Wild Horses/Mustangs

Wild Horse Roundup: Two Deaths, “Zeroed Out” Herd?

as published in WestWorld

“This roundup showcased the inhumanity of helicopter roundups.”

photo courtesy of the Cloud Foundation

photo courtesy of the Cloud Foundation

As the U.S. Bureau of Land Management sees it, last month’s removal of 167 wild horses from a rugged, remote area in Rio Blanco County was a success, easing the strain on damaged range lands and substantially reducing a herd that had become too large to be sustainable.

 Wild-horse advocates tend to see the roundup in starker terms. Two fatalities in the course of what BLM officials prefer to call a “gather” demonstrated the cruelty of using panic-inducing helicopters in the roundups, they say, and the capture of so many horses from the West Douglas Herd Area — who have since been transported to Canon City, to be part of the state prison system’s mustang-training program for inmates — has effectively eradicated one of the few remaining Colorado wild-horse herds.

“We like to think of Colorado as being more in tune with humane treatment of animals,” says Ginger Kathrens, executive director of The Cloud Foundation, a Colorado Springs-based advocacy group. “This roundup showcased the inhumanity of helicopter roundups.”

The roundup, which took place south of Rangely over the course of a week, came after federal courts rejected a series of legal challenges by The Cloud Foundation and Wild Horse Freedom Federation. The BLM contractor employed to remove the horses, Utah-based Sun J Livestock, has drawn complaints over the use of electric prods, buzzing helicopters too close to exhausted horses and other alleged abuses, prompting numerous observers from animal rights groups to follow the latest procedure closely.

One member of the West Douglas herd died as it was being moved into a trailer for transport, after being trampled by another horse  and getting its neck broken.  But many observers were more outraged by the other death — a foal that Kathrens says was chased for an hour before it was roped. A report prepared by the BLM claims that a Sun J employee “successfully and gently roped the colt” — but the animal then bolted and fractured its right front leg. Yet video taken by observers indicates that the colt was already injured before it was roped, and a BLM spokesman confirms that version of events. The colt was subsequently euthanized.

The BLM has prepared numerous plans over the years to “zero out” the West Douglas herd, claiming that its removal is necessary “to establish, maintain and preserve a thriving ecological balance” in accordance with the 1971 law directing the agency to manage America’s wild horses. But critics of those plans have vigorously disputed the BLM’s assertions about overpopulation, starving horses and environmental damage, while lawmakers have questioned the cost of removal. Since the number of horses captured far exceeds the demands for adoption, there are now nearly as many horses in government-financed holding pens and leased pastures as there are in the wild. (Targeting 167 horses for removal from West Douglas reportedly matches the number of horses that the Department of Corrections was willing to accept.)

Activist groups maintain that ranchers, who also use BLM land for livestock, and energy interests are behind the push to remove more horses. “The reason these horses were removed is because the livestock permitees didn’t want any competition in there,” Kathrens says. “It’s the classic stuff that goes on all over the West. The permittees pay almost nothing to use the land. They trash it and then they blame the horses for range degradation.”

The BLM estimates that up to 200 horses still remain in the West Douglas Herd Area, which the agency believes can support only about thirty horses at best. Kathrens disputes those figures, saying they’re based on wildly inflated reproduction estimates. “There may be a few remaining, but I think they cleared almost everything out of there,” she says. “It already has been zeroed out.”

If the West Douglas herd is all but gone, that leaves four smaller, managed herds in western Colorado: one near Craig, another outside Grand Junction, one in southwest Colorado, and the Piceance-East Douglas herd, separated from West Douglas by fencing along a county road. BLM claims 377 horses in the East Douglas bunch, but Kathrens is skeptical of that figure — and the future of the iconic mustang in the state, given the fate of the West Douglas horses.

“I just don’t know how they can justify what they did,” she says. “People are really upset. This was unnecessary and regrettable.”

13 replies »

  1. I feel unless and until a national outcry all at once these inhumane roundups will continue. The calls that i have made personally felt like in one ear out the other with no documentation what’s so ever. Just do not care is feeling i get and to leave a message with Sally Jewell has to be hand written and hopefully given to her, right! Most americans do not even realize what is going on so unless the large media does like they did with Cecil, BLM will continual until they are all gone. Question is how to get large public media attention. Media jump all over the ridiculous!


    Bruce Nock, Ph.D.

    Click to access Wild%20Horse%20Stress.pdf

    So let me tell you what happens to a wild horse’s physiology when he/she suffers the severe stress, trauma, of being chased and sequestered into captivity.Then, I’ll tell you what some of the consequences are. I don’t think it’s anexaggeration to say, as gathers are routinely done in the USA, if a wild horse doesn’t die straight off from the immediate devastation and commotion, it compromises him/her physically and mentally, putting him on a path of accelerated deterioration.

    I’m 63 years old. There was a time when I was very proud of my generation.During the years of the Viet Nam war, we took a stand … spoke out against thewar, civil injustices and so on. We protested, marched and preached peace, love and kindness. We condemned apathy

    It’s now thirty five plus years later. Perhaps we can step forward again and leave our mark on history. We started out passionate about making things right,why not make some noise on the way out too. What our government is doing to the wild horses of the western US and the way it is being done is an atrocity. It is an injustices against nature. Even the horses left behind or turned back out suffer from the social disorder gathers cause.

    We have had people from 15 different countries come to our LiberatedHorsemanship clinics here in Warrenton, MO. We also traveled to Italy and British Columbia for clinics in 2009. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people from other countries ask something like, “What’s wrong with people who allow an icon of their country to be unnecessarily brutalized and exterminated by their government?” It’s an embarrassment and I don’t have a good answer.Apathy and self-indulgence maybe. But I believe it is more likely just too fewpeople are aware of what is being done and its short and long-term consequences… for the horses themselves and for our country. Mahatma Ghandi once said, “Anation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” For me,and many others


  3. One of the employees for Sun J as overheard laughing about how he chased that colt going as fast as he could. What part of gentle and humane does this cover?

    BLM NV did the same thing last summer stating they pulled a live foal from a dead mare. The back pedaling was fun to watch.

    Do these people actually believe the rhetoric that falls out of their mouths?


    • Margaret, did they ever produce any evidence proving their claim foal was alive and being cared for? The news link deleted the story soon after publishing it, and every time I checked thereafter it was still not replaced.


    • “It is horrible that those people at the Bureau of Land Management would use Hot Shots on horses, or allow contractors to use those things. I’ve rounded up horses for over 45 years, and never had a need for using one, or helicopters for that matter, especially with horses. In my opinion that is just some dam psychopath being mean and nasty to a horse.” – Carl Stevens, Lead Wrangler and Cowboy-Retired


  4. ZERO comments on the WestWord article. This magazine is state wide and well read here in CO (especially in Denver), so anybody who can get on FB please and add your voice!


    • Since you can only comment if you go on Facebook – that limits whats put on there. I always comment everywhere I can – but I dont “do” Facebook!


  5. “Really plush retirement community”?

    UPDATE: Wild horses placed in temporary home with Department of the Corrections
    CANON CITY, Colo.
    Horses from the West Douglas herd area rounded up two weeks ago are adjusting to life at their temporary home at the Department of Corrections in Canon City.

    “It’s kind of like a really plush retirement community,” said Sullivan (.BLM spokesperson Kyle Sullivan)

    During the roundup two weeks ago, a contractor hired by the BLM used helicopters and bait traps to capture the animals. Two horses died during the roundup.


Care to make a comment?

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.