Roundup Report: Sand Wash Basin Wild Horses, Sept 2021

The Sand Wash Basin Herd Management Area (HMA) is made up of 157,730 acres in Colorado. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) currently estimates there are 896 wild horses, including the 2021 foals. However, the BLM’s unscientifically low Appropriate Management Level (AML) for the HMA – the number of horses the agency claims that the range can sustainably support in conjunction with other animals and resource uses – is 163-362 horses. 

While the BLM notes that there is currently not enough forage and water in the HMA to sustain the wild horse population, at the same time the BLM continues to authorize thousands of sheep to graze in the HMA. 

It is time for the BLM to manage wild horse habitat for the wild horses. 

This roundup will cost the taxpayers $289,000 to just round up these 783 beloved horses from inside and outside the HMA. Of that, only 50 are planned for a return to the HMA, so the removal will also bring along with it the lifetime cost of approximately $36,650,000 million to house the remaining 733 horses for the remainder of their lives in government holding corrals. The contractor for this roundup is Troy Cattoor.

On top of that, the taxpayer foots the bill for federally subsidized livestock grazing on public lands as well. The federal grazing fee remains at its historic low of $1.35 per animal per month. That’s a steep discount, thanks to the taxpayer subsidies that prop up this federal entitlement program. (Estimates indicate that the overall cost to taxpayers for the federal grazing program could be as much as $500 million annually.

AWHC is working with the local advocacy group SWAT and our representative is on the ground to shed light on the BLM’s action.



September 12, 2021: 49 wild horses were released back to the SWB.

The release of 49 captured Sand Wash Basin wild horses took place today.. This brings the total net removals from within the HMA to 479, down from the original removal target of 633, thanks to the outpouring of public concern and the intervention of Governor Jared Polis. Huge thanks to the Sand Wash Basin Wild Horse Advocate Team - SWAT for their unfailing dedication to protecting these magnificent wild horses. AWHC has so much respect and gratitude for their work.

Photos by Carol Walker, on site for AWHC.

September 10, 2021: 18 wild horses outside of the HMA were captured today. 

From photographer Carol Walker who is onsite:

"We met the BLM caravan again in Maybell for the roundup. The BLM has said that they may be continuing to roundup and remove wild horses from outside of Sand Wash Basin tomorrow even though they are releasing the 50 horses tomorrow back into the HMA.

These were horses just outside of Sand Wash and at least one of the two families brought in had names - stallion named Flint. This first family had 4 foals, 14 horses has probably been here for a very long time. They looked really good and did not want to move - the helicopter spent quite a while working them to get them into the trap. At one point they started coming toward us but were finally driven into the trap. The foals kept up because the trap was not that far away.

They did another run and another family I think of 11 with an older pure white stallion and a bay stallion who turned and tried snaking his family away from the helicopter. It made me wonder if he had been through the helicopter roundup in 2008. But finally, they headed toward the trap and were pushed on. Last, there was a line gray stallion who got driven in by himself. It is a beautiful spot with a river nearby. None of these horses will be released because they were captured outside the HMA. The Moffat County commissioners were here today to observe. The advocates this morning were telling the Commissioners that they and hundreds of other photographers across the country and overseas will never again spend a dime in their county. So BLM continues rounding up wild horses outside Sand Wash Basin tomorrow and you have to pick going to that or to the release of 25 mares and 25 stallions back into the Basin.

There was yet another 6 month old foal showing up at temporary holding with a stallion - the Cattoors could not catch him/her so I hope they stay with the stallion and survives the winter."


September 9, 2021: 23 wild horses from outside of the HMA were captured today. 

The Sand Wash Basin roundup is not over. While the BLM has ceased removing horses from within the HMA, the helicopters are still capturing wild horses from outside of the boundaries of the HMA.  

From photographer Carol Walker who is onsite:

"We met the BLM caravan in Maybell for the last day of rounding up wild horses using a helicopter outside of the Sand Wash Basin HMA. 

