On Sunday, I was driving in Salt Wells Creek Herd Management Area in the Red Desert of Wyoming. This area is over 1 million acres in size, vast and beautiful in parts, with power plants, a few ranches, wildlife (which includes deer, antelope, and wild horses), plus cattle and sheep. You can drive for over 30 miles on dirt roads from I 80 south and still not reach the border of the herd area.
I was there because last week, a judge in Wyoming Federal Court signed a Consent Decree which will eliminate all wild horses from this Salt Wells Creek Herd Area this coming summer. I wanted to see and photograph some of the over 600 wild horses inhabiting this area that would soon be separated from their homes and families and end up initially at the Rock Springs Short Term Holding Facility.
The last time I had visited this herd was in August of 2010 before the last round up of Salt Wells and Adobe Town.
On Sunday is was rainy and sunny alternating, and there was a storm that was supposed to be coming in that evening, and the roads were wet in spots, so I planned to stay to paved and extremely improved dirt roads only. I was driving along and saw a sign for County Road 27 and the road looked good, so I turned. I drove and saw manure from wild horses and stud piles, but no horses. The scenery is varied and beautiful, and there was one ranch along this road which I passed.
I saw no other vehicles, and I had been going for about 10 miles. Soon there was a turn for Aspen Mountain, and the road underneath my tires got looser and looser and I started to slide. I almost turned around, but I got this urgent feeling that I needed to keep going. I turned north up CR27 and drove a little bit, and the road got a little firmer which was a relief. But the clouds started coming in, and I almost turned around. Then I spotted a horse – finally!
As I got closer, I realized that this was a foal, and he looked miserable, head down, standing next to a post. I looked and looked but could not see any other horses. I drove closer and got out, and got my binoculars. I could see for at least a few miles in every direction, but not a single other horse was in sight. The little guy had worn a path around the post, and from the little bits of manure it looked as though he had been there a while.
I approached slowly, not wanting to scare him, and notice a big bite mark on his neck, from another horse. It looked like a big scrape, not a deep wound and it was not bleeding. He was bright eyed and moving just fine. I wondered how he had come to be there all alone – perhaps he had a young first time mother who had wondered away, perhaps a stallion had bitten him and driven him off, or maybe his mother had died shortly after having given birth. I knew he was less than a week old.
When I got closer he whinnied at me, a little high pitched happy noise, clearly glad to see another creature! I was able to touch him, and he tried to nurse on my fingers. He was thirsty! I knew foals this small could not graze and need to nurse from their mothers every few hours, and there was a big storm coming in the next day, so he clearly needed help. I could not fit him in my vehicle, let alone lift him in, and also there were regulations about how to interact with wild horses and so I needed help.
I had no cell service way out here so I jumped in my vehicle and started driving toward town, and told him I would be back even though I knew he would not understand. I saw another truck and flagged down the rancher who owned the ranch nearby. He tried calling the Rock Springs BLM office but the number just rang and rang – it was a Sunday.
I decided to drive into the BLM office and see if I could find an after hours number. I did not think I had Jay D’Ewart’s number with me – he is the Wild Horse Specialist for Rock Springs and the person to call for anything related to the wild horses in herd areas around Rock Springs.
There was not an after hours phone number on the BLM office doors, so I asked a sheriff who else to call and he suggested the Department of Fish and Game, but then I remembered that someone on Facebook had messaged me Jay’s number a few months ago.
I had reception here in town so was able to get on Facebook to find the number, and called, and Jay called me right back. I told him about the foal, and he said to give him 30 minutes and he would meet me at the office with a horse trailer. We met up in the packing lot, and drove out toward the foal. When we turned off the main road Jay asked me to lead the way. Once we turned at CR 27, we saw a large band of sorrel horses which the rancher had mentioned to me. Maybe this was his family! But as we looked, we noticed that every mare in the band had a foal with her, and there was no distraught mare wandering around calling for her foal. We kept driving and sure enough there was the foal, next to another post only about 50 feet from where I had left him 3 hours earlier. He was just over the rise from this family of wild horses, so they knew he was there, and we could even see by the tracks in the mud that they had gone right by him and had not picked him up. So Jay made the decision to take him in. As we got out of our vehicles and approached him, he whinnied at us, happy for the company. Jay walked up to him slowly and gradually put his hands on him. As he touched his rump he jumped his rear end a little in the air. Then he tried nursing Jay’s leg. Clearly catching him was not going to be difficult. Jay got out the little foal halter and lead, which was still too big but looked like it would stay on.
He held the foal who struggled a bit when I put the halter on, but we finally got it on. Jay started to lead him, and I brought up the rear, tapping him gently on the rear to encourage him to move forward. Of course this baby knew nothing about being led, but we needed to get him into the trailer. Finally Jay lifted him in, and then shut the gate, after taking off the lead rope. We were ready to go.
The truck and trailer lead the way to the vet clinic. We stopped a couple of times to check on him, and he was still standing up and whinnied to us each time. Jay called the vet on the way in to town.
Once we arrived at Mountainaire Clinic, Dr. Paul Zancanella came to meet us and helped Jay get the foal out of the trailer and into the clinic. He needed a little encouragement from behind to keep going but finally was in the clinic, and he had his first exam, got blood drawn, temperature taken and antibiotics given in just a matter of minutes.
He struggled a little but was remarkably calm and just happy to be around some other creatures, and he stood calmly next to Jay until he was led into a stall for the first time. They were going to give him goats milk rather than formula at first since Dr. Zancanella said it was high in fat like mare’s milk, and that it would not give him the runs, which is very important – we did not want him to get dehydrated. I left the clinic content that he was in good hands, but not sure how he would fare this first night. I would check up on him tomorrow on my way home. It turns out he made it just fine through the night.
I decided to call the foal Destiny. It was destiny that led me down an unfamiliar road in this herd area just that day, before he was in bad condition, and before the storm which would keep people off the road for days hit. It was destiny that had a wild horse specialist from the BLM and a wild horse advocate working together for the sake of the life of a wild horse foal. And it was destiny that he was from this herd, all of whose members are soon to be zeroed out and removed from the land that this foal called home.
I was very happy when I heard the next day that he was doing well, and they were looking for a foster home for him – baby horses require feeding every 4 hours initially which is quite a commitment, and lots of care for the first couple of months.
Today I heard that they have found a foster home for the initial period for Destiny, and there is a wonderful local Rock Springs wild horse advocate who wants to take him to a forever home. I am glad that Destiny will have a new home, but sad at the same time that he will not grow up in the wild, rugged and beautiful land that he was born in. In a way, he is luckier than most of the horses in his herd whose future is still completely uncertain.
Here is a link to the press release about the Consent Decree, which was signed last week:
If you want to help Destiny’s herd and three other herds in the Red Desert of Wyoming stay wild and free and on our public lands, you can donate to two legal funds that will be funding the challenge of the Consent Decree:
The Cloud Foundation:
The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign: