Gathering horses

BLM gathers wild mustangs in Sandwash

If they could do it again, the 30 mustangs rounded up in Sandwash Basin on Tuesday morning probably wouldn't follow the "Judas" horse into the trap.

But as it stands, the helicopter hovering above and the domestic horse trained to lead wild horses into the trap proved effective enough to draw the wild horses into the holding pen.

Bureau of Land Management officials hope to have 200 mustangs rounded up in the Sandwash area by the end of the week. If the crews from Cattoor Livestock Roundup hit their goal, the mustang population in the area northwest of Maybell will be down from about 360 horses to about 160.

BLM will auction 50 of the 200 horses this weekend at Sandwash corrals. The remainder will be sent to the BLM's wild horse adoption facility in Cañon City.

John Husband, field manager for the BLM Little Snake Field Office in Craig, said the roundup is necessary because the horse population in Sandwash can grow by 22 percent every year.

"The horses increase very reliably out here," Husband said. "In the absence of any predators, they would keep multiplying until they ate themselves out of house and home."

Wild mustangs are rounded up in the 157,730-acre Sandwash Herd Management Area every four years. Sandwash is one of four mustang herd management areas in the state.

Husband said the horses compete with livestock and wild animals for food, so removing some of the horses will relieve some pressure on the area's forage.

Dave Cattoor, president of Cattoor Livestock, said Tuesday morning that the roundup was going well but could be better.

"We haven't found the big wad of horses yet," Cattoor said as he walked back to the helicopter after the third roundup of the day.

Crews started looking for horses in the area north of the trap Monday morning and found three bands, but the biggest was the first of the day, which had 14 horses.

Cattoor said the helicopter would look for horses in the afternoon south of the trap, hoping to find a bigger band.

Cattoor, a Maybell native, said his company has been rounding up mustangs for the BLM for 30 years.

Chad Bigler, one of Cattoor's workers at the trap, said about 75 percent of the company's work is in Nevada, where most of the mustangs in the country live.

Bigler recently worked on a month-long roundup in Nevada that gathered 1,700 horses.

He said the mustangs in Sandwash are bigger and nicer than the horses in Nevada.

Valerie Dobrich, BLM wild horse specialist, said the mustangs from Sandwash are generally nicer than other wild mustangs.

"These Colorado horses are kind of the cream of the crop," she said.

Dobrich said the gather will get most of the young horses out of the herd, leaving mostly horses ages 5 and older.

Older horses are more difficult to adopt, Dobrich said, plus, an older population will reproduce less and be easier to manage.

"The whole goal is to make sure we are managing a population that is healthy out here," she said.

Dick and Dee Kounovsky of Longmont have been coming to Northwest Colorado to hunt and look at the wild horses for about 40 years. Tuesday was the couple's first roundup.

Dick Kounovsky said he was surprised by how calm the horses were when they got in the pen.

"They're just kind of standing there," he said after watching the helicopter guide the first band into the pen.

Dick said one of the colts in the first band was probably the same horse he and his wife saw in the spring.

"We've probably seen all of these at some point," he said.

This week's gather is the last of the year for Colorado's wild horses. The next gather in Colorado won't be until next fall. The next gather in Sandwash won't be for four years.

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