Activist chronicles wild horse roundups to guard against mistreatment

ANTELOPE VALLEY

Horse activist Laura Leigh drives a monster-sized truck, an imposing Ford F-250 4-by-4 with its chassis jacked up so high she often must tumble down from the driver’s seat, the vehicle’s battered white finish filthy and mud-caked from all of her bumpy, teeth-loosening, off-road escapades.

It’s her fourth pickup truck in seven years — the cost of a controversial 100,000-mile annual journey across six western states and a nomadic lifestyle that often means sleeping inside her truck cab or in cheap motels, guzzling reheated gas-station coffee and downing peanut-butter sandwiches behind the wheel. She’s always red-eyed, always on the road.

Leigh tracks the people who track and corral America’s wild mustangs.

She’s a tough-talking New Jersey native with long red hair, cowboy boots and a tattered denim Carhartt jacket, a woman who slides into a Sopranos-like accent when she talks about her blue-collar childhood riding and caring for horses, telling tales of the city girl who went to school smelling like horse manure, who quickly fell in love with the animals’ indomitable spirit.

In 2009, Leigh fled an abusive marriage in Washington state and moved to Nevada to become a high-desert loner. Four seasons a year, she documents the actions of conservative tight-lipped ranchers whose free-roaming cattle compete with mustangs for precious grass. And she challenges federal officials from the Bureau of Land Management, the government stewards of the public lands whose policy is often to remove the horses from the range.

Leigh chronicles the story of the mustangs, these symbols of the American West, watching intently as the wild-eyed, bucking and kicking animals are herded by helicopter into corrals and loaded onto tractor-trailers. Some have been adopted. Many have been sold later, only to end up in foreign slaughterhouses.

Her tools include the high-resolution cameras she uses to capture images of horses that are injured and killed during the frequent BLM roundups; her often-graphic photos and videos are posted on her website, www.wildhorseeducation.org, and used as evidence in court cases she files on behalf of the mustangs. Her lawsuits have helped to successfully open horse-gatherings and holding yards to public scrutiny and create safer conditions for the animals.

Rolling down the highway and off-roading among the sagebrush, her 9mm handgun tucked away for protection, blasting Metallica and the Boss on her truck stereo, she’s become a sassy Bruce Springsteen of the Nevada outback.

Enemies abound

She has made enemies, using her camera to document ranchers who graze their cattle out of season. She’s been the subject of unflattering coverage in cowboy-centric publications such as Nevada Rancher and Range magazine, which pointed out that her last name rhymes with “pee,” a woman “Hollywood would have cast as a schoolmarm.”

Leigh, the magazine wrote in its most recent issue, “is a self-appointed wild-horse expert and, depending on the day, is either a venomous critic or a volunteer of and for the BLM. Her issue-driven-propaganda-producing fundraising website spins the ongoing plight of wild horses from an anti-ranching, anti-livestock point of view.”

Leigh also has received ominous telephone calls: “I know you have a daughter,” a male voice threatened, “and I know where she is.”

But Leigh carries on. With her camera and video recorder, she jokes, she’s like a hunter without a season.

In 2010, Doug Furtado, BLM’s Battle Mountain District manager, invited Leigh to a meeting at a Reno hotel after hearing about this one-woman wrecking crew.

“There wasn’t a lot of trust there at first,” he said. “She was upset with how the BLM was managing wild horses.”

He now views Leigh as a sensible and formidable voice on the mustang issue. Furtado keeps a white grease board in his office to track the BLM roundups Leigh’s advocacy has helped quash. He talks of her with a plain-spoken deference.

“Her favorite thing is having the conversation,” Furtado said. “And she’s willing to do that with anyone willing to open that door. You can’t say that about all horse advocates.”

When it comes to the mustangs, though, Leigh sticks to her guns: She insists wild horses are scapegoats for range damage done by domestic cattle and sheep, and disputes BLM claims that horses are dying of starvation and need to be removed for private adoption.

