Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts




English (MA)

First Advisor/Chairperson

Monica McFawn


To some, America’s free-roaming Mustangs and burros symbolize liberty and beauty. To others, these equines are feral at best, invasive at worst. They have a reputation for being useless, destructive, and untrainable. Yet my childhood horse—gifted to my family when I was three—was a gentled Mustang, W.D. Through W.D., I first encountered these horses’ kind dispositions, composure, and hardiness. After my younger sister died in a riding accident with another horse, my parents rehomed W.D. The devastating loss of both my sister and horse sparked my lifelong interest in Mustangs’ lives in the wild and journey into domestication, especially via the federal Wild Horse & Burro Program (WHBP). While visiting Mustang handling facilities with my mom and sister, interviewing dozens of adopters and trainers, and conducting supplemental research, I explored questions such as, can “useless” horses be redeemed? Can overused land be renewed? Can my family’s trauma be healed? And how long should it take free-roaming horses and burros to be considered wild (instead of feral) or for the bereaved to “move on” from our grief, as we’re often told to do? This thesis follows the trajectory of long-term grief and of American Mustangs and burros from wild to domestic, doing its best to answer these questions, to inform readers of the inherent value of America’s free-roaming equines, and to provide a case study of how long-term efforts to heal from trauma benefit the bereaved and those around them.

Access Type

Open Access

Justification for Restricting Access

I am hoping for a restriction for several reasons. One, I plan to publish a version of this thesis as a creative nonfiction book and do not wish to have this copy widely available until after such book is released; releasing the thesis first could be harmful to the book's success and deter publishers from working with me, as they may consider the book "already published" even in its thesis form. Two, due to the scope of the project and number of people who have helped me, I would like to pass my thesis around for additional feedback and make further adjustments to the writing before pursuing publication as a book; while I've checked facts and have portrayed people in what I believe to be accurate ways, I want to make sure they're satisfied with those portrayals before publishing the book and, later, the thesis. In short, I consider this thesis an important piece of creative property that, while it is certainly a complete thesis and meets NMU's requirements, is still in many ways a work in progress. I'd prefer that access be restricted to give me a chance to publish the complete, book version first.

Available for download on Saturday, March 22, 2025