War Horse, a commentary

~~note: this site is my “blog.” The information site on “Wild Horses” is http://wildhorseeducation.org

Poster art by Fortunino Matania

“War Horse,” the much anticipated screen adaptation by Steven Spielberg opened in theatres across the country on Christmas Day.

As someone deeply involved in the issues facing both our wild and domestic equines, I actually went to a movie theatre for the first time in ages to view the film. Not only was this film about my favorite subject, horses, but it was done by one of my favorite directors of all time, Steven Spielberg.

Speilberg first “rocked my world” with “Empire of the Sun,” (not ET). Released in 1987 this autobiographical tale tells the story of James Graham, a boy “of privilege” that has his life shattered after the invasion of Shanghai in 1941. Spielberg wove his tale so that the audience became “Jim.” You experienced everything through the masterful performance of Christian Bale and through the vision of a great director. “Jim, try not to think so much!” is a line delivered at just the right moment, in just the right way, that it has haunted me for over twenty years.

The subject of war, and it’s cost to the human spirit, was again tackled by this master film maker in “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan.” Both of these films, although executed with very different directorial choices, speak directly to the transformation of the human soul through the horror of human action and the ability of the human spirit to transcend. We all remember Shindler agonizing that he could have saved “Just one more.”

So Christmas Day of 2011 I took my “war weary” self to the theatre to watch “War Horse.”

Now you may not like the analogy of “war weary.” But that is how I feel. Most of you know my work for the wild ones but are unfamiliar with a past that includes a decade of work in the “horse slaughter” issue. Our “front” is taking a massive onslaught this year as our rear scrambles to deal with the issues at the front and behind our own lines. Our beloved equines, both wild and domestic, are under siege.

I plunked down the ticket price, that has gone up significantly since the last time I treated myself to a film, anticipating another “masterpiece.”

Waiting in line to find a seat I watched the movie goers leave the theatre after watching the film. There were mixed reviews. One man said “It was good” as he made the “so-so” motion with his hand. Another said “If you don’t have a tissue, don’t go in.”

A woman in line next to me confided that she had not been to a movie in a long time, but this one was about a horse. “Me, too,” I smiled.

We eagerly took our seats.

After 23 minutes of previews that flickered and had to be reset, the film began.

I began to realize that I was not going to see the Spielberg I had anticipated. I was watching a Director held by constraint.

The first third of the film is too long. It had a “made for TV feel.” Spielberg then focuses his camera lens on a plow during a scene that is to demonstrate the heart of “Joey,” our equine “star,” and “Albert” our human “spirit” focus of the film. That is when I remembered this film was created for Disney.

Don’t get me wrong here. I cried. I cried eight times during the film. The opening scene had me in tears as “Joey” the newborn demonstrates his legs by running side by side with his mom. I have seen so many youngsters that can’t keep up to their mothers during the helicopter chases on public land and moms so tired they are fighting to just keep the pace. I have seen so many babes taken from that protective space and stuck in pens during the most horrific experience of their bands existence… it didn’t take much for me to need a tissue.

Archive photo of WWI (photographer not credited at source)

As we enter into the war, a third of the way through the film, we begin to comprehend the first World War.

In a battle (the first the British engage in the story and the first time you actually are told you are in Britain and not in Scotland, Wales or Ireland) you are taken to what I assume is the battle at Mons. The only true cavalry charge of WWI takes place at Mons. WWI is the transitional point in human warfare into the “mechanization” era. Spielberg does demonstrate very effectively how the cavalry charge does not meet the machine gun successfully, regardless of the belief of British officers of the day.

After that point we learn that horses are utilized for transportation of wounded and the machines we now rely on to win wars. But we see these things in small vignettes.

Each time I feel that Spielberg will take me to that “real” place of experience, that had been relayed to me by my grandfather, we get close to the destination but never truly arrive. It kept making me wonder how Spielberg would have portrayed the story without restraint of a PG-13 rating. Not a thought you want as you wait to be transported from your seat into a film.

Casualty counts are not kept on horses and mules. Yet the estimate is more than 8 million horses and mules died in the conflict on all sides. 8 million died. It is estimated that 2 and one half million were treated for wounds and 2 million of those returned to the war.

A quarter of a million horses were purchased or taken from farmers at the beginning of the war for the British army.

As the conflict raged on more countries joined the efforts and horses were needed.

Yes, the “Yankees” entered in the war. The “Yankees” were not only American Soldiers, but America’s horses. America’s horses carried our soldiers but also those of other Nations. During the conflict two-thirds of the horses used by Britain were supplied by the US.

During World War I ranchers went into business selling horses to the military. All of Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge and much of the area we now call the “Tri-State Complex” had horses “harvested” and sent into battle in Europe and Africa. It is estimated that a million wild horses went into conflict, none of them returned to American soil.

American horses from the open plains of the west were described by Captain Sydney Galtrey of the British Cavalry “in a rough and ready shape – they were shoeless, long-haired, tousled-maned and had ragged hips.  But they were tough; generations of their kind had become completely at home with roaming out in the open and in all kinds of weather.”

