Wild at Heart
Author: Terri Farley
Photographer: Melissa Farlow
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
Reviewer: Sharon M. Himsl
Ages: 10-14, Middle Grade nonfiction
Velma Johnston of Nevada (some called her “Wild Horse Annie") developed a special love of wild horses in her youth. In 1950, she witnessed the roundup of wild mustangs for slaughter on state land. Horse meat for dog food had become a profitable business. The roundups were bloody and vicious, with no regard for horse families and nursing foals. Having suffered from crippling polio as a girl, Velma understood pain and couldn't bear to see the wild mustangs she loved mistreated. She spoke out against the practice, and as a result, a new state law protecting the horses was passed, but horse hunters simply moved the practice to public lands where the slaughter continued. Cattlemen in particular supported roundups because they freed up grazing land.
Seeking new support, Velma requested help from U.S. schoolchildren nationwide. Students began writing letters to the U.S. Congress, exposing the plight of wild mustangs. Successful once again, a law was passed in 1971 to protect the mustangs and burros. Henceforth, they would be “living symbols of the historic pioneer spirit of the West” forever and free to roam public lands under the protection of an agency called the Bureau of Land Management. However, the agency failed to protect the mustangs when a later decision was made that drastically reduced the acreage on which the animals could roam.
Today, wild mustangs continue to suffer in roundups and are considered an endangered species, but a steady group of horse-loving youth have followed in Velma's footsteps to carry on the fight. Farley shares their stories and shows the positive influence the wild mustang has made on their lives personally. Readers learn the history of horses in America and more about wild horse culture. The pages are filled with gorgeous photography throughout, making this a lovely book for horse lovers everywhere.