Equine Rescue

Equine Advocates Use Social Media In Attempt to Save ND Wild Horses

Source: By: Patrick Springer, as published at INFORUM

Will the young wild horses find caring homes or will they be sent to the slaughterhouse?

Shown are 2-year-old horses named Birch and Ponderosa fighting. Stallions vy for dominance to lead their own bands and the right to breed with band mares in the wild horse herd at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. North Dakota Badlands Horse

Fargo – Thousands of people are reading about the saga of stallions like Thunder and mares like Spotted Blue as they wait to learn the fate of their offspring in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota.

Will the young wild horses find caring homes or will they be sent to the slaughterhouse?

Rangers at the park plan to round up more than 100 horses this fall to thin the herd, and surplus horses will be sold at auction Sept. 28.

Supporters of the park horses, who have tracked the herd for years and keep a registry listing each horse and its lineage, are mounting Facebook campaigns to spread the word in the hope of placing the horses with caring buyers.

“They are more worthy of ending up with good, loving families instead of on a dinner plate,” said Eileen Norton, who launched “Wild in North Dakota,” a Facebook page promoting the horses. “They deserve life after living wild.”

After the last horse roundup in the park, in 2009, eight of 77 horses sold at auction ended up going to the “kill market,” horses bought for slaughter, according to horse advocates.

Norton posted photos of the horses lost to slaughter under the caption, “Gone but not forgotten.”

“It’s not to be dramatic, but this is the reality,” she said. “There was nothing wrong with those horses.”

The park maintains a demonstration herd of what it calls feral horses to commemorate the wild horses that roamed the rugged badlands when Theodore Roosevelt ranched in the area during the open range 1880s.

The current population of the horse herd is between 205 and 210, while the target range runs from 55 to 90 or a bit higher, said Eileen Andes, the park’s chief of interpretation.

The horses share the grass with buffalo, elk and deer, and populations of the major grazers must be controlled to prevent overgrazing. For horses and buffalo, that means periodic roundups and removals.

The horses are a popular attraction at the park, where many visitors are surprised to learn of the horse herd, Andes said.

“It’s one of those iconic western scenes to see the Badlands with these horses,” she added, “so a lot of people enjoy these horses.”

Norton and likeminded horse lovers are finding success with Facebook, the social media site, to build upon that popularity in the hope of finding homes for the horses.

Her “Wild in North Dakota” Facebook page has attracted almost 15,000 followers, who follow updates involving stories about each of the park’s 20 bands of horses as well as sightings of individual horses, all of them named to make them easier to track.

“I just really thought these guys deserve to have their stories told,” she said of the horses. “My job first and foremost is to raise awareness of the herd.”

Norton, who first saw the horses 32 years ago while attending Dickinson State University, is a Twin Cities native who now lives an hour away from San Diego in southern California.

“I would go out and photograph the bison and had no idea the horses were out there,” Norton said, until she saw a band on a butte and was so startled she almost ran off the road.

Then, beginning six years ago and following a diplomatic career – including a posting in Japan, where she was dismayed to learn fresh horsemeat is considered a delicacy – she became an avid follower of the park herd.

She and her husband have three park horses, two of them half-brothers, coming from the same mare.

With help from a trainer, she gradually “gentled” the horses, first winning their trust and eventually was able to saddle them.

“They’re very loving, happy, adjusted horses,” Norton said.

One of her horses, “Charlie,” never passes a puddle of fresh rainwater without drinking, a habit acquired in the badlands, where dry conditions are common.

Marylu Weber, who has followed the park horses for almost 15 years, runs another Facebook community, North Dakota Badlands Horse, with more than 2,300 followers from around the United States and abroad.

Weber started under the tutelage of the late Tom Tescher, a Medora rancher who tracked the horses going back to the 1950s.

She began volunteering for the park on behalf of the horses in 1999, and keeps the North Dakota Badlands Horse Registry for horses that come out of the park since the 2009 roundup.

“We’ve got people from all over the country wanting these horses,” said Weber, whose Facebook page promoting the horses is called “North Dakota Badlands Horse.”

Both Weber and Norton, who have bought and trained former park horses and keep them for riding, are enthusiasts of what they say is a unique horse, sure-footed and hardy, yet very gentle once tamed.

