The Women’s Wilderness Adventure: Documenting Wyoming’s Wild Horses with Katherine, Caroline, and Louisa

Three women set out on a 30-day journey through Wyoming to explore the world of wild mustangs. What started as a simple curiosity transformed into an educational quest that left them awed and challenged. But that wasn't the only twist in their story. As they rode through the rugged terrain, they encountered a situation that would change everything. Their upcoming documentary aims to shed light on this unexpected turn, inspiring conversations about the complexities surrounding wild horses. What did they encounter? You'll have to watch to find out.

In this episode, you will be able to:

  • Witness how women play a pivotal role in exploring the wonders of Wyoming's wild horses.
  • Grasp the sensitive topic of wild horse control and the varying perspectives on the issue.
  • Get inspired to support ecologically sound approaches to wild horse conservation.
  • Experience firsthand the captivating and unique traditions that embody the spirit of the West.

My special guests: Katherine Boucher, Caroline Heer, Louisa Behnke

Introducing Katherine Boucher, Caroline Heer, and Louisa Behnke: adventurous trailblazers who embarked on an unforgettable quest through Wyoming's breathtaking wilderness to gain a deeper understanding of the issues surrounding wild horses on public lands. These three skilled riders, united by their passion for horses, the outdoors, and environmental conservation, created Women in the Wilderness to explore the intricacies of managing wild horse populations and to encourage other women to challenge themselves in the great outdoors. Their journey sheds light on the complexities that govern wild horse management and shares the unique perspectives of those involved, ultimately inspiring a new generation of wilderness explorers.

The resources mentioned in this episode are:

  • Follow Women in the Wilderness on Instagram at @womeninthewildernessfilm for updates and information about the film.
  • Check out the Women in the Wilderness Facebook page for additional updates and information.
  • Watch the Women in the Wilderness documentary film to learn more about the complexities of the wild horse issue and the experiences of the three women on their month-long horsepacking trip.
  • Educate yourself about the wild horse issue and get involved in the conversation to help improve the situation.
  • Check out their website: https://womeninthewildernessfilm.com/

Biologists and BLM
The involvement of biologists and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) personnel adds indispensable knowledge and expertise to the discussions surrounding the wild horse issue. Their unique insights contribute to a richer and more nuanced understanding of the challenges wild horses face and their implications on the broader ecosystem. During their interview with Emy DiGrappa, the filmmakers mention their connection with biologist, John Mionczynski, who was incredibly welcoming and accessible. They also had the opportunity to work with wildlife biologist, Eric Molvar and the Oldham family, who run a sanctuary and cattle ranch in Lander, Wyoming. These interactions allowed the filmmakers to familiarize themselves with the complex web of issues associated with wild horse populations and better understand the diverse usage of public lands.

Documentary Goals
The filmmakers aim to create an engaging documentary that will educate viewers on the multifaceted issue of wild horses and the management challenges that surround them. They hope that by providing valuable insights and raising awareness, their film can serve as an instrument to inspire constructive conversations and drive actionable solutions to improve the situation for both wild horses and the people involved in managing them. Throughout their conversation with Emy DiGrappa, Katherine, Caroline, and Louisa make it clear that they want to avoid presenting a specific viewpoint in the film. Instead, they express the importance of capturing a diverse array of perspectives by interviewing stakeholders such as biologists, Bureau of Land Management representatives, and wild horse advocates. By presenting a balanced analysis, they believe it will encourage viewers to engage in productive discussions and become advocates for sustainable solutions.

As always leave a review if you enjoyed these stories and follow us on Instagram or visit the webpage of the Wyoming Humanities!

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00:00:01
            

Welcome to Winds of Change. I am your host, Emy DiGrappa. Winds of Change is centered on the people, places, history, and stories of Wyoming. We talk about identity, community, land, and the winds of change and what it means to thrive in our state. How does someone identify with wide open spaces and big personalities in small towns?        

00:00:23
            

Listen to folks from across our state? Share their connection to Wyoming and home? Brought to you by Wyoming Humanities Council.        

