Chad Hanson / Broadleaf Books / 219 pages
Dr. Chad Hanson’s In a Land of Awe: Finding Reverence in the Search for Wild Horses offers a sweeping vista of the wild horses that the author has come to know and cherish, particularly through his journeys observing herds near his home in Wyoming and in the Dakotas.
Equal parts travelogue, history/analysis of wild horses in this country, spiritual guide, and introspective diary, this book was penned by Hanson—who teaches sociology at Casper College—because he “want[s] us to find ourselves locked in contemplative encounters, in the presence of some of the last examples of full-sized, free-roaming megafauna left” on the continent.
In a Land of Awe is especially timely given that, in late 2021, the Bureau of Land Management undertook the largest roundup of wild horses in US history (removing them from the Wyoming checkerboard region) and, more recently, has moved to eliminate millions of acres of designated wild horse habitat in the Cowboy State in deference to private interests that wish to graze domestic livestock on those lands. Hanson alludes to Wyoming’s status as pivotal battleground over the future of wild horses, and he doesn’t shy away from the grim realities of wild horse management (e.g., describing the brutality of helicopter roundups).
While the book is concerned first and foremost with the unique majesty of mustangs, it is also an exhortation to the reader to escape the glare of the ubiquitous screens on our technological devices and spend time in nature. In many ways, Hanson seeks to channel Henry David Thoreau, and excerpts from the transcendentalist philosopher abound.
On the whole, In a Land of Awe offers an enjoyable and brisk read that covers considerable terrain—from the evolutionary origins of modern-day horses, to zoological accounts of the complex family band dynamics that drive wild horse behaviors, to the present challenges surrounding their management in the United States. The book serves as an urgent appeal to understand the inherent worth and dignity of wild horses and works to dispel the false narrative—often pushed by the livestock industry—that mustangs are merely feral animals who have no place on the landscape.