In the wild, roaming the park’s south unit, the horses must survive extreme temperatures, baking heat in summer and winter blizzards. They share the range with buffalo, elk, deer and other mammals.

“That’s what makes them a breed all their own,” Norton said. “They are such strong horses. They are survivors.”

Weber, who has owned four horses that came from the park, said those buying the horses must be committed to working with a wild horse.

“They see people a lot, but they have not been handled at all,” she said. “These horses are completely wild. So they do require a lot of experience or know-how on gentling horses.”

It’s especially important to work to build trust and rapport with the horse early on, Weber said. “It takes a lot of time commitment and patience,” she said.

But, she added, “These horses train and gentle beautifully.”

The last auction of park horses, in Dickinson in 2009, was marred by an incident. One of the stallions, spooked by the sales barn crowd, jumped the sales ring fence.

Nobody was injured, but bidding was halted, and no more horses were sold individually in the ring. Instead, remaining horses were sold in pen lots.

That’s how eight horses ended up in the hands of a slaughterhouse buyer, Weber and Norton said.

Ironically, the stallion that bolted, Bashful, went to a Bismarck owner who trained the horse, now transformed into a gentle animal, Weber said.

The Sept. 28 auction will be at Wishek Livestock Sales in Wishek, where the organizer said he is working to ensure a smooth sale.

“We’re going to try to make it the best sale the park has ever had,” said Clyde Meidinger, who handles horse auctions at the sale barn. “We want every horse to find a good home.”

In fact, the town of 1,000 has embraced the auction and the influx of horse lovers that could turn out to bid on the wild horses. The community plans live music entertainment and local civic groups will host fundraising meals for the horse crowd.

“We’re going to make it a big deal,” said Laura Hochhalter, who owns a hair salon and serves as president of the Wishek Association of Commerce. “We want to open the community to these wild horse people.”

The area is farm and ranch country, and is likely to produce some bidders of its own at the auction, Hochhalter believes.

“We do have a lot of local horse people here,” she said.

Wishek, located 230 miles southeast of Medora, is aware of the interest the impending horse sale has drawn on Facebook, but has no way to estimate the number of bidders who will show up.

Meidinger said the sale arena has seating for about 250, and a modest admission fee will be imposed to try to keep out the idly curious.

Also, arrangements have been made with BEK Communications to simulcast the auction sale in the Wishek Civic Auditorium, so any overflow crowd could be accommodated, he said.

“We’ll be able to handle this deal,” Meidinger said. “I think there’s room for everybody.”

Also, there will be opportunities for people to see the horses before the sale. Those who make advance arrangements can bid by telephone if they are unable to attend.

Bill Whitworth, the park’s chief of resource management, said the Wishek location could be beneficial, since many horse buyers come from the east, including Minnesota.

“We have strong support for the horses out east,” he said. “Our ultimate goal is to have these horses adopted.”

If you go

• What: Auction of wild horses from Theodore Roosevelt National Park

• When: 11 a.m. Sept. 28; horse viewing 1–5 p.m. Sept. 27 and before the sale from 8–10 a.m. Sept. 28

• Where: Wishek Livestock Sales, Wishek, N.D.

• Info: $10 entrance fee. Terms of sale are cash day of sale. Buyers who purchase with a check must provide a letter of reference from the bank. Phone bids can be made by advance arrangement. For more information on auction and associated events, including music entertainment, meals and accommodations, check Wishek Livestock Sales website.


• Photographs and information about the horses of Theodore Roosevelt National Park can be found at http://www.trnphorses.phanfare.com or on Facebook on the “North Dakota Badlands Horse” and “Wild in North Dakota” pages.

• Details about the Sept. 28 auction of park horses and associated events in Wishek, N.D., can be found at Wishek Livestock Sales, http://www.wisheklivestock.com

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522

12 replies »

  1. I previously heard about these Theodore Roosevelt National Park wild horses and per the pics on the website/facebook they are beautiful, healthy wild creatures doing what mother nature intended.

    The thought of any of them (or ANY wild horse or burro) having to endure the complete terror of slaughter during their last days …

    I hope they all find someone to love them.


