Friday, September 4, 2009

Cloud’s Herd: the death of a promise

From Straight from the Horse's Heart

by R.T. Fitch

There was a feeling of foreboding doom running through the occupants of a small motel room in distant Lovell, WY on the eve of September 3rd, 2009. Many had worked for weeks preparing a legal case to block the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from capturing and removing the world’s most famous herd of wild horses from their designated sanctuary in the Pryor Mountains – Cloud’s Herd. Only a few hours earlier, they had learned that their attempt to stop the madness had failed and the government agency would commence the brutal “gather” the following day. They huddled together in hopes of formulating a plan, a focus point on which they could rally around; even though they felt the cold bite of virtual steel handcuffs on their wrists.

There were hushed whispers and brief introductions as individuals, from around the country, waited for the leader of the Cloud Foundation, Ginger Kathrens, to say a few words. Ginger has made the preservation and protection of this herd her life’s work and each and every person assembled respected and loved her for her dedication and her efforts. She stood front and center as the brightest light in the room while a small motel desk lamp illuminated her smile. With great conviction, she spoke:
Enny award winning Ginger Kathrens speaking with volunteer wild horse advocates

Emmy award winning Ginger Kathrens speaking with volunteer wild horse advocates

“Let us not allow the events of today become a focal point of negativity for us. Although the future does not look bright, perhaps there will be something positive that we can learn from this experience; something that will be the key in finding solutions for the future. At the very least, what is unfolding here in Lovell, WY has brought all of us together, people from around the country and from around the world. Let’s take a few moments and introduce ourselves to each other.” And, with that, she nodded to a young woman sitting on the floor near her and asked;

“Tell us about yourself; where you are from; why you are here; and share your thoughts on the impending events that will be brought about tomorrow.”

One by one, each individual shared their story that had brought them to this tiny Wyoming town and what drew them to take a stand to help our country’s native wild horses. There were 17 souls, total, crammed into that little room; but, as the personal testimonies continued, a feeling of greatness began to swell amongst them. They were not just a small group of individuals who were struggling independently to have their voices heard; instead, they were a cohesive and growing presence that shared the same motivation, conviction and drive to continue to fight to save Cloud’s herd from total destruction. Present were cinematographers, reporters, authors, writers, students, and independent equine advocates. There were also a host of individuals, in attendance, due to their knowledge of past experiences with wild horses. Some simply came because, as concerned Americans, they felt compelled to help, to lend a hand to their more experienced comrades during this time of great need. This tiny group was not a room full of fragmented individuals but a cohesive force of one mind with one mission and one passion; save the wild horses. Tomorrow, they would do what they could to stand as witnesses for the horses during the unnecessary and dangerous activities of a Federal agency gone amuck, the Bureau of Land Management.

The next morning, September 3rd, the sun slipped up over the Pryor Mountains painting beautiful hues of reds and yellows across the western foothills of the Wild Horse Refuge. On any other day, such a panoramic scene would uplift the heart of even the most hardened of observers. Today, however, it could not warm or alleviate the icy feeling that ran through the veins of the wild horse advocates as a breeze of impending doom blew across those same foothills. It smelled of betrayal, loss of life, and the death of a dream.
A wild horse advocate speaking for the the bulk of America's voting population

A wild horse advocate speaking for the the bulk of America's voting population

The ambient temperature dictated that the benevolent observers should be in short sleeves. Instead, they huddled together in jackets and coats while trying to warm the bone chilling fear that coursed through their hearts and drove dread deep within their souls. They were there to watch, to question, and to represent those who could not speak for themselves. From down the mountains and over the bluffs they could collectively feel the question poised on the lips of those who had harmed no one; those whose lives were about to be destroyed; those who are known around the world as Cloud’s herd. That singular, simple and brutally honest question was: “Why?”

They asked that question before the helicopter even left to do its mean gather. They asked the question as they sat on the bluffs overlooking the trap; and, they asked the question as a small family band of wild horses with a baby in tow was driven in 90+ heat into their awaiting jail cells. Again, they asked the question, “Why?”

As they lay their heads onto their separate pillows at the end of the day, none of them could sleep; none of them could rest as they wrestled with what they had witnessed that day. The look of betrayal and loss in the eyes of the once free wild horses played over and over on the back of their eyelids as they attempted to rest. They knew that tomorrow the sun would rise, the helicopter would fly, and more wild horses would be ripped from the land that is legally designated to be theirs.

On September 3rd the world diminished and shrunk to a smaller scale with the loss of that handful of wild horses. Tomorrow, the world will implode a little further as more souls are caged and shut away.

The wild horse advocates will continue with the struggle to answer the question posed not only by the horses, but virtually the entire population of America’s voting public as it now resonates from the mountain tops: “Why?” Tomorrow, they will be greeted with the same response they had received today, the one carefully crafted and cast into stone by the elected officials of this once great land. The answer to the waiting world will echo loudly, again, from the Pryor Mountains in Montana and Wyoming. The answer will be striking in its simplicity, as the answer will be nothing more than harsh, cold, deadly…silence.


R.T. Fitch – Author of “Straight from the Horse’s Heart” and volunteer Director on the Board of Habitat for Horses

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