My name is Melissa and I just joined AWHC as their new Deputy Director. I’m reaching out today to share my story about why I’m all in on the fight to protect America’s wild horses and burros.
I’ve always been a photographer at heart. As a passionate advocate for animal protection, I’ve been behind the lens — as the owner of RJStein Photography — to bring awareness to the plight of wild mustangs.
My journey began in 2018, when I attended a photography workshop in Utah with the beloved Onaqui wild horses. I’ll never forget the moment — first I saw the dust clouds on the horizon, then I heard their hooves from afar. All of a sudden dozens of the most magnificent wild horses crested the hill and I was able to capture every stunning moment through the lens of my camera. It was truly life changing.
When I looked at my photos, I was awestruck by a beautiful dun pinto stallion who was known as Stargazer. He was living as a bachelor back then, and hadn’t yet started his family. I was in love. I continued to go to Onaqui over the next several years to visit with Stargazer and was delighted when he finally found his first and only mare — a beautiful grey mustang named Northstar, or Nora for short.
In 2021, the BLM’s helicopters descended on the Onaqui wild horses, and Stargazer was captured. This once brave stallion looked so lost and confused. Not only that, but he was without Nora.
At that moment — looking at the photos of him being rounded up still makes me cry — I was determined to reunite him with Nora so their story could continue on. I refused to allow their bond to be destroyed by the BLM. My husband and I adopted the pair so that they could live happily together on our farm — the next best thing to being wild and free. It is so special to know that they can never be torn apart again.
Photo credit: Darlene Smith Photography
I wanted to share this story because it’s a critical part of why I joined AWHC — it is the largest grassroots organization in the U.S. doing real, meaningful work to protect our cherished wild horses and burros.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the US Forest Service, and the National Park Service have long treated these long-eared equids with disregard and deliberate misinformation campaigns. Cattle grazing, road-building, big game hunting, gold and lithium mining and other commercial uses erode their habitat and damage their access to water.
With Deb Haaland as Secretary of Interior, there’s a chance to change this harmful pattern. But it may not save their skins unless awareness leads to concerted action — and pronto.
In the spirit of Burro Awareness Month, we would like to share with you a guest blog about these incredible animals written by advocate and burro-extraordinaire, Charlotte Roe. After you read it, follow the link at the bottom to support America’s burros.
You may be familiar with the Sand Wash Basin Herd Management Area (HMA) in Colorado because of the world famous stallion, Picasso who called this 157,000-acre public lands habitat home, and who died wild and free on this very land. Unfortunately, the surviving members of his herd may not be so lucky.
The BLM is currently planning to roundup and remove over 80% of the Sand Wash wild mustangs, leaving only a population 163 — about 1 horse per every 980 acres!
Adding insult to injury, the local organization, Sand Wash Advocate Team (SWAT) has worked tirelessly to implement a PZP program to humanely manage the Sand Wash mustangs — and it’s working. Instead of a costly and cruel helicopter roundup, the BLM should invest more time and resources to support SWAT’s efforts and expand the PZP program in the HMA. This would be more humane for the horses and more cost-effective for the American taxpayers.
It’s unfortunately more bad news for the wild horses and burros that reside within the Calico Complex in Nevada. The BLM is targeting the estimated 1,700 wild horses and 70 wild burros for removal in this nearly 600,000-acre area.
The agency is also considering extreme manipulation of the wild horse and burro population remaining on the range by implementing unproven IUDs over scientifically proven PZP fertility control, unnaturally skewing the sex ratio in favor of males, and managing a fourth of the population as non-reproducing, including by castrating stallions.
Wow – the insanity has already begun. Y’all JUST SAVED TEN MORE LIVES since I arrived in WA to pick up the Stallion and the 2 Pregnant mares!
I was getting ready to head back home to NV on Monday when I received another urgent phone call for an orphaned, abandoned foal. Then a call for an abandoned, injured, newborn orphaned lamb. It never stops!
This morning I had Doc come out and pull Coggins on “Nicholas”, (Our most recent Emergency), I was prepping to finally head home and my phone rang again. There are “tinies” at the Shipper’s and I should be getting them tomorrow. So apparently I am not going home anytime soon.
Sadly, NEARLY ALL the funds have been depleted on this last rescue. Every day that I am here, I have to have folks at home taking care of the rescue. Although most of their time is volunteer, it still adds up substantially. (They are amazing!) We also need to get another load of hay for the “special needs” kids at the rescue. Fuel costs are rising and that is a substantial cost for us even before the ridiculous prices we are already starting to see.
I have to get more shelter set up for these critical babies. As the numbers increase, so does the need for safe nursery space to give them what they need.
