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The American mustang is the iconic symbol of the West. Yet, every year thousands of wild horses and burros are being rounded up and sentenced to a life in holding facilities operated by the Bureau of Land Management until the day they are sent to auction and sold to the highest bidder. The Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, was created to ensure the protection of wild horses, however, due to an increase in cattle interests on the horse’s native range, their allotted territory decreases every year.

The plight of the wild horse goes largely unnoticed by the American public, but the rate at which these animals are disappearing from the wild is alarming to say the least. Christy Whitney, the founder of the Unwanted Project, a collaborative that creates awareness for the wild horse and raises funds for their rescue, explains that there are only around 20,000 wild horses left roaming free in the U.S. The Bureau of Land Management believes the wild horse population needs to be “controlled,” because they compete for grazing land with cattle being raised for the beef industry. Wild horses aren’t the only horses who are being marginalized in the U.S., thousands of horses are bred for the pharmaceutical industry are discarded as well as domesticated horses who’s guardians no longer want to care for them.

After learning that nearly 150,000 horses are sent to slaughter in the U.S. every year, Whitney decided she would not allow the horses’ story to go untold, but would lend her own voice to help raise awareness and inspire others to act in their defense.

The Unwanted Project

When Christy Whitney first came across a group of horses at Cracker Box Palace Animal Haven in New York, the immediate connection she felt would change her perspective of horses forever. Whitney had always considered herself an animal lover, but coming across this particular group of horses standing in the middle of a snow-covered field is an experience she describes as meditative. In fact, it was this encounter that first inspired what would become the Unwanted Project. This project is an ongoing documentary photography project that combines documentary stills and fine art. The documentary stills tell the story, and the fine art aspect comes in the form of prints and abstracts. One of the newest “abstracts” Whitney has added to the collection is a series of scarves.

Of her inspiration to start this project, Whitney explains,”Horses are beautiful creatures and being close to them is such a healing and transcendental experience, that fifty percent of doing this project is fueled by them.”  The other fifty percent came in the form of a conversation she had with the owner of Cracker Box.

Unwanted project

“I learned that approximately 150,000 American horses are sent to slaughter every year … and the slaughter is horrific. It’s not quick or gentle,” explains Whitney. “After becoming informed, I couldn’t turn a blind eye. This cause had tied my heartstrings up in knots. And armed with a camera, I knew I could make a difference.”

Unwanted projectUnwanted project

 

Starting with the horses at Cracker Box, Whitney began to document the stories of these horses. All of the horses have come to the sanctuary because they were no longer wanted or valued by their previous owners. Some of the horses were domesticated and abandoned by their owners but many were the product of the pharmaceutical industry who had been bred to produce Premarin.

Unwanted project

 

The horses at Cracker Box were lucky to have been rescued, but this is hardly the case for the majority of horses in their situation. When they are no longer deemed valuable, many horses are sent to auction. Sadly, while buyers will pose as if they wish to purchase the horse to care for it, the reality is most sell the horses to slaughterhouses. Similarly, the Bureau of Land Management does not have the means to care for the thousands of horses they routinely roundup, so these animals are also sent to auction and ultimately to slaughter.

Unwanted project

 

“I decided on the name Unwanted for the photography project for more than just the obvious reason that these horses were once ‘unwanted,’ explains Whitney, :It’s a bit of a play on words. The name is contrary to the general populations feeling about horses. The vast majority of us find them to be extremely desirable animals. We use them as a symbol of strength, beauty, and sexuality. Yet, the hard truth is that there are tens of thousands that are unwanted, and silently sent to slaughter every year.”

Unwanted project

After Cracker Box, Whitney began searching for other horse rescues and set out to photograph and tell the stories of other horses who had been abandoned. The photos and stories Whitney has collected have become the Unwanted Project. Exhibiting her work and sharing what she has learned, the project aims to inspire other to become guardians for America’s forgotten horses.