00:00:49
            

Um, I want to congratulate Caroline, Louisa, and Caroline for their new film called Women in the Wilderness and highlight their journey. With Wyoming Humanities Council funding, they were able to employ a team of high quality filmmakers. I am joined by this team of three women who embarked on an amazing adventure across the wilderness and began creating a feature documentary. Along the way, Caroline, Caroline and Louisa explore the controversies around managing wild horses. And originally their plan was to go on a really awesome big pack trip with horses, film it, and teach people about the wild horse issue.        

00:01:33
            

But they also wanted to showcase women in the outdoors and inspire young women to defy gender stereotypes and artificial boundaries and the complexities of the wild horse problem. So I just want to welcome and thank Caroline, Louisa, and Caroline for joining me in this podcast.        

00:01:57
            

Today I'm welcoming the women in the Wilderness, and I want to learn about each one of you. So if you could just take a moment. We'll start with Caroline and just tell me a little bit about yourself. So now I'm 30 years old. When we started this project, I was feels like almost five years ago that we really started prepping for this.        

00:02:21
            

I grew up riding here. I'm from Los Angeles, so I grew up riding bareback, actually, when I was five. And then I joined a riding team called the California Rangers, which is like a military based drill team organization. And then after college, I made my way out to Wyoming where I worked on a dude ranch. I had never been.        

00:02:42
            

I just Googled it and went out, and it was the best experience in my life. And that's where I met Caroline. And that was 2015. And I've been back to Wyoming every year since except for 2020 because of the pandemic. Yeah.        

00:02:58
            

I just love it out there. So after each tell me about yourself. I'm going to definitely ask you how you all three came together. Next, we'll hear from Louisa Ben Key. Tell me about yourself.        

00:03:12
            

So I actually grew up in Massachusetts, and I am 26 years old, and I went to school in Durango, Colorado, and got an outdoor education degree. And in the summers, I used to work on ranches throughout my college years. And now I'm a multi day river rafting guide in Idaho. So I take people on the Salmon River and the Snake River on six day trips. I'm currently back in Massachusetts, and I'm working as a special education teacher, but then I'll go back out west, a guide in the summertime.        

00:03:44
            

So you have two homes? Kind of. Kind of two homes, yeah. So I just have to ask you because which one you graduated from fort Lewis. I did, yeah.        

00:03:53
            

Okay. That's where my daughter Veronica graduated from. Are you serious? When did she graduate? Oh my gosh.        

00:03:58
            

So Veronica is 35. I feel like Fort Lewis College is the best kept secret ever. So much fun. I know. It's such a small population of students and it's like a little private college.        

00:04:13
            

Even though it's not a private college, it feels like it when you go there because it's so small and you get a lot of great attention from the teachers. And that's why I loved it. The smaller class sizes were great, and then the location is not so bad either. So, Caroline Boucher, tell me about yourself. So, I am originally from Vermont, which is where I am now, and I went to college at University of Vermont.        

00:04:37
            

My major was it was animal science with a concentration in pre veterinary medicine. So I was planning to go to vet school, and one of my professors at UVM had worked at a ranch in Wyoming. And so I think how we met is all about to become very clear. So my professor told me about this ranch in Wyoming, and I knew I wanted to go out west and work on a ranch. So I went out to this ranch, and I still work there.        

00:04:59
            

I work there full time now. I'm the head wrangler there. That's how Caroline and I met our first summer out there. And I grew up riding English here in Vermont and then went out west and kind of fell in love with Wyoming and riding Western and all that. Wow.        

00:05:16
            

So what I'm hearing is that what you all have in common is that you love horses. Definitely. A little. So tell me about Women in the Wilderness and how do you started that organization and why that became something that was important to the three of you. I can take this one.        

00:05:34
            

I had this crazy idea back in 2018 when I worked at the same ranch in Wyoming. Caroline was the head wrangler, and I went to her and was like, you know, I really want to go on a big pack trip. Would you want to do that sometime? And we really didn't know where to start. I love horses, but I also love being outdoors and I love taking on huge trips.        

00:05:59
            

So we thought the first thing we should do, I'm like, immediately, I need to look at the route. We're going to plan the route first. And that was like a big undertaking. But there was a lot more that we had to think about, especially turning it into a big documentary film, because none of us really knew anything about film. So that was a huge added element.        