Leigh fumes at government officials she says believe anything said by someone in a cowboy hat. She dislikes patronizing men who believe the high desert is no place for a single woman.

“Any conversation that starts with ‘Laura, you need to understand …’ Well, we ain’t havin’ that conversation,” she said. “I just tell ‘em, ‘We’ll see ya in court.’”

The last years have tested her willpower and stamina. Since 2012, when Leigh was diagnosed with breast cancer, she has undergone eight surgeries and was severely injured as a passenger in a head-on car collision. Through it all, she has ignored the advice of friends and doctors, staying in bed just long enough to muster the energy to return to the range.

The battle for the wild horses sustains her, giving sharp focus to the life of a once-abused woman willing to fight for what she loves, she said.

“Horses have the largest eyes of any land mammal,” Leigh said. “They’re windows to the soul. In the eyes of those free-running mustangs, we can see ourselves.”

Tenacious Leigh

In 2010, Leigh’s advocacy began in earnest when she documented a roundup in which an 8-month-old colt was pushed so hard by preying-mantislike helicopters over frozen volcanic rock that the animal’s hooves literally began to fall off, she said.

In the ensuing years, she would take pictures and video of injured and dying horses. She filed numerous lawsuits, including one seeking access to BLM roundups closed off to the public. That suit was eventually upheld by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

At first, she was timid, seeing her name listed against the U.S. government in legal papers. But she pressed on. She filed freedom-of-information requests and litigation that halted abusive tactics on the range. Horse gatherers contracted by the BLM can no longer gather mustangs if the weather is too hot or cold. They can’t use whips or electrical hotshots or ram the fleeing animals with helicopters.

“The contractors have accused me of trying to create a drama storm,” Leigh said. “The images I take aren’t about the drama; they’re about the continued welfare of wild horses.”

On down the road

Leigh’s pickup eases down a rutted dirt road in the middle of Antelope Valley north of Ely. She’s on the lookout for mustangs, making sure they aren’t underfed or blocked from water sources by ranchers. In the back lies a scattering of hay. The cab resembles a cluttered ancient tomb before an excavation, or the domain of a horse activist always on the road.

She points to a Canon camera with a long-range lens: “That one won all those court cases,” she said, motioning to another on the dashboard. “This one shoots 11 frames per second.”

She’s on the scent of a herd of mustangs she’s spotted on the horizon. She hops down from the truck, picking her way through the scrub brush. She bends to pick up a fistful of wild horse manure, breaking open one pod to show the animals’ diet.

“I love horse poop,” she said, “but I wouldn’t touch cow dung.”

That’s Leigh. In her Jersey voice, she vows to keep “riding across the West, looking for a fight.”

“I’ve listened to people talk about how the horses are doing all the destruction, and then I tell them, ‘Now, when can I slap the crap out of you?’”

She’s joined by Jeanne Nations, a local property owner who sits on a BLM advisory board. Nations is a blonde-haired woman who gets Leigh’s mission. The two stand near Leigh’s truck talking horses when Nations spots a band of mustangs on the run, coming their way.

The eight horses gallop across the landscape as though it were still 1870, their hair in the wind, the color of the lone colt matching Leigh’s red hair. She grabs a camera and hustles in for a better angle, the other woman behind her.

Then Nations stops and just watches the horse activist doing what she loves most.

