Owyhee Complex wild horses

Wild horses of the Snowstorm HMA in the Owyhee Complex take a drink in the summer heat

Wild horses of the Snowstorm HMA in the Owyhee Complex take a drink in the summer heat. BLM planned to remove horses from this area and after litigation was filed, canceled the operation.

This page is a feature designed to HIGHLIGHT the young wild horses from the OWYHEE COMPLEX available NOW on the BLM INTERNET ADOPTION. Click on the text to go to the BLM page! you can then see them side by side with our report on Owyhee and see the horses during capture and in holding!

The Owyhee Complex includes five Herd Management Areas (HMAs), Little Humboldt, Little Owyhee, Owyhee, Rock Creek and Snowstorm. The BLM manages this area as a “Complex.” The gather area is located within Elko and Humboldt Counties. The Owyhee, Rock Creek and Little Humboldt HMAs are administered by the Elko District (Tuscarora Field Office). The Little Owyhee and the Snowstorm HMAs are administered by the Winnemucca District, (Humboldt River Field Office).

Young filly heads to water  at Snowstorm (Owyhee)

Young filly heads to water at Snowstorm (Owyhee)

The Complex covers more than 1 million acres. The Complex is utilized heavily by the livestock industry and mining projects continue to expand.

The roundup operation that resulted in the capture of the wild horses featured on the current BLM Internet adoption took place in winter 2012/2013. This operation resulted in horrific conduct that “rounded up” not only wild horses, but a lawsuit against the agency that is one of our active cases.

If you are interested in viewing the controversy of the roundup prior to 2012 and the “Roadblock in the Desert,” that spurred our First Amendment fight, go to this link HERE>>> http://wildhorseeducation.org/2012/11/26/almost-200000-miles-ago-owyhee-then-and-now/

The “two year olds” from the Owyhee Complex that are currently featured online are identified by a “tag number.” But each horse is so much more than the info provided on the BLM internet adoption page.

These “two year olds” featured for adoption will turn two years old in 2014. An equine industry practice is that January first is considered a horses birthdate if the date is unknown and for purposes of competition “age classes” are designated as all horses that will turn a specified age that year (a class of “three year olds”).  Yet none of that changes the fact that they were captured during their first year of life. Some of them were just a couple of months old.

Wild horses in the Owyhee Complex live as the majority of wild horses do on our public lands. A “herd” is the term used to describe all of the wild horses that exist in an area. A herd consists of multiple family bands and bands of “bachelor” stallions. A “family band” is a strongly bonded group led by the band stallion and lead mare. Bachelor bands consist of young stallions that were forced out of each family at breeding age and older stallions that, for one reason or another, do not have a “harem” of mares.

The method of capture at the Owyhee Complex was done in the most common fashion the BLM utilizes. It begins with the use of helicopter to stampede the horses into a trap. This is the most commonly utilized capture method. Bands are run either separately, or more commonly combined with other bands, into a trap. The trap consists of a “funnel” made of uncapped t-posts with jute (a loose burlap) that leads to a series of steel panels sections.From there they are loaded and taken to a “temporary” corral where they are sorted by sex for transport to a “short term holding facility.” At the holding facilities they are vaccinated and branded. Either a wild horse or burro will be classified as “adoption” or “sale.” There is a huge distinction and you can read about “sale authority here.”

Conduct by the BLM and contracted staff can vary greatly from operation to operation. Access to document the condition of animals during and after capture can also vary from difficult to next to impossible. An actual humane handling policy does not exist and conduct is left to the discretion of the people onsite.

The operation prior to this one in the Winnemucca district our legal action at Jackson Mountain  as the agency ran newborn foals in June using a claim of drought unjustified area wide (we won). And just a year prior a roundup involving the Elko district garnered itself the first Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction in history to inappropriate conduct issues at Triple B (also our founder Laura Leigh’s case).

BLM’s lack of a real policy found us back in court at Owyhee. In that case we have again won strong language against abuse (case still active to unjustified removals). Some of the “restrained activities” include: running horses into barbed wired, excessive hotshot use including on foals and running bands so that foals can not keep up.

This roundup was hard on all of the wild horses. Yet the foals always suffer the most after they are pushed to their physical limits during capture and then torn from their families. We published much on the Owyhee roundup and the images are available elsewhere on this website. The gallery below focuses on the images we could actually capture involving the foals and some of the youngsters offered in the adoption event.

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The Owyhee wild horses were then transferred to the BLM “short-term” holding facility Palomino Valley Center north of Reno, Nevada. “Short term” for the wild horses currently listed for the Internet adoption event has literally been the majority of their lives.

As BLM has no standard handling policy for roundups they also have no policy for facilities. Handling and conditions can vary greatly from facility to facility. Access to assess conditions can also vary from adequate to completely non-existant. Palomino Valley Center is the largest short term facility open to the public and in comparison to some other facilities is actually one of the best. However the lack of a National policy that includes issues with provide things like shelter from the elements (a requirement for adoption) and a lack standard infectious disease protocol found Palomino Valley “center stage” of a huge public outcry during a heatwave last summer. We wrote extensively about it on our blog at this link HERE>>> http://wheblog.wordpress.com/2013/07/11/big-picture-palomino-valley-center/

As these youngsters grew up we spent considerable time monitoring them at the facility. Some of the pictures can be seen in the slideshow below. We literally have thousands upon thousands of images and hours and hours of video.

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After capture the vast majority of youngsters were weaned (removed from their mothers) at the trap. The younger foals were reunited with their mothers at the short term facility. However most were weaned in about 30 days after transport. Moms were then shipped off, many marked as sale authority.

In holding these wild horse babies build friendhips. They bond with one or two others and will be found together time after time during. However these bonds are not noted by the BLM for adoption.

9646, 9992 (both Owyhee) and 8459 (Jackson Mountain) facebook "chatting" from the Internet adoption gelding pen at PVC

Internet Adoption geldings facebook “chatting” from the Internet adoption gelding pen at PVC

If you decide to adopt one of these horses please be aware of “who” they are and all they have already been through in their short lives. Take a moment to appreciate their adaptability. Take a moment to appreciate the things that might scare them and the things that might make them feel safe (like a companion).

Adopting a wild horse or burro can be a treasured experience in your life. They can be the greatest teacher you will ever know.


Wild Horse Education is devoted to gaining protection for our wild horses and burros from abuse, slaughter and extinction. Through education and participation (and litigation if needed) we strive toward those goals.