By Mark Heinz, outdoors reporter
An extended outbreak of an equine disease commonly called “strangles” has shut down mustang adoptions at a Wheatland corral run by the federal Bureau of Land Management.
But a Colorado wild horse advocate and photographer says she’s skeptical because of the length of the shutdown and what she says has been a lack of information from the BLM.
A wild horse and burro adoption scheduled for Oct. 7 at the BLM’s Wheatland off-range corral was canceled because of lingering strangles infections among some of the 2,700 horses and burros being kept there, BLM spokeswoman Azure Hall told Cowboy State Daily in an email Thursday.
However, the moratorium on adoptions and visits at the corral has gone on too long, said Carol Walker of Longmont, Colorado.
After months, Walker said BLM officials “are saying strangles is still in the facility, so I would like to see a veterinarian’s report on the horses.”
Walker said she frequently visits Wyoming to photograph mustang herds here and runs the wild horse advocacy blog “Wild Hoofbeats.”
“I try to report back to public about this,” she said. “I have a very large social media following, almost 2 million followers, and I let people know about these horses.”
Walker has three adopted Wyoming mustangs and doesn’t plan to adopt any more. But she said that she knows many people who want to adopt from the Wheatland corral, and they’re growing frustrated.
Adoptions can’t resume until a veterinarian gives the all-clear that the strangles outbreak has fully subsided, Hall said, adding there’s no estimation of when that might be.
Highly Transmissible Disease
Strangles is a highly transmissible bacterial disease that infects horses and burros, according to information posted online by the BLM. It causes an upper respiratory infection in the animals. Fatality rates are usually less than 10%, but can be as high as 40% in untreated animals.
Strangles can pass between horses and can be passed to them through infected water troughs, horse tack or other gear that humans use.
That’s why the BLM closed the Wheatland corral to the public, Hall said.
It’s not known when the strangles outbreak started there, according to the BLM website. No animals have been accepted at or shipped from the corral since January.
About half of the animals there have been infected and 18 have died, according to the BLM. All of the animals have been vaccinated against strangles and numerous other equine diseases. Horses that have been there the longest, which is since the corral opened in 2021, have received strangles boosters.
The strangles vaccine doesn’t always stop infections, but it can greatly lessen the severity of the disease, according to the BLM.
Feeling Shut Out
Walker said she’s frustrated because the BLM hasn’t been communicating or allowing her to even briefly visit the corral to check on the horses.
“I’m completely willing to submit to whatever biosecurity measures they have,” she said.
“I spend about 10 weeks a year in Wyoming visiting all the horse herds and watching the roundups,” she said. “I am familiar with many of the horses at the Wheatland facility.”