“Whoa!” she yells. “Go get ‘em Laura!”

ad-high_impact_4
News
Three Square helps TSA workers
Three Square Food Bank donated over 400 care bags to TSA workers affected by the government shutdown Wednesday, filled with food, personal hygiene products and water.
Mount Charleston Gets Heavy Snow, Fog
Mount Charleston saw heavy snow today, and fog in lower elevations as a cold front swept across the Las Vegas Valley. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Krystal Whipple arrested in Arizona
Krystal Whipple, charged in the killing of a Las Vegas nail salon manager over a $35 manicure, is expected to return to Nevada to face a murder charge.
Holocaust survivor on acceptance
Holocaust survivor Celina Karp Biniaz, who was the youngest person on Schindler’s List, talks about the most important message for people to understand from her life and experiences.
Holocaust survivor speaks about telling her story
Holocaust survivor Celina Karp Biniaz, who was the youngest person on Schindler’s List, tells of opening up about her experiences during Sunday’s event at Temple Sinai.
Jesus Jara State of the Schools address
Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara delivers his State of the Schools address on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Michael Naft sworn in to Clark County Commission
Michael Naft, chosen by Gov. Steve Sisolak to be his replacement on the Clark County Commission, was sworn into office on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES Opening Party in Omnia Nightclub at Caesars Palace
CES conventioneers packed Omnia Nightclub at Caesars Palace, and let loose as they danced to DJs into the night. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Las Vegas police piecing together details of fatal shooting
Six hours after the fact, Las Vegas homicide detectives worked to reconstruct the scene of a shooting early Jan. 7 that left one man dead in the southeast valley. (Rio Lacanlale/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dyer Lawrence explains college football playoff system proposal
Las Vegan Dyer Lawrence has a new idea for a college football playoff system that includes a unique scheduling component called National Call Out Day. (Ron Kantowski/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Death row inmate Scott Dozier found dead in his cell
Nevada death row inmate Scott Dozier is dead. Dozier’s death ends his legal odyssey, which began in 2007 when he was convicted in the 2002 murder of Jeremiah Miller, but does little to clarify what’s next for Nevada’s death penalty.
I-15 southbound near Primm closed after ‘major crash’
A rollover crash Saturday morning involving at least nine vehicles on southbound Interstate 15 near Primm caused an hourslong traffic delay. Traffic was backed up to Sloan, live traffic cameras show. (Rio Lacanlale/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Death Valley visitors deal with shutdown
Visitors staying at the Furnace Creek Campground were forced to move from the campground following health and safety concerns due to lack of resources during the partial government shutdown at Death Valley National Park in Calif., on Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. Richard Brian Las Vegas Review-Journal @vegasphotograph
Half of homicides in Henderson for 2018 domestic violence related
Lt. Kirk Moore of the public information office of the city of Henderson police department speaks to the Review-Journal in Henderson, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019. Henderson saw a slight increase in homicides in the past year. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Governor-elect Steve Sisolak stops by Las Vegas Boys and Girls Club
Governor-elect Steve Sisolak kicks off his tour to Carson City, which will take him from Las Vegas, through Tonopah, and up to the capital city. First stop is the Downtown Boys & Girls Club.
Certificates for renewing wedding vows in Clark County
The Marriage License Bureau in Clark County began issuing a Certificate of Vow Renewal to married couples who are renewing their wedding vows on Jan. 3, 2019. (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas flu season better than last year (so far)
Dr. Fermin Leguen, chief medical officer and director of clinical services at the Southern Nevada Health District, said there were 24 flu-related deaths at this point in the flu season. No deaths have been reported so far this year. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
The Las Vegas Valley’s First Baby of 2019
The first 2019 baby in the Las Vegas Valley was Melialani Chihiro Manning, born at 12:10 a.m. at Henderson Hospital. (Briana Erickson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas NYE Fireworks - VIDEO