“You put your mask on him first,” said Grandpa “He can carry you out, you can’t carry him.”

Many soldiers were moved deeply and carried stories of the mounts that carried them to safety or that they saw die horrific deaths.

Gas mask for man and horse demonstrated by an American Soldier National Archives and Records Administration cir 1917-18

I sat in the theatre with this knowledge. We would briefly touch the reality of a “War Horse” in the film and then it would vanish.

Then the scene came… (used in the trailers) a scene where “Joey” looses a companion and is faced with the “machine.” The war blazes around him as he flees an early tank. He seemingly can’t escape and vaults over the “beast.” His flight takes him through an horrific battlefield where earlier we had witnessed the casualties to man. He crashes through barbed wire. He begins to collect it as he runs through the destructive path laid by man. (I was crying and teeth clenched as I have seen what barbed wire can do and we lost some of our wild ones this year during roundups to the cruelty of the invention).

He becomes immobilized.

As dawn rises and snow begins to fall we watch as the combatants come together for a brief moment to recognize the spirit of an “amazing horse.” The scene is pure Spielberg. As the tears stream down my face I watch as “enemies” cooperate to free “Joey.” I care about “Joey” and the two men involved. I am finally “in” the film.

Only for a brief moment at the end of the piece do we even peripherally become aware of the possible fate of many of the horses. A “butcher” is present at auction. If you are not informed, you are never told the truth. You are never told how many the “butcher” actually takes.

This film will be on the shelf next to “The Black Stallion” and “My friend Flicka.” It is a “love story” story of a horse and a boy/man.

Does this film have the power of “Black Beauty” to raise the consciousness of a nation? A novel that was responsible for creating a climate to pass the first humane care laws in our country… I don’t know.


The Night Before Christmas

Click on the illustration above by Kerry Kelly of the Houston Chronicle to go to RT Fitch and Vicki Tobin's version of a "Wild Horse" Night Before Christmas.

Click the illustration above to go to a version of “T’was the Night Before Christmas,” adapted for the wild ones by RT Fitch and Vicki Tobin.

Still rebuilding the image/video data base. Over 30,000 images in the last 3 months along with 10,000 video clips and 75 documents. I keep getting side-tracked by several things. Going to try to get myself a “day off.”

All of the documents have been filed on both cases now. I knew that things would get crazy for me this last quarter of 2011 but I had no idea just how bad, January promises to be even busier. Often I can’t write back to y’all as fast as I’d like to or return calls. Please be patient… I am only one human being… I am really not a machine.

There will be a “Year in Review” coming of the documentation at roundups for 2011. It is always an odd experience when you begin to edit. You become immersed in the experience as you relive each clip… but it is repetitive and you see things that you did not see or that you pushed away from emotionally in order to “get the job done.” But when you edit… let’s just say it’s been one hell of a year.

Emotions are high right now with the slaughter issue in high gear. We all know our wild ones are also set in the target zone. But for tonight remember there is no chopper in the morning and no slaughter plant that will receive horses on US soil. Listen to that silence and pull it close… it is going to be very hard to remember what that feels like as we get ready to tackle some of the biggest battles we have ever faced to protect America’s beloved equines….

But for tonight listen… heal what you can… and get ready for 2012.

AND remember WARHORSE opens tomorrow. This will bring our horses into a spotlight of public conversation that we have not had for a long time… talk to everyone you can… it is a chance to take the conversation out of history and bring it into today. Let folks know the horses taken this winter from NW NV are descendants of some of the horses that fought in WWI… imagine that as you see the trailer. From the desert to the battle in Europe… like no other animal in the history of our Nation.

Calico Complex, First Phase completed

The first phase of the Calico Complex (Tri-state Complex) is complete.

Today saw the small band that often crosses the Highway (34) outside of Gerlach removed.

Stud released 12-17 Calico Complex

21 studs and 11 mares were returned to the Warm Springs/Black Rock West HMA’s.

To date apox 1050 animals have been removed in the planned operation. The BLM website states “The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Winnemucca District, Black Rock Field Office will gather approximately 1,300 wild horses and 140 wild burros, of which as many as 350 wild horses would be released back to the range following the gather. ”

BLM’s gather status reports can be found here: http://www.blm.gov/nv/st/en/fo/wfo/blm_programs/wild_horses_and_burros/TriState_Calico/gatreports.html

Leap back “home”

At the High Rock Complex roundup (prior to Calico and part of the supposed Tri-State Complex) all animals were returned to the range with a hip brand marking their home ranges. During the Calico portion of the operation in this proposed Complex with the stated purpose of “cohesive and coordinated” management no studs were marked prior to release.

READ THE REST: http://wildhorseeducation.org

12-14 Calico

Still not able to load the all of the video online from the first half of Calico. Days have been spent at the roundup or crafting the doc’s for the Access case and the HUmane handling case, as well as research for other actions. So I apologize but expect to have an inclusive video recap of the entire roundup shortly.

