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Wind River Wild Horse Sanctuary

When I researched “Things to do in Jackson Hole, Wyoming” Wind River Wild Horse Sanctuary was one of the suggestions. To be sure, since it is 3 hours from Jackson Hole, it isn’t exactly a convenient suggestion. But it just so happened to be right on our route home, so we stopped. The article linked above contains more information than the Wind River Sanctuary website itself!

Contrary to the many species that become extinct every year, wild horses are moving in the opposite direction. Their numbers are increasing dramatically, even though Mustang adoptions are on the rise.

These two paragraphs really sum up the situation:

But the problem is the number of horses that need to be removed exceeds the demand for horses cared for through adoptions,” says Paul McGuire, an outreach specialist for the BLM’s National Wild Horse & Burro Program. “And that means we need to find humane ways to care for them off the range.”

And that’s not cheap. A staggering $50 million of the program’s budget goes to taking care of off-range wild horses and burros every year. The remaining $31 million is used to manage those still on the range. The good news is the number of people adopting wild horses is increasing from 3,100 in 2016 to 7,104 in 2019. That’s more than a 100 percent increase. The bad news is that it’s just a drop in the bucket.

Tori Peglar

The facility we visited is one solution to this growing problem. Public or private ranches contract with the BLM to manage a specified number of horses. Wind River Sanctuary is approved for 250 horses. They try and keep their number more around 225. All of their horses are geldings.

The “Old Man” as mentioned in the article is the black gelding 0376 whose photo is below. He is the oldest horse in the herd. He has a swollen left rear fetlock but seems to move around without difficulty.

We were given a tour by Jess, who is the son of Denise and Dwayne Oldham. Denise is Navajo, even though the Indian Reservation where the farm exists was created for Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes. Dwayne’s ancestors settled in the area after the Civil War in the 1860s. Dwayne is a veterinarian.

By and large, the horses living out their lives on the Oldham ranch are “failed adoptions”. Jess told us that they were “three strikes and you’re out” geldings!

Management of this herd is very basic. The Oldhams use a dewormer in a mineral block form. Feet are only trimmed if there is a problem that must be addressed. Occasionally, a horse will be found dead with no obvious cause. Other than reporting the incident to the BLM, nothing else is required. Many horses have “dreadlock” manes or tails, or both.

Jess told us that supporting BLM horses is much like fostering children… if you expect to make a lot of money while still caring appropriately for your charges, forget it! This year, hay prices are high, and yet there is no increase in payment from the BLM. The farm is visited by a representative of the BLM on a quarterly basis to check on the welfare of the animals.

The herd density per acre was high at the time of our visit. The Oldhams are doing some construction and there were 60 horses on 40 acres. A week after our visit they were being moved to 80 acres. As you can see from the photos, the horses were venturing into the swampy areas to access the tall, lush grass!

One of the photos below demonstrates the neck freeze brand that is applied when the horse is adopted. All BLM horses have the left hip number freeze brand, indicating when they were initially captured.

Visitors can learn about the role of the horse in Native American culture by viewing the photographs and historical accounts displayed in the sanctuary’s shop. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time to do that.

wild horse

Jess educated us a bit about Native American land ownership. He explained that several generations ago when the reservation was created, Native Americans were given a plot of land per person. Now, several generations later, that individual has grown into a family including many children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren… all with a partial claim to that piece of land. Some of those descendants may not even be aware that they own a piece of that land.

I recently saw a newscast about this very issue. It isn’t just Native Americans affected, but many African Americans as well. Jess explained that because moving real estate is incredibly challenging given the many landowners, the reservation takes charge of the land on behalf of the heirs.

Colorado evening news has had several stories lately about the roundup of wild horses in our state. It is a politically charged debate…

I hope you enjoy checking out these beautiful horses!

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