The full show: A spectacular view from the rooftop of the Trump International Hotel as 80,000 pyrotechnics illuminated the Las Vegas Strip at the stroke of midnight. Fireworks by Grucci choreographed launches from the Stratosphere, the Venetian, Treasure Island, Caesars Palace, Planet Hollywood, Aria and MGM Grand.
Snow in Henderson on New Year's Eve morning
Light snow flurries in Anthem Highlands in Henderson on Monday morning, the last day of 2018.
Sources: Henderson Constable may face more charges
Henderson Constable Earl Mitchell may face additional charges ... stemming from his spending of county funds, sources said. Mitchell was indicted earlier this month on five felony theft and fraud charges ... after a Las Vegas Review-Journal story questioned his spending. But grand jury records show even more extensive spending including ... an $800 dinner at steakhouse ... nearly 200 atm withdrawals mostly at gambling establishments ... and even Disneyland tickets. But his attorney plans to ask a judge to dismiss the charges.
Las Vegas NYE Restrictions and Enhanced Security
If you are planning to celebrate New Year's Eve on the Las Vegas Strip or Fremont Street, be aware that you are not allowed to bring backpacks, coolers, strollers or glass. There will also be an increase in security to ensure safe celebrations across town.
Catholic Charities serves up 53rd annual Christmas dinner
Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada and more than 100 volunteers served 1,000 Christmas meals to Southern Nevada's homeless and less fortunate. (K.M. Cannon Las Vegas Review-Journal @kmcannonphoto)
Henderson couple adds another school to their generosity
Bob and Sandy Ellis of Henderson, who donate to several Clark County School District schools, have added Matt Kelly Elementary in Las Vegas to their list of schools where every student gets new shoes, socks and a toy. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jeffrey Martin Added To Nevada's Black Book
Martin was one of four men convicted of theft and cheating at gambling in 2016 in Clark County District Court and sentenced to prison. The Nevada Gaming Commission voted unanimously Thursday to include Martin in the black book.
Raiders Stadium Timelapse
Construction on the new Raiders stadium continues in Las Vegas.
Buffalo Wild Wings security video
Security footage from a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant in southwest Las Vegas captured a driver who repeatedly crashed into a vehicle in a failed attempt to squeeze into a tight parking spot.
The Magical Forest at Opportunity Village
Opportunity Village's Magical Forest added 1 million lights and a synchronized music show visible from all over the forest this year. The holiday attraction, which began in 1991, has a train, rides, food and entertainment along with the light displays. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Navigating the new I-515 southbound to 215 Beltway ramp configuration
After opening at 5 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018, the new Interstate 515 southbound to the 215 Beltway westbound freeway ramp configuration caused confusion amongst motorist. Here’s how to navigate the new ramp. (Mick Akers/ Las Vegas Review-Journal).
A record breaking donation of nearly $9 million to Girls Scouts of Southern Nevada
A record breaking donation of property valued at nearly $9 million was made to the Girls Scouts of Southern Nevada by the Charles and Phyllis M. Frias Charitable Trust. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal. @bizutesfaye
Local
Lady Rebels School Day Game
Children from local elementary schools gather for the Lady Rebel School Day Game at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019. Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal
All-Pro curling team eyes 2022 Winter Olympics
Mount Charleston Gets Heavy Snow, Fog
Mount Charleston saw heavy snow today, and fog in lower elevations as a cold front swept across the Las Vegas Valley. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tourists enjoy rain in downtown Las Vegas
Tourists break out the umbrellas. But Brian Herting of Lincoln, Nebraska, dons shorts and a T-shirt, as he makes his way through downtown Las Vegas. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Thick fog blanketed Las Vegas Valley on Tuesday
Thick fog blanketed Las Vegas Valley on Tuesday. The National Weather Service.forecast called for a 50 percent chance of rain. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Time lapse video of fog covering the Strip
The Las Vegas Strip is shrouded in fog Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Tony Spilotro's Las Vegas home for sale — VIDEO
The former Las Vegas home of Chicago mob enforcer, Tony Spilotro, is now for sale. Spilotro, who was portrayed by Joe Pesci in the film Casino, is the original owner of the home at 4675 Balfour Drive, built in 1974. (Samia DeCubas/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Buffalo Drive And Mountains Edge Parkway Fatal
