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Nevada’s Tuscarora wild horse gather: the rest of the story

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Pendleton, Ore. – “It started out as a maintenance gather, but once they got out there they found out the water holes were dry,” said Boyd Spratling to the Public Lands Council meeting in Pendleton, Ore. on Sept. 13.
Spratling is a member of the Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board, and is also a vet from Elko County, Nev. He updated the group on the information the Advisory Board has gathered about the future of the wild horse and burro program in the U.S., as well as the real story behind Nevada’s Tuscarora gather that made such negative national headlines in June.
“It quickly became an emergency gather, but then it went to court and was delayed when there was no water out there for the horses. The delays by both the advocates for the horses and the legal system killed horses,” said Spratling of what occured during the days the gather was put on hold. “If they’re true horse advocates, they wouldn’t tolerate that kind of inhumane treatment.”
He said if the contractors and the BLM hadn’t used adaptive management to haul water to the horses while the case was in court, there would have been a major catastrophe with hundreds of horses dead on the allotment.
“There were 400 to 500 in a bunch when the water ran out – usually they’re scattered in bunches of 10 to 15. The pasture is 75 by 25 miles in the complex, and in the water holes the best you could hope for was a wet hoof in the mud,” he explained. “There were dead horses around the water holes and in the mud. The lactating mares and foals were dropping off first.”
Spratling said the big bunch that came into the corrals was the one that caused the controversy. “They came in and tanked up on water. When a horse is dehydrated and drinks a lot, they get swelling in the brain and end up with water intoxication, or salt poisoning. There were horses dropping from dehydration and water intoxication.”
Spratling said the gather had to be in July, as “adovates” won’t allow gathers during foaling season, but then say that it’s too hot to gather. “No matter what we do, they attack,” he said.
The northeast border of the pasture is a river with rimrocks, which the horses cannot cross except where a pipeline goes through and the rimrocks have been cut away. “It’s a straight slide, one horse wide, into the river,” he explained. “The bands would come, and the strong studs and mares would go to drink and come back up and take the rest of the horses that had just been milling around up top the whole time. They’d go back out on the range, and those wouldn’t get a drink.”
Spratling said there were also fishermen camped at that trail along the river, which had prevented even the strong horses from watering for three days. Also, 30 head had crossed to the other side and gotten stuck, and they couldn’t come down because of the fishermen and they couldn’t go up. “The contractor landed the helicopter and crawled down and pushed the horses to the river and across to get them out, but he’s being billed as a ‘horse killer.’ Two were left behind with broken legs from the rimrocks.”
While the case was in court, the BLM attempted to provide water at a major water hole in the pasture. It was dry and hot, and the first tanker of water dumped only created a little mudhole. The agency tried putting troughs out to hold water, but the horses wouldn’t use them. “We had trip after trip of tanker trucks to fill the pond,” said Spratling. “If they hadn’t done that, literally hundreds of horses would have died, so we need to credit the BLM for dealing with the situation.”
Once the gather was allowed to move forward, a fenceline hung with jute was set up to guide the horses into the trap, as usual. Anything left behind in the gather is marked with a GPS coordinate so the riders can go out and bring in the horse or foal, either by walking it in or trailering.
Christy Hemken is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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