In October, my husband and I traveled to Alturas CA to watch a day of the Devil’s Garden wild horse herd gather. There are so many opinions about the wild horse gathers floating around out there. I’m not one to take anyone’s word for things, I had to see it for myself.
Because of the sue-happy nature of our society, the government has some major CYA going on. They don’t let you get close enough to really see much of anything. I thought I was going to see the gorgeous horses running in with a helicopter on their heels. Instead, I saw ears bobbing behind a jute barrier. I had a big ol’ lens on my camera to get as close as I did in the video. I also thought that I would be able to see all of the horses in holding after the gather, but when we arrived at the holding corrals, the fences were covered in orange construction barrier and we weren’t allowed to get any closer than ten feet away from the corral fence. I was so disappointed I understand why it has to be that way, and it makes me sad. The few extremists have ruined it for all of us horse lovers. There were literally armed guards complete with bulletproof vests and automatic rifles patrolling the holding corrals. They followed the tour group closely and were frankly rather intimidating. The Forest Service employees told us that the Forest Service had received multiple threats of violence regarding this gather. Some members of an extremist animal rights group even went so far as to give out personal phone numbers of Forest Service employees on the internet. One employee told us that he had someone threaten to come to his house and harm his children! It’s sad to me that people would rather see these horses die of starvation and disease than be gathered and given the chance to have a good home. The native grasses on the range land were dead due to overgrazing and an invasive grass has taken over that is not palatable to the horses. They showed us where the horses had tried to eat the invasive grass and then spit it back out. I wish I had gotten video of that and the giant dug up places where the horses were digging and licking the dirt but there just wasn’t time. Many of the mares were very undernourished. It was clear to me that the range out there can’t support as many horses as it has been. Unfortunately, due to lawsuits, the government hasn’t been able to gather this herd for several years. Now the rangeland will never be the same. People who thought they were doing what was best for the horses by preventing gathers have actually made things much worse for them.
The gather was carefully scheduled for a time when there were no young foals on the ground, and the weather was cool enough for the horses to travel in. The helicopter pilot brought the horses in at a trot. Only at the funnel did he have to put more pressure on them to push them through. I thought they worked them a lot like most people work cattle when they were sorting them for travel. The natural horseman in me would have liked them to go a little slower and easier. ( I work cattle slow and easy too). By no means were the horses abused though. They loaded all the foals separately so that they wouldn’t be injured during transport. The contractor gave a tour of the trap and explained the whole process to us which was nice.
We got into town a little early the day before the gather so we decided to head out onto the range to see if we could find some ponies in the wild. I hate to admit this, but prior to going, I spent hours scouring satellite footage to find out where the horses hung out. Once I figured out what to look for, it wasn’t that hard. They don’t like to drink out of the big reservoirs, they like the smaller watering holes. You can also see the heavily traveled horse trails from space easily :-). The roads out there are rough! Don’t try to go out there without four-wheel-drive. We headed out in the late afternoon. Once we started seeing tracks and piles of road apples I started jumping out of my seat with excitement. My husband was laughing at me. Not much farther up the road, we caught our first glimpse of some horses, but they heard our car and took off so we decided to keep going up the road. We went up to a reservoir and saw two bachelor stallions. I tried to get photos of them but they were quickly on the move and the trees made it hard for the camera to know where to focus. The road ended at the reservoir so we decided to go back and try to find the first band we’d come across. As we headed back we spotted them way off in the distance across a reservoir. We parked a ways off and proceeded on foot. We stayed upwind and quiet and we were able to get pretty close to them by sneaking from Juniper tree to Juniper tree. We stayed undetected for quite a while, then the head stallion heard the camera shutter clicking and came over to investigate. The whole experience was so exhilarating! It was also a bit terrifying. He made it clear that he thought we were a threat so I had a tree picked out to climb if need be. The tree was unnecessary. We stayed still and he calmed down and just stood there facing us until his herd gathered behind him. Then the lead mare said it was time to go and they took off.
I hope you enjoy the video that my husband and I put together. Happy Trails.