00:06:21
            

And then Caroline obviously knew Caroline from before, and Caroline's like, well, I want to do that, too. So it ended up being us three women planning this big pack trip together, and then we just had an interest in mustangs, especially, like, us all being from different places other than Wyoming. I knew that there was a huge mustang situation, like an overpopulation, but none of us really knew how complex of an issue it was. And so for myself and I know probably for Caroline and Caroline, it was just, like, an interesting subject. But the more we looked into it, the more we're like, wow, there's a lot of people with varying opinions, and then we care for public land.        

00:07:05
            

So it was like, why not go on a trip in Wyoming where we all have a connection and figure out what's going on in public lands and also do a big month long horsepacking trip? What was your horsepacking trip? What was the trip you went on? I can explain. I feel like we all worked together to kind of it changed a lot, basically, over the years that we were planning this.        

00:07:32
            

But what we ended up doing was pretty much like a 30 day ride from we started just outside of lander. We went up into the wind river mountains. We came down, we went through the red desert, and then we crossed the highway there, went to the south red desert, and then we ended up in encampment, Wyoming, which is where we all met at the ranch that we all worked at. And that way we went through all public lands. There's a ton of horses in the red desert, so we saw a lot of wild herds, which was really we didn't know what to expect because none of us had really packed before, I think ever.        

00:08:12
            

We've all ridden horses our whole lives, but we learned how to pack for this trip. We learned a lot about packing during the trip, and we didn't know what to expect seeing wild horses. We were riding mustangs who had been wild before, and that was a huge point of interest for us. And that ended up being a really stressful, very stressful element of the pack trip because there was just so many unknowns, and we definitely had challenges with that. But it was beautiful to just be riding.        

00:08:41
            

And then there was one point where we were in the red desert and there was a herd of, like, I don't know, 40 or 50 mustangs running behind us, and we just had you know, we were nervous at the time, but it was also so beautiful to see the horses running behind us like that. So we got to see a lot of different environments of wilding, the mountains, the desert. I think that would make me nervous as well, because how do your horses react when they see these wild horses running? Yeah, I think we were all really amazed with our horses that we had. I think we expected them to be more reactive than they were, but they really dealt with wild horses.        

00:09:21
            

Even sometimes we would have wild horses coming right up onto our horses. And they were really calm, I think, because they had learned from being wild how to be in a herd in the first place and how to trust their herd members. And I think on our pack trip, they had learned that our little group was their herd now, so they were very comfortable and safe with each other. And I think having previously been wild, they were not shocked when wild horses came up on them because that had happened to them in the past. So I think taking mustangs out into mustang territory was definitely the right move.        

00:09:53
            

That's another interesting point, is why did you all own mustangs? I mean, that's unusual as well. So we actually didn't own the horses. The horses we leased from a couple of different sources. One was yellowstone horse rentals.        

00:10:08
            

This guy, Chad Matson, owns this incredible facility. He owns almost 3000 head of horses that he leases out, and he knows them all by name. It's really incredible. So we leased five horses from him, and then we leased another four horses from camp Chile, which is which is a big kids camp in Estes park, Colorado. We originally had intended to buy our own mustangs and train them from the ground up, but with COVID and a lot of plans changed, unfortunately.        

00:10:34
            

But we did still take mustangs. We just ended up leasing them from different sources. So how did the film evolve out of this experience? So at the beginning, like Louisa said, it was kind of like we just wanted to do this cool trip. We thought it would be like a really awesome adventure.        

00:10:51
            

And then we realized it would be a really good opportunity to not just do something cool for ourselves, but also learn and educate other people about what's going on. Because as three horse women, we've all been riding our whole lives, and we barely knew anything about what was going on with wild horses. So we realized that if we don't know very much, then surely people who don't ride and definitely who don't live in the west don't know anything about wild horses. And so we got really excited about the opportunity to learn ourselves and also share our learning process with other people. And so the goal of the documentary is to really reach as many people as possible so that we can educate people about what's going on.        

00:11:36
            

Not to tell them, this is what you should think or this is what the answer is, or any sort of viewpoint that we're necessarily coming from. But to just share like, this is what's going on here's. A lot of different people talking about their experiences with wild horses, and then people hopefully can view our film and take that information and make their own decision about what they think is the right thing and get involved and start a conversation so that we can hopefully improve what's going on. Because I think everybody who knows what's going on with wild mustangs can agree that what's happening right now is probably not the most sustainable solution. Whether you're a cattle rancher or a mustang advocate, everybody's kind of unhappy.        

