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Pet Stories: In Your Own Words

Wild Horses of Placitas

By: Wilda Portner, Placitas NM

There are wild horses in Placitas, but their numbers are dwindling. Just ask some of the old-timers who have been here for more than 30 years (some twice that time) and who have seen generations of these beautiful bands of bays and roans and grays and rabicanos grace the foothills of the Sandia Mountains around the village of Placitas. Many of them will tell you the horses are wild not "estray livestock."

I moved to Placitas in the spring of 1999 and had my first encounter with the wild ones a few months later. What an unexpected pleasure as I came upon a small band of 8 or 9 horses with fat bellies and in seemingly good health, led by a regal gray stallion. A phone call or two informed me that I had a close encounter of the equine kind with one of the Placitas wild bands. These same horses would later honor me by visiting my backyard several times a week and my 70 something mother and I delighted in watching them as they grazed on the wild grasses growing around our home. That band no longer roams the mesa top. More about that later.

As everyone is well aware, New Mexico is in the grip of a drought. The spring and summer of 2002 produced virtually no grass or other sustenance to nourish the wild things of Placitas. Bears suffered greatly and were captured or shot for breaking into area homes and killing livestock. Our horses, too, struggled for their very survival, at times in their search for food and water imposing their presence on residents who considered them unwelcome intruders. In early June, such an incident led to a roundup in the Placitas hills. A band of horses, not the aforementioned band, was trapped, loaded onto a stock trailer, and sold at auction by the New Mexico Livestock Board. Not all the animals made it to auction. The stallion broke his neck rather than be loaded. The drought had already taken a terrible toll on those animals. Weakened by hunger, a rabicano mare with a new foal by her side could not tolerate the added trauma of the experience and died shortly thereafter. Another mare, whose own foal had either perished or was sold at the auction, soon adopted him.

In the opinion of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the New Mexico Livestock Board, these four-legged legacies are estray livestock. This was the reasoning behind the June roundup. A local citizen had filed a complaint that the horses were nuisance animals, and according to the

Board and BLM interpretation of the New Mexico livestock laws, roundup and sale at auction was the prescribed solution to the problem. According the June 2001 New Mexico Livestock Board report, more than $130,000 was made from the sale of estray livestock last year.

Shortly thereafter, another Placitas resident made threats of violence against the band of animals led by the gray stallion referenced in the beginning of this article, resulting in that band being corralled by a neighbor to protect them. Those folks bought the band, saving them from the trauma of the auction block, and the stallion, his mares, and progeny await their final fate.

A very kind-hearted woman in Belen and another from Placitas bought back four of the horses at the auction, three mares and the foal mentioned earlier. Since June, those animals have been adopted out to caring families in Placitas and Corrales. They are beginning to trust their human guardians and to thrive physically. But, they have lost forever their extended equine families in ahorrific manner and their freedom to roam the Placitas hills, living and dieing as wild ones.

Happily, the owners of two of the mares suspicion foals are on the way, most likely the last of the bloodline produced by the stallion whose neck was broken last summer. Their arrival will be welcomed, and hopefully their lives will be much easier than that of their dams. Unfortunately, most of the remaining band went to the meat packers, and many of the herd's two-legged friends in Placitas mourned their loss, not only for the simple beauty of a horse running across the open foothills of New Mexico, but also because of the threat to the bloodlines those animals represented. Some of these animals are likely descendants of the horses that carried the Conquistadors across New Mexico hundreds of years ago.

A couple of good things came out of this tragedy. Those of us who admire the wild horses of Placitas and respect their inherent right to remain in their homeland, have found each other and are working with representatives of various Federal and State government organizations and with other members of our community toward a solution to the issues raised during the turbulent events of the season past.

An organization has been formed to address ongoing wild horse issues in Placitas. The Wild Horse Observers Association (WHOA) has been active over the past several months and will continue to protect the remaining wild horses and to promote their welfare. Hay donated by Dan's Boots and Saddles in Albuquerque as well as some bought with funds donated by Placitas residents was dropped at the height of the drought, including a trip onto the Santa Ana Reservation accompanied by a police escort. The group is applying for tax-exempt status as a charitable organization and will continue to pursue the best interests of the equine families of Placitas.

For information on how you can help or assistance with the unwanted presence of wild horses on your Placitas property, please call WHOA at 505-867-5228.

(Ed Note: It is important to note that this type of shameful round up and auction of the wild horses happens all across the southwestern United States. To help preserve these magnificent creatures, please contact the BLM in Arizona, Nevada, California, Utah and New Mexico. After all we two legged beings are the ones that have encroached on their wide open space.)

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