Western free-roaming wild horses have been the symbol of American spirit and beauty for well over a century; that spirit has been on display since Nov. 16 at a special fine arts photography exhibit at the Brian Bowen Smith Gallery in the Malibu Lumber Yard. 

At the standing-room-only opening night of the “Stay Wild” exhibit, the latest wild horse photography of three world-class photographers—Brian Bowen Smith, Kimerlee Curyl and Chris Douglas—was introduced. The event also served as a fundraiser for the nonprofit American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC), which gave a presentation about its mission to save America’s wild horses from being rounded up and slaughtered.

Shea Bowen Smith, curator of the exhibit, said in a phone interview that she and her husband first became aware of AWCH at a Malibu event a couple of years ago. They decided to adopt an abandoned wild foal from the Yakima Indian Reservation that was saved by the Chilly Pepper—Miracle Mustang equine rescue group (part of nonprofit WIN, Wild horses In Need). She said the current photography exhibit helps bring “a lot of attention and awareness to the cause” of saving the wild horses.

Wild Horses

Cindy Crawford joins the opening reception festivities at the “Stay Wild” exhibition, signing gallery owner, artist and photographer Brian Bowen Smith’s coffee table book “Projects.” Crawford is on the book’s cover. A portion of the proceeds of the exhibition will benefit the American Wild Horse Campaign.  

One of the featured photographers, Kimerlee Curyl, has focused since 2004 almost exclusively on taking black and white photos of wild horses, documenting their lives on remote public lands. The countless hours she’s spent photographing the horses in their natural habitat has made her passionate about protecting their wildness.

“I spend time out there, and the people who don’t are the ones making the decisions,” she said. “These animals thrive in places that humans would never inhabit. I’ve seen them in gale force winds.” She went on to describe her detailed observations about the intelligence and cunning of wild horses. She’s seen them develop strategies to accomplish a goal, work together in groups and protect each other.

“This is what I do for a living—try to bring awareness to this issue. When people get to experience beautiful art, it inspires them,” Curyl continued. “I live with horses every day, and see the open range, their freedom and their wild spirit—people that live in urban areas don’t.”

Curyl and other wild horse advocates point to some concerning figures: The federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) allows only about 20,000 wild horses on its 250,000,000 acres of public lands, while allowing 727,000 privately owned cows and sheep. The advocates say these limits have no scientific basis in fact. Yet ranchers complain that the horses are overpopulating and eating all their livestock’s food. Now, the government rounds up “excess” wild horses by helicopter and put them in corrals—breaking up family units—and at a cost to taxpayers of almost $50 million per year.

American Wild Horse Campaign states it’s committed to stopping the “federal government’s systematic elimination of these national icons from our public lands.” 

The Washington Post reported on Sept. 18 that the BLM now has nearly 50,000 horses in holding pens. Wild horse advocates are trying to advance legislation to require the BLM to use humane birth control to manage a free-roaming western wild horse population estimated at 88,000. 

The “Stay Wild” exhibit will remain at the Brian Bowen Smith Gallery in the Malibu Lumber Yard until Dec. 22. 

For more information on AWHC: americanwildhorsecampaign.org/issue

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