Wild Horse Education secretary Tami Crisanti a call (Tami and her husband are both Jersey transplants, and Tamis friend made 5). So we now had our concert crew.

At 5 am we headed to Vegas. Arriving around 3 to pick up tickets at will call I got a huge surprise… Dawn met  both Gordie and myself and we got a backstage tour!

I can not begin to describe how much fun this was for me. The last four years read like a concert playlist….

Lost Highway: In 2009 Elvis (my Bernese Mountain Dog), that I lost this year to Valley Fever, started our journey with nothing but a cheap drug store camera, a broken down laptop, a 1980 Scottsdale pickup truck and each other… following wild horses and burros. This song was on the CD player (not built in) as we chugged through ten states.

Dead or Alive: Silver King roundup of 2010. Beth Slagsvol and her friend had travelled down to Silver King. BLM was having one of their “access game” days and we were being held on the range and not allowed to move (even though NOTHING was happening). Beth had the theme from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” in her deck and asked what I had. I turned on my CD player and we all sat there on the range singing “Dead or Alive” as BLM rangers watched our every move and we just sat and sang Bon Jovi songs. (Silver King has turned into a 3 year battle up and down the court system that has created new case law to First Amendment Freedoms and is back in the Ninth Circuit with more than 15 press organizations signed on through Amicus).

It’s My Life: This song blasted out the CD player of the Explorer I got at “Doc Lightenings” auto auction right before the Twin Peaks roundup and continued to keep Elvis and I company as in 2011 we did over 100,000 miles covering wild horse roundups in a non-stop marathon. In 2011 we caught the chopper pilot chasing single horses, running horses in sub zero temps until they lathered, babies being run until their poor legs gave out and even the pilot hitting a horse. In 2011 we filed the Triple B case and won the first Temporary Restraining Order in the history of the Act (later a Preliminary Injunction) to conduct. That case is still alive.

We Weren’t Born to Follow: Played during a snowstorm in 2011 on my way to meet BLM one December morning. The snow was coming down so hard, I was off road, and the thought occurred to me that if I crashed they might not even find the body come spring thaw.

Tami Crisanti and I at the concert taken on Tami's cell phone

Tami Crisanti and I at the concert taken on Tami’s cell phone

Have A Nice Day: I call it the “Jersey Anthem.” This song is one that has many uses. I have one particular memory of getting ready to go out on the range at dawn with my BLM ranger escort. He put on his cowboy hat and shades… I had gone out and gotten myself mirror glasses like his and a nice hat myself. I put on my music, he tipped his hat, and off we drove into the sunrise (try it) with so much dust I couldn’t see a damn thing. And we were going 40 mph on the dirt. “Have a Nice Day.”

Someday I’ll be Saturday Night: This song (for fairly obvious reasons) has become a song I find myself spontaneously singing these days…

“Hey man I’m alive I’m takin’ each day and night at a time
Yeah I’m down, but I know I’ll get by
Hey hey hey hey, man gotta live my life
Like I ain’t got nothin’ but this roll of the dice
I’m feelin’ like a Monday, but someday I’ll be Saturday night”

Now we have a new album.

During the backstage tour I sat on the floor and we talked. I felt like I was back at mom’s house with my sister going through the “pass around bag.” (The pass around bag was a big garbage bag that you put clothes in you didn’t want anymore and took out things you might use). I was given some old clothes of Jon Bon Jovi. A wonderful sweater (that I have not taken off as it got really cold today), a neck warmer and pants. And yes… I am wearing Jon’s pants as I write this.

(Carrying the bag out of the casino actually made me blush! )

I can not begin to describe just how much fun I had last night. Made a Memory…. and that night, and the amazing music Bon Jovi has given me the last three decades, will travel with me for as long as I last on this earth and in this fight for our voiceless wild horses and burros. Jon has become such an example of the spirit of “giving back” to community and I admire the music and the man.

I don’t think they know just how special this was for me. Thank you Tami, John, Julia and Gordie for sharing the night. And I am forever grateful Dawn.

