Taming the West

-Laura Lundberg

Two hundred years ago, the West was still an uncultivated property in an untamed world. Today there are only a few pieces of that world left, and one species taking advantage of that are the wild mustangs that roam free on the plains of Nevada. But these creatures may not be around for much longer. While there are about 33,000 wild mustangs to date, the Bureau of Land Management has been rounding up thousands of mustangs yearly in order to move them off of public lands and onto long-term holding lands in the Midwest. These roundups have been called inhumane, leading into much discussed controversy.

Each year, thousands of mustangs are put up for adoption, where they can be sold to families, ranches, barns, and more morbidly, slaughterhouses and glue factories. Other lucky ones are sent to grazing territory where they are safe. Susan Pohlman, owner of Whispering Winds Animal Rescue & Sanctuary in Roseburg, Ore., purchases horses from the roundups that the Bureau of Land Management conduct and keeps them on her ranch.  “Currently we have 36 horses – 14 are domestic horses (QH, Arabs, Paints, Thoroughbreds, Appaloosa) and 24 of them are mustangs from different herds – Paiute Indian horses, Virginia Range horses, Sheldon horses, and BLM horses,” says Pohlman.

Pohlman has had a deep passion for horses since she was a little girl. When she attended her first auction for roundup mustangs, she was heartbroken to see the mustangs stripped of everything they had known. She immediately modified her property and began purchasing horses that were going to be sent to the slaughterhouses. Pohlman worked on gentling the horses and treating them of any illnesses or injuries that they had. She then worked to find suitable homes for the horses.

“I love the animals that reside at the ranch.  It is a very comforting feeling knowing that they are safe from slaughter and have a home where they can just be horses,” Pohlman said. For her, Whispering Winds Animal Rescue & Sanctuary is a small piece of home that many of the horses that she takes in aren’t accustomed to.  She hopes to is to expand the compassion for the mustangs and horses that have been hurt or traumatized and combine it with children who are dealing with the same issues. “We would love to take some of the rescued, long term horses, and have underprivileged and/or at risk kids come in once or twice a week with their counselors to care for their “assigned” horse – a therapy type of environment for both,” she explained.

Pohlman also hopes to continue educating the public about wild horses and the challenges they face. However, since the facility is fairly new (established in 2007), the ranch still has a lot of work ahead of it. While she does have plans for the future, she’s focused more on the present and the horses that she is working to rehabilitate, as she explains, “Right now, it’s one day at a time.  We try not to make too many plans for future things because they always seem to change when the sun comes up.”

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