Unwanted project

 

“Photography is an incredibly powerful storytelling platform. It’s not a direct link to understanding animals, but it breaths life and connection into the viewer bringing them closer to the natural world through texture, light, and gesture. Capturing an animal during a moment of human expression could be profound for the observer because it offers a way to relate to them. It’s a motivator that hopefully moves them to go seek out their own experience.”

Unwanted project

 

 

Whitney has also begun to produce wearable artwork in the form of scarves imprinted with the images from the Unwanted Project. The line is named “pAra,” after the sanskrit word for “guardian.” Being able to wear the stories of these horses is a way to spark conversation and spread awareness in a way that empowers the everyday person to be a guardian for these animals.

Unwanted project

 

“I believe that we have a moral obligation to act as guardians of animals,” Whitney tells One Green Planet, “Giving ourselves the role of ‘guardian,’ rather than an ‘owner’ is key to uniting us together as a whole healthy and rich world.”

Part of the profits from the sale of the prints and scarves go back to the rescue organization that Whitney works with. The ultimate goal for Whitney is to generate enough funding to actively support horse rescues and recovery by opening an Equine Therapy Clinic in the TriState area.

How You Can Help

The photographs and scarves that Whitney has created are a powerful tool to raise awareness for the thousands of horses that are killed because they are of no “value” to people. These animals have served humans in many ways, be it as an iconic symbol, a riding companion, or the role they play in the production of pharmaceuticals. We owe it to theses horses to serve them rather than sell them for slaughter.

One day Whitney hopes to turn these stills into a full-length documentary that educates the public, but that is still far off in the future. For now, Whitney tells One Green Planet, “I hope that [the Unwanted Project] sparks conversations about the plight of American horses and moves viewers to support their local farms and rescues, try out equine therapy instead of a pharmaceutical drug, and ultimately reconnect with their natural world.”

To learn more about the Unwanted Project, check out the website. You can purchase scarves and prints to support the project by clicking here

 

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58 comments on “Artist Documents the Tragic Story of Horses in the U.S. Through Stunning Photographs”

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Julie Keeney
4 Months Ago

While what Jenny says is probably the truth of how its\' supposed to be, like Debbie van CLeave is saying, I do know some roundups do end up being hauled off to Mexico where their housing and slaughter is pretty deplorable. In this particular time in history, I think people writing articles like this need to try really hard to stick to the facts and resist their tendency to embellish or exaggerate. Unfortunately, the truth is usually plenty awful just as it is. And as soon as a story gets contradicted, it loses credibility and then it can no longer reach anyone. I don\'t really know the answer here. You can\'t adopt them all out. And to try to geld all the males causes them stress and possibly injury. Roundups are dangerous for them. But they certainly shouldn\'t be sent to slaughter barns either, that is not the answer.


Reply
Jenny
7 Months Ago

You really have your numbers wrong in this story. Well, you have a lot of misleading comments in this story. The Wild Horse and Burro population is growing beyond their 31.6 million acres of public land herd management area capacity to carry them. They are over-populating the range in 10 western states. This is not because the multipurpose BLM land that is allotted to them is issuing more cattle grazing permits. It is not because the areas that the wild horse and burro act allocated to their preservation is being reduced. People should also hear that they are breeding at a rate of between 20 and 25% annually. the herd size can double in 4 to 5 years.The herds have only two predators now, mountain lions and humans, and neither of these take enough animals to keep their herd size sustainable. To keep the herds from destroying the range through overpopulation and starving to death they are being gathered and warehoused at the taxpayer\'s expense in long and short term holding facilities. Tremendous effort goes into finding these animals permanent private homes. Still, not nearly enough are adopted because not every horse loving person can manage a wild horse nor does everyone want the responsibility and expense of taking care of one or more.
You take some lovely photographs, and use them and your words to gain an emotional response from your readers. Unfortunately, your alternative facts fail to provide real information about the welfare of these animals. American taxpayers support 67,000 horses and burros on BLM rangeland. That was the count roaming in herd management areas on March 1, 2016. Given their reproductive rate there are many more today. In holding facilities another nearly 46,000 are kept, and offered for adoption. Those that fail to be adopted can live out their lives in captivity, which averages 25 to 30 years, compared to 15 in the wild. They are not sent to auction and it is illegal to sell them for slaughter (processing for food). Readers should visit the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program website to get accurate information about this issue. If you want the facts delivered in a visually accurate and still stunningly beautiful way, watch the documentary "Unbranded" by Ben McMasters. If you really want to help and you love horses, make sure you know how your money is going to be spent when you donate. Make sure you have not just been sold a sob story.
Sending horses for sale at auction is another area that is being grossly mis-characterized in this article, but I will save that discussion for another day.


Reply
mike
7 Months Ago

I never met a horse that I didnt like....To shoot in the head and eat that is.....awesome for jerky and meat loaf....as far as steaks go they can be tough so you have to prep them properly. ..Not to mention horses equal free dog food for miles!


Reply
7 Months Ago

These aren\'t "native" animals, they are introduced pests, courtesy of the Spanish conquistadors centuries ago. They should have been eradicated a long time ago.


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Elaine
13 Mar 2017

I think that should be done to you since you are a person without any feeling. The pests are the cattle who pollute the waters and do not belong on public land.

john pasqua
7 Months Ago

MUST SEND THE BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT TO HELL FOR THE CRUELTY ON THE HORSES NOW.


Reply
Elaine
13 Mar 2017

John you are so very right.

eric youngberg
7 Months Ago

Please tell me what is so great about being a horse with no vet care, hoof care, no way to euthanize when to old to survive. If someone treated their horses like they were feral horses they would be prosecuted for animal cruelty, which is what the wild horse and burro act is, mandated animal cruelty. They are not restricted because of cattle on BLM, actually grazing permits are cut due to horse populations. All permits have been cut in the last twent years while horse numbers have increased despite BLM gathering. Cattle are regularly moved in and out of allotments that the horses are in year round. If your allotment burns, cattle are removed for up to three years, horses left. If there is drought cattle grazing is reduced, horses remain.


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Elaine
13 Mar 2017

They do survive without all that, that is why they are wild animals. Nature is a fine machine that takes care of it\'s animals naturally. Do you think euthanizing them is an easy death. You would be surprised how the "old" can survive. Yes, the treatment of these animals is "animal cruelty". Get your info correct on cattle, they are worse on the land than the horses, they pollute the water. Like any other government run organization the BLM does nothing to protect these poor animals only makes them suffer. If you believe the government is doing such a great job just look at what they did to the American Indians.

Muriel Servaege
7 Months Ago

ERRATUM: ... unless the new president ...


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Muriel Servaege
7 Months Ago

It thought it was illegal to kill horses ;;; the new president allows their slaughter.


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Debi Van Cleave
2 Years Ago

I have horses. I have watched videos of horse slaughter. It is horrific. It is the ultimate betrayal. We teach these animals to trust us. It goes against their instincts because we are predators, and yet they allow us on their backs. We name them like they are family members, and then some people, when they are done with them because they can\'t be ridden anymore, because they are old or lame, send them to the sale, i.e., the auction, where most go to slaughter. Slaughter is illegal in this country for human consumption, though there is a slaughter house in south Jersey that is allowed to kill horses for animal consumption. (There is video of the owner of that slaughter house laughing about killing them.) The ones for human consumption get shipped to Mexico and Canada. The wild horses helped make America. They are a symbol of the American west. And yet we allow the rich cattle barons to orchestrate their demise. Many of them actually work for the Bureau of Land Management who is supposed to protect the horses. Like the fox guarding the hen house. Speak up, sign petitions, donate to rescues, support people like this artist who is trying to stop this brutality.


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Elaine
13 Mar 2017

Debi, your first sentence hit the nail on the head. Those laughing hyenas need to be slaughtered, because maybe someday they will be killing people and laughing too. I just love your post, a giant "thumbs up" to you. I also have horses and they are considered a part of my family keeping them till they go to the Rainbow Bridge naturally which is usually in their mid thirties and then I miss them terribly. There should be more people like you on this earth, it would be a much better place to live then, God Bless.

Tabo
2 Years Ago

Whitney, you are an angel ;) Aloha!


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