These horses had a much easier time than those inside the Basin did because the trap was set up near them, so they didn’t have to run approximately 10+ miles (estimated distance) to exhaustion, with foals unable to keep up and losing their mothers. There should have been at least three different trap locations inside Sand Wash Basin to prevent this happening there but because of the laziness and determination to get it done as soon as possible by the contractor the Cattoors and the supreme indifference and lack of concern for the welfare of the wild horses by the Colorado BLM who has oversight over the contractor, this was not done. 

I also want to give a huge shout-out to Nadja Rider and Meg Frederick who have been here for the entire roundup, doing the bitterly sad work of bearing witness to their dear wild horse friends losing their freedom forever. You are my heroes!"

September 8, 2021: 107 wild horses were captured and there was 1 death. 

From photographer Carol Walker who is onsite:

"The BLM meeting spot was in Maybell, CO for the Sand Wash roundup today. We were told that they would be bringing in horses from 46 and out of the area, opening the gates overnight. 

When we arrived on the hill at the observation area in Sand Wash Basin the helicopters had already brought 25 horses in. Then they went back put and got a small group, then had two helicopters bring in off 48 a big group including Michaelangelo the last remaining grandson of Picasso. 

The helicopters went out again there was rearing in the pens and a horse went down. Where the horses come in is so narrow and tight. Probably about 55 horses were brought in. Shortly after, the helicopters brought in a group from the south area of about 15 horses. I am concerned that they may take the herd below the low AML of 163. They will be returning 50 horses to the Basin. But how many others will be left?

Another group of horses came in at a gallop quite a long way with a foal and ten the helicopters went out again to make sure no southern horses are left. We were waiting on a bare rocky hillside, in 95-degree heat, to see if it will be called for the day so we can go see the horses in the corrals.

The two helicopters brought in about 25 horses including Sapphire. They decided they were not done for the day even though it is 95 degrees, brutally hot weather to run horses in. The helicopters refueled and went out again.

After the helicopters finally stopped flying after 7 hours today in Sand Wash Basin, at the briefing at the short term holding, the BLM said a six-month-old foal who brought itself to the corrals was euthanized because it had damage to all 4 legs - which the BLM classified as “pre-existing.” So someone asked if that were true how did it get to the corrals?

How many foals are out there abandoned because the Cattoors are pushing the horses so hard that the foals are separated from their mothers, a clear violation of their own CAWP guidelines?"

September 7, 2021: 79 wild horses were captured today, bringing the total to 501 in the ongoing roundup of the Sand Wash Basin horses. 

From photographer Carol Walker who is onsite:

  • "There are a lot of people here today, many who have been here from the beginning.
  • We saw probably 40-50 horses come in from the far both and north east which is 15-20 miles away over rough terrain the horses look very tired. PJ who had been hanging around the pens went in with them. There was a brown small foal lagging far behind who did not go into the trap. A rider went out.
  • Two helicopters went out to CR 75 20 miles away. They were gone 45 min, running down very rough ground horses flying at a run, black foal gets left behind then later we see a horse on the ground black mare next to it we are not sure if her leg is hurt. Then two horses go out. The first horse that went out to go get a brown foal is still not back. This is not the way to round up wild horses.
  • The black filly was brought in in a trailer by the Cattoors - they say the vet said she was 6 months old and in good shape. No idea what happened to her mother. The helicopters went back out again. It is hot.
  • One of the helicopters went all the way to Greasewood approximately 10 miles away [based on the estimated distance between the trap and the territory the captured horses were known to inhabit and where they were observed the day prior to capture]. This family was exhausted, kept stopping then walking it is hot finally got them running in but the palomino stallion did not go into the trap.
  • We went to the temporary holding pens to see the horses and there were some stallions fighting. We were told we would go to the same trap site in the morning and then they would move the trap north."

September 6, 2021: 93 wild horses lost their freedom today. 

AWHC’s field representative was 1 of several public observers onsite for the ongoing roundup and removal of the Sand Wash Basin horses. 

The roundup continued at the same trap site in use for the previous two days. 

A very young foal was discovered on the range with a stallion approx. 1/3 of a mile from the trap in the morning. The foal was observed trying to nurse on the stallion and whinnying to public observers. Instead of bringing the foal and stallion in on horseback, the BLM sent the helicopter up to chase the weeks-old foal and the stallion into the trap. The foal's mother had been captured the day before and the foal was left out on the range alone overnight. The foal was captured and sent to a vet clinic in Craig for necessary care and will be cared for in a foster home when he can be released. 

