Wild horses removed from Sand Wash Basin in Moffat County will have bright futures
Craig — Wild horses currently being removed from Sand Wash Basin in Moffat County are expected to have bright futures as the result of collaboration between the Bureau of Land Management and wild horse advocates.
“I’m sure each horse will find a great home. I am personally planning to adopt one myself,” said Sand Wash Basin Advocates Team Program Director Aleta Wolf. “It’s sad to see them removed, but the ones that will be taken are going to have an easier life.”
SWAT is the on-range program for the Great Escape Mustang Sanctuary (GEMS).
“GEMS is a great partner organization that has worked with us to provide shelter and sanctuary, training, adoption events and other services for wild horses that we would not otherwise be able to provide,” said BLM Public Affairs Specialist David Boyd.
SWAT volunteers have been helping BLM with the bait-trap gather that began on Nov. 9 and aims to remove 50 wild horses from the Sand Wash Basin Herd Management Area, located about 45 miles west of Craig.
Ben Smith, wild horse and burro specialist for the northwest district estimates that it will take a little over 30 days to capture 50horses suitable for removal.
BLM contracted with Cattoor Livestock Roundup Company that has worked for BLM and others to gather wild horses since 1975.
As of Nov. 17 BLM contractors have gathered 24 horses of those 10 have been released, including five mares that were treated with PZP, Boyd said.
SWAT reports on their Facebook page “10 removed horses are waiting to be transported to Canon City for processing. They will be transported once the weather clears up.”
The other horses are being held with one receiving veterinary care for an eye injury, as are three other horses that were chasing others out of the traps, according to SWAT.
A foal that was injured in mid to late October “was removed to obtain veterinarian assistance only to find his left hind growth plate was shattered.
He was humanely euthanized by the veterinarian,” SWAT reported on Facebook.
A dangerous time for the Sand Wash wild horses
Handling any wild animal is inherently dangerous for both animal and handler.
“I would say that we generally see 1 percent mortality or less on horse gathers,” Boyd said.
Bait trapping is perceived to be a gentler and safer way to gather wild horses, but data suggests that the method used to gather horses poses less of a risk than handling and transport.
“Most handling problems occur in the corrals,” wrote Temple Grandin, professor of animal science at Colorado State University in her evaluation of BLM’s methods. “The BLM has really good gathering methods, but there are sometimes problems after gathering while handling and loading the horses onto trucks. Mustangs have to be handled for sorting, selling at auction and marking with the distinctive BLM freeze brand.”
Grandin’s conclusions were born out in a 2015 investigative report by Vince Patton for Oregon Public Broadcasting.
Patton found that “data shows passive traps have been even more lethal in Oregon. And once they’ve made it to the corrals, records show that wild horses aren’t out of danger.”
Captured horses are loaded into trailers and move to BLM’s permanent corrals at Sand Wash Basin.
Then the horses selected for permanent removal from Moffat County will be transported to BLM’s Cañon City holding facility and after processing transported to adoption events on the Western Slope or to the Great Escape Mustang Sanctuary in Deer Trail.
Both locations are farther away than the BLM facility in Rock Springs, Wyoming.
“The decision (where to move the horses) is based on anticipated space and on planning for adoptions. It’s ideal to make Colorado horses available in Colorado. But based on space and adoption planning, we bring horses from around the country to Cañon City’s facilities,” Boyd said. “The difference in transport time is two hours verse six hours. We do not see a difference in risk based on this small difference in transport time.”
Cañon City has the space and equipment not available elsewhere and needed for processing the horses.
Michelle Sander, the founder of GEMS, is concerned about transporting the horses.
“We see a lot of injuries during transport,” she said.
However contractors “need to be able to sort and separate them. At the corals they have a greater opportunity for sorting and treating. There are different sorting options and facilities to help handle the horses for darting,” she said.
How the adoption process works
The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 provides a framework allowing BLM to gather excess horses for adoption.
All potential adopters must complete an application proving that they fulfill requirements needed to provide a wild horse with humane care and pay an adoption fee.
“We are encouraging people who would like to adopt to submit their application and write Sand Wash Basin on the top of it,” Wolf said.
According to the BLM requirements:
• Fees start at $125 for single horses and move higher for mares with foals, and may go higher for horses selected to go through an auction-based adoption where the highest bidder gets the right to adopt.
• BLM holds the title to the adopted horse for one year. In most cases, after that time, the title of the horse is passed to the adopter who then becomes the permanent owner.
• Until titled by the BLM, animals cannot be sold or traded. Animals cannot be neglected, abandoned, inhumanely treated, used as bucking stock or used for other commercial purposes.
• The nearest BLM office must be notified within seven days if an animal dies (a veterinarian’s statement must be presented) or if an animal is moved to a new location for more than 30 days.
• The adopter is responsible for all expenses; there are no refunds or reimbursements.
“Horses removed from Sand Wash Basin are expected to be available for adoption direct from the BLM mid to late January,” said Colorado Wild Horse and Burrow Off Range Lead, Stephen Leonard who manages the Cañon City Facility.
The process for adopting a horse through the GEMS program is a little different and takes a little longer.
GEMS in 2012 became focused on creating good outcomes for Sand Wash Basin horses removed from the wild and is ready to do the same with those gathered in this current BLM program.
“We are a store front for a training and adoption program,” said Sander.
The Mustang Heritage Foundation in partnership with the BLM to approve established the Trainer Incentive Program or TIP program horse trainers that are allowed remove horses from holding facilities for training. Trainers are responsible for finding an adopter and giving horses to their new owners.
TIP trained horses have been gentled and taught to “pick up their feet, load into trailers and basic ground work,” Sander said.
Trainers are reimbursed for expensive via the Heritage program so no costs are passed on to adopters this means that adopting a TIP trained horse costs the same as adopting an untrained horse directly from the BLM.
“It’s a $125 fee for a TIP trained horse, a horse you can handle and take on to further types of training,” Sander said. “When you adopt a TIP-trained horse the requirements are different such as the need for six-foot fences. This also increases adoption rates.”
Since May, GEMS has had 85 horses through their system and increased the base of TIP trainers in Colorado.
TIP training typically takes 100 days. Some horses take 30 days, some take the full 100.
“Sand Wash Basin horses will be available for adoption through both our sanctuary — GEMS and several local adoption events in Colorado,” Sander said. “The locations are to be determined, but most likely will include Moffat County and Grand Junction areas. More information will be provided on adoption locations and times once they are confirmed.”
Life after adoption
Digger, a small liver chestnut mare who loves Starbucks coffee and Sand Wash’s Fancy Desert Rose, a large red roan, were about six months old when they were removed from Sand Wash Basin during the 2005 helicopter-aided gather.
Rene Littlehawk-Calicura won the right to adopt the fillies in a competitive silent auction.
“We have got the best herd for size and conformation and color of any herd in the nation. I’ve seen herds in Utah, Wyoming, Nevada,” said Littlehawk-Calicura. “The two I have are absolute perfection, big-boned, health, easy keepers.”
Littlehawk-Calicura, who has been training horses since she was a child, used the natural inquisitiveness of her horses in their training.
She would sit on the side of the water trough and serenade Digger and Fancy with her guitar.
“During their training I could tell when they had had enough because Digger would get the hiccups and Fancy would start blowing bubbles in the water trough,” Littlehawk-Calicura said.
Slowly she built their trust and gently trained them to accept handling and a saddle and rider.
Once trained the horses were used for guide and outfitting hunters as well as photography tours of the still wild horses of Sand Wash Basin.
“Domestic, feral or wild, they are all still an icon of the West,” Littlehawk-Calicura said.