Witnessed and written by Carol Walker as first published on Wild Hoofbeats, sponsored and funded by Wild Horse Freedom Federation
I am waiting at the trap site for the helicopters to bring horses in on Day 2 in the Antelope Hills Herd Management Area in the Red Desert Complex in WY. They captured 188 wild horses yesterday. There is no wind today and we can sit in our cars until the horses come in, which is good since it is 18 degrees. I am the only member of the public here today.
Three groups of about 20 horses were being driven in by two helicopters toward the trap and at the last minute some older horses veered off, then they were turned back. Perhaps some of the older horses who were around for the roundup in 2011 knew better. Most were driven down toward the trap which we cannot see because it is behind a butte. But a small family of three ran off full speed and a single stallion joined them. The helicopter looked like he has them headed in but then they took off again. They led the Judas horse, which is the horse trained to run to the trap, leading the wild horses in, back in to the pens so I do not think they are coming in soon, hopefully not at all. But there really is nowhere to hide – no trees, just hills and buttes and rock formations, a wide open land.
I next witnessed about 100 wild horses being driven into the trap by 2 helicopters working together. There were three huge groups with buckskins, bays, roans, and some few pintos and even a couple of palominos, really stunning horses. It was hard to count it was so many and so sad to think we will never see this many horses out here again. After about 70 in the huge groups were driven into the trap the helicopters went back out and brought a big group in with lots of buckskins and a palomino stallion leading the way, roans, bays, blacks and pintos. This group came closer to us so we could get a better look rather than just seeing dots a mile away. It was hard to tell if that group of 4 that got away last time was in the huge groups. We get to see them run in between the lines of jute that funnel them toward the trap, see the Judas horse released leading the wild horses into the trap and then they disappear behind the butte. The wind has come up so it feels colder than 18 degrees.
On day 3, I am again the only member of the public here today again. Today it is four degrees warmer at the observation point than it was yesterday, just 22 degrees. We cannot see the trap from the location that BLM has placed us in for public observation. We can see the horses run in, chased by the helicopters, getting funneled in by lines of jute hung on fence posts on either side. But the horses continue on to the trap which is hidden behind a butte. Why is it so important to be able to see the trap? Because this is where problems for the horses can occur. Two days ago as per the daily gather report on the BLM webpage one horse broke his neck in the trap. Nine years ago in this HMA I had a view of the trap and a view of loading the horses. But not now.
The horses in this Herd Management Area are the wildest in the Red Desert Complex – very few visitors come here and they are likely to run if they just see your vehicle in the distance.
First I saw a small family of four wild horses being driven into the trap, the sorrel stallion in the rear then the other helicopter brought in a family of nine with a big bald faced stallion bringing up the rear then moving to the front as they got closer to the trap. Then one helicopter drove in a group of 10 blacks and bays and the other helicopter had a group of 20 more colorful with pintos and buckskins. The two helicopters worked together to combine the groups then drive them into the trap with the most colorful pintos bringing up the rear.
After the huge groups coming in yesterday I would not be surprised if we just see small groups today come in because I really do not think there are that many horses left in Antelope Hills. 188 were captured the first day then yesterday 177 wild horses have lost their freedom so far.
Next I kept hearing helicopters behind my vehicle, frustrating because there is a stubborn hill back there and I could not see through it. Finally a small family of 7 with a magnificent buckskin stallion popped out and got driven all the way around. Then the other helicopter behind me was pushing a small family with three colorful bachelor stallions, a stunning black and white pinto stallion in the lead, flying down the hill. Finally the buckskin stallion’s family looking exhausted trotting headed toward the jute passageway to the trap but he refused to go in, back and forth several times, but finally the helicopter won and they went in. Meanwhile the family along with the bachelor stallions took off at a gallop trying to get away up a bluff, and down, but finally were driven into the trap by the other helicopter.
The wind is picking up in Antelope Hills at the roundup. I saw two small families of four horses meet up while driven by the helicopter into the trap. Then a long wait, I think the helicopters are having to go further and further out to find any horses left in the area and a group of five dark colored bachelor stallions came together but at the last minute a bay and a brown stallion peeled off and took off away from the trap. The helicopter followed, got in front of them, to no avail and finally gave up and each went his own way out into the desert. I am not sure where the helicopter went, we are waiting to see if they call it for the day.
It is very painful to watch knowing how few horses will be left in Antelope Hills – only 60 wild horses – and hundreds and hundreds of sheep. There will not even be enough horses left to ensure genetic viability – for that there needs to be a minimum of 150 adult horses. This Herd Management Area is 159,000 acres and they are using only one trap site for the entire area which means some horses have to go a very long way. It also means they will leave only 1 horse per 2650 acres. The plan is after all the horses that they can capture are transported to the temporary holding corrals, 25 wild horses will be selected based on appearance of Iberain descent, their blood will be drawn for testing and the mares will be given PZP-22 birth control. These 25 wild horses will be released back into the area. They have lost their families. Yes they will be free – but they will have lost everything except that.
I finally saw a larger group of about 15 bays sorrels and blacks coming in, then a very long wait and a colorful family of 9 followed at a distance by the bay and black stallions who had gotten away earlier. We then waited a very long time as the helicopters flew around, I think taking a final count of Antelope Hills. I fear there are very few horses left. This herd has been destroyed, it will never be the same.