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Violations Found At Wheatland Wild Horse Facility, Animal Rights Group Outraged

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Bureau of Land Management review of its Wheatland wild horse facility found several policy violations and at least one national animal rights group is outraged.

A Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program (CAWP) report by the BLM was issued this week and found that while the Wheatland facility was meeting most of the bureau’s standards, there were some things at the facility that were considered “non-compliant.”

“While 83% is noted to be within the “compliant” range, the BLM sees the recent Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program assessment as an opportunity to improve,” BLM spokesman Tyson Finnicum told Cowboy State Daily on Friday.

“The Wheatland Off-Range Corral is one of the newest BLM wild horse and burro facilities and having some areas to work on was expected. However, our goal is to see the facility meet and eventually exceed the standards set by the CAWP. ” 

These issues included not having enough staff to complete all of the work at the facility in a timely manner, lacking a sufficient number of pens to sort wild horses and burros, no shade, shelter or wind breaks in many of the pens and the horses not being provided with enough quality hay to achieve and maintain an acceptable body condition.

Finnicum said work is being done to rectify some of these issues and the BLM is actively working with a contractor to improve and add to the facility.

“We currently have several ‘sick’ pens used to isolate and care for sick or special needs animals,” he said. “These pens were found to be inadequate, and a plan is already underway to build new and improved ‘sick’ pens. At no time have we run out of space for sick or special needs animals.”

No animals are going without food, water or care, despite staff shortages, Finnicum said.

He added that many of the horses who were considered to have a poor body condition at the facility had been in poor health when they were rounded up, but noted their conditions were improving.

The American Wild Horse Campaign, a national organization advocating for the welfare of wild horses, was outraged at the violations found in the report, spokeswoman Amelia Perrin told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday.

“[This] review of the Wheatland corral revealed concerning violations, especially in light of the recent mass strangles outbreak at the facility that has so far claimed the lives of at least 13 wild horses,” Perrin said. “Wheatland is one of eight facilities assessed so far and all have highlighted deficiencies that call into question the capacity of the BLM to hold and care for these horses and burros once they are removed from public lands.”

“The reports indicate a building crisis in holding facilities and provide emergency justification for the BLM to pause roundups and refocus resources to manage wild horses where they are safest: in the wild,” she continued.

The wild horse group wants to end wild horse round-ups, both in Wyoming and across the nation. In May, it called for a halt to the program until a deadly outbreak of equine flu, which killed more than 100 horses, at a facility in Colorado could be investigated.

Overall, the CAWP report found the Wheatland facility to be 83% compliant.

One aspect of the BLM’s animal welfare program is to implement internal and external assessments for all activities undertaken in the wild horse and burro program.

The Wheatland facility has been closed to the public for more than two months due to an outbreak of a contagious equine disease known as “strangles.” Thirteen horses at the corral have died from the disease.

Last month, it was reported that more than half of the 2,750 horses being housed at the corral have shown signs of the disease.

The mortality rate of strangles is typically under 10% but can be as high as 40%. About 0.8% of the horses affected by strangles at the Wheatland facility have died.

BLM Wyoming manages 16 wild horse herd management areas on nearly 5 million acres. 

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More Horses Die Of Strangles At Wheatland Facility, More Than Half Of Population ‘Impacted’

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Another six wild horses horses at a Wheatland facility have died of a contagious equine disease commonly known as “strangles” and at least half of the 2,750 horses at the facility are showing signs of the illness, according to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The agency announced that the deaths at the facility it maintains to hold wild horses collected from the plans of Wyoming brings to 11 the number of horses killed by the upper respiratory illness known as streptococcus equi or “strangles.”

In addition, about half of the 2,750 animals at the facility are showing some observable signs of strangles, the agency said.

“It’s possible that it could spread further just due to contagiousness of strangles,” BLM spokesman Tyson Finnicum told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday. “It’s also possible that more horses either have been infected and recovered without showing visible signs of the infection or they were unaffected because of immunity.

