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Michele Willens Headshot

Face It: They Break Horses, Don't They?

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I haven't been on a horse in many years, though as a young girl I rode every weekend and collected my share of the plastic versions. As an urban creature now, I rarely come across them -- other than the painfully tolerant variety leading tourists through Central Park. But I think I join a lot of others in being drawn to stories about them. Witness the worldwide success of the puppet-driven War House on stage and the soon-to-be-released film by Steven Spielberg. We all read Seabiscuit and learned how one horse literally captured the spirit of a nation.

So I was somewhat intrigued by an urgent shout-out I received from my friend, the actress Wendie Malick (Lost in Cleveland, Don't Shoot Me) about the upcoming 40th anniversary of the "Wild Roaming Horses and Burros Act." Never heard of it either? It turns out that none other than Richard Nixon signed it into law, but according to Malick and others, it has been gradually eroded by powerful ranching, mining and drilling interests. As a result, today there are more horses languishing in government holding facilities than remaining wild. And now it seems the House of Representatives has voted to revisit discussions of horse slaughterhouses in the U.S.

I confess, my first instinct was to delete, ignore, prioritize elsewhere. Hey, we shoot soldiers, don't we? Then again, I have a Boomers soft spot for celebrities who actually know and care about what is going on in Washington. And I am well aware of how powerful women can be when they are fired up and start getting organized. We have helped end wars, (Another Mother for Peace) created legislation to punish those who drive drunk, (MADD) kept toxic dumps far away from our children. (Love Canal) So my ears perked, my curiosity aroused, maybe even some of the old fighting spirit threatening to come out of hibernation.

Malick obviously knows how to convince with authority and yes, dramatic flair, but this is no performance."To see these magnificent creatures chased by helicopter for hours and finally captured and hauled into a concentration camp, is to witness utter terror, followed by despair," says the actress, who was invited to attend a Bureau of Land Management "roundup" two years ago. This is far from a one night stand for her. She owns horses and is developing a television film based on the popular book Wild Horse Annie and The Last of The Mustangs. She may be best known for her comedic portrayals of, shall we say, the vain and self absorbed, but her love of animals rivals that of her current TV Land co-star, Betty White.

I can't pretend to share that devotion. The last pet I had was a toad named Toby who our father accidentally ran over entering our Santa Monica driveway in the '50s. But I do believe those we elect could better be spending their time getting along and dealing with debt than reopening an old law that allows horses to run free. In her book Mustang: The Saga of the Wild Horse in the American West, author Deanne Stillman reminds us that, "horses have carried our mail, fought our wars, tilled our land and ferried us across that land." Or as Malick says, "around our collective campfire, Americans and horses have been intertwined since our beginning."

Joining a collective campfire with passionate women sounds awfully good at this time of year when we are supposed to be thinking of others; and at this time of life when we may have forgotten our better angels.

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