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Horse Paintings Blog - BLM Roundup - Day 1


Tales from a BLM Roundup
Posted August 31, 2011

[NOTE: Click here to see the Wild Horse paintings based on photos from my trip.]

I've always thought it would be exciting to see a wild horse roundup in person.

Recently I saw a tiny blurb in our local Ohio newspaper about a wild horse roundup in Wyoming. It was In the news because of a controversial lawsuit concerning birth control for the herd.

So I got online in search of more information.

I was surprised to find that the BLM is committed to offering opportunities for the public to come watch their roundups! The online article listed Serena Baker's contact information at the BLM to get on the official visitors' log and to receive information about attending a roundup. I called and then started planning my trip to Rock Springs, WY.

Serena was very helpful! She recommending planning to attend at the beginning of the gather, since their contractors work pretty much non-stop gathering horses, and if they meet their quota early, the gather may be over before the dates listed. I flew to Wyoming on Friday, August 26 and attended the roundup on Saturday and Sunday, then started back to Ohio Monday, August 29. Let me tell you about the roundup. . .

On Saturday morning we met at the Rock Springs BLM office and caravaned out to the designated viewing site in the Little Colorado Horse Management Area (HMA) with Serena leading the way. The sites are decided upon the previous evening after a helicopter searches the area for bands of horses. No one wants the horses to have to travel too far, so sites are chosen that are close to where horses are spotted the previous day.

Much of the work of gathering wild horses is contracted out. For this White Mountain/Little Colorado gather, Cattoor Livestock Roundup, Inc. was the company contracted. The staff I met were super nice. You could tell they loved horses, and treated them with care. They were happy to explain how the gather worked and showed us around the holding pens. They were cautious not to let anyone get too close to the horses or helicopters for safety reasons.

Trailers with round pen fences and other equipment were part of the Saturday morning caravan. They traveled on beyond the viewing area and within an hour the Cattoor crew had set up a satellite holding pen and trap entrance. It was now time for the helicopter to go out in search of horses.

Back at the viewing area, Serena kept us informed about what to expect. We all had our eyes glued to the horizon -- which in the High Desert stretched on and on for miles -- looking for the helicopter and horses. In the photo at the top of this blog page, you'll see our viewing area and the satellite holding pens and miles and miles of desert.

We had been forewarned that we could be sitting in the desert for hours and not see any horses.

Finally one of the group saw the helicopter!

Those Wyoming photographers have much better eyesight then I. Can you see the helicopter in the photo above?

Okay, I enlarged the section with the helicopter in Photoshop. You'll find the helicopter dotting the "I" in the type below.

Now see if you can find it in the first photo....

Here are some more photos:

Below the horses are filing into the the trap. A trained horse, called the Judas horse, meets the horses at the entrance to the trap and leads them in.

Then the helicopter went out again in search of more horses. Meanwhile, back on our hill, I took a photo of the group.

Here's the group from Saturday. Deb, from Texas (who rescued my rental SUV when I got it stuck in a ditch). She came with Diane, Bonnie and Barbie from Baggs, Wyoming. They are in a photography club and really enjoy photographing horses. Next is Sherrie (seated in back) who has been an official BLM volunteer photographer/videographer at Nevada roundups. Next is Karen from Oregon. She is a filmmaker who has hours of video on the wild horses of Oregon ready to be edited into a documentary. Beside Karen is Sherries's fiance, Duane, who is a geologist and works for the BLM. Serena is on the far right, laptop in hand. She was busily working on BLM business whenever she wasn't discussing the wild horse program with us.

After the second group of horses was rounded up, we were allowed to visit the satellite holding pen.

It is amazing how the wild horses calmly stood together in the round pens. On the left you can see the two riding horses brought along by the crew in case a foal or older horse was left behind. They are prepared to ride out and slowly herd it in. And the little sorrel beside them whose head barely made it in the photos is the Judas horse. In the distance you can see the hillside (beside the communications tower) where we'd been photographing the roundup.

Although partially dismantled, this is the chute that leads to the pens. The rope fence easily falls to the ground if the horses bolt through it.

After being captured in the satellite pen, the wild horses are transferred to a temporary holding facility. Many of the horses will be released back into the wild, others would be transferred to the BLM official holding pen in Rock Springs where they will be available for adoption early in 2012. Serena let us visit the temporary holding pen to see the horses who were being held there. The horses were so beautiful -- and healthy! Serena said health horses and healthy range land are their goals.

Take a look at some of the stallions at the temporary holding pen.

This golden palomino stallion was magnificent!

And my favorite stallion was this gray.

The plastic snow fence makes it difficult to get a good photo, but the staff explained that horses did not see the horizontal fence panel rails and would bolt through them. The snow fence makes a more visible barrier for horses to see. Plus it blocks their view of the people on the the opposite side and keeps them calmer.

That was it for Saturday with the BLM.

But the girls from Bangs invited me to go out looking for wild horses with them! What a trip! Bonnie had a new 4-wheel drive pickup that she can drive anywhere! And she did. We set out on a nice dirt road, turned on a regular dirt road, then took off on a two-track, which soon disappeared. We were bushwhacking through sagebrush and gopher holes, with nothing but desert where ever you looked.

Eventually we did see another two-track! Here's the two track out the windshield. Hey, two tracks are soooo smooth compared to zero tracks. We got back to a dirt road and then we saw them! Wild horses!!! Bonnie pulled off to the side of the road and we all got quietly out of the truck with our cameras. Slowly we walked toward the horses. There was a flashy Paint off by itself on the left, and about 500 yards to the right was a group of about 7 or 8 horses.

I was surprised how close they allowed us to get. But when we tip toed over the invisible line between the "scout" and the herd, the Paint challenged us -- stomping forward a few steps with a threatening head shake. I zoomed in . . . with my camera lens of course . . . .

We froze, and did not move any closer. The herd drifted up the hill toward their leader, who topped the hill and disappeared.


Bonnie decided we would go on in search of more wild horses! Off we went on the good dirt road. And we saw some horses about a mile away on the top of a ridge. Looking for a two track that headed in the direction of the ridge we continued on the dirt road, turning into a little valley with mountains on both sides. It was beautiful desert, with a dry creek bed following the track. We saw lots of signs of horses, but no animals. With many ridges on either side, we were not sure how to locate the wild horses. Driving for miles, we came to an opening between the ridges on the left and bounced through the dry creek bed, and ended up in another valley, with a less visible two track. Stopping only for Barbie to hop out and see if we could navigate through a gulch (yes, she nodded - give it a try... ) the two track all but disappeared, but led us to a second steep gulch, which Barbie decided was not passable. (Thank goodness. I had about 1/4 bottle of water left, and was silently praying we'd not get lost have to spend the night in the valley.) We made it back safely!

Serena called us that evening to tell us they would be releasing the horses from the temporary holding pens back into the desert -- and we would get to watch -- close up!!! - and take photos!!!! How exciting!

Click here to see the photos from DAY 2.


Map of White Mountain and Little Colorado HMA.



posted by Karen Brenner

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Karen Brenner is a professional equine artist who is passionate
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