Surprise (Week 2)

Week 2 of the Surprise Complex roundup

You can access week 1 HERE

The Surprise Complex roundup is scheduled to run through September 30th. The Calico roundup was (somehow) combined with the Surprise Complex and approved under one contract that is paid for by 2023 Appropriations (perhaps the reason why this was issued under one contract?). However, for the roundup to move to Calico on October 1, BLM employees must be present and the public must be allowed at a federal operation (the First Amendment). If there is a government shutdown, no one knows how Calico will proceed.

BLM plans to capture 494. The goal is to remove 404. BLM is targeting 3 of the 6 Herd Management Areas of the Surprise Complex (Fox Hog, High Rock and Wall Canyon).

This roundup seems so “Nevada directed” that during the last 2 days of operation, it appeared that this was a “clean up” of Buffalo Hills horses disturbed by last years roundip, Burning Man recreation and expansion of industry on the NV side. 

Nothing we have seen here represents “site-specific analysis of data for management of Surprise Complex horses.” Not the removal, the planned fertility control sledgehammer (GonaCon) or the sequence of traps…. Most of this seemed very political and the result of pressure from Nevada.

Surprise has ended.

Cumulative to date:

Capture total: 484 Wild Horses (200 Stallions, 232 Mares, and 52 Foals)
15 Wild Burros (4 Jacks, 10 Jennies, and 1 Foals)


Shipped: 392 Wild Horses (168 Stallions, 197 Mares, and 37 Foals)
15 Wild Burros (4 Jacks, 10 Jennies, and 1 Foals)  to Litchfield.

Deaths 16: BLM does not consider any of the deaths “roundup related.”  BLM explanations, not our words: A 4-year-old stallion and a 3-year-old mare were euthanized due to club feet and  poor prognosis for recovery, A 25-year-old stallion was euthanized due to poor body condition — BCS 1 — and a pre-existing leg injury. (NOTE: We had a pretty good view of horses coming and and saw no BCS-1 horses). 20-year-old mare with cancer of the eye. 3-year-old mare emaciated with poor prognosis to recover. BCS score of 2, 2-year-old stallion with a spinal deformity causing severe mobility issues.  BCS score of 3; 20-year-old mare with cancer of the eye and BCS-2; 3-year-old mare emaciated with poor prognosis to recover BCS score of 2; 2-year-old stallion with a spinal deformity causing severe mobility issues, BCS score of A six-month-old horse was euthanized due to blindness. 20-year-old stallion.  Blind, 3-year-old mare with ruptured eye socket, 3-year-old mare, severe rupture in anus area, 2-month-old foal with right leg injury and poorly fused previous bone break. 11-year-old mare with abscessed and infected left front hoof.  Horse was lame; mobility was heavily impacted. Mare over 25 years old in poor body condition (BCS 1 to 2).  No teeth and very weak. 5-year-old mare with leg injury and resulting deformity.  BCS 1. Stallion over 25 years old in poor condition with a BCS score of 2.  25 year old stallion, blind in one eye, poor condition. )

NOTE TO BLM: This is a BCS 1 horse.

When you get a call to go pick up a body score 1 horse, you bring fluids and a sling. A “1” could not run the 8-15 miles (as the crow flies) you are pushing to trap. (Iowa University resource) There may have been a handful of old “3’s,” but most are coming in at 5.

The number of cows (before fall/winter turnout) already vastly outnumbers the horses on these ranges.

BLM STOP exaggerating about the condition of wild horses before hundreds of cows go out and eat that range like locusts. Are you just trying to tug on people’s heartstrings while you keep acting like you are “rescuing horses?” (This comment is intentionally snarky.)

We hope BLM is taking photos of the horses euthanized as outlined in CAWP. We did not see any body score 1 horses as we have when called on in rescue operations.

You can access week 1 HERE

Note: We have been the only members of the public onsite for the last week.


Holding/Loading Assessment (scroll down for daily reports)

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CAWP 101: Can anyone guess (even if you have no equine knowledge at all) why this gap is a CAWP (welfare policy) violation? Can anyone guess why simple things like these are never corrected?