“All of the animals at the facility have received the vaccine and we are starting to give annual boosters,” he continued. “We’re mitigating the infection by treating affected horses, segregating animals, and are also implementing biosecurity measures, like bleaching equipment and work areas, to stop or reduce transmission.”

The mortality rate of strangles is typically under 10% but can be as high as 40%. In comparison, 0.8% of the horses affected by strangles at the Wheatland facility have died.

BLM has again stopped a wild horse and burro adoption event due to the strangles outbreak, which has been going on since late March. The cause of the infection has not yet been determined.

“The primary reason why we’ve closed the facility and are pausing adoptions is to keep the disease from spreading outside of the facility,” Finnicum said. “Holding off on adoptions also helps the horses recover. Not until we are confident that horses can leave the facility without risk of transmission will we lift the closure and resume adoptions.”

The horses are currently under quarantine and being treated for the disease.

“Strangles” is the most common infectious illness found in horses between 6 and 10 years old. Horses can catch the disease through inhalation or ingestion of the bacteria, such as through horse-to-horse contact, drinking contaminated water or making contact with infected material.

According to the Equine Disease Communication Center, most horses will be exposed to or infected with strangles at a young age.

No animals, including domestic saddle horses, have been shipped or received at the facility since the last load of horses gathered last fall were delivered in January.

No foals have died due to the infection.

Foaling mares and newborn foals have shown to be the least impacted by the infection, according to BLM. Additionally, all of the mares at the facility have been vaccinated for strangles, which means their foals are born with some immunity.

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Wheatland Wild Horse Facility Still Closed Due To Highly Contagious Equine Illness “Strangles”

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The wild horse holding facility in Wheatland remains closed to the public due to the infection of a number of wild horses there with an illness known as “strangles” and a horse advocacy group is calling on the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to rethink its housing methods as a result.

Brad Purdy, a spokesman for the BLM in Wyoming told Cowboy State Daily on Monday that the facility has been closed for several weeks on the recommendation of a veterinarian.

“Some horses have been diagnosed with strangles,” Purdy said. “No horses can be shipped to or from the facility.”

Strangles is a highly contagious disease caused by a bacteria that crosses mucus membranes in the nose and mouth to infect the lymph nodes, where the illness causes abscesses that can eventually rupture. The infected lymph nodes become swollen and can compress the upper respiratory tract, hence the name “strangles.”

Colorado Equine Flu

Purdy noted that there has been no interaction between the horses in Wheatland and the horses at a BLM facility in Canon City, Colorado, many of whom have been infected with equine influenza and died. More than 115 horses have died from the flu at the Colorado facility as of Monday.

Around 2,500 horses are being housed at the Canon City facility, according to the American Wild Horse Campaign.

The Colorado BLM announced last week that a “bacterial co-infection” was a complicating factor leading the horses’ deaths and that the horses primarily affected were either unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated against the flu.

AWHC spokeswoman Amelia Perrin told Cowboy State Daily on Monday that despite the Wheatland horses not being infected with equine flu, the fact that they have another contagious illness points to issues in BLM’s housing methods.

“While the diseases may be different, the root cause is the same,” she said. “Anytime you bring in mass numbers of horses like the BLM does with this mass round-up removal program, disease outbreak is a logical consequence of that.”

Drastic Changes Needed

Perrin said that without “drastic” change to how the BLM currently manages its wild horse roundup program, the lives of 60,000 wild horses and burros in holding facilities across the country could be in danger.

The Wheatland facility can house anywhere from 500 to 3,500 horses. Purdy did not say on Monday how many horses were currently at the facility, but as of one month ago, it was housing around 2,700.

“Last I heard, there isn’t a concern about widespread deaths at Wheatland due to strangles,” Purdy said.

The strangles outbreak at the Wheatland facility began sometime in March, Purdy previously told Cowboy State Daily.

No Adoption

Last month, BLM Wyoming had to cancel its wild horse and burro adoption event at the Wheatland facility due to the outbreak.

The “strangles” disease is the most common infectious illness found in horses between 6 and 10 years old. Horses can catch the disease through inhalation or ingestion of the bacteria, such as through horse-to-horse contact, drinking contaminated water or making contact with infected material.

