It is only fitting to tell the story about Velma Johnston, aka Wild Horse Annie, of Reno Nevada since without her efforts; the mustang would surely be a thing of the past.  She worked courageously, against the odds and powerful organizations to spearhead federal legislation in 1959 and again in 1971.  She had the help of her family and a few friends.

In her time and in the state she lived, she was an unsung hero.  Her supporters came from around the nation and young voices made a stand.  They were eager to keep the living spirit, the mustang, on the public range.

Her quest to free wild horses from certain extinction was most likely rooted in her struggle with Polio as a young girl.  She contracted the disease when she was 11 years old, and suffered from effects her entire life. The disease left her disfigured physically, however, emotionally her spirit was strong and passionate.  It was common practice for Mustangers to capture wild horses by the thousands and sell them to the slaughterhouses.

Velma teamed up with the Human Society in an effort to bring awareness of the cruelties inflicted on the mustangs.  She ultimately was called on by the Bureau of Land Management to collaborate on viable management strategies for wild horses on public lands.


The landscape of the arid high-desert is, at first-glance, stark and barren. After a short venture off the major highways and freeways, you will find a rugged beauty that draws you into its mystery.  Petroglyphs or rock-art drawn by the Paiute Native American, tell stories of other worlds that inhabited the earth.  Spanish explores left their mark on the land as well when they brought their stallions and mares to the untamed territory.  American surveyors of North America gave titles to the monoliths they saw — such as the Sierra Mountains and Pyramid Lake.   They discovered natural resources running free, the wild mustangs, to be captured and put into use to carry goods and supplies. Domesticated horses have been labeled livestock, yet somehow they don’t fit into the category with sheep, cattle and swine.

Many mustang herds found today are a mix of breeds and considered a feral animal according to government and political groups.  Domestic horses have been released, over the years, by their owners to fend for themselves.  Controversy surrounds the animal and the future of their ability to remain wild is held in the balance of political issues, environmental issues and human encroachment on wild-life habitats.

Ranchers lease grazing rights that requires sharing of limited resources for domestic cattle and wild animals including the mustang.  Progress and expansion of land development has caused serious encroachment on once empty/open areas.

Claims abound that horses are starving out in the wilderness and the environment cannot sustain them.  Government agencies, primarily the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) routinely gather horses and attempt to find new homes through the adoption program.  Wild horse populations continue to be depleted and gene pools become endangered.

Laws governing the management of mustangs are antiquated and inadequate to deal with current situations.

prehistoric horse

25,000 year old fossil of the horse found at Pyramid Lake!

The legendary Frank T. Hopkins, born in 1865, was an early advocate of the mustang. His life was surrounded by as much controversy as the mustang. He left a compelling statement in his diary: A quote from Hopkins reads:

“In my day I watch the destruction of the buffalo and the antelope, We say their destruction was due to a benighted profligate generation, If we permit the MUSTANG to disappear we may be accused of the same qualities and we will deserve the accusation, The MUSTANG is as AMERICAN as George Washington and AMERICA is a vast enough land and IMPORTANT enough Nation to have A HORSE of our very own, HE IS FACING HIS LAST STAND, TO LET HIM GO WOULD IN MY OPINION BE A MAJOR AMERICAN NATIONAL TRAGEDY” – Frank T. Hopkins

Wild horses have, for centuries, existed in the badlands of western North Dakota, and while ranching near Medora in the 1880s, Theodore Roosevelt wrote:

“In a great many–indeed, in most–localities there are wild horses to be found, which, although invariably of domestic descent, being either themselves runaways from some ranch or Indian outfit, or else claiming such for their sires and dams, yet are quite as wild as the antelope.”

And in his writings of 1914:
“None of the native grass-eating mammals, approach in size and beauty the herds of wild or half-wild cattle and horses, or so add to the interest of the landscape. … to the duty of preserving from impoverishment and extinction the wild life which is an asset of such interest and value… “