Wild horses are being rounded up in large numbers in the USA and will disappear from their native land forever if action isn’t taken. That is the message being shared by the documentary Wild Beauty: Mustang Spirit of the West, in which director and horse lover Ashley Avis documents round-ups conducted by the Bureau of Land Management using low-flying helicopters, often chasing horses for miles.

In one round up in Nevada in 2023, 31 horses died after breaking their legs and necks. According to a statement, one stallion suffered a compound fracture to his leg and was chased by a helicopter for 36 minutes before being shot and killed. Thousands of horses, from foals just days old to heavily pregnant mares, have also been killed.

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“Having been fortunate to spend several years traversing the vast American West, and getting to see the resplendent beauty of wild horses and their families, it was profoundly disturbing to me to witness these same majestic creatures being rounded up and stripped of their freedom,” said Ashley, who is also the writer, editor and narrator of Wild Beauty.

“The manner in which wild horses are captured and incarcerated by the United States government is cruel and antiquated. The use of low-flying helicopters to chase horses for miles in extreme heat is barbaric, and can result in catastrophic injuries such as broken legs or necks, or fatalities in the process.

“It is time to protect the wild beauty of our wild, not destroy it over greed, money, and politics,” continues Ashley. “I sincerely hope Wild Beauty will help raise awareness for wild horses of today, before they are lost to history.”

A ‘love letter to horses’

Poster of the film Wild Beauty

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After being rounded up, the horses are kept in holding facilities where footage from Wild Beauty shows that they can remain for months. Some horses are later released, while others are sold on and rehomed.

In the documentary, which Your Horse has viewed, Ashley explains in a voiceover how the five-year project began as a “love letter to horses” while gathering footage for her Black Beauty remake, which was released in 2020 starring Kate Winslet and Mackenzie Foy for Disney+.

“Most people don’t know that wild horses even exist in our country [the USA],” says Ashley in Wild Beauty. “Unless we do something, wild horses will disappear forever.”

Out of approximately 500 horses living in the Onaqui mountains in the US state of Utah, which were followed in this documentary, 435 were captured and 124 horses were later released. Wild Beauty claims that over 14,000 wild horses were rounded up in 2021 and a target of 22,000 was set by the Bureau of Land Management in 2022.

How to help wild horses

Wild Beauty concludes by urging viewers to “use their voice to protect wild horses”. For those living in the USA, it asks viewers to call their Members of Congress and urge them to save America’s wild horses. There is also a social media hashtag: #istandwithhorses.

“The filmmakers hope that Wild Beauty does what Blackfish or The Cove did for their respective species and raises critical awareness to protect wild horses, along with other wild species necessary for the health of the ecosystem, before they are lost to history,” added the statement.

The award-winning film is now available to stream on Amazon, iTunes, Spectrum, and more.

‘Shocking disinformation campaign’

A statement from the documentary makers says Wild Beauty is “debunking the Bureau of Land Management’s shocking disinformation campaign against these national treasures. Rather than following the federal mandate to protect the horses, the Bureau of Land Management favours multi-million dollar commercial livestock corporations that are abusing Western public lands for profit, and few American taxpayers know this is happening.

“As explored in the film, scientist Dr. Yvette Running Horse Collin’s cutting-edge scientific research continues to challenge the claim that horses went extinct in the Americas by most recently proving that Native Peoples were with their horses much earlier than previously assumed and by establishing that more than 99% of the DNA of ancient American horses is the same as many of America’s wild horses today.

“If Dr. Running Horse Collin’s work and the traditional knowledge of many Native Nations is accepted, today’s wild horses would be classified as native fauna and considered an endangered species, posing a massive disruption to livestock, mining, and oil industries.

“Livestock grazing, not wild horses, are the problem with land heath in the American West and the dangerous destruction of native ecosystems.”

Your Horse contacted the Bureau of Land Management for comment.

‘Manages and protects wild horses’

On its website, the Bureau of Land Management states that it “manages and protects wild horses and burros on 26.9 million acres of public lands across 10 Western [US] states as part of its mission to administer public lands for a variety of uses. The Wild Horse and Burro Program’s goal is to manage healthy wild horses and burros on healthy public rangelands”.

It adds that “the BLM is responsible for determining and maintaining appropriate management levels for each herd and works to achieve that population target through a variety of management processes, including limiting reproduction in some herds through the use of birth control and gathers that remove excess animals from the range”.

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