The disease can have a mortality rate of 40%, but the severity of the disease varies and is dependent on a horse’s immune status and the dose and strain of bacteria.

The AWHC has been vocal about its opposition to the BLM’s wild horse roundups, but the organization noted over the weekend that the program should be halted at minimum until an investigation into the Canon City situation is completed and all necessary preventative measures have been implemented.

“Canon City is not an isolated incident,” Perrin said Monday. “Unless there is drastic change, we’re going to see more types of mass casualty incidents like we’ve been seeing in Canon City. Right now, there are 117 dead. But who knows how many more are sick?”

BLM Wyoming manages 16 wild horse herd management areas on nearly 5 million acres. 

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Horse Advocacy Group Calls For Stop To Wyoming Roundups After Horses Catch ‘Strangles’

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A wild horse advocacy group is again calling for a pause in wild horse roundups in Wyoming after a number of horses in Wheatland caught a disease known as the “strangles.”

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management in Wyoming postponed a wild horse and burro adoption event scheduled for April 1 at its facility in Wheatland after some of the horses became sick with an upper respiratory illness streptococcus equi, also known as “strangles.” The next adoption event will be held in May.

The American Wild Horse Campaign’s executive director called on BLM to stop its wild horse roundups in the state pending an inquiry into disease outbreak and deaths at BLM’s two holding facilities in the state.

“We are concerned about how crowded conditions and reported staffing shortages are impacting the welfare of the more than 3,000 wild horses incarcerated in BLM holding pens in the state,” said Executive Director Suzanne Roy.

Strangles is a highly contagious disease caused by a bacteria that crosses mucus membranes in the nose and mouth to infect the lymph nodes, where they cause abscesses that can eventually rupture. The infected lymph nodes become swollen and can compress the upper respiratory tract, hence the name “strangles.”

The horses in Wheatland will be quarantined until they are no longer sick.

BLM spokesman Brad Purdy told Cowboy State Daily on Monday that he was unsure exactly when the strangles outbreak at the facility began, but believed it began sometime in March.

Purdy was not sure how many horses had the illness, however, he said it did cause the deaths of five horses.

Purdy said that the AWHC was “comparing apples to oranges” with its call to stop the roundups due to horses being sick in Wheatland.

“Our next gather is scheduled for the Lander complex and that’s not even until later in the summer or fall,” he said. “I don’t think one thing has an impact on another.”

The “strangles” disease is the most common infectious illness found in horses between 6 and 10 years old. Horses can catch the disease through inhalation or ingestion of the bacteria, such as through horse-to-horse contact, drinking contaminated water or making contact with infected material.

The disease can have a mortality rate of 40%, but the severity of the disease varies and is dependent on a horse’s immune status and the dose and strain of bacteria.

The Wheatland facility can house up to 3,500 horses, but currently houses around 2,700.

While Roy said the AWHC was concerned about crowded conditions at the facility, Purdy disagreed with that assessment.

“If they had 4,000 horses there and only have a capacity of 3,500 horses, then I would agree we’re over capacity,” he said. “However, it’s almost 1,000 fewer than what the capacity is. They’re under capacity, so I wouldn’t necessarily agree with the overcrowding statement.”

BLM Wyoming manages 16 wild horse herd management areas on nearly 5 million acres. 

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BLM Calls Gathering Of Wyoming Wild Horses An “Overwhelming Success”

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The wild horse round-up that took place near Rock Springs over the last few months concluded this week, and a U.S. Bureau of Land Management spokesman called the gather an “overwhelming success.”

The BLM Rock Springs and Rawlins field offices have been removing wild horses from the Great Divide Basin, Adobe Town, Salt Wells Creek, White Mountain and Little Colorado Herd Management Areas (HMAs) in southwestern Wyoming since early October.

The gathering portion of the round-up concluded on Wednesday, with the bureau collecting 4,161 horses in total, including 1,603 stallions, 1,700 mares and 858 foals.

