Why we do this…
The Central Oregon Wild Horse Coalition (COWHC) was established as a non-profit organization in 2002. This was primarily in response to observations that Federal Agencies were inadequately funded for, or perhaps lacked clear objectives of managing wild horses beyond crisis response and adherence to assigned herd numbers. A large, but fragmented, group of individuals already supported the local wild horse herd, and COWHC offered a way to explore common positions and build an organization that would help fill existing voids in wild horse management. Since then our all-volunteer organization has partnered with the Forest Service, BLM, and other foundations to expand the horizons of intelligent wild horse management.
Although wild horse advocates’ opinions are as vastly different as the Western range is wide, our organization has never embraced the vision of returning to an era when a million wild horses roamed the open rangelands. We recognize that the world has changed since the early numbers of free-roaming herds resulting from frontier exploration and industry. Expanding human populations and all the pursuits associated with our existence have created an environment that must be carefully and strategically managed on every front. We have altered the delicate balance of native ecology to the point where every decision has an increasingly dramatic and permanent impact on every other resource. Certainly it would not serve even the horses to allow populations to increase beyond the carrying capacity of the land.
At the same time, there is strong evidence that the equine is not only native to the North American continent, but that he originated here. Early equines evolved, to a great extent, on the northern reaches of this continent, and migrated across the land bridge to eventually become the very animals that built this nation. Wild horses thrive here because this is their native habitat. We should not discount their symbiotic contributions to a healthy ecosystem, and we should explore ways to capitalize on this to help restore the American West. In this light, we believe that current management practices could potentially contribute to the extinction of the very traits that make the wild horse relevant to our world today. A balance must be struck, and soon, between trends that would eliminate viable populations to the point of genetic collapse, and the counterpoint to this, an absolute cessation of all gather and management practices that maintain herds in healthy numbers. We try to operate on that sliver of middle ground, or more accurately, uncharted ground, where we can speak to both extremes and present constructive alternatives.
The American Mustang has been the subject of intense debate and the victim of bloody turf battles and exploitation for decades. While this has occurred both openly and clandestinely, some have discovered that each wild horse bears certain characteristics that make him worthy of preservation. In contrast to the horses we’ve cultivated for express purposes; speed, color, conformation, cow sense, small ears, big muscles, great size or pint size, the wild horse retains the core attributes that make the equine the perfect partner with us. The intelligence, nobility, endurance, and intuitiveness of the Mustang are, ironically, now being employed to protect and heal us. For example, the U.S. Border Patrol favors Mustangs over domestic breeds, because they not only have the physical capacity to climb mountains and traverse rugged miles, but also have uncanny abilities to key into the out-of-place; a hidden fugitive, an unnatural substance, a scent on the wind of a lost child. Similarly, therapy organizations are turning more and more to Mustangs because of their keen sense of human need, whether child or adult.
The Mustang sees us without our facades, and is by nature compassionate and caring, even toward other species. Time and time again, the wild horse has healed the hopeless; abused children, broken adults, inmates in prisons. We have personally seen countless instances of local school children responding to our once-wild horses in transformative ways.
We simply want to preserve this phenomenal creature, not in numbers that threaten his own existence or that damage the land that must sustain us all, but in genetically viable populations that will thrive into the future.
Accomplishments and Objectives:
- Provide one of the most accurate herd inventories in the nation, annually bringing a cadre of 80 volunteers to the wild horses’ turf, which encompasses approximately 40,000 acres.
- Purchased safe wild horse handling equipment to facilitate adoptions and rescues.
- Host annual adoptions and training clinics which contribute to successful relationships between wild horse and adopter and relieve taxpayers’ financial burdens.
- Provide rescue/capture services and provide interim care while permanent homes are sought. Develop network for re-homing, training, and overall success.
- Educate the public in proper care of wild and domestic equines, to help alleviate abuse and neglect situations.
- Work with genetic researchers to develop collection protocols and management tools. COWHC was involved in one of the first and most extensive small-herd genetic projects ever undertaken, due to our large number of committed volunteers and working relationship with managing Federal agencies. We are collaborating with the Florida International University Forensics Institute to help develop sampling techniques which may benefit many herbivore species.
- Perform necropsies and other studies to determine factors which may be impacting local horse herd and potentially other species in the area. Trends of physical anomalies in the herd led to suspicion that heavy metals specific to the Ochoco Mountains could potentially impact game and livestock species as well. Our testing has led us away from this conclusion, but the implications would have been far-reaching had we discovered the presence of mercury or arsenic. No other studies are being done locally or nationally to measure these possible influences.
- Conduct school field trips and other educational activities which not only involve hands-on wild horse information, but inspire excitement about local history and scientific topics. We have found that the wild horse is a perfect catalyst for developing fresh interest in a broad spectrum of learning.
- Create an additional branch of our organization devoted entirely to on-the-ground improvements which will result in substantive cost savings where horse captures result from lack of water or forage. Wild Horse Solutions will focus on water developments which benefit all high desert species, and can be the management tool which re-routes horses and big game species away from threatened natural water sources. This is particularly necessary as effects of climate change and human development are realized. Wild Horse Solutions is also chartered to provide forage improvements, fence removals, fertility control research, and other projects which restore health to horse herds and their habitat, reducing the need for pipelining horses into expensive long-term holding facilities. www.wildhorsesolutions.org
- Participate in conferences and national dialog which build consensus between Government, industry, environmental, and wild horse advocacy interests with the goal of sustainable, humane, visionary management of the American Mustang residing on public lands.
The Central Oregon Wild Horse Coalition sees the Wild Horse as more than an icon of the freedom so central to our national identity. He is a sort of modern Indicator Species, in that a society which still values the wide Western skyline and the thunder of wild herds running just to be running, must also be a society that is thoughtful, compassionate, and willing to consider many sides of important discussions. As an organization, we are privileged to have a role in shaping our cultural perspective, and our view of the Western range is whole and healthy only if there are still proud stallions vigilant over thriving family bands of American Mustangs.
Gayle Hunt, President/Founder, Central Oregon Wild Horse Coalition