We spent roughly $2000+ simply to “save” these lives, and spent over $1,000 on vetting for health certs, (and that does not include the latest couple visits). That was just to get the horses to camp and keep them off the slaughter truck. (Just in the last 2 weeks). This DOES NOT include medical care, feed, hauling, etc. It is just a drop in the bucket of the rescue expenses.
I realize folks are struggling. However, I will keep fighting for these lives as long as I have the funding to do so. Sadly I have been warned that they are planning on “hitting it hard” this year because there are so many horses. So I am asking everyone who wants me to keep saving these precious lives to make it happen.
Great news however, these last horses that you saved are nearly all adopted, and yes, we saved the “3 Old Ladies”. They are currently in NV and being assessed. They are approximately 25 years old and sweet as can be.
Sadly we had to let Angel Face leave this world that was nothing but cruel to her. She was in excruciating pain and it was much worse the photos showed. She is running free in Heaven with the Angels and is finally free from the horrific pain. I am still working on the mare with the long feet. However, her owner did get them trimmed (how well I don’t know), and supposedly the vet is going to assess her. I am still on standby. I know it costs a lot to set these souls free, but it is the right thing to do! It is beyond devastating and it feels like you are being torn apart, yet I will always do it if no one else will.
When you see Angel Face below, please know that your love and support ended her horrible suffering. YOU made such a difference for this beautiful soul by alleviating her endless pain. THANK YOU!
This is the link to our Chilly Pepper’s Wild Horse & Orphan Foal Adoption Page,where you can see the progress and new lives of the horses YOU HAVE HELPED SAVED! (I can’t believe I didn’t do this years ago, but it is so fun to see the horses, babies and critters that are enjoying and thriving in their new lives.)
More babies and a rare chance to save a beautiful stallion. They need YOU to save their lives. I received a call from the shipper and one of the catchers today.
Sadly, our coffers are close to empty. I still need about $5000 to cover the latest group’s shipping, vetting and to pay the wonderful folks who are taking care of the critters and our special needs kids in NV, while I am up here rescuing. I realize the groups are running together, (believe me, I want to go home…) But as usual, in the middle of the last 20+ rescued, as I wait for paperwork I get another call for more.
MORE BABIES need us NOW! I have to give the catcher and trapper an answer by tomorrow to see if we can take on the new ones in front of us. We need to save the stallion too. LET’S SAVE THEM ALL!!
I realize the pandemic has wiped out so much income and caused so much hardship, and I so appreciate every penny that has been donated.
However, I can only rescue as many critters as I have funds for. I need to raise the funds to finish this last group (we still have 12 available for adoption) and then have enough to safely and responsibly save this next group.
I will keep going as long as I can, but right now I cannot responsibly say yes to more horses without your help and commitment!
WILL YOU HELP ME SAVE THEM? Just this morning they were with their families. Tonight, alone but together, they scream for their Mama’s and their band. Please help us give them the gift of life. I asked, and there is no where else for them to go, and we all know what that means.
Some sad/glad news, we had to say goodbye to Ranger today. Ranger was a supposed 20 year old that y’all saved years ago. In reality he was 30 ish at the time and he has spent the last years in absolute heaven on earth with a wonderful family and their 3 kids. He has been a special needs and on mash and this morning I had to say goodbye. He had the most beautiful ending to his life, but it still hurts and it broke my heart.
THIS is a big part of what y’all do. You not only save lives, but you give these animals the most precious gift possible, by allowing them to be loved and spoiled the last years of their lives.
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO KEEP HELPING US SAVE MORE LIVES, YOU CAN GO TO:
I don’t even know how to write this post. A happy family, a horse trainer by trade, a gorgeous stallion raised from birth – and in a split second – tragedy struck.
That horrifying day, their beloved stallion turned without warning, charging and stomping his owner in the face, nearly to death. If his wife hadn’t interfered, it would have been over. His injuries were horrific and devastating. After fighting through and conquering life threatening injuries and unbelievable pain, his world would once again collapse.
With the craziness today, no financial help was available. On top of that, their home was sold out from under them with no warning from an unethical landlord. With no warning, only days to move, no income and still fighting ongoing, life threatening issues, they had no choice. THEY HAD TO FIND SAFE HOMES FOR THEIR HORSES!
This is what rescue is supposed to be about. These amazing people did EVERYTHING right. Yet they were dealt every heartache imaginable. It is obvious that when the choice was there, the horses and animals were cared for first. Now they simply need our help.
Chilly Pepper was asked to step up and take on the horses until we can find homes. Some of these horses are well trained, valuable, papered horses and the only money these folks have to survive on is what we can pay for their beloved “kids”.