00:12:23
            

And so we hope that through educating people, we can improve the situation. What are the concerns? What is the debate about? What do you want people to learn and take away from your film just. Because people are coming from kind of an uneducated environment?        

00:12:44
            

We interviewed along the ride, different stakeholders. So we interviewed a biologist who is from the University of Laramie, and he talked about how mustangs are negatively affecting other wildlife in the Red Desert, specifically, and also how they're kind of changing the biodiversity in the area, specifically sage, grouse and pronghorn. We also talked to the BLM, the Bureau of Land Management. We actually witnessed and filmed the largest roundup that happened. It just so happened while we were on the trail that they were doing the roundup in Wyoming history.        

00:13:28
            

So we got to film that and also talk to the BLM there and kind of learn their take on it. So they're kind of just working under parameters where they're like, we have to meet quotas. This is how many horses we can sustainably hold on the range, and this is how many we need to take off the range. So they're working within their own parameters. So it's interesting to talk to them.        

00:13:50
            

And then we also heard from advocates, some advocates more extreme, that think that horses should be totally left alone. And then other advocates that are out there really doing their research, they're making sanctuaries for horses, and they're also darting PZP, which is like a birth control that lasts three years for horses. So really, what I'm saying by all of these interviews, we really want people to learn as much as we did on the trip and be able to watch that and come away with at least an educated conversation on mustangs or be able to maybe formulate how, as a viewer, they think they could positively come away with in a scenario where they could help or actually have an opinion on the matter. What is the name of the film and how can people find it? So it's Women in the Wilderness, and we're on a couple of different platforms, but Instagram, we're on quite a bit.        

00:14:50
            

And on there you can find us at Women in the Wilderness film with an underscore between each word. We also have a website and an email list, which is a great way to kind of get the best updates. So that one is just Wyoming Humanities Council, and we're also on Facebook. But I would say Instagram is the best way to keep up with us and also sign up for our mailing list. And the film, it's not finished yet, so we're working on that final push right now, actually, because we received the grant from Wyoming Humanities Council, and we were able to use that to pay our incredible film team.        

00:15:23
            

So instead of us out there with, like, GoPros, we had real camera crew with us who were taking amazing footage. And now we just need a little bit more to finalize the editing process. So hopefully the film itself will be out, hopefully in a year is what we think. But it just documentaries take time, and we don't know exactly, but all of that will be announced on our social media pages and everything, right? You undertook a big project.        

00:15:53
            

When I looked on your website, I said that you had other projects that you've done. Is that not true? It may look that way. We have different videos. We had a pitch video that we initially used for fundraising, and then we have our actual preview for our film, which use footage from the trip itself.        

00:16:15
            

And now we're creating one more video for one final campaign to raise money. So there are, like, three different videos. Oh, that's what this is because I'm looking at the ecology of sand dunes. That's our blog. Okay.        

00:16:32
            

They have, like, three projects, but now I see what you're talking about. So these are all about the Mustangs. And you have here meet our Mustangs and then planning the pack. Yeah. So it's like our way of trying to educate people before even the film is out.        

00:16:49
            

We wanted to share some of our research that we were doing and kind of show that we weren't just asking for money to do a fun trip of three girls. We wanted to show that we were doing a lot of research because we were learning so much about the land and the horses out there and all these different things. So we were just sharing our information on our little blog. Have you developed your own experiential opinion about what should happen with the Mustangs? I think we all have.        

00:17:21
            

It's very complicated, and it's like a very hot button issue. And I think I don't know, should we share what we think or should we wait and I don't know. We do share at the end of the documentary. Okay, so you want that to be a surprise? Okay.        

00:17:40
            

It's just kind of part of our journey as we're interviewing these people. We don't want to give away too much, but I think it's safe to say we all came out of the film really kind of not necessarily like a full 180 on our opinion, but definitely we were informed a lot by the interviews that we did and the stuff that we learned on our trip. We, I think, went through just a lot of learning, a lot of development in terms of what was going on. In this process and deciding to do a film and deciding that you wanted to have an impact for the Mustangs because of what you've learned, what do you hope that impact? I mean, how many people do you think you can reach with your film?        