Set list... and I was also given one of those really sweaty towels. Like a "school girl" I wore it like a scarf on the sleep deprived drive home

Set list… and I was also given one of those really sweaty towels. Like a “school girl” I wore it like a scarf on the sleep deprived drive home

The Machine Broke-Time For One Letter

Taken after first sorting at the Fallon Auction of "unbranded" horses

Taken after first sorting at the Fallon Auction of “unbranded” horses

I know I do not write often on this blog. My work has taken an increase in intensity and most of what I write is for the organization now. Field reports and legal actions… assessments and paperwork and media… and of course the documentation on the range, holding and roundups. All of that you can see on WildHorseEducation.org and the WHEblog.

Taken the day after the auction when "unbranded" were placed in the parking lot

Taken the day after the auction when “unbranded” were placed in the parking lot

The intensity of the work has been increased by a health issue. Many of you know I have breast cancer and am undergoing treatments after surgery. Well this am I got a call that the machine is broken and I get a day off of radiation treatments…. so I have a bit more time today than normal. My first impulse was to catch up on work that piled up during the Fallon auction fiasco…. but my inbox is filled with notes from people asking “how are you?” and I do not have time to respond to each one… so hence this posting.

The letters in my inbox range from sincere inquiries as to my health to accusations that I am ignoring people. First I am not “ignoring” anyone. Those of you that are pushing that button are failing to recognize that the workload is more intense than ever. Not only is there roundup data to collect where I was able to attend many operations and tours but had to find others to cover operations where I was at the auction, in court, prepping court documents and at the hospital. There have been days I have been so tired that I literally stutter and drool by the end of the day. I have no staff (but a few volunteers that do what they can in between the course of their “real” lives) and precious few who are close by the hospital that I must remain near… that have taken a moment to visit… I can count those people on the fingers of one hand. (Thank you for the company Cat, the soup Jess, the help with Krieger Margie, the little “Hope” Sally… and all of the effort on the cases Gordie).

Jackson foals waiting as mares are processed at PVC

Jackson foals waiting as mares are processed at PVC

For those of you asking how I am? I am hanging in there. The side effects from radiation are in bloom. I am red and swollen and a bit sick to my stomach from the pain I guess. I opted for the intensive treatment as it will get me back to being “mobile” the fastest. So the doses of radiation are higher than the traditional treatment… but I am half way through! I was told the last week will be the roughest… but of course it coincides with an incredibly rough week of work. The Fallon auction (and days and days of troubleshooting) left everything almost two weeks behind. The brief on the Appeal to the Ninth Circuit (massive effort) is due shortly, the other cases need some work and there has been an issue that has been looming the last year that will become public shortly (pretty intense stuff)… plus several ranges MUST have follow up and and investigation is on hold…. the plate is pretty full. On a positive note it leaves VERY little time to even think about the cancer battle.

I start my day with treatment. Every time I walk in that door it is an odd experience… a reminder of how fragile we are. There are a few folks that you see that you know are new like you and will be in this loop of treatment and checking to see if the cancer is still gone. Then there are those whose cancers have come back or were really far into the disease when it was discovered… and you can see the knowledge on their faces that they are in treatment to postpone… but in truth we all are there to postpone… there is a lot of quiet conversation.

Krieger helping check on horses at PVC, photo by Cat Kindsfather

Krieger helping check on horses at PVC, photo by Cat Kindsfather

The staff is wonderful and in love with Krieger who is becoming a real “therapy” dog…. for the staff. They wanted me to take a very early appointment and I had to explain that I do not “live” here and have a new puppy that I can not leave alone. So a staff person meets me in the am and takes Krieger on “rounds” to greet everyone as they come to work or treatment. I think he likes his job. Today he was a bit confused when we did not get up and head to “work.”

Krieg is a lovely little guy that wants so much to please…. even though his teeth make him a but nuts now and again. He is growing so fast I swear he stretches in his sleep and adds length…. Sept 11 he will be three months old. His presence makes tasks a bit more complicated to complete… but the gap left by the loss of Elvis (so fast) and the loss of my Passion (the following week… but it was her time) is made easier to bear by this fast growing, very intelligent, “little bear.”