“We still do have some work to do with the round-up, such as cleaning up traps and treating about 80 mares with fertility control and then releasing them again,” BLM spokesman Brad Purdy told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday. “I think for our number of horses gathered, the lack of injuries and the low number of deaths, I think for BLM, this is an overwhelming success.”

The intent at the beginning of the round-up was to remove 3,500 horses in order to keep the wild horse populations within appropriate management levels, around 1,550 to 2,145 horses. The BLM in Wyoming manages 16 wild horse herd areas on nearly 5 million acres.

Although nearly 4,200 horses have been gathered, around 800 of them will ultimately be returned to the management areas. So far, around 250 horses have been treated with fertility control.

Managing wild horses at appropriate levels allows the bureau to maintain rangeland and wild horse herd health and reduce the instances of horses moving onto private land and highways.

Thirty-seven horses died during the round-up, 10 related to the gathering and 27 caused by pre-existing conditions such as a club foot.

“That number 10 really jumped out at me, because I think that shows we are really focused on safety,” Purdy said. “BLM averages about half a percent of deaths when it comes to these round-ups, and I would imagine our numbers are way below that.”

Thirty-seven deaths out of the 4,161 animals rounded up would amount to 0.9%.

However, the American Wild Horse Campaign did not have kind words to say about the end of the round-up.

“The BLM’s reckless assault on Wyoming’s wild horses was unnecessary, inhumane and a colossal waste of our tax dollars,” Suzane Roy, AWHC executive director, said. “It’s left the magnificent Red Desert landscape devoid of these majestic, federally-protected animals and feedlot pens crammed full of these formerly free-roaming animals. This is no way to manage America’s cherished wild mustangs, and it’s long past time for the BLM to stop the roundups and implement humane, scientific management with fertility control.” 

Purdy said in previous interviews that the goal for the BLM is to have no animal deaths, but he also has said this is not realistic when dealing with wild animals.

He also pointed out that there were no injuries among the humans working to gather the animals, another sign that BLM puts an emphasis on safety and well-being.

Now that horses have been removed, many of them will be trained at various sites across Wyoming, including the Honor Farm, and then put up for adoption, which Purdy encouraged more people to consider.

“They’re hardy animals,” he said. “I’ve seen them do everything from competition riding to being a working horse for a rancher. If you have room in your heart and on your land, you should look into adopting one of these horses.”

Editor’s note: The original version of the story had the wrong math percentages. We have updated the story to reflect the correct numbers.

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Horse Breaks Back, Dies During Wyoming Wild Horse Roundup

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Four horses died Thursday during the Bureau of Land Management’s wild horse roundup near Rock Springs, according to the bureau’s latest data.

One horse broke its back and died while being chased by the bureau’s helicopters, while three others died due to pre-existing conditions, such as a club foot and a broken leg.

According to the BLM, 119 horses, including 50 mares, 44 stallions and 25 foals, were gathered on Thursday, bringing the total number of horses rounded up since October to 3,240, including 1,272 stallions, 1,308 mares and 660 foals. Nearly 500 of the horses have been returned to their home range.

As of Thursday, 20 horses have died during the roundup since it began in October. Nine of the deaths were related to a situation caused by the roundup, such as two mares that broke tehir necks in late November, and 11 resulted from pre-existing conditions.

The BLM maintains a daily “gather” report that notes how many horses were gathered during a day, how many animals were shipped and how many deaths occurred.

The roundup resumed Thursday after a month-long pause. It began in October and is slated to last until February.

The BLM Rock Springs and Rawlins field offices are removing wild horses from the Great Divide Basin, Adobe Town, Salt Wells Creek, White Mountain and Little Colorado Herd Management Areas (HMAs) in southwestern Wyoming.

The BLM in Wyoming manages 16 wild horse herd areas on nearly 5 million acres.

BLM officials have previously noted that injuries to wild horses and burros during a roundup are rare.

BLM spokesman Brad Purdy told Cowboy State Daily in November that while BLM’s intent is to keep any fatalities from happening, they do occur, albeit not often.

