Sonya Richins is president of Save the Wild Mustangs, a nonprofit organization dedicated to stopping the roundups and slaughter of the American West’s wild horses. This year, the organization released the “Studs Saving Stallions” calendar, featuring notable local males such as former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson and former University of Utah running back Beau Burton posing with wild rescued stallions. Calendars and more information about the rescue efforts can be found at ReinFree.org.
How did you start this organization, and what’s your goal?
Seven years ago, the Humane Society was sending me information about how the government was rounding up wild horses and slaughtering them. I was like, “I’ve gotta do something about this. Now that I know, I can’t just sit here and do nothing.” I went and raised money and produced a documentary called Mestengo, all about the saga of the wild horses. After that, I was like, “What else can I do to make noise for these horses?” They don’t have the voice. I’m literally the voice of the voiceless. So, I got a 501(c)(3)—I’m a nonprofit—and we’ve done a big event every year. This is the first year we’ve done Studs Saving Stallions.
Are wild-horse roundups still happening? I thought that was something they stopped in the ’70s.
In 1971, they introduced the Wild Free-roaming Horses & Burros Act, and it was due to this one lady who saw horses who were off to be slaughtered—Wild Horse Annie. In the meantime, they’ve been protected, kind of. And then six years ago, former Montana Sen. Conrad Burns and Bush signed an 11th-hour amendment and took off the protection. So that’s why they’re rounding them up and slaughtering them again. It’s just crazy. A guy named Tom Davis was just caught trekking 1,700 wild horses from the BLM to slaughter, and they sold them to him for $10 a head.
Why are the horses being rounded up? Do farmers need the land?
They took away 24 million acres of lands away from the wild horses in the past two years and released it to cattlemen, construction, mining. They’re fencing land off so horses can’t get water. They’re supposed to be protecting them, and instead they make $70 million a year on the roundups. It’s huge money. The horses don’t make them any money unless they send them to slaughter. You can’t slaughter horses in the United States now. They truck them to Canada and Mexico, though. It’s horrifying. I watched that footage and cried for days. They double-decker them, they come out half dead. You’ll see horses come out of there with halters on from the racetrack. They go right to slaughter. And then it goes to meat in Asia and Europe—it’s a delicacy for $22 a pound. It’s big money. The bigger the horse, the more meat, the better.
Why did you decide to release a calendar?
We thought to get men who have networks in Salt Lake all posing with rescued wild stallions and do a calendar on them, and get their networks and their wives buying them. I could do a girl [calendar], but then guys would just buy one and put it in their toolshed. Whatever money we earn will go to the media campaign, helping rescue wild horses. I also donate to other wild-horse rescues when they need it. The nonprofit is all about raising awareness and helping with wild-horse adoptions. I have some myself out on 45 acres.
How did you get these “studs” to agree to be in your calendar?
It was all random. Beau Burton the running back was here, I met him in the dog park—it was divine randomness. It was just word of mouth—they just fell in my lap, these amazing people.