The archetypical cowboy, Ken is crusty, whippet thin – no extra baggage on this boy. Somewhere in his 60’s, he seems to have faced life and its challenges head on and with a honest stubbornness that brooks no compromise. When he realized that the wild horses of Bronson forest were tangled up in bureaucratic barbed wire, he took up the banner to fight for them. Eventually the cause attracted like minded “cowboys” but not before he paid dearly for his new love. The bueracrates lied to him, his belongings were stolen, even thrown in jail for horse theft – which was still on the books at that time as a hanging offense! He told me that his case forced them to change that. Do ya think? I do find it interesting that we valued horses so much we made the theft of them punishable by death but we think nothing of throwing them away to the slaughter houses.
But finally he and his army prevailed and they managed to get the wild horses of Bronson Forest protected. The horses at Bronson are still alive and thriving because of this man and others like him.
One day he got a phone call from another crusty old cowboy, Wayne. He’d heard of Ken and what he did for the wild horses of Bronson and wondered if Ken would like to come out to see ‘his’ wild horses on the crown lands near Sundre, Alberta. “You betcha favourite worn jeans I would!” he said. ( I may have made that up but I bet he could have said it) So the 2 warriors joined forces to get the wild horses of Alberta protected under law. They are like the X-men for horses!
They spend every moment they can, watching and photographing the horses and doing what they can to raise the awareness of the plight of the wild horse. I was moved to tears to witness their love and commitment to doing what is right by these inspiring animals. These wild horses not only survived against all odds but are thriving in spite of the ranchers and the oil and gas companies spreading lies about them, trying to justify killing them. They even claim that the horses have attacked their workers! Having spent 2 days trying to get close to them I can assure you that the only way one of them attacked a human was if they cornered it.
- Last year someone/s drove by and shot a mare and her foal on the side of the road.
- The oil/gas companies don’t maintain their barbed wire fences and the horses get tangled up in them.
- The ranchers organize round-ups of the wild horse and cart them to the slaughter house, claiming that they are over grazing the land and endangering the environment, which is not true. They are actually good for the environment, unlike cattle.
- A gang of losers in pickup trucks tore around the area, shooting and terrorizing the horses until finally they were apprehended (the people, not the horses). I’m sure they felt the slap on the hand was worth it to have all that “fun”.
I got to spend 2 days with Ken & Wayne and their partners, Bernice and Susan. Around an Alberta-sized bonfire Ken talked about how they are collecting DNA from the horses to establish that the blood of rare breeds are still flowing through those veins. As he is telling his story we sensed the horses moving close by, like ghosts, curious but wary. That night I tossed and turned in the tent on the hard ground listening to the horses tearing up and down the road. “What are they doing?”, I wondered. I still don’t know but I assume it was the boys showing off for the girls cause it usually is.
During the day the 8 of us climbed into 2 pickup trucks and roamed around the Crown land that the horses call home. The gas/oil companies and the ranchers have left their brand on this land way more than the horses have. The horses adapt and get on with the business of their lives, participating in the ancient dance of life & death. It being spring, the stallions screamed their challenges to each other and the mares focused on their young and just try to stay out of the male ego’s way… much like humans.
So leaning against the truck, I got to watch these animals that I cared about before ever having met them. Being out in the wild is always a happy place for me, I can breath better. The landscape isn’t so cluttered with people’s energies. Horse energy is quiet, much the same as elephants… they help quiet me. I have had a love affair with horses since the first picture I saw of them… how is it possible that so many little girls become obsessed with horses before they ever get to meet one? I should google that question… later. I don’t even have to ride them, though I enjoy that too. Just being with them, it’s like really good therapy. There is something so special about the wild horses, they just feel right, like they belong exactly where they are. The species has given so much to mankind for hundreds of years and a few managed to get away to live their lives as they were meant to.
While Ken and Wayne and many others scramble to do their best to give people reasons to protect these valuable herds, many of us know instinctively that there is inherent value to preserving the wild things of the world. The wild things represent the earth and her environment, you can’t protect one without the other. Some people say that they are nothing but feral and destructive but the wild horses have survived on their own for hundreds of years and have as much right to live off the land as the ranchers’ cattle. If anything is destructive to the environment nothing comes close to the damage raising animals for food does.
A young girl wrote Ken once and told him she wished she could have a horse and he wrote back and told her she does, we all do. The wild horses belong to all of us, they are part of our heritage.
The special interest groups like the cattle ranchers and the oil/gas companies think their needs are more important than the wild horses. But I got news for them, that Crown land belongs to all Canadians and those horses belong to all of us. This idea that it belongs to the government is bull shit. We own the government, they serve at our pleasure.
My friend Dana, who joined me on this trip, created a great slide show about our experiences there. Hope you go take a look at it.
If you want to get more information about Ken and the wild horses check out the links below.
Check out Ken McLeod FB page for some amazing photos.
You can buy Ken McLeod’s dvd, Spirit in the Genes at amazon.com
An article in World Wildlife News explaining why the wild horses are good for the environment.