00:18:23
            

What is your hope there? I think our hope is to just get it to as many people as possible and just make it very accessible. We're hoping to get it on a pretty big platform, and we have a very well connected producer, so that seems pretty feasible to get it on something like Netflix or Hulu or something like that. So we're just hoping that we can get it to as many people as possible. And especially, I think horse people are probably more likely to know about this issue.        

00:18:47
            

But I think just having it that accessible on a big platform, hopefully we can get it to people that don't know anything about this issue. So all of you, each one of you, was anyone born in the west? I was born in California, which is West Coast, but not the west. What have you learned about the Western culture that is unique to you and has really helped you as a person and what you think about the idea of the cowboy, let's say, or the rancher or just the Western culture? Honestly, we went to Lander, and I was blown away by the community in the town and how willing everyone was to help us and how friendly everyone was.        

00:19:33
            

And I think that comes from a ranching culture where neighbors are willing to help each other and lend a hand and are kind. And also, just coming from a small community, I was blown away by the generosity and kindness and how many people were willing to help. And it was similar. Like, I find even living in Durango is similar, where smaller town people are friendly and kind. But honestly, I've never been to a place like Lander where I was blown away.        

00:20:05
            

Everyone wanted to help in any way possible, and we ran into some issues, and on both ends in Lander, people were willing to help and then an encampment, too, and I think it comes from a ranching culture. How about you, Caroline? I was just thinking the first thing that I thought of when I was thinking about how the culture is different growing up in the Northeast versus when I went out West, I just realized that there's a much slower lifestyle in the west that I really appreciate, that you kind of have to slow down because it's such a large place like Farming in the Northeast. It's usually a small piece of land that you're farming on. And going to a ranch that was 100,000 acres, it might take all day to get somewhere on horseback.        

00:20:51
            

So I just really appreciated having the opportunity to slow down and have time to talk with other people while you're slowing down. It's not always just go, go, you'd have time to get to know the people around you. And I think that sort of adds to what Louisa was talking about, about that ranching culture and getting to know the people around you and then being willing to help those people. But, yeah, I think the generosity in the ranching culture is huge. Like Louisa was talking about, it always does kind of blow me away how willing people are to just help their neighbors or even just a stranger.        

00:21:28
            

How about you, Caroline? I mean, all of that I've noticed as well, and just not even the sense of community, but for people that it doesn't matter, kind of you can have totally different views from someone. My first summer out there, I was coming from La. And I was like, vegetarian, and everyone I met, they'd give me a hard time about it. They'd also help me no matter what I needed or just be like the kindest person.        

00:21:53
            

So it's the kind of place where it just feels like no matter who you are or what your beliefs are, everybody just supports you and kind of has that mindset of like, you do you. I'm going to do me in the most positive way and in a really genuine way. I really appreciate the honesty of everybody that we met out there. You don't get false promises from people. If someone says they're going to help you, they will be there 110%, giving whatever they can.        

00:22:23
            

If they can't help you, they'll tell you. And then usually they'll just send you to someone else who's like, oh, but my cousin can do that or something. I mean, my husband and I are thinking of moving to Montana, and we called up Facebook Messaged, a ferrier that I worked with in Wyoming. I haven't seen him for a few years, and he was like, oh, call me. And so we talked for almost an hour about his life, and he invited us out there to see him and his family.        

00:22:48
            

And just like, that kind of genuine connection is just I mean, I really appreciate that. It's very rare, and I think that's very much like a trademark of the whole west, from my experience. I think so too. Yeah. It would be great if you can share with me your favorite biologists or BLM, people that I could talk to, that I could just make this conversation go a little bit deeper in terms of having the science and the research that they've done behind what is happening with the Mustang.        

00:23:20
            

That would be awesome. One person would be John, myanziski Mayanzinski. I really don't know that I can spell his name. I can try. Little fun.        

00:23:32
            

I have John's phone number. Oh, perfect. Oh, my God. He was the best. He was great.        

00:23:37
            

Someone. Who's hospitable. Yeah. So, John Minzinski, in our last podcast, we did an episode on is Truth stranger than fiction? So he was our narrative talking about sasquatch.        

00:23:55
            

Oh, my gosh. Of course he was. I need to listen to this. Yeah, we definitely do. Yeah, you definitely need to listen.        

