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Mane event: Film fest showcases wild horses, and organizer hopes to raise awareness about their plight

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Mustangs from round-ups are given sanctuary at Cimarron Sky-Dog Reserve near Watrous. Owner-operator Jackie Fleming is sponsoring a film showcase today and Saturday to draw attention to wild horse issues. (Courtesy of Jackie Fleming)

Mustangs from round-ups are given sanctuary at Cimarron Sky-Dog Reserve near Watrous. Owner-operator Jackie Fleming is sponsoring a film showcase today and Saturday to draw attention to wild horse issues. (Courtesy of Jackie Fleming)

Jackie Fleming can envision a day when wild horses no longer roam the mountains, plateaus and plains of the West – and she very dearly wants to stave off that potential disappearance.

“In 1900, there were about 2 million horses running free,” she said. “Now there are 25,000 in the entire country. That’s a drastic drop.”

To do her part, she has given shelter to 34 mustangs that have been rounded up on public lands. They wander 1,100 acres at Cimarron Sky-Dog Reserve, near Watrous north of Las Vegas, N.M.

And to raise public awareness, she has put together the Wild Horse Film Showcase, with five films that will be screened today and Saturday in Santa Fe.

She’s a little nervous. While she has sponsored a wild horse photo contest for the last four years, this is the first time she is combining it with a series of films.

She hopes people register the fact that they have to buy the $5-per-film tickets in advance; the History Museum does not allow ticket sales at the door, she said. In addition to buying them online, ticketssantafe.org, people also can pick them up at the Lensic box office, 211 W. San Francisco St.

The show doesn’t feature new releases. Fleming said she put together the offerings from films she has seen and liked, or from others that friends recommended. She contacted people for permission to show them and – voila! – the showcase was born.

“They highlight different aspects of wild horse issues, particularly roundups and competition for public land,” Fleming said, adding that “Wild Horses and Renegades” and “El Caballo” focus on those issues.

“She Had Some Horses” takes a sentimental look at the idea of wild horses disappearing from the range, and includes footage of Fleming’s own sanctuary, as well as Monero Mustangs, run by Sandi Claypool at Yellow Hills Ranch’s almost 5,000 acres near Tierra Amarilla.

“Wild Horse Wild Ride” follows a competition in which some mustangs from round-ups are taken in by people, trained for 100 days, then compete in a show after which they are auctioned to new owners, Fleming said. “It’s bittersweet – the horses are all trained, but they (the trainers) have to give them up at the end.”

And “Running Wild” profiles Dayton O. Hyde, who was one of the first people to open a sanctuary for mustangs when he set one up on some 13,000 acres in South Dakota, Fleming said. “He’s nearly 90, but he’s done so many things,” she said.

While the event could help raise funds for her mustangs, Fleming said she doesn’t even know if she will break even. More important, she said, is that she wants to get people thinking about issues concerning wild horses. “I hope people will be educated about it and care about it and want to be involved,” she said.

“The round-ups continue,” Fleming said. “We’ve got 50,000 horses standing in BLM (Bureau of Land Management) holding pens.” Facing a slowdown in adoptions and the cost of caring for those horses, Fleming fears the government might choose less humane ends for them. She noted an effort by private business to establish a horse meat plant in southern New Mexico.

Cimarron Sky-Dog Reserve includes 1,100 acres for horses adopted through U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management round-ups. (Courtesy of Jackie Fleming)

Cimarron Sky-Dog Reserve includes 1,100 acres for horses adopted through U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management round-ups. (Courtesy of Jackie Fleming)

She said she usually gets enough donations to cover the cost of feeding her 34 horses – all the males are gelded so births are not an issue. But with the ongoing drought, each month in which there is not enough grass for grazing costs her $5,000 in supplemental hay, Fleming said.

“If the horses have got grazing, they pretty much take care of themselves,” she said. Right now, her sanctuary is at capacity, Fleming added.

Cimarron Sky-Dog grew out of a personally painful experience. Many years ago, when she lived near Cerrillos, Fleming said she was riding her horse Luby when the mare staggered, collapsed and died. “It was something sudden, like a heart attack or aneurysm,” she said.

“I was very upset by it,” Fleming said. “I decided to take in a couple of horses (who needed homes) in her name … I had to channel it into something meaningful.” The sanctuary, in operation since 2000, grew from there.

“It’s still incredibly wide open,” she said of the site, with little sign of human intrusion “except for little white specks of semis on the interstate (I-25).”

“You can see the ruins of Fort Union in the distance,” she added, noting that she is a history buff. “And there are ruts on the property from the Santa Fe Trail.”

By the way, if you’re ever hiking near pueblo ruins in the Galisteo Basin and come across the marked grave of a horse, give Luby a salute for starting it all.

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