Horse News

The Wild Horses of Surprise Valley

by John Bartell as published on

Wild Horses and wide open spaces make a remote corner of California a slice of paradise for photographers

Two wild mustangs graze in Surprise Valley, just outside of Cedarville, California.  KXTV

CEDARVILLE, Calif. — Just outside the little town of Cedarville, Calif., in Modoc County is a unique band of wild mustangs.

Jean Bilodeaux is a photographer and journalist who spends her free time tracking the herd as they meander back and forth over the California-Nevada state line. The horses live in an area known at Surprise Valley.

Back in the 1800’s, pioneers on wagon trains would enter Northern California via the Applegate Trail. After a treacherous journey though Nevada’s deserts, travelers were surprised to see water and fertile land.

“You are going back 150 years ago, and these are the ghosts of the past. They are the real animals past, the remnants,” Bilodeaux said.

The black stripes on the horses legs are unique to this herd. Jean has been documenting the family for generations. Her photographs highlight not only the animal but, landscape they live in.

“The horses are primarily duns,” says Bilodeaux. “They are made for the high desert, the grassy hills, and open skies.” The Surprise Valley is a wild landscape and the first Californians to settle here chose to keep it that way. There are few to no fences to confine the settlers’ livestock or the mustangs, for that matter.

Much of land around here is open range–open to the cattle, to the deer, to the wild horse. Open to the photographer to enjoy what Surprise Valley has to offer.

“This is the most beautiful place on earth. I, every time I come out here, think this: “I am going to take the best picture,” says Bilodeaux. “The pictures always get better.”

The wild horses are visible to anyone who wants to venture out to the Applegate Trail in Modoc County.

For more, including video:

15 replies »

  1. It sounds like a beautiful place! Every time I read about these wonderful places, I worry that the BLM or the Forest Service is going to decide to round them up. Therefore, destroying everything that is wonderful and peaceful! We are all so disgusted by the sell out of our Wild Horses and Burros. The deaths caused is so very sad! And yet NONE of our Congressional members seem to be moving very quickly! I have talked to my Congressional member until I feel I am talking to the wall. Well, either late this week or early next week his office will be picketed by me and anyone else I can gather up! If one high school student can stir all the emotions up on Climate Change, why are WE adults holding back on our Wild Horses and Burros? Get your Big Boy Pants on and Pull Your Big Girl Panties up and start visiting these district offices! For mostly all of us DC is NOT realistic. But your District office whether they are there or not is still there. And trust me the news of your signs will travel quickly! So here is a jingle Hey Hey Ho Ho NO Wild Horses and Burros should NEVER go! It’s our right to protest! And Hey Hey Ho Ho the Burau of Management has Got To Go!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. The time is RIPE to add this herd to CA special status list. In Mar of 2016 stated “ When and if available scientific information convinces the experts that determine the checklist of native species to North America that Equus caballus should be considered as an indigenous species, they will make the change in the next revision to the list.” YET to date all responsible agencies have blatantly ignored the widely published mitochondrial DNA evidence of origin and geographic distinctions Congress needs to know that the BLM capture and warehousing can be replaced by rewilding using Federal Aid for Wildlife Restoration via the Pittman-Robertson Act. Consider the Better Management Practices (BMPs)and opportunities of rewilding/relocation. A fine model can be reviewed @

    Liked by 2 people

    • That says it all, doesnt it? The destruction of one single mustang who had learned to not only survive with his disability but to have a family and a LIFE! And this is happening to ALL the Blades out there. I do wonder where all those children that rose up in 1971 & made a difference are now. Its obvious what kids have the ability to do if they care enough – they’re working on saving our planet right now! Well, these wild horses are a part of this planet just like so many other species that are being wiped out.

      Liked by 2 people

      • December 2009
        Modoc..Surprise BLM Field Office/Cedarville, California

        Stealth Roundup Conducted by BLM while Advocates Sat in Advisory Board Meeting
        The discovery of shooting deaths of six wild horses on the California-Nevada border has led to the exposure of an apparently clandestine BLM roundup of over 200 horses. The roundup of the Buckhorn Wild Horses was scheduled to begin in August 2010. However, in a surprise move by the Surprise BLM field office in Cedarville, CA, the roundup took place November 30- December 10th. The horses were run into traps in freezing conditions with rain and snow and overnight lows dipping below 0ºF. BLM spokesman Jeff Fontana reported that 217 were removed, leaving 59 on the range. This roundup was originally planned for a removal of 536 horses to get down to a BLM-approved level of just 85 horses or less.

        No one was there observe because no one was told this roundup had been moved up 9 months until after the fact. How many horses were injured, how many were killed? How exactly was the roundup conducted? The truth is, any member of the public is seriously remiss in trusting this agency. Only the most dedicated members of the public would even be able and willing to drive in this weather to observe such a roundup.