  2. Sounds like one big party, huh?! They should be left in the wild, where they belong. To break them up is cruel, in of itself. Another gathering of our wild horses to have their lives disrupted is so sad and very unfortunate for them and the many who have enjoyed their presence.


  3. Such a tragedy… These angry swarms are from ground nests disturbed by pounding hooves or guard bees attack anything accidentally stepping near their entrance. If they were those Africanized bees, this was just a horrible nightmare and epi may not have helped but do carry an Epi Pen (Epinephrine is cheap, about $3 for large vial that I pack in the cooler for the horses with extra syringes) for you and your horses when camping or going anywhere near these type of aggressive bees especially in summer and fall. We saved a horse from anaphylactic (sp?) shock when we were attacked by mud bees under the dirt trail disturbed by the pounding of our horses’ hooves near Florence, Oregon and at Silver Creek Falls Park, OR. The mud bees will swarm and chase. These bees followed us for a half a mile at a full out gallop thru the windy, hilly trail. The 2 yr old horse in training at the rear of our group got stung the most and immediately broke out in hives. We were near a horse camp so they trailered him back to our camp while we raced back on our horses to get the epi and syringe. We met them as they were leading the horse up hill to our camp. Horse couldn’t breathe as throat was swelling shut. Horse fell down and rolled back down the hill. Quick, slammed the needle in him. Got cold towels to put over his body. Within 5 minutes he could breathe. Hauled him 20 miles to nearest vet for more epi. Vet said we saved his life! Crushed benadryl tablets put in syringe with water given orally works too, just takes longer. We all were stung but this young horse had an allergic reaction and may never get one again as he is fully immune now except for a situation with this kind of African bees and the sheer number. Just a warning for trail riders this time of year. We were horse heroes but it was a harrowing experience that could have ended just like the story above.


  4. I don’t know if it is my computer or the site here but when I write I can see the letters fine it is bright but when I post it or look at the other posts I can barely read them, just thought I would say something in case someone has not??? I hope these horses get good homes, I WISH I lived closer I would love to have one, my husband and I were talking about helping another horses, but that is quite a ways from us??? I feel that KILL buyers should NOT be allowed to go to this function…..


  5. The stallion was not the only incident. The horses were brought directly to the auction from the wild. We all knew they were doing this and it made it very hard on the horses. One man bought a mare, got her into his trailer and went back to the auction. When he returned she had died. Fright, shock, separation anxiety, a metal box and loss of freedom, handling by humans. They all take their toll. They are not saying when this roundup is but I fear they will do the same thing again but I sincerely hope not.


  6. The horse is a returned native to North America, not a mere feral escapee, and furthermore, they restore the native North American ecosystem. Because they are not ruminant digesters, but post-gastric ones they actually complement the other herbivores and enhance the biodiversity in this national park as in so many other places. Please consider reading my book The Wild Horse Conspiracy, as this sheds great light on this issue. It is such a shame these horses are being rounded up, they should be allowed to fill their niche and establish a balanced relation here. This would be part of a beautiful Reserve Design strategy. Check out my book on amazon.com.


  7. These horses are so beautiful = the colors & markings! Who wouldn’t love to have one (or more).
    Too bad they cant be left alone tho. Compare these to any domestic breeds & they come out so far ahead. I sure do hope the auction does them justice.


  8. Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, cowboys in the Medora area often captured wild badlands horses for use as ranch or rodeo stock. Prior to the establishment of the park in 1947, local ranchers used this area to graze their livestock. A horse round-up held in 1954 removed 200 branded animals. Of the few small bands of horses that eluded capture, several were thought to be the descendants of horses that had run free in the badlands since at least the turn of the century.


  9. I sure hope they auction turns out as well as the TRNP’s auction back in 1986 when every single horse rounded up from the park was bought and brought to a safe home by Frank and Leo Kuntz of Linton, ND.

    These roundups are a shame, they keep saying they’re “low stress” roundups nowadays, but just because they’re not as bad as they used to be, I certainly wouldn’t call them “low stress”. I do understand though that managing a park like this would be a dilemma, with so many grazing animals and so few predators. I don’t agree much with TRNP’s management of their horses, but at least it isn’t only the horses they target, they also roundup and remove bison on a regular basis.


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