Philipps, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter who writes for The New York Times, sets out to tell the story with an unexpected perspective: “I am not a horse person,” he writes at the start of “Wild Horse Country.” He is driven, instead, by a love of “wildness” and the West, and the question he’s asking is what is “the proper place for the mustang in the West, if any?”
His thorough reporting focuses largely on the work of the federal agencies and the policies that make up mustang management — much of it angering already polarized groups, chief among them ranchers and wild horse advocates, who have very different views on how public lands should be used, as well as grazing rights and whether the needs of wild animals should even be considered. In some formidably parched places across 10 Western states, including Nevada, the horses prove their hardiness by surviving and reproducing. But how many horses are allowed on how much land? Which land? What is a “sustainable” population? What is humane?
These have been the central questions for decades. In the “round up and ground up” era, so-called mustangers used to keep numbers down by brutally herding the animals to slaughter. Today, helicopter roundups remove about 10,000 horses a year. The animals are available for adoption, but most go to long-term storage on feedlots and in pastures.
Philipps’s big picture is very big. He goes from prehistory — 55-million-year-old fossilized jaws of tiny early horses — through the horse’s place in the history of the Old West, to the present day, with cowboys celebrating a roundup’s end with a round of strawberry daiquiris at a bar. The horses provide Philipps a way into the vital question of freedom and its costs.
MY PATIENTS AND OTHER ANIMALS
A Veterinarian’s Stories of Love, Loss, and Hope
By Suzy Fincham-Gray
270 pp. Spiegel & Grau. $27.
When zebras make an appearance in Fincham-Gray’s memoir they serve as metaphors, not patients. “When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses, not zebras,” is standard advice for eager young doctors, of animals and humans alike — a caution against the rookie penchant for overlooking the obvious in search of obscure diagnoses.