There is a uniquely Western thrill in witnessing a herd of wild mustangs galloping across a sagebrush-dotted hillside.
There is a concomitant melancholy to seeing acres of small corrals stretching across Palomino Valley near Reno, each filled with milling mustangs, as recounted in this week’s newspaper column, available online at The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press. These are the shaggy, skinny, sway-backed, pied, dappled and spotted unadoptables imprisoned by the Bureau of Land Management for the crime of overbreeding in the wild.
You get a sense of this contrast in the pages of rancher H. Alan Day’s new book, “The Horse Lover: A Cowboy’s Quest to Save the Wild Mustangs,” written with Lynn Wiese Sneyd. Published by the University of Nebraska Press, the book goes on sale this month.
Back in the late 1980s at the suggestion of a fellow rancher Day persuaded the BLM and an assortment of Washington bureaucrats to let him run 1,500 head of wild horses on a ranch he had just purchased in South Dakota. At the time it was costing the BLM $2.65 a day per head to warehouse the surplus animals. Day calculated he could allow the horses to range over the large fenced grassy pastures of his 32,000-acre ranch near St. Francis, S.D., which he renamed Mustang Meadows Ranch, and charged the federal government only $1.15 a head per day.
Thus was born the nation’s first privately operated wild horse sanctuary.
The book recounts Day’s satisfying successes and depressing defeats in handling the untamed mustangs and the unpredictable and inexplicable federal bureaucracy.
Day describes what he saw at Palomino Valley with unflinching detail but without blatant editorializing, letting the visuals speak for themselves as he witnesses frightened horses clamoring around the small corrals, chased into crowding chutes where a vet could vaccinate them. “At first I didn’t understand why the furrow would be right there, but then it dawned on me that the depression was from a horse being dragged out of the chute. And the only reason a horse would be dragged out is if it died.”
Pick up a copy of “The Horse Lover” and take it for a bumpy ride.