“It’s an unfortunate situation, but when you’re dealing with wild animals, it’s unrealistic to think no fatalities will happen,” he said.

Purdy encouraged anyone who has an interest in wild horses to consider adopting one (or more) once they have been rehabilitated at the Wyoming Honor Ranch in Riverton or the Mantle Training Facility in Wheatland.

“Once these animals are gentle, it’s incredible the things they can do,” he said. “That’s the best solution for both the horses and the taxpayer.”

Last month, the American Wild Horse Campaign filed a petition signed by more than 70,000 people to stop the roundup.

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More Than 70K Petition To Stop Wild Horse Roundup In Wyoming

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A petition signed by more than 70,000 people calling for an end to the federal roundup of wild horses on public land in Wyoming was delivered to federal officials this week.

The horse roundup run by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which began in October, has concluded for the year, but will resume again in the new year and is slated to last until February.

The operation is being opposed by The Animal Welfare Institute and American Wild Horse Campaign, which delivered the petition to U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on Monday.

“The current assault on Wyoming’s wild horses is emblematic of our government’s 50-year failure to live up to its legal obligation to protect these animals,” said Holly Gann Bice, director of government relations for the American Wild Horse Campaign. “The BLM is pursuing a mass roundup plan that will cost taxpayers $5 billion, slash wild herds to near extinction levels, and could result in the mass slaughter of these cherished animals. Today we are calling on Secretary Haaland to stop the roundups and start protecting wild horses and burros by humanely managing them in the wild using fertility control. Fifty years is long enough. The time for change is now.”

“It speaks volumes about our government’s flawed strategy and misguided priorities that the largest removal of wild horses in US history coincides with the golden anniversary of the very law meant to preserve their freedom,” said Dr. Joanna Grossman, equine program manager and senior advisor at the Animal Welfare Institute. “Contrary to the law’s mandate, America’s wild horses have faced tremendous pressure for decades from the government, ranchers, the livestock industry, state wildlife agencies, and others who do not support the protection of these iconic animals on Western rangelands.”

The BLM Wyoming Rock Springs and Rawlins field offices are removing wild horses from the Great Divide Basin, Adobe Town, Salt Wells Creek, White Mountain and Little Colorado Herd Management Areas (HMAs) in southwestern Wyoming.

The roundup concluded for the year earlier this month after collecting more than 3,100 horses — 1,398 stallions, 1,258 mares and 635 foals, according to the BLM.

A total of 16 horses have been killed during the roundup. Eight of the deaths resulted from the roundup and the other eight deaths were the result of pre-existing conditions. Two of the deaths occurred when two mares being chased by a helicopter crashed into panels in a holding pen.

BLM officials have previously noted that injuries to wild horses and burros during a roundup are rare.

“It mentions 1 out of 200 acute/sudden deaths or 0.5% is average,” BLM spokesman Brad Purdy told Cowboy State Daily at the time. “Currently on the Rock Springs gather we have 6 fatalities due to pre-existing and 6 acute/sudden. Just using the 6 acute/sudden number, we’re at 0.2%.”

Purdy said that while BLM’s intent is to keep any fatalities from happening, they do occur, albeit not often.

Purdy also encouraged anyone who has an interest in wild horses to consider adopting one (or more) once they have been rehabilitated at the Wyoming Honor Ranch in Riverton or the Mantle Training Facility in Wheatland.

“Once these animals are gentle, it’s incredible the things they can do,” he said. “That’s the best solution for both the horses and the taxpayer.”

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Wild Mares Break Necks During Wyoming Horse Roundup

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Two wild mares died Sunday during the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s wild horse roundup in the Rock Springs area, wild horse advocates announced.

The American Wild Horse Campaign said that two wild mustang mares died on Sunday after breaking their necks by crashing into panels while being chased by a helicopter.

BLM spokesman Brad Purdy confirmed the incident to Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday.

“They ran into one of the pens, lowered their heads and kind of lunged forward and broke their necks,” Purdy said. “I spoke with a contracting officer who was down there and he said the deaths were almost instantaneous, so there was really no suffering there.”