Technology has presented several challenges as well this last week when my phone died (now lives but battery holds a smaller charge and spends considerable time charging in the truck) and a back up drive went on the fritz (don’t worry the backup is backed up with only files created for sharing missing… that need to be recreated).

In the midst of all of this the “bashing” of my attempts to gain changes in the wild horse and burro program continue. They have gone so far as to write editors saying things like “she is faking cancer for attention,” “her work means nothing,” and several attacks actually aimed at trying to destroy the work like writing Department of Justice attorneys that represent the BLM (and these attacks are coming from people claiming to be advocates). These attacks have never stopped me and speak more to the motives of those making them than my work…. life has taught me not to tolerate crap no matter where it comes from… and many I have told to “pound sand” because I saw who they really are… think that bashing will somehow stop me. Not a chance.

So I have already spent more time than I have on this note. I want those that care and are writing to know I read what you write and I thank you…. please know that your notes are read and appreciated. Those that have supported the work know I will catch up on thank you notes… but for now please see the commitment to the work as my “thank you.”

And to those bashing? Have a Nice Day.

Listen carefully….

This clip was posted last year from the HBO television series “Newsroom.” The clip is making another round Facebook and I wanted to speak to those of you that have followed this blog these last years.

Listen to this carefully…. this is the betrayal.

"Hope" died of hoof slough (feet falling off), Calico Complex 2010. Click photo to go to story.

“Hope” died of hoof slough (feet falling off), Calico Complex 2010. Click photo to go to story.

When I talk about the “pain” I feel as an American watching what is happening to our wild horses and burros THIS is what I am talking about. I was raised in a family where you served your country, because to do so was an honor. I was raised in a family where being an “American” was a driving force to serving in World Wars where my grandpa left a family at home who was “on a list” as of German heritage… and may have been interned. I was raised in a family that was silent when the TV blared the National Anthem before a baseball game. I was raised in a family that said the pledge of allegiance as if it were genetic code…”with Liberty and Justice for all.”

Our wild horses and burros are a lawful user of public land. Living as resilient survivors with hardly anything they thrive in that Freedom… or so we thought. Once WE were that resilient survivor… the were no “problems,” only “opportunities.”

I sit on that range and am pierced through my very American heart. I feel betrayed by my government’s lack of recognition of the living being that represents MY interest on MY public land, be subjugated and abused as the rights of private profiteers over run my rights. “Liberty and Justice for all,” has been replaced with “it only has worth if it represents a dollar.”

MY Constitution WAS based on Liberty, Freedom, Equality, Bravery and sheer Grit of those that faced charges of treason for signing that first Declaration of our Independence. Is there a dollar figure that represents Liberty, Freedom, Equality,Bravery and sheer Grit? Are we that genuinely see success as more than a bank account so outnumbered that hope is lost?

I sit on the range and weep for our symbol of Freedom, the wild horse, and what my country is becoming. Yet that “genetic code” I was born with makes it impossible to walk away as those that value “profit lines” destroy our equal right to an interest that’s value fuels the soul… the spirit of a wild horse. I believe we are not outnumbered. I believe we will change the management of wild horses. I believe America can be great again….

Thank you for letting me “vent” here. I am studying briefs and arguments made by our government about how they wont do right by the horses and deny anything is wrong…. as this program gains an attention as they lie about everything from wild horses going to slaughter (and Salazar himself is implicated) to court documents that state “all horses were handled humanely on the range,” (after 3 TRO’s by Federal Judges that disagree). A BIG part of WHY I began this crazy “ride” is to tell a story the American media ignored… one that speaks MY soul as an American. I am an Advocate… but I am a journalist. The concept that a journalist is an machine that types a non-emotional, bi-partisan (bi-polar) report is a cop out. As a kid I watched Cronkite cry…

Please watch the below video and FOLLOW the work for the wild horses at Wild Horse Education. We need your help. http://WildHorseEducation.org

Strong language alert

click image below to go to my website

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Personal message for the “blog”

Jackson Mountain stallion watches his mares after arrival at PVC. They will be separated here, he will go to the stud pens and they with the mares.