        One mare has died after being crushed by a metal panel, according to BLM and foals appear to be in poor condition in the BLM Palomino Valley holding pens following the ordeal and another winter storm. The horses have no shelter and the windbreaks are not up. BLM has zeroed out wild horses for just that reason in the past. The change to conduct this roundup in winter was made without notification to the BLM’s own press agents, the media or the public. The requisite 30-day comment period was conducted in August of 2009 on a suspect recycled 2007 Environmental Assessment (EA) that was reused in August 2009 to allow for a roundup in this area. When advocates learned that this roundup was taking place nine months ahead of schedule, the Surprise Field Office had no record of decision (ROD) or final EA posted on their website to authorize this roundup. On Friday, following inquiries from the public, an unsigned August ROD was posted on the BLM site.

        The BLM is the bull in the china shop of America’s public western wildlands. Their mismanagement is nearly as legendary as the mustangs themselves.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Those black leg stripes are NOT unique to this herd, despite the claim. Numerous wild herds contain duns (the most primitive of horse colors) and this is a signal feature. The Kigers and Sorrais are two familiar examples.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Wild Horses are very much in danger in Modoc County.
    It is a very remote area and many people in California don’t even know much about it.
    The Forest Service has decided to capture and remove yet another 500 from the Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory

    March 25, 2019
    By Ellie Phipps Price

    The Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory is 500-square miles of rolling and rough country within the Modoc National Forest just outside of Alturas, California. The area consists of sharp rocks and dense brush — in fact, if the Devil were to grow his own garden, this would be it. It’s rough, beautiful country managed by the United States Forest Service (USFS).

    There is an abundance of wildlife in this area including California’s largest and most significant wild horse herd that have called the forest home since the 1800s. Like so many areas where wild horses reside – there are also private landowners with grazing leases within the Territory that bring their cattle and sheep up from the valley for summer grazing.

    The ranchers want the horses gone, and the USFS has decided to comply.
    The first helicopter roundup happened in the Fall of 2016, where 220 Devil’s Garden wild horses lost their freedom. After the operation, the horses were sent to the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Litchfield Corrals. Many of the mares were pregnant and delivered their foals in the BLM’s holding pens in the spring and summer of 2017.

    In the fall of 2017, the BLM separated a group of 28 “weanlings” from their mothers and shortly after 25 of them tragically died from antibiotic-induced colitis. One of the survivors, who we named Selena, was adopted by Montgomery Creek Ranch, along with four Devil’s Garden mare/foal pairs and one orphan filly, Pocket, whose mother died in the BLM corrals

    Now, hundreds of these horses are in danger of being sold for human consumption in Asia and Europe, thanks to the Forest Service plan to sell them without limitation on slaughter. Even worse: this horrific plan is taking place in California, a state that has prohibited the cruel practice of horse slaughter for two decades.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. From AWHC

    On September 5, 2019, the U.S. Forest Service began another roundup of approximately 500 California mustangs from the Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory from within the Modoc National Forest in Alturas, California.

    This latest roundup follows the controversial removal of 932 horses last fall, after which the agency announced its intent to the captured animals without limitation on slaughter. The plan provoked litigation and widespread opposition from the public and California political leaders including U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, Attorney General Xavier Becerra, U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu and 26 other members of the California Congressional delegation, and Assemblyman Todd Gloria and 27 of his California Legislative colleagues. In October, the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC), joined by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, filed a lawsuit to block the Forest Service from proceeding with its plan.

    Under pressure from local ranching interests that seek access to cheap grazing on public lands in the Modoc, the Forest Service intends to reduce the wild horse population to between 206-402 in the Forest while authorizing over 3,700 privately-owned cow/calf pairs and 2,900 privately-owned sheep to graze for six months a year on the public lands there. Livestock operators have always claimed that there are as many as 4,500 wild horses living in the Forest but the recently released census by the United States Geological Survey released last month estimates that far fewer mustangs actually reside there. We believe that the Forest Service and livestock interest groups have been falsely inflating horse numbers with the intent of securing tax dollars for roundups to remove most of the wild horses from the Modoc Forest.

    The Forest Service expects the roundup and removal to continue for 30 days.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. From AWHC

    Day 1, September 5, 2019 Nineteen Wild Horses Removed During Day One of Devil’s Garden Roundup
    The first day of the helicopter roundup on the Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory targeted 19 horses on Steele Swamp in the northeast corner of the Modoc National Forest. According to U.S. Forest Service officials, they’re considered “trespass horses” because they are migrating between the Territory and private land, and the agency is responding to the landowner’s request for their removal.

    September 6, 2019
    Although the U.S. Forest Service planned to start the operation in the afternoon, the contractor, SUN J LIVESTOCK,
    cancelled it after deciding that high winds would make flying dangerous.

    Liked by 1 person


    Devil’s Garden Wild Horse capture/removal operation
    From AWHC

    “Occasionally, the helicopter and the SIREN used to help move the horses could be heard. The trap site afforded only a rare view of the horses’ heads as they were moving into it or being loaded onto the trailers”.


    • They use a SIREN to move these WILD animals? When did they start doing that? The helicopters arent terrifying enough? It appears that they have no hesitation at all in using any means possible – and no one can stop them!

      Liked by 1 person

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