By Kelley Carlson
The mustang horse is a symbol of America’s past -— from the days of the Wild West — but its future is in question.
A new children’s book by Karen Bale-Brown, titled “The Preschool Professors Meet Madeleine and the Mustangs,” sheds light on efforts being made to save the breed. The colorfully illustrated literature, released Feb. 21, is based on the Mustang Monument proposed by local businesswoman and philanthropist Madeleine Pickens. The 28-page book uses rhyme and rhythm to describe how the eco-sanctuary in northeast Nevada will provide activities for everyone, such as wagon rides over the prairie and campouts under the stars amid mustang herds.
“Madeleine and the Mustangs” is the fourth book to be written in Bale-Brown’s Preschool Professors series. The Preschool Professors — copyrighted in 1984 — were inspired by the author’s children, Benjamin and Sara.
“They were so curious about the world around them,” said Bale-Brown, who resides in Anchorage, Alaska.
She proceeded to write several books about topics that children would find interesting and fun, such as the cause of thunderstorms and searching for the Easter bunny. The “professor” characters were named for Bale-Brown’s family and friends.
The latest book focuses more on environmental aspects than the other works, Bale-Brown noted.
She first learned about the mustangs and the troubles they face in fall 2009. Bale-Brown’s daughter, Sara, was at a football game halftime show at Oklahoma State University that featured singer-songwriter Michael Martin Murphey and a presentation about Pickens’ nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, Saving America’s Mustangs. Sara, touched by the program, asked her mom to watch it online.
The images and information made quite an impact on Bale-Brown.
“I got very emotional,” she said.
In 1971, the U.S. Congress recognized mustangs as “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West, which continue to contribute to the diversity of life forms within the nation and enrich the lives of the American people.” More than 100 years ago, there were 2 million of them roaming free; now, only 28,000 are left on the range, according to Pickens.
To protect rangeland vegetation from overgrazing, the Bureau of Land Management rounds up the mustangs and forces thousands of them into holding pens, where they are vaccinated or neutered before being sent to long-term corrals in the Midwest or placed for adoption. There is controversy surrounding the treatment of the horses — and in some cases, their ultimate fate.
In an effort to help the mustangs, Pickens — who owns the Del Mar Country Club — bought 600,000 acres of private and public lands about 25 miles south of Wells, Nev. The land, at 5,700 feet in elevation, is full of spruce trees and showcases the beauty of all four seasons. A mountain range of 10,700 feet adds to the scenery. Pickens said there are currently 600 horses on the property — which can comfortably support thousands — and she is hoping to add more. She is seeking permission from the BLM to take captured horses from its facilities and set them loose on her property, and also needs the government to designate that the public range can be used for horses. However, she has yet to receive approval from the BLM.
Pickens has big plans for the sanctuary, where visitors of all ages will be able to learn about the land and its “Wild West” past, and reconnect with nature. It will also show how the wild horse is an integral part of America’s history. In addition, there will be electronic classrooms, ecology seminars, lessons about Native American history, guided hikes, camping in teepees, campfires with musical storytelling and Native American legends, and wellness and group retreats. There will also be photography and creative writing internships available.
Listening to the Saving America’s Mustangs presentation started the wheels turning in Bale-Brown’s mind.
“I thought, ‘What could I do to help, to raise awareness and money?’ ” Bale-Brown said.
So the author — also an adjunct professor who teaches quantitative research methods online at the University of Oklahoma — came up with the idea of having the Preschool Professors visit Pickens’ Mustang Monument eco-sanctuary. Bale-Brown discussed her proposal with Pickens’ foundation, and wrote a draft that they approved.
“I was really touched,” Pickens said. “How thoughtful, sensitive and kind!
“Karen brings a lot, with her background, to the project,” she added of the former Katy (Texas) Times feature writer.
Pickens said that getting the kids involved is an excellent way to help the cause, and noted that nothing in schools teaches children about what’s happening to the mustangs.
In 2010, Bale-Brown contacted her publisher, Tate Publishing, and received the green light to proceed with the project. It was completed in 2011, and officially released in February.
Meanwhile, Bale-Brown and Pickens had a chance to connect in person at a football game last year at OSU, where Pickens’ husband, Texas oil and gas executive T. Boone Pickens, is an alum.
Madeleine Pickens said she was delighted to meet Bale-Brown. And the feeling was mutual, as Bale-Brown described Pickens as sincere and passionate about her cause.
“When a person jumps on board (to help the mustangs), that’s one more part of the puzzle they bring in,” Pickens said. “It’s very sweet (of Bale-Brown).”
Not only are the paperbacks available for the public to purchase, they can be provided to teachers, along with coloring books for their students, Bale-Brown said. She also hopes to spread the word of the mustangs beyond America, and present the books to children in China while visiting her son, who works in a university there.
Bale-Brown’s Preschool Professors books can be bought at preschoolprofessors.com, tatepublishing.com and most online book stores. The price is $8.99 for a paperback edition or $7.99 for a digital download. All of the author’s net proceeds will go toward Saving America’s Mustangs.
For more information about Mustang Monument and Saving America’s Mustangs, go to savingamericasmustangs.org; the organization also has a Facebook page and can be followed on Twitter.