Your community connector

2023: A year of ongoing wild horse roundups

Locations: Columns, Opinion Published

Opinion by Barbara Sophia

Barbara Sophia travels to various Wild Horse Management Areas (HMAs), documenting the condition of herds ahead of roundups in an effort to stop the gatherings.

  • Carbondale Animal Hospital thumbnail

It’s hard to imagine that in the land of the free, one of our national treasures is being decimated. Other than the bald eagle, the wild horse is the animal recognized as a symbol of freedom. In 1971, Congress enacted the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. 

“Congress finds and declares that wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the west,” the proclamation stated. “Wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment or death … to accomplish this they are to be considered in the area where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands.”

  • Film Festival thumbnail

Yet, they are far from being protected. For decades, the public has been fed the false narrative that there is an overpopulation of starving wild horses, and that they must be culled. Many Americans don’t know that these freedom icons are being inhumanely rounded up by helicopters. 

There are approximately 245 million acres of public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management. At the onset of this summer, there were 82,384 wild equines (a combination of horses and burros). In simple terms, and for perspective, that equates to roughly 3,000 acres of land for each horse. 

  • Dave Taylor thumbnail

I have spent the summer traveling through Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Montana and Colorado, documenting and photographing various herds. I’ve focused primarily on populations scheduled to be rounded up this year, and tried to stay ahead of the roundups in an effort to spread awareness and support “calls to action.”  

Having visited over a dozen HMAs, I’ve been hard-pressed to even find a horse, and when I do, they are incredibly healthy. In each HMA, I have stood high on top of a mountain or a hill, taking in an expansive 360-degree view and asking myself, “Where are the horses?” 

  • KDNK thumbnail

In Nevada, there is a horrendous helicopter roundup transpiring in the Antelope Complex HMAs. Covering shy of 1.2 million acres, it is estimated to take two helicopters a month and a half to round up 3,107 wild horses. 

Before the roundup, I visited this area. I don’t know if one can fathom the vastness of that much land. The topography is diverse, and the vegetation varied. There are valleys, hills, mountains, high deserts, forests, streams and creeks, all weaving and undulating, alive with various grasses, sagebrush, wildflowers, rabbit brush and cacti. Trees are primarily pinyon, juniper and, at higher elevations, firs. With all the driving and hiking in this area, it took me days before I found a small band of seven incredibly healthy horses tucked away in the junipers. 

  • RJ PADDY thumbnail

This roundup started July 9 and will last until Aug. 22. Mares (some pregnant), newly born foals (as it is foaling season) and stallions are being chased in triple-digit temperatures. These majestic creatures are funneled down chutes, prodded and shoved together into corrals too small to contain them. They become terrified, trying desperately to get out. As of Aug. 4, 31 horses have died. 

One of the many stories from this roundup is about a stunning healthy Palomino stallion called Sunshine Man. Once corralled, he tried to jump an eight-foot panel of a makeshift corral. He caught his left hind leg in the top rung. Flipping over the top, his leg snapped in half. For 35-minutes, he ran on three legs for his life, for freedom. All the while, being chased by a helicopter and wranglers, until a gunshot was heard that ended his life.

The brutality doesn’t stop there, injuries happen not only in the corrals, but during transport and at the holding facilities. Few are adopted to good homes; rescue centers struggle to purchase them; and many end up in the kill pen pipeline, where they are shipped to be slaughtered. These healthy animals should never have to leave the land in the first place. 

I encourage people to strap on their boots and hike through these HMAs, so they can see the healthy state of these horses, the land and other wildlife.

Last year alone, $137.1 million of our tax money was appropriated for roundups. In addition, funds were used for short- and long-term holding facilities. More tax dollars are used to subsidize the beef industry, while ranchers pay just $1.35 per cow/calf pair a month to graze on public land. We are told these tactics of grazing cattle and sheep on public land are to help feed America, and campaigns like “Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner” and “Got Milk?” facilitate this. Yet, when we go to the grocery store, we pay for meat at a premium and one in eight American children still go to bed hungry. Clearly, this system doesn’t work!   

If you eat meat, please source where you get it from. Support your local rancher, trying to make a living off of their private land. 

In a community such as ours, where the environment is a priority and we pride ourselves on being innovative, we need to become a strong voice to show the nation that these majestic creatures deserve to live their lives on the land.

Public comments regarding Wyoming’s McCullough herd are due by Aug. 12 at 4:30pm (MST). Visit to comment. 

Here in Colorado, the Sand Wash Basin herd is due to be rounded up Sept. 25 to Oct. 30, and the West Douglas Creek herd is to be zeroed out Sept. 1-20. 

Visit my website,, for links to additional information about roundups, what you can do to help and to some of my wild horse photography. 


McCullough Peaks stallion showing off in the sagebrush and red clay of Wyoming. Photo by Barbara Sophia

Tags: #Barbara Sophia #roundups #Wild horses
▲Top ▲Top