Jackson Mountain stallion watches his mares after arrival at PVC. They will be separated here, he will go to the stud pens and they with the mares.

from the desk of Laura Leigh, President of Wild Horse Education (follow ongoing work at wild horse education website)

It is very hard to describe the personal experience of the current state of the issues that Wild Horse Education is addressing for our herds.

On one hand this has been an extraordinary physical marathon of range work, in all kinds of weather, under all kinds of physical extremes. Dust, mud, blistering heat and frigid temperatures take a toll on equipment and ones physical body. Files are massive and the quantity of documentation fills drive after drive and causes laptops to choke. The vehicle makes new sounds every time it is shaken, bounced, bumped and run in sub freezing temperatures or high heat, your physical body begins to mirror the creaks and groans. The very real need to expand this aspect of the work is apparent. This aspect of the work is what gives us the ability to demonstrate a first hand knowledge of the range and present accurate information toward gaining real changes as we try to bring an honest conversation to the management of wild horses and burros to the agency itself, the public, legislature and if needed, the Federal courts. You make this part of the journey looking like a character out of “Mad Max,” or other post apocalyptic film, half the time. You forget to brush your hair, have no time to clean your clothes and your equipment is a mishmash of devices pieced together that looks like it shouldn’t even run but is a powerful editing tool.

On the other hand this work requires diligent research and organization. Thousands of hours of video footage, hundreds of thousands of still photographs, assessment documents and grids, reference material and the hundreds of documents filed in court. You have to focus, wear the right glasses to read,  remember to shower, and raise your vocabulary above the guttural sounds that your dog finds acceptable as conversation on the road.

Then there is another aspect, communication with the public. Somewhere between being a “range rat” and an “accountant” you need to remember the social skills to engage the public in a conversation that relays what you “gained” on the range, digested in the “library,” in a manner that speaks to the daily lives of “normal.”

Many of you have written wondering what it is like to do this work… the best way I can describe it… it is like carrying a bag filled with “hats.” Some of the hats you have worn before and they fit well, others don’t fit quite right but when you wear them in enough storms they shrink and mold and become familiar.

Today I sit at the computer organizing three active cases against the Federal government. Two of them speak to the objective of gaining a humane handling policy for wild horses and burros, one of them speaks to access to animals from range “through ultimate disposition, adoption, sale or death.” I am organizing depositions, documents and editing video footage for various purposes.

High Rock, 10-30 (Leigh) 6 escape the trap

High Rock, 10-30 (Leigh) 6 escape the trap

I wanted to “touch base” with the followers of the blog and say “whew” as we gain the first step in the conversation at Owyhee toward gaining a “humane” objective in the ten year plan and “where’s the #@*! coffee?” as we start to compile and hone the effort on access. The work we are doing on land use plans and investigations such as the slaughter issue are also still in progress AND I have to get back out on the range.

Yes, there is an extraordinary amount of work that needs done YESTERDAY. There are tools that as an advocacy we do not have and must literally build. But this is not without hope… we are building the tools and creating the language for conversations based on first hand observation… we are gaining a conversation that can lead to changes… that can grow to more changes. It IS movement.

As a MOVEMENT we must recognize that fact and gain momentum. If there is an opportunity, no matter how small, if it is not seized the moment passes. The road to change leads to change as the road of apathy leads to apathy, the road of depression leads to depression. We are on the road to change…. it may be a two track in the dessert but eventually (even if you have to travel off-road a bit) it leads to a highway.

Best to you.

Laura

WHE Blog

Wild Horse Education has set up a blog.

This blog will remain as an archive of material.

I am unable to keep up this blog at this time. I hope to be able to get back to writing here soon.

Click picture of Owyhee roundup to go to WHE blog

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click to go to WHE (Wild Horse Education) blog