Tragedy at Silver King: Braveheart’s Last Stand

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By Suzanne Roy as written with Terri Farley

In the early morning of Wednesday, October 6, 2010, amid the vast landscape of the Silver King Herd Management Area in southeastern Nevada, a mustang family lost everything in a BLM helicopter roundup.

I looked down from a hill above the entrance to the capture site to see a striking white mare, running at full speed, with her young foal at her heels. Galloping just ahead of the helicopter was a beautiful sorrel stallion, forehead lined with a wide white blaze. He lagged behind his family, torn between making a run for freedom and protecting his mare and foal, even if that meant following them into the jaws of the trap. The stallion, who we have named Braveheart, chose family over freedom, and it cost him his life.

Not long after his decision, Braveheart charged the bars of the trap pen, defending his mare and foal against an enemy he recognized: another horse. Though the BLM contractor clearly observed that his saddle horse was causing Braveheart’s agitation, he tied his mount just outside the stallion’s pen. To Braveheart, the saddle horse appeared to be within striking range. Braveheart didn’t know know men and their metal fences wouldn’t give way to his charge. And, slamming himself against the metal fences, he went down.

Next the wranglers dragged the stallion’s body, covered by a tarp, onto the same trailer, forcing the pale mare to stand over her dead mate.

An endless 40 minutes later, the truck drove off, leaving the small foal, who looked just like his father, alone in the trap pen, never to see his mother or sire again.

At the holding site, dirt was piled atop the stallion next to mounds containing the bodies of numerous other victims of this roundup. Our requests to film the body were denied; when we filmed the backhoe and the stallion’s body awaiting burial from the distance, the government-contracted wrangler drove the truck and trailer around to block our view.

Ben Noyes, the BLM wild horse and burro specialist, refused our request to speak to him to get information about Braveheart’s death. Throughout the two days that we attended the roundup, Mr. Noyes refused to speak with the public and answer questions. The PR person charged with being the spokesperson often was unable to answer basic questions about the Silver King capture operation

My colleague Deniz Bolbol and I captured the whole scene on video, despite the best efforts of the BLM to prevent us from doing so. We participated in two days of “public observation” at Silver King, during which the BLM’s main objective was to prevent us from capturing and exposing the images that convey the anguish, the trauma and the suffering wild horses endure in the BLM roundups.

BLM observation rules prevented us from observing and videotaping all aspects of the roundup including when the horses enter the trap. That is the moment they realize there is no escape, and the full impact of their capture is visible as they struggle mightily to kick down or climb fences. BLM also prevented us from filming the actual sorting of horses, when foals are wrenched from their mothers, and mares are taken from their stallions.

In previous roundups advocates have been allowed to get close enough to the trap and holding facility so that wounds could be seen – now the BLM keeps the public at such a distance that makes observation nearly impossible. It was only because we stood firm on our rights to travel the public roads in this public lands complex that we captured Braveheart’s final moments.

In Braveheart’s memory, we will continue the fight. Meanwhile, we have told BLM that we would like to adopt Braveheart’s mare and foal. After this ordeal, this pair must be reunited. It’s the least we and the BLM can do for these brave survivors.