BLM Colorado ends wild horse roundup with 457 captured, plans another with goal of 783 |

BLM Colorado ends wild horse roundup with 457 captured, plans another with goal of 783

On Friday the bureau announced that a gather of Sand Wash Basin horses will start Sept. 1

MEEKER — Attendees to the Meeker Mustang Makeover on Saturday were informed of wild horse roundups currently underway in Colorado, and how future events will feature the horses gathered in the coming days in the nearby Sand Wash Basin herd management area.

A recent roundup in the West Douglas Creek herd area of northwest Colorado captured 457 horses, and a roundup set to start this week — announced Friday by the Bureau of Land Management’s Little Snake Field Office — aims to gather approximately 783 wild horses.

The West Douglas roundup was, by far, the largest helicopter roundup in the history of the practice in Colorado (a 2011 roundup netted 276 animals), and if executed as planned, the upcoming Sand Wash Basin roundup will dwarf that number.

The Meeker Mustang Makeover was started a few years ago in an effort to find good homes for some of the wild horses that have been gathered by the BLM. Trainers are given 120 days to start and train a wild mustang — a panel of judges determines which trainer was the most impressive — and the animals are then auctioned off, with trainers receiving 50% of the proceeds from their horse’s sale.

The animals adopted amount to only a fraction of a percentage of the animals captured, but the event also raises awareness of the practice of horse roundups and the history of the animals being chased by helicopters in Colorado.

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“Whether those great horses were hunting buffalo on the plains hundreds of years before our eyes were on them, or even today, when we put them to work as cow horses … they still fulfill in the hearts of us that same energy, that same connection to a wild spirit,” announcer Branden Edwards told attendees.

Jake, a yearling removed from the Jakes Wash Herd Management Area in Nevada, evades his trainer at the 3rd Annual Meeker Mustang Makeover on Saturday. Trainers participating in the event have 120 days to “take their mustang from wild to mild,” according to event organizers.
John LaConte/

10 horses euthanized

A BLM wild horse roundup in the West Douglas herd area south of Rangely wrapped up Aug. 13 with 457 horses captured and 10 euthanized.

Four horses came into the coral with pre-existing lower leg fractures and one with a pre-existing back fracture, according to the BLM, and one horse suffered a leg fracture during the helicopter chase. Four other horses came into the coral with other pre-existing conditions, including a horse with infected lacerations and a horse with a missing eye.

Wild horse advocates from the Colorado-based horse advocacy group the Cloud Foundation said 10 horses euthanized during a roundup is a high number.

BLM Colorado said the area’s drought conditions, coupled with the burning of approximately 60% of the summer forage during the Oil Springs fire, increased competition among the horses.

“The West Douglas area is extremely harsh terrain for wild horses, and overpopulation increases competition for resources,” BLM Public Affairs Specialist Chris Maestas said in an email. “And as a result, aggression between wild horses likely increased, putting them at greater risk for injury.”

Overseeing the West Douglas roundup was a BLM veterinarian, who diagnosed the condition of the animals as they were captured, along with Steve Leonard, the BLM’s wild horse and burro manager for Colorado.

Leonard said the goal was to capture every horse in the West Douglas herd area, while the Sand Wash Basin area has been deemed a herd management area capable of containing 163 to 362 wild horses.

“In Sand Wash Basin, we have a very expensive contraception program, and we still have a 13% population gain per year,” Leonard said.

A helicopter chases wild horses July 31 along a dirt road in the West Douglas herd area south of Rangely. The roundup lasted several weeks, with 457 horses captured and 10 killed.
John LaConte/

Roundup set to begin Wednesday

The BLM estimates there to be 896 wild horses in and around the Sand Wash Basin area — approximately 746 wild horses within the herd management area and 150 excess wild horses outside the HMA.

The bureau will begin an emergency wild horse roundup Sept. 1 in the Sand Wash Basin about 45 miles west of Craig in Moffat County. The bureau plans to gather approximately 783 wild horses and return about 50 wild horses to the Sand Wash Basin after treating 25 mares with fertility control.

Leonard said most wild horses trace their lineage to the U.S. Cavalry breeding programs on federal lands and the Great Depression, when horses outlived their usefulness following the advent of the combustion engine in the United States.

At the Meeker Mustang Makeover on Saturday, however, event goers were told that the wild horses of Douglas and Piceance Creeks and Sand Wash Basin most likely came from Ute Indian horses.

From the event program: “Authors who have written about the local area history generally agree that an argument between a local Indian Ute Shaman Cavanish Johnson and area Indian Agent Nathan Meeker, in which Meeker told Johnson that he would have to shoot some if not all of his horses, led to the death of Meeker, the Battle of Milk Creek, and the ultimate loss of the Ute Reservation which covered much of NW Colorado at the time. Estimates are that the Utes had anywhere from 3,000 to 5,500 horses. At the end of the conflict, the Indians were forced to leave most of their horses behind, which were scattered, thus starting some of the four herd areas that remain today.”

Wild horses in the Sand Wash Basin area will be gathered by the hundreds in the coming weeks by the Bureau of Land Management.
Courtesy BLM

Controversial practice

The bureau says the roundups are necessary in order to allow the agency to proactively implement population growth suppression, maintain population size and reduce the number of wild horses that need to be removed from the area in the long term.

There’s currently an estimated 50,000 wild horses in captivity, and the bureau has said nationwide, to prevent widespread thirst and mortality in wild horse populations across the West this summer, more than 6,000 more wild horses should be removed by the end of September.

The emergency gather in the Sand Wash Basin “will prevent further deteriorating body condition of the wild horses into the winter due to limited forage resources,” said Little Snake Field Office Manager Bruce Sillitoe.

During the West Douglas roundup, Leonard predicted the Sand Wash Basin roundup would be contentious.

“The advocates are not going to be happy when we gather those horses, but we absolutely have to,” he said.

Horse advocate Rick Karcich of Centennial says there are millions of people in the U.S. who do not like the practice of horse roundups, and is calling for an immediate moratorium on further non-emergency gathers and removals of wild horses and burros until the BLM conducts a review of its wild horse and burro program and the impacts of private livestock grazing.

Karcich says the livestock industry has 30 domesticated ruminants (cattle and sheep) for every wild horse in the West and is seeking to eliminate the horses which compete for the grass that grows on public lands in the U.S.

Leonard said the Sand Wash Basin has not had cattle grazing for years, but does have some sheep grazing.

“We believe the BLM has largely abandoned its statutory mandate to manage these cherished national icons in a manner that is humane and ecologically balanced,” Karcich said of wild horses.

—This story was edited to emphasize that Karcich is referring to domesticated ruminants across the West

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