Roundup Report: Stinkingwater HMA, August 2023

The Stinkingwater roundup has concluded. 

August 20, 2023: 5 Mustangs Captured

We met at the BLM office in Burns at 5 am and proceeded to the trap site. I received a notification that the crew was running late. Around 8 am, the pilot took to the air, and at 8:20, I witnessed five horses descending from the top of the mountain. By 8:25, the pilot began using his sirens. It seemed like the horses attempted to hide among the trees, as that was the last place I saw them.

Finally, at 8:50 am, the pilot managed to coax them out of the trees, and they resumed their movement. They went up and then down again. As they approached the trap in the valley ahead, I noticed one of the stallions leading his band, trying to guide them to safety. However, they were ultimately overcome by the helicopter, and an hour later from our initial sighting, they were captured and led into the trap.

The pilot conducted another flyover afterward but was unable to locate any horses. In total, approximately 60 horses were captured during this roundup. Out of the 70 horses observed, including those that evaded capture, I only spotted two foals born in 2023. The rest were either two-year-olds or yearlings.

August 19, 2023: Approximately 23 Mustangs Were Captured

On this particular day, we departed later than our usual time of 7:20 am due to the trap site being rearranged. The trap site had been the same for the past three Stinkingwater roundups, causing some of the horses to remember and avoid it. To address this, a different setup was tried today, leading the horses up the road where the trap panels were not visible.

At approximately 9:40 am, a group of 14 horses was observed coming down the ridge. It appeared to be three separate bands, with a lone stallion accompanied by a mare, as well as two larger bands. Interestingly, there was only one foal present among the entire group. The solitary stallion and his mare attempted to hide under the trees, managing to evade the area to the left of the trap site. These horses displayed a calm demeanor, observing the helicopter without causing any chaos.

As the lone stallion started moving on a sloping hill, his mare followed suit. However, while going downhill at a canter, she stumbled and fell to the ground. Fortunately, she quickly recovered and seemed to be unharmed. These two horses ended up breaking away from the larger group and escaped being trapped for the day.

At 10:00 am, the remaining horses entered the trap site and were sorted and loaded within a span of 10 minutes. Later, at 11:22 am, another 11 horses entered the trap site. These horses came from the left and were urged to canter along a barbed wire fence line. Fortunately, these horses remained level-headed throughout the process.

The roundup concluded at 2:00 pm. The wild horse and burro specialist informed me that they had spotted a band with a foal that was only three days old. As a result, they made the decision to leave this particular band undisturbed due to the young age of the foal.

August 18, 2023: 27 Mustangs Captured

We arrived at the observation/trap site at 6 am. Shortly after sunrise, the helicopter was in the air. Initially, it was to the northwest of us, and we thought it had found horses because the Judas horses were brought out, but it turned out not to be the case. After some time, it went in the opposite direction and seemed to have found horses around 6:30-7 am. About an hour later, it refueled and then took off in the same direction. At 8:44, it was still in the same general area, bringing several bands together to eventually bring them to the trap site all at once.

At 9:13 am, a large group of 26 horses was spotted coming down from over the ridge, looking southwest. As they approached, we noticed a stallion from a smaller band trying to keep his group away from the large group due to a disagreement with another stallion. They were seen rearing up at each other. By 9:30 am, the horses slowly made their way into the wings without much hesitation. The band that was trying to keep them separated followed suit a few moments later, and they all entered the trap site.

By 9:45, the first trailer was loaded, and the horses seemed calm with minimal commotion. It's impressive how level-headed these horses are compared to others in different HMAs. One of the stallions walked right onto the trailer without any fuss. Note that in 2021, these horses were rounded up, processed, and freeze-branded, so some of them had gone through this before. The horses with freeze brands will be returned to the range.

At 10:20, a group of 12 horses was seen descending from the ridge to the southwest. When they neared the trap site, things became difficult. The pilot had trouble pushing them, and they trotted/cantered past the Lamb Ranch entrance up the hill, which was close to us. They then took off to the northwest, far from the trap. At 10:50, the pilot was still pushing the horses in that general area and started blaring his sirens, possibly trying to hide them between the trees. At 11 am, he successfully pushed them out of the area into the valley in front of us, but only 8 horses remained. The other 4 had escaped. Two stallions were leading their band, trying to catch up to the escaped horses, but they were getting tired and cantering slowly. They changed direction again, going south of us, with the pilot using his sirens once more. They went out of sight, with the helicopter still chasing them.

At 11:25, sirens were heard again, and at 11:30, the helicopter landed for fuel. At 11:35, it went back out, and sirens were heard once more. It was unusual to hear the sirens used so frequently. At 11:50, the pilot finally managed to push the horses down the ridge where we could see them. For a brief moment, one of the stallions led his family away from the helicopter, but ultimately, they were pushed down into the valley, and the pilot dropped this band.

In total, the horses were pushed continuously (with a brief refueling break of 3 minutes) for nearly an hour and a half. These horses didn't seem to care about the helicopter, showing no fear and refusing to get close to the general trap area. It's remarkable how level-headed, calm, stubborn, and smart these horses are in this particular HMA.

The pilot took off again to find more horses, and initially, he was seen with a band of 6 horses, but when he approached the trap, he only brought in two stallions. The roundup concluded at 1 pm.

August 17, 2023: 9 Horses Were Captured

Today, we met the BLM at 6:45 am at the Burns district office. The trap site, located about 50 miles northeast of Burns, saw the arrival of 6 other members of the public. During the first run, the helicopter successfully herded 9 horses into the trap. These horses approached the trap site at a trot or light canter and appeared relatively calm. However, the trap site was partially obstructed by a large stack of hay bales.

During the second run, around 9:45 am, I observed the pilot working with several different bands, one of which consisted of approximately 18 horses. While the pilot was focused on the larger group, the other two smaller bands took off into the hills. These horses had been through roundups before, so they seemed familiar with the situation.

The stallions in the band did not seem bothered and often trotted, walked, or stood still even with the helicopter close by. Despite numerous attempts to bring them back to the trap site, the strong winds made it difficult, and the decision was made to conclude the roundup for the day. The team spent at least 30 minutes trying to bring this particular band in.