Tag Archives: Wild Beauty: Mustang Spirit of the West

Wild Case of Mismanagement

Wild Beauty: Mustang Spirit of the West

by Christie Robb

Did you know that, in the United States, wild horses run free on publicly-owned land in 10 states? These lands are managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), charged by a 1971 Concessional Act signed into law by Nixon to protect the horses and keep them in balance with the overall ecosystem in which they live.  

In shooting footage of wild horses for her 2020 Disney+ film Black Beauty, Ashley Avis became familiar with the Onaqui mountain herd outside of Salt Lake City, Utah and was shocked to find that instead of prospering under BLM’s care, the horses were disappearing. According to the filmmaking team, privately-owned cattle and sheep (often owned by rich ranchers and  large corporations) are being allowed to graze on the land in large numbers. They are much harder on the ecosystem, but it’s the horses that are scapegoated for the damage done to the land. The horses are rounded up via helicopters owned by private contractors, and herded into holding facilities, then sold at auction, often to slaughterhouses. The film alleges that up to one half of the BLM’s budget is spent on long- and short-term holding facilities, rather than on maintaining the horses on the public land itself.

The BLM often argues that the horses are overpopulated and in poor body condition. The herd sizes must be reduced to avoid future starvation. If this justification is undercut by the robust physical appearance of the horses once penned up, another rationale is adopted, for example, upcoming drought conditions.

Shot on location in various states including Oregon, Wyoming, North Dakota, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah, the film features breathtaking cinematography of the diverse wild landscapes across the American west and the majestic horses that inhabit them. So, of course, it is equally devastating to watch the horses running terrified from whirring helicopter blades, bloodied in cages, and separated from and screaming for their families.

Avis certainly does an effective job of spotlighting the plight of these animals and tugging at our heart strings. Hopefully her storytelling leads to positive change.