Law enforcement officers moved public observers away from the area, which prevented them from seeing the foal chased into the trap.

This is the second foal in two days who was left alone on the range after its mother was captured and was seen with stallions by the trap - as though the stallions were leading them to find their mothers. 

A young stallion named Licorice escaped capture. He has a pre-existing injury but has survived for over a year according to SWAT. 

A horse believed to be PJ (Picasso Jr.) escaped the trap. Instead of running off to freedom, he ran back and forth whinnying to the trap where his family was confined, oftentimes running to the entrance of the pen as if to show them the way out. Hours later, PJ was still running back and forth outside the trap with his family inside. There was no water for him outside the trap. 

Photo: Scott Wilson

As the temperature rose, observers asked the BLM if the roundup would be called for heat. The BLM lead for the roundup stated that the 95 degree limit in the BLM’s Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program is just a suggestion, that the only hard stop is 105 degrees. Apparently, the BLM believes that chasing horses with helicopters for 10 miles or more in 105 degrees at a time when tiny foals is allowed, a fact that highlights the inadequacy of the agency’s so-called animal welfare program.

September 5, 2021: Today helicopters stampeded 122 wild horses into traps at the Sand Wash Basin wild horse “emergency” roundup.  

 AWHC’s field representative was onsite to bear witness and reports that all the horses rounded up were in good body condition and looked very healthy.  This contradicts BLM’s claims that the horses were in danger of starvation over the winter. The terrain is hilly.

The day started with two semi-trailer rucks arriving onsite to load horses and truck them to short term holding for processing. The trucks arrived only 40 minutes before the helicopters, so they were not able to load all the horses. 

The helicopters took off for the first run of the day around 9:10 am. They brought in a small family band of horses. 

The second run ran the horses fast into the trap and it appeared that a horse fell down a hill, then got back up.  Shortly after, the third run was brought in. There wasn’t enough time between runs for the horses to settle, increasing crowding and panic in the trap. After the third run, the helicopter peeled back and returned chasing a single horse.

By run five, around 10 am, the horses were packed into the pens and it seems they were being brought in too quickly to be sorted properly. 

Just minutes later, horses were fighting and struggling in the packed pens. 

Video of the foal getting crushed in the pens

Overall, today, the horses appeared to be pushed harder than yesterday. They were brought in from a distance and the helicopter was observed to be closer to the horses being run than on previous days. 

It is confirmed that a lone foal was found wandering at the trap this morning with two stallions. These horses have been identified as Semper, a 2-3 week old foal, and Triumph and Cognac. Semper’s mother had been captured the prior day and it is believed that she had been shipped to the Canon City holding facility by the time Semper was located. Semper was alone overnight on the range and is supposed to be reunited with hier mother after he is shipped to the holding facility. 

 There are reports of at least one other foal on the range without its mother. 

Upon questioning at the holding facility, the BLM official in charge of the roundup confirmed that Semper was found at the trap this morning and that BLM volunteers and staff had unsuccessfully searched for a mare who was reported to be on the range with a broken leg after yesterday’s roundup. This is a video of the mare with her foal taken Saturday. 



September 4, 2021: 126 wild horses lost their freedom and there was a reported death of a horse on the range. 

  • Rendezvous was a surprise 5am, hotline was not updated until late last night and there was no phone call from BLM, after people have gotten used to 7am and a call. 
  • Still a lot of public came. 22 to start and then more came, 24 to 25.
  • Observation was closer than other regions which we appreciate.
  • Trap was at temp holding. So there were already wild horses from yesterday in the trap pen.
  • 2 helicopters were used today.

First run: Horses known to the local SWAT group.: Splash, Spice, Pepper, Zenphres, others. It was painful to hear the cries of the people who catalog and spend time with these precious creatures in the wild.

2nd run: 9:25am. I heard cries of "oh no" "oh my God" "there's so many". Sundance, others. 2 horses fought, knocking and trampling a foal. They then split the foal off. At same time:

A band of 4 were walking two miles behind the trap, and another band was being chased a mile west of that.

