Sand Wash Basin Wild Horses: Displaced Priorities by the BLM?

By Amy Hefestay | CAP Board Member

Photo A: Two young stallions in the Sand Wash Basin herd, July 2021

I have been fascinated with horses for most of my life and I know I am not alone. If you ask people to describe something about Colorado or the “wild west,” many will mention Wild Mustang Horses. What you might not know is the wild horses in the iconic North West Colorado herd located in the Sand Wash Basin Herd Management Area (HMA) are in danger of losing their freedom.

A ripple of fear and horror went through the wild horse community when The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), that manages the Sand Wash Basin wild horses, announced on August 2nd that 733 horses would be removed in a helicopter roundup, leaving the BLM’s minimum Appropriate Management Level (AML) herd size of 163 horses.

The roundup will start Wednesday, September 1st. The BLM states that the herd is endangered from reduced resources, although all are healthy and have ample water and forage. Far from the herd being in an emergency situation, it is easy to see they are healthy and have high rated body condition. The photo above of young stallions Kamaro and Avatar was taken on July 29, 2021

Despite the short notice (announcement on August 2nd and roundup starting on September 1st), valiant grass roots efforts to stop or reduce the number of horses to be taken in the roundup have failed as of this writing.

The urgency of the roundup is not clear, but there is a good chance that the BLM has been influenced by the Oil and Gas lobby to gain access to the land and/or pressure has been applied from the local ranchers and Cattleman’s Association to issue more grazing permits in the Herd Management Area.

The inhumane helicopter roundup will start on September 1st and is planned to take two weeks to complete. At this point the Sand Wash Basin horses are unaware of the disaster coming their way. The BLM’s own documentation states that a helicopter roundup results in the deaths of 1.1% of the horses in the roundup, so we should expect 8 horses to traumatically and unnecessarily lose their lives. The helicopter chase causes young horses to be trampled, horses to run into fencing causing cuts and broken bones, and the prolonged chase can lead horses to literally run to death.

Photo B: Wild horses in captivity after the roundup

After the roundup, the horses will be separated into groups of mares, mares with foals, and stallions. Each group will be packed into temporary corrals. They will then be trucked to BLM holding pens, in Canon City, and the survivors may go up for adoption sometime next year. After many months of confined captivity many of these horses eventually end up slaughtered in Canada or Mexico for food.

Photo C: Meteor and Midnight Blue on the call to action Facebook post

SWAT and the wild horse community have jumped into action and called Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, local BLM representative Stephen Leonard, Federal Interior Secretary Debra Haaland and Governor Jared Polis to request that the BLM remove the “emergency” designation, which would reduce the roundup numbers, stop the inhumane use of helicopters, and use bait-traps instead. Bait trapping utilizes temporary enclosures set up with food and water, and when the horses enter the confined space the gates are closed behind them—a far less traumatic and physically dangerous way to capture.

All of this effort has not changed the planned roundup on September 1-14.

Colorado citizens who value our iconic wild horses need to continue to call their representatives and the officials mentioned above and make our voices heard. Respectfully requesting our lawmakers to demand the BLM drop the emergency roundup and halt the inhumane use of helicopters are the major points to emphasize.

Additional opportunities to get the word out and make a difference must be executed this week:

  1. Senator Hickenlooper’s virtual town hall meeting on Monday Aug 30 at 7:30 pm MDT (Town Hall » Senator John Hickenlooper ( Submit a question at…/1FAIpQLSe4nwOsejpeGR…/viewform
  2. Attend the rally on Tuesday August 31 from 4:30 to 6:30 on the west lawn and on the steps of the capital in Denver (Events – MARR PLAN—See below)
  3. Place a call for action to all your friends on social media and join us!

Photo D: Juliette with her filly Gabriella and Abigail in the background

Colorado’s Wild horses in the Sand Wash Basin herd are still in danger of losing their freedom, and some will lose their lives.


