FORT COLLINS, Colo. — It might be hard to imagine, but just a few months ago, the gentle giants at the Wild Rose Mustang Advocacy Group horse boarding stable in Fort Collins were wild animals.
“This is Sparkle,” said horse advocate and wild horse sponsor Teri "West" Hall. “She’s a mustang from the Desatoya Mountain Range in Nevada.”
Hall and others are working tirelessly to give wild horses a second chance at life after they are rounded-up and held in captivity by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
“Personally, I’ve worked with close to 100 [wild horses] myself,” said Cayla Stone, the head trainer at the Wild Rose Mustang Advocacy Group.
Wild Rose trainers work to break, or "gentle," wild horses that have been rounded-up.
“We’ve grown pretty hugely, a little bit more than we expected,” Stone said.
Wild Rose was founded back in 2018.
“The best way we can help is just getting these guys adopted in the private sector,” Stone said of the mustangs she is training.
The BLM roundups made national headlines two weeks ago after several horses in captivity at a holding facility near Cañon City died — victims of an equine flu outbreak that has now killed nearly 130 horses and counting.
The issue obviously struck a nerve. Denver7’s e-mail flooded with expressions of outrage, like a note from Scott Wilson who said the deaths were, "tragic evidence of a broken system."
“I’m disgusted with Cañon City because the horses have been there for months and not vaccinated,” Hall said.
Horse advocates like Hall and others believe the roundups are inhumane. One viewer called the roundups and holding facilities "taxpayer funded animal cruelty."
Advocates say holding horses in captivity is dangerous and deadly to these icons of the American West.
“They are the American West,” Hall said. “There’s nothing more beautiful than seeing a herd of wild horses running across the landscape.”
But the BLM says the horses breed too quickly and roundups are necessary to cull the herds which simply get too big — often overpopulating and overgrazing public lands. Others argue livestock from ranches, like sheep and cattle, are overgrazing, not the wild horses.
Stone says she understands the dilemma for the BLM, but also says there must be more urgency on the BLM’s part after the roundups to work with nonprofit training facilities like Wild Rose.
“Where we can help is getting these horses adopted,” Stone said. “So they’re not all sitting in holding facilities.”
These mustangs are proof they can be gentled, and advocates say the vast majority of wild horses can be trained.
“The mustangs, in particular, being bred with natural selection for so long, it’s the toughest, smartest horse I’ve ever worked with, and I’ve been working with horses for 50 years,” Hall said.
“If we can show people that these are just as good as other horses, that can be a way to kind of control this,” Stone said.
“It was all positive re-enforcement and it was all mustangs and they all turned out wonderful,” Hall said of the work Wild Rose is doing.