Las Vegas police and the Nevada Highway Patrol are investigating a fatal crash in the southwest valley on Saturday afternoon. (Richard Brian/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
UNLV's Joel Ntambwe on his play
UNLV forward Joel Ntambwe talks about his play at this point in the season. Video by Mark Anderson/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Sam Schmidt chats about hectic off-season
IndyCar team owner Sam Schmidt and lead driver James Hinchcliffe chat about the hectic off-season at the SpeedVegas high-performance driving facility outside of Las Vegas, Nevada, on January 10, 2018. (Ron Kantowski/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
R-J's Mark Anderson on UNLV's victory
Review-Journal sports reporter Mark Anderson recaps UNLV's victory at New Mexico. Video by Mark Anderson/Las Vegas Review-Journal
UNLV's Noah Robotham on the win at New Mexico
UNLV guard Noah Robotham talks about winning at New Mexico on Jan. 8, 2019. (Mark Anderson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
UNLV's Kris Clyburn on big 3 vs. New Mexico
UNLV guard Kris Clyburn talks about his key 3-pointer against New Mexico. (Mark Anderson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Marvin Menzies on beating New Mexico
UNLV basketball coach Marvin Menzies talks about UNLV's win at New Mexico on January 8, 2019. (Mark Anderson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New HOV Ramp Scheduled to Open in March
New HOV ramp scheduled to open in March of 2019.
American Preparatory Academy part of charter school growth in Las Vegas
American Preparatory Academy in Las Vegas has a waiting list of students who want to attend. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Wheelchair tournament at UNLV
Cesar Robledo talks about wheelchair basketball and what it means for players to compete during the Wheelchair Basketball Division I-II Tournament at UNLV in Las Vegas, Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019.
Snow in Henderson on New Year's Eve morning
Light snow flurries in Anthem Highlands in Henderson on Monday morning, the last day of 2018.
Marvin Menzies on UNLV's trip to Hawaii
UNLV basketball coach Marvin Menzies talks about the upcoming trip to Hawaii. Video by Mark Anderson/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Raiders Stadium Timelapse
Construction on the new Raiders stadium continues in Las Vegas.
Pinecrest Academy Horizon principal wins Milken Educator Award
Tony Sanchez on UNLV's recruiting class
UNLV football coach Tony Sanchez talks about his early signing class. Video by Mark Anderson/Las Vegas Review-Journal
The Magical Forest at Opportunity Village
Opportunity Village's Magical Forest added 1 million lights and a synchronized music show visible from all over the forest this year. The holiday attraction, which began in 1991, has a train, rides, food and entertainment along with the light displays. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Siegel Cares delivers bagels to families in need
Since Thanksgiving, Mark Lenoir of Siegel Cares, has been delivering leftover Bagelmania bagels to families staying at the Siegel Suites.
Dan Barnson steps down
Arbor View football coach Dan Barnson stepped down Friday after 12 seasons at the helm. Under Barnson, the Aggies won 104 games and became one of the top programs in Las Vegas. The Aggies went 12-2 in 2018 and won a region championship for the first time in program history. Barnson loves Friday nights, but said the 12-month commitment was getting exhausting.
NFR 2018 Highlights
NFR 2018 highlights from every round of this years rodeo.
NFR 2018 Round 10 Highlights
NFR 2018 Round 10 Highlights of the 2018 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo from the Thomas & Mack in Las Vegas, Nevada. (CBS Sports Network/PRCA)
NFR- Joe Frost
NFR Bull Rider Joe Frost talks about the difference in bulls and his family legacy with Cassie Soto before the last round of the National Finals Rodeo.
Herm Edwards on LV Bowl loss
Arizona State coach Herm Edwards talks about the loss in the Las Vegas Bowl. Video by Mark Anderson/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Fresno State linebacker George Helmuth after LV Bowl
Linebacker George Helmuth talks about Fresno State's turnaround. Video by Mark Anderson/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Tony Sanchez wraps up the UNLV season
UNLV football coach Tony Sanchez wraps up the season. Video by Mark Anderson/Las Vegas Review-Journal
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
ad-infeed_1
ads_infeed_2
Local Spotlight
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like