00:24:03
            

He's very good. He's very good. And he is he's very loved and well liked. He opened his house to us for we stayed there for two nights because we were crossing into the Red Desert and a huge storm was coming and he was like, you won't be able to go. It'll be too muddy.        

00:24:22
            

You need to stay. And he let us stay in his guest cabin. It was two nights, right? And we just would sit in his cabin every night and drink some gin and tonics and monkey shoulder with him and he would tell us all these crazy stories and it was incredible, everything that he was just a fantastic human being. I know I'm going to be connecting with him again on another topic on food sovereignty, actually.        

00:24:50
            

But he was your biologist on the project. We had a second biologist that we talked to in Olvar. Thank you. I could not remember his name.        

00:25:03
            

He was M-O-L-V-A-R-I believe. And he was also incredible. He and his daughter met us out in the Red Desert. And his perspective, I mean, I loved everybody that we talked to, but some of the things he said were so poignant. He said something about if we don't do something about the situation, the situation will force some change to be made because it's not sustained.        

00:25:27
            

He said something really beautiful like that. He was great. Yeah. I think he had one of the biggest impacts on my perspective on the wild horse problem. And I think we all kind of agreed on that.        

00:25:39
            

We also talked to not a biologist, but we talked to the Oldham family in Lander and they run a sanctuary and also a cattle ranch. So they were a really interesting, like, two point perspective being cattle ranchers and also managing a mustang sanctuary. Oh, really interesting. Yeah. A really nice family, too.        

00:26:00
            

Spelled their last name 60 Minutes. Yeah, I know. That was crazy. O-L-D-H-A-M. Okay?        

00:26:07
            

That's what I have. I think I've heard of them, actually. They were just on 60 Minutes. They were? Yeah.        

00:26:17
            

It'S true. It's like Wyoming is a big state, but it's a very small community. You'll know, people just talking to one person. Oh, I've met them. I know who you're talking about.        

00:26:31
            

It's funny like that because of our small population. When you go back home or you go other places, what's other people's perspective about Wyoming? What do you hear about that? I'm just thinking about my horse trainer at home who every time she asks me about it, she goes, How's Montana? And I'm like, Wyoming.        

00:26:51
            

Every time differentiating. The same here. It's like Wyoming is its own little island. I'm not sure nobody knows anything about Wyoming, I feel like. Or they only think of Jackson, which is I mean, honestly, I've never been to Jackson Hole, but I can imagine that it's very different than Lander and Encampment, which in Saratoga and Laramie, people.        

00:27:15
            

Think it's totally flat. Yeah. And I'm like, there's a huge mountain ranges.        

00:27:23
            

They think it's just flat and windy. Isn't that crazy? Like, the landscapes are so incredible. The Wind rivers, I mean, I don't know if you've been to the Winds. They're my favorite.        

00:27:34
            

They are absolutely my favorite. I mean, I love the Tetons. I look at the Tetons every day out of my office window. Well, I have two office. I have one in town at the center for the Artist in Jackson, and then I live in Moran, where I can see the teton range every day.        

00:27:50
            

That's amazing. Really incredible. We started our pack trip in the Winds. Oh, you did a little bit of time there. Yeah, it was beautiful.        

00:27:59
            

It was gorgeous. I love the winds. Yeah, definitely. We've packed a lot through the Winds, too. I have my big husband with me when I'm riding and packing, and you guys are brave.        

00:28:14
            

I mean, grizzly bears. I don't know. I was always like.        

00:28:22
            

We did bring a firearm just in case. And there was only one time that I sort of had my hand on the bag, like. Yeah, you can get into some hairy situations. So good for you. Good for being that adventurous.        

00:28:38
            

And you definitely belong in wild Wyoming, for sure.        

00:28:45
            

Yeah, seriously. So thank you so much for your time. Yeah, thank you so much. All right, well, have a great day. Thank you.        

00:28:53
            

Thank you so much. Thanks for your time. Bye bye. Bye.        

00:29:03
            

Thank you for listening. I'm executive producer Emy DiGrappa. Winds of Change is brought to you by Wyoming Humanities Council, our co hosts, and all the people who generously share their stories and their time. For more information, go to think why subscribe and never miss a show.