Since the roundup began in October, there have been 12 horse fatalities, six of which were due to pre-existing reasons (such as an injury or a clubbed hoof) and six of which were the result of the roundup, including the deaths of the two mares.

Purdy noted that BLM officials had to kill a horse on Monday due to a pre-existing hind leg injury.

The BLM maintains a daily “gather” report that notes how many horses were gathered during a day, how many animals were shipped and how many deaths occurred.

BLM officials have previously noted that injuries to wild horses and burros during a roundup are rare, which Purdy pointed out.

“It mentions 1 out of 200 acute/sudden deaths or 0.5% is average,” Purdy said. “Currently on the Rock Springs gather we have 6 fatalities due to pre-existing and 6 acute/sudden. Just using the 6 acute/sudden number, we’re at 0.2%.”

Purdy said that while BLM’s intent is to keep any fatalities from happening, they do occur, albeit not often.

“It’s an unfortunate situation, but when you’re dealing with wild animals, it’s unrealistic to think no fatalities will happen,” he said.

As of Sunday, BLM officials have gathered 2,478 horses (1,044 stallions, 1,001 mares and 503 foals), with the goal of rounding up 3,500 by the end of the year, if not sooner.

The BLM in Wyoming manages 16 wild horse herd areas on nearly 5 million acres.

The BLM Wyoming Rock Springs and Rawlins field offices are removing wild horses from the Great Divide Basin, Adobe Town, Salt Wells Creek, White Mountain and Little Colorado Herd Management Areas (HMAs) in southwestern Wyoming.

The American Wild Horse Campaign is threatening legal action against the BLM, as the organization is accusing BLM of unlawfully removing 59 more wild horses than authorized in its environmental assessment and decision record, it announced Monday.

AWHC is asking BLM to return that number of horses to the range to avoid legal action.

“This roundup is of great importance to the public, not only due to the sheer number of wild horses being removed but because of the continued scapegoating of this herd in favor of privately-owned livestock,” said Grace Kuhn, communications director for AWHC. “We want to send a clear message to the agency that we are watching closely and that every horse counts and matters.” 

Purdy encouraged anyone who has an interest in wild horses to consider adopting one (or more) once they have been rehabilitated at the Wyoming Honor Ranch in Riverton or the Mantle Training Facility in Wheatland.

“Once these animals are gentle, it’s incredible the things they can do,” he said. “That’s the best solution for both the horses and the taxpayer.”

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Wyoming Photographer Documents Lives & Drama Of Wild Mustangs

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

There’s a lot of drama among the wild horses on McCullough Peak and one Powell photographer has made it his passion to bring it to light through his photos and stories.

Recent activity seemed to focus on stallions proving themselves among the various bands, which professional photographer Tony Douzenis documented in several installments on his own Facebook page and the group Wyoming Through the Lens, accompanied by his stories of the animals. 

In the most recent post Sunday morning, Douzenis’ photos depicted Winchester, a chestnut stallion, waking up to start a scuffle with Osage, another dark bay stallion and head of a neighboring band or family. Typically, Osage delegates his lieutenant, Sundance, to handle his confrontations, which that morning led to a boxing match between Sundance and Winchester.

Based on Douzenis’ photographs, ‘boxing’ seems to be exactly what the two are doing, reared up on their stocky, muscular hind legs with front hooves extended, trading kicks. 

Douzenis isn’t sure what caused the scuffle, but he noted in prior postings conflict has been brewing between the various bands all week. 

Luckily, they all seemed to walk away unscathed from these skirmishes, Douzenis wrote, “once again leaving me in peace with my lovely horse families.”

Until the next time. 

Aren’t Always Fighting

When the stallions aren’t proving themselves in efforts to protect their families, there are also plenty of tender moments between brothers, colts and uncles and mares. Even the stallions show their softer sides in the extended chronicles that the Powell photographer has written for nearly a year. 

Douzenis estimates there are 170 wild horses roaming the 109,814 acres of the McCullough Peaks Wild Horse Management Area roughly 18 miles east of Cody. The herds of pintos, palominos, cremellos, buckskins, greys, bays and chestnuts that populate the landscape overseen by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in keeping with the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act passed by Congress in 1971. Throughout October, the BLM is also adopting out a number of these wild horses. 

