I have been following and photographing the wild horses in the McCullough Peaks Herd Area near Cody, WY for the past 5 years. This herd is one of the most easily access able of the herds, and also one of the most colorful, with gorgeous pintos, palominos, cremellos, buckskins, greys, bays, black and chestnuts color the landscape.
The herd was scheduled to be rounded up last year but due to a lack of money, the BLM held off until this year. 110,000 acres to roam on sounds like plenty for 220 horses, but the BLM claimed that the range was becoming “degraded,” probably their favorite cop-out term this year. The horses in this area have had a very good year and some are positively fat – so that explanation does not wash with me.
I heard that one of my favorite stallions, a black and white pinto I call Washakie (know as Rerun by the BLM) was possibly going to be removed, so I made plans to attend the roundup with a great deal of trepidation.
The atmosphere at this roundup was 180 degrees different than the Pryors roundup where so many of the National BLM officials participated. Here, the BLM people from Wyoming were friendly, helpful, and actually answered questions and requests. Still, a roundup is not anything other than a horrible event. Families of horses who have been together for many years are ripped apart, probably forever. Unlike at the Pryors roundup, the horses are not brought in in bands and kept together – instead they are all brought in in large or small groups as they come bunched together by the helicopter, and immediately mares and stallions and older youngsters are separated from each other. The younger foals were kept with their mothers.
On the first day the largest groups were brought in. In this area many bands will stay close to other bands in relatively peaceful groups I call “megabands” sometimes numbering 40 or more. I anxiously waited to see a certain black and white stallion, and he came in with another band with another favorite stallion of mine, a grey named Indigo. His band includes buckskin mares and two gorgeous 2 year old cremello colt that I have watched grow up – I know they will be removed, with their beautiful coloring they are good candidates for adoption.
It is so cold, and the horses are hot from running, so when they arrive in the corrals, they steam in the early morning air.
Band follows band, and it is an awe inspiring, although sad sight to see so many horses running together. Three of the megabands came in, from Red Point, Coon Creek and Dry Creek.
The most excitement we had the first day was when a bay stallion poorly named Snoodle defied the helicopter. He had a black mare and a lighter foal, the helicopter must have spent a good half an hour trying to drive him in, and finally he split from his mare and in a moment of breathtaking bravery, stood still facing off with the helicopter.
Then he ran full speed and got away. The contractor sent a wrangler out to capture the foal who had been left behind, and another couple of wranglers after the mare, as the foal was too small to be weaned. The mare and foal were scheduled to be released, so hopefully Snoodle would be able to find them after the roundup.
The next morning, there had been a stallion hanging out near the corrals, and we wondered if it had been Snoodle, looking for his mare and foal.
The first group which came in also gave the helicopter a merry chase, and one stallion got away, named Olathe. I was of course cheering under my breath.
However, one humorous note for the day – earlier this summer I photographed a mule who had been tagging along first with one band, then with a bachelor. He led one group into the corrals.
Once the smaller groups that were easy to find had been brought in, the decision was made to move to a smaller trap site in another area so that they could catch some of the more elusive horses from Coon Creek and the Badlands. I followed the horse trailers carrying trap materials and the wrangler’s horses. After some time spend figuring out the perfect spot for the trap, they set it up very quickly. The Cattoors are very efficient, and the contractors who have worked with the BLM the longest they have the most experience working with wild horses, which paid off this roundup with no injuries. In fact, as a stark contrast to the Cooks whom I have seen drive horses directly into a trailer with no regard for safety, they separated out a young foal so that he would not be injured when transported back to the main trap site.
My favorite band to watch come in was Stage’s band, with the most gorgeous pintos and one grey mare.
After bringing in as many horses as they could fine, the rounding up was over – 193 captured,93 removed and sent to Rock Springs Holding Facility, and roughly 120 left in the wild – this was much better than the planned 100 left in the wild. This is however below the minimum number of 150 adulst that the herd needs to remain genetically viable. There were no injuries and no deaths – this is exactly the way ALL roundups should be – istead teh BLM has reported 206 wild horse deaths during roundups over the past 2 years.
I was extremely relieved to see may favorite stallions in the pen slated for release – Washakie, Indigo, and Warbonnet (Medicine Boy to the BLM).
The part of this that made no sense at all was instead of having an adoption planned in a couple of weeks there in Cody, the horses being removed were shipped to Rock Springs to be gelded, branded, and some trained, and an adoption to be planned in the spring. Perhaps some of the horses would be shipped all the way back to Cody for an adoption – a much better place for it – but meanwhile we taxpayers are paying top dollar for the horses to stay at a holding facility for 6 months!
I returned the next day to see the releases of the horses. This would take place after blood samples were drawn and each of the mares to be released received a shot of birth control primer and a freeze brand. The BLM will determine which mares will receive a second shot in the field of PZP 1 year birth control this spring.
The wild horse expert Tricia Hatle had decided she wanted to release the horses back roughly into the areas they lived in, 4 different area, instead of releasing them all in one group to hopefully prevent them all from staying in one small section of the horse range. This required several trailers, with mares and stallions separated, driving to different areas. I followed a group of stallions into the Badlands.
They seemed bewildered at first, then ran off happily. I returned to the main trap site in time to see the Red Point mares released. They strolled out, grazing casually and looking curiously at the observers.
One buckskin mare from Indigo’s band stopped and looked back at the corrals, perhaps looking for her lost sisters and foal, who she would never see again.
Next the stallions were released. I knew that they would not stroll! Washakie was first out with the other stallions hot on his heels,
and they ran and ran and ran until they were out of site. I was so happy to see them go. May they remain forever free.
The ROAM Act was not passed in time to save this herd from being rounded up, nor the other almost 1000 horses in WY being removed this month, as well as the thousands being removed from Nevada. However we still have time before the end of the year to get this vital legislation passed in the Senate.
Here are some great action steps to take from the Cloud Foundation: