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Don Hoglund, a veterinarian involved in the rescue of the wild horse herd on White Sands Missile...
Alamogordo, White Sands Missile Range and the people who call this area
home have been forever immortalized in a new book that, quite frankly,
makes folks around here look like pretty good people.
On the surface, "Nobody's Horses," by Dr. Don Hoglund, is a tale about
rescuing endangered wild horses eking out a sparse and sometimes
unsuccessful living on White Sands Missile Range.
It's also much more than that. It's a tale about the old West as played
out in the Tularosa Basin. It's a tale about how the military cared
enough about a national treasure to save some 2,000 wild horses when
they could have just shot them. And it's a tale about the high quality
of the people in the area.
Wild horses that once belonged to local ranchers have ranged in the
area for more than a hundred years and maybe even as far back as 1598,
when the Spanish first came through New Mexico. Among them, horses that
once belonged to Native Americans roamed with the abandoned horses
belonging to Old West legends such as Pat Garrett.
Those animals, along with free roaming stock belonging to area
ranchers, were penned up in the giant corral at White Sands Missile
Range in 1942 when the government created the area for weapons testing.
herds continued living in some of the most desolate land anywhere.
There's very little water and next to no forage at all within the
confines of WSMR. Yet those horses continued to survive, even with
bombs literally going off all around them. They prospered to some
degree, reaching a total herd level of some 2,000.
That is, they survived until 1994. In that year, drought conditions in
the area became so bad that a large portion of the herd died.
"We probably lost 200 to 300 animals in the course of a couple of weeks," said Patrick Morrow, wildlife biologist for WSMR.
Morrow, along with range rider and area native Les Gililland, is a
primary character in Hoglund's book. He was and still is the chief
biologist at the missile range, and is responsible for managing,
monitoring and protecting the wildlife at the range.
"That die-off was probably the saddest thing I've ever seen," said Gililland in a phone interview with the Daily News.
When those animals started dying, it fell in Morrow's lap to do
something about it. And the problem reached a degree of urgency once
the media was notified.
"When it first started and the news got out, we started taking phone
calls from all over the world," said Jim Eckles, who has worked with
the public relations department at WSMR since before the die-off. "It
was the most emotional event we've ever been involved in working at
White Sands here for several decades.
"It's amazing how many buttons that pushed," Eckles said, adding that
his staff fielded phone calls about the horses non-stop after the
The situation put the military in a bad light because so many animals had died.
"People just didn't understand. They thought we were just starving them to death on purpose," Eckles said.
The die-off led to the military's decision to remove the animals from
the missile range, and that led to Morrow to hire Hoglund to oversee
Even at that time, Hoglund, a veterinarian, had years of
experience working with wild horses. He helped establish the
National Wild Horse Prison Inmate program in New Mexico prisons, where
inmates would gentle wild horses for adoption. He oversaw the program
for two years.
"I have a lot of respect for the military," said Hoglund in a phone
interview. "They got those animals out of there when, in fact, they
could have solved the problem with a bullet."
Hoglund, who oversaw the removal and adoption of some 1,500 horses
taken from WSMR, also has nothing but respect for the individuals he
worked with on the project.
"Les Gililland is the hero of that story," Hoglund said. "He's just a cowboy's cowboy."
Of course, Gililland downplays his own role. "We all worked on this
project. It was a joint effort and it was something that just had to be
done," Gililland said.
The staff at WSMR continued the roundups until 2005. Today there are
only a few remaining animals left on the range. According to Morrow,
there are about seven horses (all studs) left on the range.
Hoglund points out, however, that although the wild horse population at
WSMR has been rescued, there still remains a threat to the wild horse
populations around the country.
According to the veterinarian, recent changes in the law have weakened
the Wild Horses and Burros Act of 1971 "that allow for the slaughter of
our wild herds."
"Irrespective of their name, wild or feral, the free-roaming horse has
been a very important part of our Western heritage," Hoglund said,
adding that it's a part that needs to be preserved.