3rd run: More horses fighting in the pen after they began swishing to separate

4th run: The helicopter was low during the push into jute

Observers were sharing they caught Peanut's band, Caesar's band, Larues etc.

Between runs: 10:05am: A mare came looking for her band, eight up to observers cars, stopped looking right at us and whinnied a few times, then went towards trap. So this is at least 30 mins after the last run, clearly bands have been separated.

5th run: 10:20am: Looked like 60 to 80 horses coming from past horizon.

  • a foal fell behind
  • ran them down a steep hill. Seems unsafe
  • Spirit was in the run. A number of observers began crying real tears.
  • a horse named Striker was caught
  • horse named Meteor was caught
  • the herd broke into lots of bands that scattered in every direction. Many members of public crying.

Between runs: a band of 5 and a band of 3 including a foal walked right by observers cars. They were pursued after the 6th run. Then the helicopter gave up chase and 10 mins later they were still running around the valley full speed and confused.

6th run about 10:45 am: A well-known horse named Corona jumped the jute and climbed an ash hill to freedom, leaving its family behind to enter the trap. Corona jumped to freedom in the last roundup in 2017. 

7th run: 10:58 am: Lots of dust kicking up now before the jute. 

  • Starling, Kino, Kerry horses caught with others. Kino began fighting, it was getting cramped.
  • The helicopter stayed very close

8th run: 11:25am:

  • A small band came in.
  • A rider was sent out minutes later, which usually means a foal was left behind and needs roping.

9th run: 11:38 am: Just minutes later, while the roper was still out, another band of about 7 or 8 was pushed in.

10th run: 11:50 am: bout 7 brought in from far away over a long time.

11:59 am: A mare seen in range throwing its head with every step, indicates it may be injured. Was with a foal.

September 3, 2021: 16 wild horses were rounded up and removed today.

AWHC’s field representative was one of several members of the public on site today - around 15 people. The operation was located off of the HMA. 

The BLM contractors used 2 judas horses (trained domestic horses) to lure the mustangs in -- one to get them past the barbed wire area, the second to reinforce as they got to the start of the jute.

The fence was not completely marked, even though horses run right by it (see photos below). 

First run: About 17 horses. We can only see them for a few brief windows of view as they crest the hill.

Second run: Only one horse was brought in from the horizon, slowly, the helicopter stayed a half-mile back.

Day ended 12:40 pm

September 2, 2021: No roundup occurred today. 

September 1, 2021: 65 wild horses lost their freedom today.

Arrived at rendezvous early this morning. There were 2 meeting points to accommodate those coming from Utah to the West. Our field representative had to leave at 3am, rendezvous for 8 AM.

A number of members of public today. Some came from 4-5 hours away in Eastern Colorado to be here. This was great to see such support and turnout.

It was miles of farms and grazing land in every direction to the horizon. The entire drive was interrupted frequently by cows cutting into the caravan. The entire 1.25 hours drive is about 50 miles: Cows, pastures, grazing, fencing.

At 11:15 AM we were told they may try to fly during a break in the weather. We were told the side road is muddy and only 4wd will make it. 

The drive on the side road was dangerous: vehicles were fishtailing frequently in the deep mud. The 4WD barely made it after many cars dangerously fishtailing. 

At observation:

We were initially put under a tree by BLM as the tree gave cover from the rain as well as camouflage cover from the horses' line of sight. The tree was also lower and in a wash, which obscured us better than up the hill in the open. But then the IC radioed and had us move 15 feet from the tree out into the open. 

The observation was close so that's a plus.

The first run: 12:20 PM. About 30-40 horses. 

  • The horses did come in very slow, at a trot, as if tame. The helicopter did stay back a good distance, thankfully.
  • 3 foals or yearlings were filtered into their own section and left alone. They began testing the panels and then began running in the pen. No crew attended to them, despite several crew standing around.

Horses were rearing up, fighting, various rivals cramped together. The horses were not loaded when the 4th run of a small group was being brought into the already crowded pen.

2:15 PM: After we packed up and were starting to walk back, a horse jumped the pen to freedom. No photo of it jumping because we were instructed to walk back by then, but photos of it running free and majestic, his head held high.

3:00 PM: After waiting a while the BLM took us to temporary holding.