This is why we are back in court to create an enforceable welfare rule. BLM just can’t police itself. In fact, the lack of actual knowledge of the CAWP policy standards inside the agency remains abysmal.

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Above: No padding (or shredded padding) on overhead bars is another violation. BLM is also supposed to check all equipment for anything sharp. With the number of facial injuries (higher than normal), we doubt surfaces were checked and obviously no padding was required.

Out of the 4 things we can assess this day (because BLM allows this contractor to hang tarp and not snow fencing or transparent black netting) we see 1 compliance (a small trench dug to lower the back of trailer) and 3 noncompliance: inadequate padding, gap between chute and trailer during loading and pens where all horses cannot eat at the same time (due to inadequate distribution of feed or size of pen being too small for number of horses as we can see the number of feet in a pen).

The entrance to holding was on the “upwind” side. 1 of the drivers went even faster than the others on his approaches. All threw considerable dust that bew into holding area and it appears no one told them to slow their approach.

Our assessment of handling at holding during active capture is limited to one day sitting on the road and not in observation area. BLMs own CAWP Assessment team was not present at this operation.

On semi, heading to Litchfield corrals.

Dust continued to be a problem.


17 wild horses were captured. We believe this concludes the Surprise Complex roundup. In an extremely unusual move, BLM awarded one contract for Surprise and Calico (we presume to try to avoid any delay to a start of Calico due to a shutdown debate over the budget). BLM has yet to answer any questions as to when and where Calico will begin.

2 horses were euthanized. BLM published: “Stallion over 25 years old in poor condition with a BCS score of 2.  25 year old stallion, blind in one eye, poor condition.”

Surprise temporary holding 9/28

We continued to see facial injuries. This operation has had a higher percentage of facial injuries. It should be noted that we cannot see bodies after capture due to the use of tarps and not netting or snow fencing. BLM did not give any “walk around” and allow any viewing through the tarps.


82 Wild Horses (26 Stallions, 45 Mares, and 11 Foals). We need to point out that out if 45 mares, there are only 11 foals. BLM says this area received no fertility control. Once again, the fact that BLM did not do a census flight (but only a distribution flight) after the hard winter is really disturbing. This roundup should not have been a priority for an agency that claims some herds are insanely overpopulated. 

BLM is just hitting the “off Herd Management Area” horses; the horses they say they are mandated to remove. This is where the operation should have begun if BLM were running this operation based on data and underlying law for this herd. Instead, apparently this operation was run in a manner to create a disturbance on the CA (managed) side to drive horses to the NV side where they could be captured in the Calico complex operation. We think the switch to GonaCon is coming under Nevada and DC politics, not any data coming from the ground for this herd as well.

It was really windy and dusty. Wild horses were covered in it and breathing it. No, this is not anything they are acclimated to. Wild horses would move from this kind of disturbance if they could. The soil is heavy alkaline and burns. Horses are nasal obligant breathers (only through the nose) and this kind of dust can damage sinus and lungs. Yes, it could hurt the wranglers as well. But horses are our responsibility, BLM should be worrying about people. (We have always wondered how many wranglers succumb to a lung or sinus issue?)

This mare, with lips caked with dust, was afraid to step out of the trailer even though she could hear her foal calling to her and she kept calling back. She was given additional time inside trailer with doors open as crew was already sorting other horses in alley… including her foal.

An estimated 70-80 were captured and at least two semi loads went to Litchfield (about 70).

We are working on our count and waiting for BLM official count.

Above: The large group is cows. The few going into the draw are the horses the chopper just pushed through the cows, into the draw and toward the trap. The number of cows on these ranges, even before fall/winter turnout has even happened, already vastly outnumber wild horses. More cows are already in this valley than horses BLM removed. In a couple of weeks, you won’t be able to drive through this area without fear of hitting a cow on almost every single road.


BLM is running this operation like a “zero out.” Single horses are being pursued. Stallions that escape are being pursued, roped and brought in.

Above: On the drive in, this stallion tried to draw the chopper off his band, races back to try to protect his band and is captured.

Above: The stallion jumps from holding trapping a rear leg (while absurdly being flagged; he can’t go in reverse). He is pursued and roped. Then it looks like a rear leg is roped and another under tail or abdomen… and is brought in as he continues to fight for freedom.

REMINDER: THIS IS NOT A ZERO OUT AND THERE WAS NO REASON TO GO THROUGH ALL OF THIS FOR A STALLION THAT IS NOT GETTING A FERTILITY CONTROL VACCINE. They could have “subtracted one” from the release numbers… unless the goal is to zero this herd by creating a sterile mare only population? (When the lifespan of an animal is 18-24 years, and you give GonaCon to mares 13 and older for a release, you have essentially sterilized a herd and destroyed any pretense of natural behavior and increased tension in any band structure.)

Everyone should also understand BLM did no new census flight after winter and fertility control already onboard. They did a distribution flight to determine where to send the chopper. They DO NOT KNOW how many horses are in these HMAs.

Above: 2 more solos were brought in.

An additional solo was also pursued.

Winds blasted a 34 mph gust after the second run of the day. However, operations continued. We know there is a rush and an additional trap is on target before the operation concludes (just before a potential government shutdown).

WE are DEEPLY concerned about ongoing operations here and at Desatoya.

Both of these operations are what BLM is calling “maintenance of AML” and “expansion of fertility control” (a term that has become manipulated to mean “damage the herd to the point BLM may not need to remove a horse for 2 or 3 decades.) At both Desatoya and Surprise BLM has already done large roundups and PZP-22 to slow population growth. BLM plans to switch to GonaCon when the current method is just proving effective. We wish BLM would raise forage allocation and AML and all the rest… but at the very least, please do not use GonaCon when these herds do not need it.

Switching to GonaCon is a politically driven move and is NOT in any way a “data-based” decision… not by any pretense or manipulation of existing data is a move to GonaCon supported. 

We are working on a long-form article with an ACTION item and will publish later this afternoon.


You can see the wild ones running on the top of a far rise along barbed wire fencing.

Yesterday, Red Flag (fire danger) warnings were issued due to high winds that could impact this area from 2 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The first run was a long one. In our view wild horses looped from the mountains to the valley and back again, running at least 8 miles total (in our view). We could see the pilot already having to work to keep the helicopter steady as winds were sustained at about 8 mph and gusts reached about 22 mph. (handheld equipment at observation location). The first run brought in 13 horses (including a youngster).

Throughout this operation we have noticed that this pilot (who is “in training”) often flies disturbing close to the horses, particularly during approach to trap. He also has a habit of hovering, keeping pressure on the horses, when ground crew is supposed to take over as pressure and even after gates are closed.

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The second run brought in 4 wild horses including the youngster above. Winds hit about 14 sustained and gusts up to 28 mph.

Note: We are using handheld equipment at observation. BLM took note of a website and a cell tower nearby. At Antelope we were using the weather station calculations and the NOAA website and BLM said that was not acceptable in that instance. Sometimes it seems hard to tell what type of measurement we are required to use in order to be “acceptable.”

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A trailer carrying 4 saddle horses went overland into the draw the pilot had pushed horses through during run 1. After run 2, the trailer returned and a wild horse appeared to be in the front compartment. Even though we had asked about “why” they went out, we received a vague answer. No additional details on the event were provided by BLM after the trailer returned.

The final run brought in 3 horses while sustained winds were over 16 mph and gusts exceeded 30 mph.

Operations were finally called due to wind at around 11:30 a.m.

Our wild ones should live free on the range with the families they hold dear. Our wild ones should also live without abuse. WHE carries ongoing litigation to force BLM into open public process to create an enforceable welfare standard for our treasured wild ones. 

Thank you for keeping us in the fight!


2023 Summer/Fall roundup reports


Antelope Complex (north and south)

Black Mountain, Hardtrigger, Sands Basin

Devils Garden (USFS)



Categories: Lead, Wild Horse Education