“We must speak up.”

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Willie Nelson has had a lifelong love of horses. Today, more than 70 horses roam his sprawling Texas ranch, most of which he rescued before they could be sent to slaughterhouses.

"My horses are probably the luckiest horses in the world," Nelson told KSAT in 2019. "They get hand-fed twice a day, and they were just ready to go to slaughter is probably the last thing they remembered, so they're happy horses."

But the legendary musician knows that not all horses are so fortunate. Nelson is using his stardom to shine a spotlight on the plight of the nation's wild horses. This week he teamed up with Return to Freedom to publish an open letter calling for legislative action to ensure the safety of wild horses and their protection from government round-up programs.

"Wild horses, like other wild animals, were meant to be wild and free," Nelson writes. "Historic family bands are broken as the horses are separated forever. Some are adopted or sold, and many thousands more end up living in crowded corrals or leased pastures, exposed to the elements. Some end up slaughtered for human consumption overseas."

The 88-year-old goes on to call out the Bureau of Land Management directly.

"The wild horses need us humans to come up with solutions that will end roundups, stop the stockpiling of horses, and ensure their safety," Nelson continues. "Congress has provided money for this, but the Bureau of Land Management will have to make changes and improve fertility control. So far, they are failing to live up to this new direction."

According to Return to Freedom's website, "roundups" or "gathers" involve the permanent removal of wild horses and burros from their home ranges. This method of population management, often used in western states, is especially dangerous when using helicopters that drive scared wild horses over long distances and rough terrain. Once trapped in pens, families and herds are torn apart.

"We must speak up," Nelson concludes. "Without pressure on the Bureau of Land Management from many groups, advocates for wild horses, and lawmakers, these historic symbols of American freedom will disappear."

For more information, visit ReturntoFreedom.org.