Recent history explains how the BLM arrived at their strategic plan for horses and burros which they presented to the Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources. This committee has oversight of the BLM (a Report to Congress: An Analysis of Achieving a Sustainable Wild Horse and Burro Program). In the BLM document the plan proposed to drastically reduce the herd size immediately to the minimum Appropriate Management Level (AML).

The AML for the Sand Wash Basin herd is 163 horses. There are currently 896 horses. That means that 733 horses are to be removed!

The new BLM plan also includes the proposal of traumatically invasive placement of IUDs (intrauterine devices) in the wild mares. If approved, the insertion of IUDs would require trapping and sedation for implantation, which would result in physical and emotional trauma to animals that have never been touched by a human. IUDs would supposedly support a ten year BLM plan that, in theory, would result in the herd population stabilizing at the high end of their AML–362 horses. There does not seem to be an awareness or concern about IUD devices causing injury or other side effects. Human experience with IUDs provides documentation that complications like uterine perforation occurs, but in wild horses, what diagnosis or remedy would be possible? (see

The Sand Wash Advocate Team (SWAT), in a partnership with the BLM, has historically administered fertility controlling treatments to mares in the herd since 2014. SWAT opposes the use of the more invasive IUD method and supports the currently used PZP fertility controlling hormones currently being administered using a dart shot from a distance so that no physical capture and stressful manhandling is required.

SWAT disputes the very low AML levels defined by the BLM. The land currently supports the existing herd of 896 horses PLUS thousands of sheep that ranchers have placed in BLM leased land in the Sand Wash Basin HMA public land. The ability of the land to provide enough forage is negatively impacted by the presence of sheep who take the roots as well as the above-ground plants—compared to the non-destructive foraging characteristics of horses. This habitat destruction by sheep in the HMA also impacts the other wild animals who call the HMA home, like deer and elk.

Photo E: Horses have to compete in the Sand Wash Basin HMA for water and forage with sheep

If the BLM has concerns about the ability of the land to support the horse herd exclusively, then a logical option would be to cancel the livestock leases so all of the resources in the HMA would be available to the horses. Wild horse advocates demand that the BLM adopt an alternate plan like the MARR Plan, (Marr Plan – MARR PLAN ) which is summarized below. Discussion is planned as part of the rally on the Denver Capitol steps August 31st.

The MARR Plan does not decimate the herd and contains a fiscal benefit when helicopters and the cost of maintaining the horses in captivity is no longer needed. The lost revenue from livestock grazing leases (approximately $1.35 per head to free range on the HMA land) could be replaced by the money saved in the costs of roundups, capture, and holding hundreds of horses—who then become dependent of humans for survival.

Photo F: Summary of the proposed Marr Plan for the wild horse management

Now is the time to make a difference in the lives of Colorado’s wild horses. Let your voice be heard by contacting your state representatives!

Photo G: Stallions Meteor, Coronado, War Horse and Astro, taken Sept 2020

Don’t let this image be all that’s left of our wild horses, they deserve to remain wild and free

References, Resources & Photo Credits:

Sand Wash Basin Wild Horse Advocate Team:

Stop Wild Horse Roundups Coalition:

The Cloud Foundation:


Photo A: By Kathy Simpson, Photographer (used with permission of the SWAT Facebook page)

Photo B: Courtesy of Anthony Marr

Photo C: By Scott Wilson, Photographer ( (used with permission of the SWAT Facebook page)

Photo D: By Kathy Simpson, Photographer (used with permission of the SWAT Facebook page)

Photo E: By Meg Frederick, Photographer, used with permission

Photo F: Courtesy of Anthony Marr

Photo G: By Kathy Simpson, Photographer (used with permission of the SWAT Facebook page)


Posted in
Sunny Weber

Sunny Weber

Author, Speaker, Behaviorist

Sunny Weber, CAP Board of Directors, is an award-winning author of multiple books for both Children and Adults, available in stores and on Amazon. See more on her website: