Wild Horse Country: The History, Myth, and Future of the Mustang by David Philipps was published in October of 2017. It is a fantastic book that should be required reading by all horse owners and especially Mustang aficionados. Those who know my husband, Matt Livengood, and I know that we have become quite involved with training and finding homes for Mustangs, and that we also own several ourselves. The more we are around them, the more we are intrigued by everything about them: their trainability, their heartiness, their ability to survive on rangeland where even cattle can’t, and their heritage.
I have made it a point to read what I can about the history of wild horses, so when a friend gave me an early release copy of Wild Horse Country I was eager to dig in and learn more.
Author David Nathaniel Philipps, born in 1977, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist. His work has largely focused on the human impact of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Currently, he is a national correspondent for the New York Times, as well the author of two books. Wild Horse Country is his most recent book.
Philipps gained attention in 2012 when U.S. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar threatened to punch him after Philipps questioned him in a press conference about troubles in the department's wild horse program. Philipps' continued reporting led to state and federal investigations of the program.
I found Wild Horse Country to be extremely well-written and researched. Philipps carefully traces the evolution, history, and culture that created wild horses in North America and digs through all aspects of the current wild horse management program.
It is interesting that Philipps is not a horse person, but that makes him more credible as an objective viewer of the situation. He is distant enough from the subject that he is not likely to be emotionally attached, which makes him better able to document the issues.
Many of the chapters in the history of North American wild horses are grisly. It’s hard to fathom the depths of human cruelty that has transpired. But it is important to know the context in order to follow where Mustangs have come from, what they’ve gone through, and where they may be headed today. It brings perspective to the idea that wild horses are just trying to survive in the ecosystem in which their DNA is grounded.
At present, something like 60,000 wild horses live on public range lands and another 60,000 are being held in government-run pens, a management scenario that’s lose-lose for all and especially the horse.
In the end, Philipps has a management solution for this overwhelming wild horse population, one researched and studied first-hand with scientists: stop abating mountain lions and let nature take its course. Currently, the public is paying for management of wild horses at the same time it is paying for killing (aka “control”) of large predators. Neither is a sustainable solution.
Among the proposed plans for Mustang management that we hear of these days, Philipps’ proposal may be the only sound one—one we all can agree on, no matter what side of the fence we’re on.