Mom and Baby Calico, Palomino Valley Center 12-13

Yesterday was spent researching cases and checking on animals at PVC. There will some incredible horses coming up for adoption from Calico and High Rock. Remember many of these animals are direct descendants of the horses that filled the ranks of the US cavalry all the way through WWI. As you make plans to see “War Horse,” remember our American Icons that fought for freedom and need your help to fight for the respect and care they deserve.

Calico Roundup 12/14, sweat soaked

Two groups were taken today. The first group came in soaked in sweat. They began to steam after they hit the trap. This group was immediately loaded on a trailer. The trailer sat for over 3 hours at the trap. It was not a “full load” and the hope was to fill the trailer before taking them to temporary. The trailer left the range with only this group onboard.

The second known group to be chased never made the trap or clear view of the observation area. You could see the helicopter rise and then dip behind a mountain, dust rise back and forth in a canyon.  After over an hour of known pursuit the pilot refueled and did not resume moving that group. The reason is not known.

Observation had to quickly move to the opposite side of the valley. Horses were coming from the other side. This is the first time I have observed the trap mouth at the operation. Pilot appears to have over shot the group and had to turn around to get back behind the horses prior to pushing them to the trap. Video soon.

Last group on 12/14

Mares at holding have received PZP for return to the area. Several studs have also been selected. Please note that the studs at Calico ARE NOT receiving the hip brand mark for HMA as horses in High Rock received. This is an incredible opportunity to gain real data on animal movement after a large scale removal. The opportunity to gain actual data, and not theorhetical arguments, has been missed. The request was made at High Rock and granted. The request was made of Gene Seidlitz of the Winnemucca District of BLM NV and denied.

You can read BLM’s daily updates on the operation at this link: http://www.blm.gov/nv/st/en/fo/wfo/blm_programs/wild_horses_and_burros/TriState_Calico/gatreports.html

I would sincerely like to thank the BLM for cessation of the use of the words “no incident” on their report page.

Please go to WildHorseEducation.org to donate to the research and field observation effort, thank you.

Wild Horse Education Releases Analysis of BLM report on Triple B

Analysis of Triple B report released by BLM has been published on Wild Horse Education’s website here: http://wildhorseeducation.org/2011/12/11/analysis-of-blm-report-on-triple-b-conduct/

Research will be published shortly on several other areas. The last Brief to be filed in the Ninth Circuit case will be public shortly.

AND I will be on “Dover’s World” Tuesday, “The National Day of the Horse.”

Click here to read the entry on Dover’s blog: http://doversworld.com/blog/2011/12/11/dovers-world-december-13th-the-national-day-of-the-horse-with-laura-leigh/

Downloading photos and will have more information for you all soon!

Triple B Investigation Report Finally Released

Calico roundup December 2011

BLM Issues Report on Inhumane Wild Horse Roundup Allegations

Report Admits Wrongdoing Related to Inhumane Treatment

HOUSTON, (WHFF) – Today the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released the long awaited report on its internal investigation into allegations of inhumane treatment in connection with the Triple B wild horse roundup that occurred in Nevada during July and August of this year.

The documentation, and subsequent lawsuit filed by Laura Leigh of Wild Horse Education (WHE) and Wild Horse Freedom Federation (WHFF), resulted in a court order directing BLM pilots to temporarily stop their aggressive and harmful attacks on wild horses.  The court’s order was in response to videotaped evidence of BLM helicopters actually hitting horses to frighten and force them towards capture.  The legal action, filed by attorney Gordon Cowan of Reno, documented multiple additional acts of abuse and aggression by BLM towards the wild horses, including deprivation of food and water, use of electric cattle prods to shock the horses, and cruel handling at various stages of the capture.

The BLM report admits that it saw “specific instances of inappropriate, aggressive handling” and that wrongdoing had occurred, and provides recommendations for future roundups.  The report acknowledged the dangerously close helicopters, excessive pursuit of individual and small groups of horses, the use of rags as whips around horses’ heads, and “kicking, slamming of gates, pinning in gates, twisting of tails during horse loading processes.”  But despite all these admitted acts, BLM refused to agree with “animal welfare experts” that the horses were treated inhumanely.

“I find the report encouraging,” states Leigh, “however it is of interest that no document filed by the BLM in the course of litigation admits any wrongdoing occurred.  And the recommendations in the document are not in effect on the ground.  At the recent Calico roundup I have witnessed several instances of inhumane treatment that are in conflict with the recommendations.  There is no excuse for not having a standard in place before any further helicopters fly.”

Judge McKibben’s pending ruling will address the request for a postponement of the roundups until a policy is in place that outlines handling and a system of consequence for violations.

“The idea of sane and sensible management starts with honest conversation,” states R.T. Fitchauthor and president of WHFF.  “We have attempted to discuss these policies of treatment of the horses before, during and after their capture with BLM, but the possibility of productive dialogue was ignored by the BLM until litigation became a necessity.  A federal agency that insists on operating in such a manner is breaching its obligation to the public.”

Links of interest:

BLM report: http://www.blm.gov/pgdata/etc/medialib/blm/wo/Communications_Directorate/public_affairs/news_release_attachments.Par.51335.File.tmp/TripleBReport.pdf

Some observations since Triple B