I have been working with Judy Barnes, a photographer who lives near Wild Horse Mesa close to the New Mexico/Colorado state line, to help save the beautiful wild horses that I often see near road when I drive from Taos to Denver via San Luis.
A little past the state line is a sign that says, “OPEN RANGE NEXT 17 MILES,” and a silhouette of a horse. Nevertheless, I often see cars, trucks and RVs speeding along at 70 or 80 mph.
In fact, I used to drive that fast myself along this fenceless stretch. Now I stop when I see blood smears, horse carcasses and tire tracks where some unfortunate motorist slammed on the brakes.
Judy Barnes, who checks on the wild horses every day, has created The Spirit of the Wild Horse Foundation to help protect and preserve them for the enjoyment of future generations. Wild mustangs are in great danger, both from being shot and being hit by cars as they cross Highway 159 to get to a BLM recreational lake on the other side of the road.
What we don’t want is to have these horses rounded up, sent to Mexico and brutally slaughtered. What about fences? More visible warning signs? Motion-detection streetlights at night? A culvert crossing under the road? Stock tanks filled by a windmill? Slower speed limits? More law enforcement ?
One afternoon I stopped to watch some wild mustangs grazing on the edge of the tarmac. They were chestnut, shining in the evening sunlight, with flowing black manes and white patches on their foreheads.
A sorrel filly caught my eye with her style and grace. Her mother had been run down a week earlier.
I snapped a few photos out the window while the RVs and trucks whizzed by. The odd thing was, neither the horses nor the drivers seemed aware of each other.
I got out and waved a blanket. The horses scattered and ran, but not far enough.
A few days later, Barnes called to tell me that the sorrel filly had been killed by a vehicle. In the dark of night she lingered in the middle of the road where her mother had been struck. She was hit with great force, her face smashed and all four legs broken. “She died instantly,” Barnes said.
Then Barnes discovered that four drunken hunters had shot a wild mustang. Later she discovered a young mare still alive with part of her hip and rectum blown away by a shotgun.
Barnes called the sheriff who examined the mare and said he’d come back later with a high-powered rifle. But it was getting dark. Barnes found a hunter who had just bagged his elk and begged him to end the mare’s suffering.
“If we leave her out here to die, the coyotes will eat her alive,” she told him.
He looked at the mare’s beautiful face and couldn’t do it. Barnes said, “You have to!” At last he did. “He was so shook up he went off to get a drink,” Barnes said.
The Cloud Foundation and the Animal Legal Defense Fund have offered a reward of $2,500 for any information that leads to the arrest and conviction of a person or persons who shot the wild mare on Hwy. 159 south of San Luis, Co. or the wild mustang on Hwy. 142 at CR V near the Río Grande in Conejos County. The vehicle of interest is a newer Silver Ford 150 diesel King cab with New Mexico plates, four hunters in the cab and a shooter in the bed.
Barnes also suspects that the rest of the herd has been rounded up and sent to slaughter in Mexico.
Posters are up. A lot of people are out there watching including the Sheriffs’ Departments in both Costilla and San Luis. If you have any helpful information, please call the San Luis Sheriff’s Department, (719) 672-3302; or Conrad Albert at Colorado Game and Fish, (719) 480-2580, or Bret Smith at the Colorado Humane Society, (719) 691-4402. You may remain anonymous.
To make a tax-deductible donation to increase the reward fund, send a check to Spirit of the Wild Horse Foundation at Community Banks of Colorado, P.O. Box 82, San Luis, Colo. 81152.
For more information see www.spiritofthewildhorsefoundation.com or fiscal sponsor, Monero Mustangs of Tierra Amarilla, NM, www.moneromustangs.org or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anyone who loves horses and is willing to help in any way may also contact me at email@example.com or Judy Barnes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Phaedra Greenwood is a resident of Taos County.