Reflections on ALOUD LA Conversation with Deanne Stillaman on her book Mustang

by B.J. on 6/26/2008 10:31:00 PM 0 comments Print this post

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I didn't grow up around any horses, I've never ridden one, unless you count the ponys at Griffith park, but I decided to go to a lecture on the history of the wild horse in American history with Deanne Stillman.

I'm a city kid. LA Kid. Yellow-ish-brown kid born in an age of hyper- and inter-dependence on hip-hop and technological infrastructure.

From my viewpoint, what I wanted to learn more about was how these horses or mustangs were used in transportational infrastructure. I was inspired by an article I had read a few months earlier, From Horse to Horsepower.

However, I didn't quite find that information in this lecture, this conversation but nontheless still interesting.

What she wanted to convey with the book was that the horse was the animal that helped define America as a nation. Indigenous to this continent. A silent witness to our battles in war. Our real best friend in nature. Very important to our identity as Americans she says.

What's most striking however is her very real, very personal attachment to the horse. She not only grew up around them, but in her own words, "horses litteraly saved [her] life." She briefly touched on how she went from riches to rags. When that happened, she moved to the "wrong side of the tracks." The horses galloped to the rescue and gave her mom her first job, as an Equestrian trainer.

However as time progressed, gradually friends and relatives began to distance themselves away from her. It was during these rough times where she learned life lessons critical for her inspiration to the books.

Tidbits of Interest:

1) The Horse is indigenous to the Americas, crossed the Bering Land Strait, and moved back with the Conquistadors. The entire population of Mustangs began with just 16 horses!

2) By the turn of the 19th century there were over 3 million horses. Today there are only about 23,000.

3) Cattle and sheepmen hate(d) mustangs because they stole from cows.

4) The same way that Horses built America on the battlefield, Horses built Hollywood.

5) Herds of wild horses need at least 100 to be genetically viable. We don't see a lot of that today.

6) The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has 4 million cattle on Public Lands, to produce 3% of beef, which according to her isn't much. She says that livestock has a very powerful lobby. In comparison, there are only 6,000 on BLM lands.

7) Under the Bush administration, a piece of legislation sponsored by Conrad Burns


1) Horses are never really "domesticated." According to the author which was received as a joke, they can "go wild" in 2 seconds. I was wondering about this in metaphor to transportation. You can't really control the car either; it's fluid, we depend on it to the extent that we don't just chop it up and kill it when it's done.

2) I am ambivalent to her call to action. One of her points to join the cause is that the horses are critical to American identity, the American cowboy which I'm not sure I care too much for. America the whole, doesn't really define me as part of its national fabric, so why again should this have any meaning for me? However, I do enjoy the bit that inspires her to keep doing her work and at least more curious at best.

If you're interested in more, her article is dropping right

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