I saw them today. We sat and cried and talked about why things happen and having faith that somewhere out there is something better. Trusting God is the only way to survive something so hard. At this point he cannot even step into the pen. The slightest bump could end everything, his injuries are that severe.
Let’s help at least keep his horses safe. I will be picking them up and getting them vetted before bringing them to NV. We are praying folks will step up to purchase them as there are some wonderful horses available. THE FAMILY WILL BE PAID FOR THEIR HORSES! (We also need to cover vetting, transport, care and feed etc. until they are all re-homed.)
Imagine the horse you raised from a baby “snapping” in a single second. On top of that, your income is gone, your heart is broken, and in the struggle to take care of your family and do what is best for your horses, your heart once again is breaking into a million pieces. These horses simply have no where to go.
So let’s show this family that there is still love out there in spite of all the ugliness.
It’s time to do everything we can to show love and compassion and keep his horses safe.
The tears are pouring once again as I write this. I live with chronic pain, but there is nothing like the pain of not even being able to go and love on your horse.He is struggling so hard to do the best thing for not only his horses, but his family. Please help us help him!
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO KEEP HELPING US SAVE MORE LIVES, YOU CAN GO TO:
With a heavy heart, we have sad news to share with you.
The Bureau of Land Management set up a trap outside the Fish Springs Herd Area near Gardnerville, Nevada to remove wild horses over the Thanksgiving holiday. Unfortunately, an entire family of wild horses lost their freedom as a result. Two treasured stallion brothers and four generations gone in a flash.
This is Samson.
Samson is a beautiful and respected stallion, known and loved by the local community — And known internationally among the tens of thousands of people who keep up with him and his fellow Fish Springs horses on Facebook.
After being caught in the trap, Samson and his family were loaded onto trailers and shipped to BLM holding pens near Reno. Soon the family could be separated by the BLM and sold off to the highest bidder.
We know Samson and his family belong together and deserve to be free. That’s why we’re organizing a national petition drive to keep them together and return them to the wild.
Samson’s family includes his brother Jet, and his mares Old Momma, her daughter Apple, Apple’s daughter Dumplin’ and Dumplin’s baby little Sam (pictured together below). Old Momma has been on the Fish Springs Range for more than 20 years and wants to go home.
They lost their freedom because one resident called the BLM to formally complain about these wild horses on his property.
The local community pressure was enormous, calling on the resident to remove the trap, which he finally did.
The very person who called in the complaint with the BLM regrets doing so and wants Samson and his family to stay together on their home range in Fish Springs.
ONE MORE LIFE TO SAVE – A YOUNG STALLION WHO IS BLIND IN ONE EYE. HE NEEDS YOUR HELP TONIGHT!, and then our trailer will be full.
We (YOU) SAVED ALL 4 of the Yakima foals. One of them already has a potential adopter and thankfully the other 3 will be heading to one of our favorite “partners”, whom we work with every year and who is not only an angel, but an excellent “foal mama”.So ALL these are safe and will shortly be off of our feed bill as well.(We will be helping out with a small care package, but Dannielle will be saving the rescue a great deal of time and money and find the WA babies their perfect forever home.)
We were able to commit to save 3 horses, 2 donkey stallions, a mini and 1 heavily pregnant donkey mama. (The other 2 we were orginally trying to save were lucky and found other homes.
However, we have ONE MORE we NEED TO SAVE ASAP! He is a stallion, who is blind in one eye and needs to stay out of the slaughter pipeline. We always try to pull a few stallions no matter where we are as they often have so little chance to be saved.
We have most of the kids paid for, but sadly my truck is in the shop to the tune of about $1500. (We have already put over 30,000?? miles on her this year, and she is running strong but needed some new seals and a couple of repairs to avoid a major one). We just paid $443 to the vet in WA to get the health certificates and Coggins test so the 4 can go to their new homes, and we need a bit more funding to pull off saving the stallion and to keep the rescues, new saves and deliveries on the road.
THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SAVING ALL THESE LIVES. LET’S MAKE SURE WE CAN ADD THIS YOUNG, PARTIALLY BLIND STALLION TO THE HAPPY LIST!
THANK YOU FOR SAVING US!!! OUR LIVES MATTER!
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO KEEP HELPING US SAVE MORE LIVES, YOU CAN GO TO:
Right now, our observer is in Wyoming’s Red Desert, where the BLM is rounding up 1,400 wild horses from our public lands. At least six horses have died in the first five days of the roundup, including:
Two foals who were run to death. (“capture shock”)
One foal who was euthanized after breaking his leg
A six-year old stallion who was “injured and blinded by another stallion on a trailer”