October 15, 2009
Not So Free To Roam
Wild Horses Find Homes

This week the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will step outside of its regular protocol for wild horse management. Rather than the usual four horses, the BLM will allow one group in Blaine County to adopt nineteen mares separated from their families, foals and land in a roundup in late July. Once part of the free-roaming Challis Herd, these mares are some of those considered unadoptable because they are older than the age of 5 and were marked for “long term holding.”

The Challis herd was featured in Sun Valley Magazine in 2007, with photos by Hailey photographer Elissa Kline and text by Bonnie Garman of Ketchum and Clayton. Kline’s photographs were also part of a larger exhibition, Herd But Not Seen, that she’s exhibited in museums. Kline has also held public lectures with Deanne Stillman, the author of Mustang: The Saga of the Wild Horse in the American West.

At the recent roundup in Challis, Kline took photos and video from a nearby hillside.

“I’d read about and seen footage of roundups, but nothing prepared me for what I saw that day,” she said. “I tried very hard not to have an opinion, to let my photos speak for themselves and tell the story.”

Following the roundup, Kline became an even more vocal advocate for those horses. She facilitated the recent rule-bending, and has become the unofficial liaison between the BLM and the community of wild horse-lovers, a somewhat surprising and respectful alliance.

“I thought it was a special thing that they would devote time to identify a location, and work with the Wood River community,” said Tom Dyer, the BLM’s state director in Idaho. “I’m hoping it will set the stage for any other potential adoption programs. [The horses] are a living piece of the West,” he said. It’s commendable, he added, that these advocates have put in the time and labor to find these a horses a home.

According to the BLM’s animal Management assessment, 185-253 head is the number to aim for on 126,000 acres in Challis. The total number of horses removed in the gather was 366, with 155 re-released back on range. There were 11 fatalities.

“There is a certain amount of mortality in the roundup,” Dyer said. “It’s traumatic.”

When Kline visited the BLM corrals just days after the roundup, the horses were separated by age and gender.

“These are social animals used to being in tight knit family bands, and round-ups like these destroy the herd dynamics,” she said. “I counted seventeen pairs of mares and foals that I knew in the wild. Their souls have been crushed. It’s wrong, and you have to speak out.”

Kline has a cohort in the project. At a talk in September at The Community Library in Ketchum, horse trainer and the founder of Silent Voices Rescue, Doro Lohmann, was moved by one photo in particular, and offered her help. The image shows a mare and stallion noses together but separated by metal fence.

“They looked like they are crying.” Lohmann said.

This past year, Lohmann, through her nonprofit, helped rescue starving horses, advocate for mistreated ones and save twenty-five mares that were to be sent to slaughter from Salmon, Idaho.

“We can go out and bitch about it, or we can create a format that will work for the horses, and include the BLM,” she said.

The BLM remains committed to the idea of roundups as a way of controlling population growth.

“They’ve been a successful way to keep the numbers to the right level,” Dyer said. “We’ve had adoptions of 300,000 horses since 1971 when the program began. We do have horses in long-term holding, but every year we try to come up with new solutions. The desire is to maintain a balance without a serious impact to the range and the animals themselves without gathering. That’s one of our goals for the future.”

Kline is focused on the future as well.

“By the end of the week, nineteen mares will hopefully be in the Wood River Valley,” she said. “We can be a shining example that stepped in to help these horses. Hopefully, other communities will follow our lead.”

A benefit at the Gilman Contemporary in Ketchum will be held 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 5 to raise money for the horses’ care. There will be cocktails and hors d’oeuvres served. Tickets are $10 with a raffle entry for a framed photograph by Kline.

Donations may also be made to: “Silent Voices Equine Rescue” in the care of Jodi Herlich, P.O. Box 2411 Ketchum, Idaho 83340.