“Wildness is a necessity.” – John Muir
By Brieanah Schwartz
(December 29, 2020) For as long as I can remember, horses have been a part of me in dreams and in life. When I was young, I promised my parents I would have a career in horses. My mom always compared me to the horse-crazy Velvet from Enid Bagnold’s National Velvet. To me, horses, both wild and domestic, are truly captivating and special animals, so I knew that whatever I ended up doing with my life, horses would be a part of it.
The path to my dream job with American Wild Horse Campaign started in college. On our drive to Sweet Briar College, my mom found Cumberland Island, a National Seashore off the coast of Georgia filled with wild horses, as a stop. Naturally, I made several more trips there over the years, followed a specific band of wild horses, and eventually self-published a book on their history and their impacts on the island with my photography – the start of my advocacy for wild horses. After learning more about the issue, I decided to go to the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law with the pipe dream hope that horse law was a career because I knew I wanted to work to protect our wild ones. I wanted to make sure that future generations could have the chance to experience wildness like I did, both on the islands of the east coast or the public lands of the west.
The desire to share the unique nature of wild horses with others is why I was eager to bring the public along for my first roundup experience in Utah this past August. Since joining AWHC, I have helped review our roundup footage and written our roundup complaint letters that notify BLM when the contractor violates their humane handling standards. But to see it in person was harder, especially temporary holding. To see the horses who were wild and free just hours ago crammed together in tiny pens, next to private livestock, it’s enough to break your heart. However, AWHC goes and bears witness because sometimes we are the only ones out there to watch the misguided cruelty masquerading as management happening at these roundups and document it. So, as much as actually attending my first roundup put a pit in my stomach, I went because I wanted to be a voice for the wild ones that will not see their families, freedom, or homes again.
Now that a few months have passed since the roundup, the one image that continues to replay in my mind is of a herd who ran right by us one morning - avoiding the helicopter. The sun was rising behind them and everything seemed to slow down for a moment. Watching them run, without hearing the ominous helicopter, was unreal. It was a moment of true wildness I will not soon forget; one that exemplified exactly why I chose to do this work and made it all worth it.
The first case I worked on for AWHC was a lawsuit to stop the BLM from performing a brutal surgical sterilization experiment on wild mares in Oregon. It wasn’t a case that they prepare you for in law school, and the reality of what the procedure would entail for those once wild mares took my breath away for all the wrong reasons. Proposals like that are enough to shake your faith in humanity, and so I leaned heavily on my horse for inspiration to keep fighting. I have had Eire for 14 years. She is my rock, my safe place in the storm. During that lawsuit, I would get to the barn and just hug Eire, thankful that she was not a wild mare at risk for being subjected to that awful procedure. Since then, I often find myself picturing her wild and in the place of the wild ones we fight for. She is my inspiration and motivation. She reminds me every day how special horses are and how, despite the difficult nature of the work, it is work worth doing.
Horses are spiritual, fantastic beings that are so deserving of love and protection – the wild ones included. We, their admirers, have to be their voices and protectors. So when our Board President, Ellie, was able to take in a mare who had been spared from that barbaric procedure thanks to our successful litigation it was so reaffirming. Now named Cirrus, this beautiful and strong paint mare was not only spared but will now live out her days in a loving home at Montgomery Creek Ranch, a mustang sanctuary.
Highs like our successful litigation that directly protected wild horses like Cirrus are what makes this work worth doing and pursuing for me. At the end of the day, it is undeniable that our wild horses and burros are special and deserving of protection.
No matter how hard some aspects of this work are, I can honestly say that I cannot picture myself doing anything else and that there’s nowhere I would rather be than on the front lines, fighting every day for their freedom.