Few public land management issues are as contentious as wild horses with clear divides between those who see the majestic animals as representative of the Wild West and livestock producers and others who consider them an expensive nuisance.

Douzenis falls squarely in the camp of those who appreciate the beauty of the wild creatures and donates a portion of the proceeds from his photo print sales to the nonprofit Friends of a Legacy (FOAL), formed by a handful of locals in 2005. FOAL’s mission is to protect the wild herds through a variety of initiatives such as preserving reservoirs and other water sources in the high desert prairie as well as other initiatives like darting mares for fertility control to lower birth rates to retain productive rangelands. 

FOAL has also taken it upon itself to name and catalogue the wild McCullough horses.

Douzenis has named a couple of the colts himself in all of his time spent watching the horses. 

He can’t help himself at this point, he admitted. He’s pretty hooked on the animals, which to him have come to take on their own distinct personalities and stories. 

“Each horse has its own personality,” he said. “They have their own world and rules. It’s quite remarkable to witness.”

Where It Came From

It’s hard to explain to people when they ask him about the genesis of some of his posts, he said. He’s so tuned into their world and rules that the stories just start to flow out of his imagination as he’s watching them, as he’s done for months. At this point, the wild horses seem to have adopted him as much as he’s become attached to them, often letting him get close with his camera and looking straight at him as he shoots.

He’s always loved wild horses, he said, and there’s something about the mystique and their way of life that he just finds beautiful and endlessly interesting.

For the past year, his outdoor photography has focused almost solely on the horses after he got hooked pretty much the first time he drove out there, a roughly 30-minute drive from his house.

“I was in awe watching them,” he said, rattling off memories of the first time he saw Tecumseh and Washakie, two of the horses who factor prominently in his stories which he is now turning into a book. “Just their raw power and untouched beauty and the way they communicate with another. I felt drawn to them and wanted to meet and follow them.”

Once he started watching them, he came to know them and gain a better insight into what their various interactions and communications mean. It became more than just photographs at that point, he said, and his curiosity grew.  

There are over a dozen different bands of horses out there, including a couple groups of bachelors who have been driven off from their families to start their own band. Some of the groups have between 50 to 70 horses, primarily consisting of a dominant stallion and his lieutenant as well as his mare and other family and offspring. 

The different groups tend to stick around the same area but keep their distance from each other, he said. He rattled off various names of horses – Splaash, Traveler, Muskagee – and described how the bands fit together. 

He goes out to McCullough Peaks three to four times a week and puts in a lot of miles with every trip as he checks in with the various herds. 

Don’t Invade Their Space

Douzenis has learned a lot from watching them, he said, particularly the interactions between the band stallions and their lieutenants and the myriad of ways they’re able to communicate their orders, as well as the rambunctious and sometimes random fights between the bachelors vying for turf or females.

Sometimes it’s just a spar with minor cuts and bruises, he noted, and he’s never seen two horses fight to the death, though he always keeps an eye on them to make sure they’re walking away intact. 

He lets them dictate how close they want him to be, and sometimes, it’s as close as 300 feet. Once, a group of bachelors greeting him at his truck as he waited for them to walk by.

“You don’t want to invade their space,” he said. “If they want me there, they show it. You can sense if they want you there or not.”

Most of the bands seem comfortable with him, but if they start to tense up in a huddle, he takes it as his cue to get lost. 

Apart from opening his imagination, they’ve taught him a lot, too. He’s got a whole new sense of the importance of peace and the ability to be present in the quiet beauty of nature and its rhythms. 

“They have their own world and life, and it’s so peaceful being out there,” he said.

It’s also taught him a lot about the nature of family and communication through their cordiality with each other and the ways in which they forgive and move on.

“You can still have arguments but be civil,” he said. “They have arguments like other families, but life goes on. They care and work together. That’s a big thing that I’ve learned. There is passion in this world and it still exists.”

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