Lightening and a man named Downer

Once upon a time I left my world to head off to follow the wild horses. I went straight to an area many refer to as “where the horse turns.” That phrase is used to compare the area to the drama contained in soap operas. Not only because of the concentration of horses that inhabit the area, but because of the political climate. This climate encompasses not only the government, but the advocates as well.

Let’s just say the term is an understatement.

When I first became involved with this issue, some time ago, it was difficult to find cohesive action among the advocate groups. This issue is so large that communication was often splintered into selective focus out of necessity. Gaining information in a timely manner proved to be a challenge, with a few exceptions. One of those exceptions was a man named Craig Downer.

Where's Craig?

From the moment of our initial contact involving the horses at Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge, Downer sent me volumes to sift through. He said take what you need and “run” with it. He gave no direction, advise, nor gossip.

Before I ever met Downer I heard things about him that ranged from “He’s a man of God,” to “If you expect him to have your back you better have your butterfly net handy. He can fly off into the stratosphere!”

I finally met Downer face-to-face at the Society for Range Management conference in Reno. Soft spoken and shy, he was a perfect caricature of the “absent minded professor.” He said to me, “Laura, we have the truth on our side.  Keep speaking it and we will win.”

He spoke with a conviction so pure it was like that of a child. It made me painfully aware of my own cynicism. He had a way of being that we all held in some distant memory that has been buried by the constraints “life” has imposed on us. That ability to believe that “truth, justice and the American way,” meant the things you thought they did when you were first taught the “pledge of allegiance” in school was alive and well in Mr.Downer.

His words galvanized me with a new purpose. Not only did we need to win this for the horses, but for Downer, and to fan that flame of belief deep inside of all of us.

Craig Downer

Since then Downer and I have shared information, collaborated on a few projects and gone to see the horses still free.

While Craig was in court trying to protect the horses at the Calico Complex from the threat of the BLM round up, I made a slideshow from some of his photos. It was my way of supporting his effort. It was my “prayer.”

One of the horses in the video is a magnificent stallion Craig named Lightening. Lightening is the palomino with the lightening bolt marking.

After the slideshow was posted on You Tube I received several e-mails that commented directly on the beauty of that stallion. The slideshow did not show any starving horses living on a degraded range as the BLM claimed. It shows healthy, thriving horses free on their range to be what they are.

Recently I received a phone call from Elyse Gardner. She was calling to soften a blow. She wanted to let me know that she was writing on her blog that Lightening had been seen again, in his holding cell at Fallon. We shared our grief and mourned his loss of freedom. She has written her account of the day she and Downer found Lightening again on her blog.

I was grateful for the call.

Downer said to me, “Laura, we have the truth on our side.  Keep speaking it and we will win.”

I will try to keep my cynicism in check.

Lightening by Elyse Gardner, 2010


15 thoughts on “Lightening and a man named Downer

  1. Anne says:

    Hello; every time I read these posts about these magnificent Mustangs being chases; harassed; trampled; cold; wet;hungry

    it gives me this wicked feeling of: what is wrong with our Gov.

    I just looked @ pix of other roundups; what is wrong w/them?do they not understand Mustangs have families and feelings?

    and lives to live ? esp. the younger ones; who get “orphaned

  2. The advocates I have not met and the ideas that Craig Downer expresses for the peaceful management of the wild horses have been very vivid because there are those, like you, who want us to understand your experience and are willing to share their meanings with us. That is how I have been guided through this, on truths and images and my own instinct. Surprisingly or not, many of us share the same vision. I am grateful for that. mar

  3. kate bremer says:

    Thanks Laura. Let them Run.

    • Laura Leigh says:

      Let ’em Run…
      Now I’m singing that song in my head again!
      : )

      • sandra longley says:

        Laura, I would like to send you the BLMs e-mail to me with the attached document for the WH&B Aviation operations management handbook, the link otherwise provided in that e-mail was not working..he said he was going to try and fix it when I talked to him(brian) at the aviation office. I don’t really want to give my e-mail on a forum, but I do have an alternative e-mail I could give you..otherwise Tracie posted that link on her blog over at The mustang project Blog.

        My next comment to you, I also have become very interested in “Lightning” would like to know if we could put together a group to purchase him…as a stallion that may be one day returned to Calico? I have 4 stallions and could not let him run my thought was to maybe contact Lacy J Dalton as she is starting a preserve and see if he could be moved there..My guess is we would need to act fast before they geld him..How they could pick him to geld is really bad management he has excellent conformation and obviously throws great colts..I would be willing to make the first donation to save him.

        I watch your video with Lacys music every morning before I start on this project..It Always inspires me “something worth fighting for”.

  4. Laura Leigh says:

    I’m actually in the process of setting up such a fund to try to pull as many as we can. Lightening, Tomahawk and the guy that has literally stolen my heart… General and his son. I will post details by tomorrow.
    I will e-mail you off board.

  5. sandra longley says:

    I actually ran across a ranch for lease in Fallon Nevada, I think I will call on it…It is a cold, cold miserable place and my horses will hate me for it, and the cancer rate there is 30 times normal, but i would be able to get my “boots on the ground” instead of spending all my time researching on the computer..I spent a winter on a ranch up north in Nevada and it was 60 below..said i would never live there again…Knew some cowboys there that couldn’t take it and went back to Texas..LOL

    • Laura Leigh says:

      It’s pretty stark and cold… but it calls me daily.
      If you are hiring help on your ranch when you get out there lemme know!
      You should have my e-mail now so we can talk off the board.

