Capt Bill reminds us that ranching is a time-honored and highly revered American lifestyle, and in that lifestyle horses have an important role, and will always have their place.
It seems that there are a few ranchers today who condemn anyone who is supportive of America’s wild horses as “anti-rancher,” while simultaneously spouting incorrect rhetoric saying that wild horses are not native to North America, which is a propaganda tactic designed to marginalize their right to exist in America.
So how does one respond to such arguments?
First off, let’s look at the allegation that; “there’s no such thing as indigenous horses in North America.” Of course not one of the people who make this claim have read or understand what the North American paleontological record holds.
Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia that is on point, without digressing into unrelated concepts:
“In 1848, a study On the fossil horses of America by Joseph Leidy systematically examined Pleistocene horse fossils from various collections, including that of the Academy of Natural Sciences and concluded at least two ancient horse species had existed in North America: Equus curvidens and another, which he named Equus americanus. A decade later, however, he found the latter name had already been taken and renamed it Equus complicatus. In the same year, he visited Europe and was introduced by Owen to Darwin.
As we read, there were fossils of ancient horses found in North America in the 1800’s. And since it takes thousands of years for bone to become fossilized, it’s a safe bet these horses were not dropped-off on the North American continent by the explorers in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. So much for the allegation that the Spanish and Vikings brought them!
About the photo above: “Grandfather” to the modern horse, Pliohippus appears to be the source of the latest radiation in the horse family. It is believed to have given rise to Hippidion and Onohippidion, genera that thrived for a time in South America, and to Dinohippus which in turn led to Equus. Fossils of Pliohippus that are found at many late Miocene localities in Colorado, the Great Plains of the US (Nebraska and the Dakotas) and Canada. Species in this genus lived from 12-6 million years ago.”
As we see now, without any doubt, there were in-fact horses running around North America well before Spanish or Viking explorers arrived here. That is a scientific fact.
And according to geneticists, the prehistoric North American horses may have crossed the land bridge (Aleutian Islands) in prehistoric times into Asia from North America.
The genetic lines of those original North American wild horses is certainly no longer in pure form. The original prehistoric genetic horse line has been watered down by other horses that were subsequently re-introduced from other places in the world back into North America thousands of years later by explorers such as the Spanish, including genetics stemming from the horses that the Spanish brought over in the 16th and 17th centuries, many of which became feral and bred with the descendants of the original North American stock.
Nevertheless, there is still some expression of the original genetic lines in the remaining ‘wild horses’ that exist today in the herds that are entrusted to and managed by the BLM. And there are genetic differences between the ‘wild horses’ and the modern domestic horses that have been in-bred and have undergone selective breeding programs (gene management) …
As such, the modern domestic horse, while appearing exactly like “some” wild horses are different in many ways, especially in their instinctive abilities (I.E. the trail skills of wild horses is uncanny), which is definitely affected by genes… where wild horse have the instincts remaining that allow them to do very well in hostile areas under a host of changing conditions, where most highly domesticated horses would perish. It’s very similar to the Wolf-Dog paradigm.
As far as ranchers who dislike horses, all I can say is this: What would John Wayne and Ronald Regan think about that? And I am not referring specifically to just the actors, but the real-life cowboys and ranchers that they portrayed. I suspect that the so-called ‘ranchers’ who dislike horses are not family ranchers like Cliven Bundy and his family (real cowboys and ranchers), but may in fact be corporate businessmen and anti-horse lobbyists who probably can’t even saddle or ride a horse.
Prior to modern high-production corporate ranching, the concept that cattle and horses are mutually exclusive was unheard of, and is in my opinion the antithesis of what real ranchers today and historically are about. Ranching in my opinion transcends just business, it is a time-honored and highly revered American lifestyle, and in that lifestyle, horses have an important role, and will always have their place. When I was ranching as teenager, a good horse and dog were absolutely essential on a ranch, and we admired and respected all horses. Unlike the American eagle, horses helped to literally build the America we have today.
If Americans allow corporate ranchers (businessmen with cowboy hats) to kill the remaining wild horses, which number less than 30,000 animals according to some credible reports (as many as 50,000 according to the BLM), how long will it be until they target the many millions of deer, elk and antelope next? There is no commercial meat market for these game animals, and they also utilize (to a much greater extent) the same public grazing lands where the few remaining wild horses live. It’s unreasonable to deny the existing small population of wild horses some range land, when corporate ranchers are running tens of millions of cattle and sheep on the public range lands already, and still aren’t happy… they seem to want it all for their sole use. That is simply an unacceptable and unreasonable position, and it needs to be addressed.
The gene pool that is encompassed by the remaining wild horse population is already relatively small and any further reductions will have irreversible adverse effects upon that gene pool. These horses are special and require the care that was intended under the “Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act” (the ‘Act’).
I appreciate the support of the readers of my articles on the wild horses and those who have also voiced their opinions. Americans need to reach-out to their legislators and let them know how we feel about this American tragedy (the wild horse round-up/exterminations), which breaches the spirit and intent of the Federal Act to protect these special American horses.
Cheers! Capt. Bill
Feature photo: Courtesy of Laura Simpson © 2014