    • Anna says:

      hey Sandra

      let me know about the Ranch; once I get my “feet on the ground…I would like to volunteer my services to “feed; groom; pick up manure; pitch hay on a small Rescue…

      keep my in your thoughts; Anne White Keep us updated ! !

  6. Craig Downer says:

    Thanks Gracias for this tribute para este tributo Laura. It means a lot. I will endeavor to live up to it. You are doing a terrific job for the horses and their freedom. The higher truth and justice for all of life will prevail.

  7. Anna says:

    I too will strive to “soften my tone and be more peacelike instead of “warlike…

    as i continue to battle for the benefit of our Mustangs; being I don’t like to see any critter be abused by man…

    I shudder and almost croak thinking about rounding up Precious tiny Burros…oh those lovely cute desert Burros !
    what can be done to save them? they are harmless innocent

    I think the BLM are one of the most “unknowledgeable group of people i have ever confronted in my whole life !

    I have never heard people say such blasphemous remarks!

  8. Anna says:


    I doubt this link will work; but I’ll give it a try; this e-mail goes to:

    Congress; Barack; Senators; Reps. and the BLM !

  9. Anna says:

    Tip of the Month

    Each month, there will be a tip included in the Forage for Thought newsletter, which will also be posted here. The first issue was May 2010.

    May, 2010


    They either turn off the acid-making machinery in the stomach or they neutralize acid. Stomach acid is a necessary component of your horse’s immune system, destroying harmful pathogens that your horse picks up from the ground. Acid is also necessary to start protein digestion.

    June, 2010


    Do you feed garlic to help keep the bugs away? The active ingredient in raw garlic is called allicin (also known as N-propyl disulfide) and can lead to Heinz Body anemia. Commercial products use a heat processing which supposedly destroys all of the damaging allicin, thereby reducing the insect-repelling properties. It’s true, however, that the strong odor will help keep bugs away. But most folks love the real smell of horses, and would not enjoy one that reeks of garlic. Bottom line… the jury is still out on the long term safety of garlic-containing products and just may not be worth the risk.

    July, 2010

    Piles of grass clippings are not safe

    Grass clippings that stay on the pasture after mowing, where they can dry in small amounts, are generally not a problem. But never gather them into piles to feed them to your horse. Eating large amounts at one time can lead to excess fermentation in the hind gut, potentially causing colic and laminitis. Colic can also result from mold, especially prevalent in hot, humid environments. Finally, because there is no air inside a dense pile, deadly Botulism can be present.

    August, 2010

    salt, not electrolyte supplements, needs more attention during hot months

    Your horse sweats more during the summer, making electrolyte supplementation worth considering. But electrolytes alone will not protect your horse against dehydration. Your horse needs to have enough sodium (salt). One ounce per day (two Tablespoons) is adequate for maintenance during cool months, but hot, humid weather calls for at least two ounces per day (and more if your horse works). One way to accomplish this, provide a plain, white salt block in close proximity. But make sure your horse licks it – many do not due to tiny scratches that form on the tongue. Even better, is to offer salt free choice by pouring granulated table salt in a bucket (iodized only if your horse is not receiving iodine from another source). You can also add salt to each meal. Mineralized salt blocks are often neglected due their bitter taste. Be aware that electrolyte supplements should only be given to a horse that is already in good sodium balance. They are designed to replace what is lost from perspiration and should contain at least 13 grams of chloride, 6 grams of sodium, and 5 grams of potassium. If your horse works more than two hours at a time, provide a dose of electrolytes after exercise by adding it to a gallon of water (be sure to keep fresh, clean water nearby).

    September, 2010

    Five points to consider before using a calming supplement

    Agitated, nervous horses that are normally well behaved may benefit from a calming supplement. These products can contain vitamins, or minerals, or herbs, or amino acids. Which to choose? Before making a decision, consider these points:

    · An empty stomach is the main cause for behavioral issues — forage (hay and/or pasture) should be available at all times.

    · Supplementing 5,000 mg of magnesium per 500 lbs of body weight will make a positive change in demeanor if magnesium is the issue, since most horses do not receive enough of this mineral.

    · A borderline B vitamin deficiency can result when the hindgut microbial population is compromised by stress, high starch diets, illness, or antibiotics. Thiamin (vitamin B1) has been shown to be especially effective at high doses (1 mg per pound of body weight). Prebiotics that feed existing microbes also result in more B vitamin production.

    · Herbs such as chamomile, valerian, black cohosh, ginger root, and passion flower may have an over-tranquilizing effect, interact with other medications, and have side effects. Consult with your veterinarian before using.

    · Tryptophan, an essential amino acid, leads to serotonin synthesis in the brain. For this effect to occur, it is best to offer as a paste between meals. When added to a meal, tryptophan will not be used for serotonin production and the calming effect will be significantly diminished.

  10. Anna says:

    Forage for Thought: Dr. Juliet Getty; Ph.D. author; nutritionist

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