Part of the Onaqui herd running through Utah's Northwest desert. Photo by Barbara Sophia.

Opinion by Barbara Sophia

Special to The Sopris Sun

For hundreds of years the thunder of hoof beats have echoed through the vast landscape of the West Utah desert at the base of the Onaqui Mountains. Last month, 435 wild horses from the Onaqui herd were forcefully rounded up by helicopters. It was 436, but one mare escaped. 124 horses were returned, leaving 311 wrangled beauties in captivity. 

In an ideal world, these roundups wouldn’t occur. We would all live in harmony and balance. But, because we can’t seem to figure it out, they do happen! How is it that the price to graze cattle is more important than the freedom of wild horses? Is the meat we consume worth the slaughter of these amazing creatures? Eating substantial amounts of meat puts an unbelievable strain on the environment, causing land degradation, deforestation, massive water consumption and the emission of greenhouse gasses methane and nitrous oxide. It isn’t necessary that we all become vegetarians, but we need to be more aware of where we source our food and the effect it has on our environment. Otherwise, we are failing wildlife, ourselves and the very planet that sustains us. 

The Bureau of Land Management manages 247.3 million acres of land. The most recent estimated national population of wild horses was 86,189. In very simplistic terms, if you do the math, that means 2,869.3 acres per horse. Seems there is plenty of room to graze cattle and have wild horses roam free.

The wild horse herds can help us reduce our carbon footprint by regenerating the earth’s soil. Horse manure has more nitrogen than a cow’s, and they eat and drink far less than cattle. When grazing, they trim vegetation rather than pull it by the roots. Carbon in the air is absorbed by plants via photosynthesis. The carbon goes through the plant and into its root system, turning it into humus, a vital organic compound of soil. The more fertile land we have, the more CO2 can be pulled out of the air into the root system. We stop slaughtering the wild horses, and they help us fertilize the soil.

As I write this, there are additional inhumane helicopter roundups beginning in Wyoming, in the Checkerboard region, consisting of five different herd management areas encompassing 3.4 million acres: Adobe Town, Salt Wells Creek, Great Divide Basin, White Mountain and Little Colorado. The roundups are slated to last through February 2022 with the goal of rounding up 4,397 of these beauties.

Northwest Nevada has a brutal roundup occuring in the Surprise Complex. Over 14 horses have died in the process and many injuries have occurred, according to the wild horse advocacy nonprofit Return to Freedom. With the loss of so many wild horses, these herds are becoming genetically inviable. At this rate, generations to come won’t experience the sheer majestic power and beauty of these incredible animals, who once, along with the Bald Eagle, stood as a symbol for freedom. 

No other animal in history has been such an integral part of our lives, and has helped the progress of humankind. They have carried us through battles, parades and celebrations, transported mail cross-country, pulled wagons, buggies, carts, plowed fields and worked ranches. They have been used for recreation, competition and racing.

Because we have the voice, let us do what is right, and make a stand for what freedom really means. Stop the roundups, be the voice that these “Wildies” can’t be!

An online adoption auction of the rounded up Onaqui herd is slated for November. For those that don’t receive homes, their lives will end. 

Gathered Herd Catalogue

Online auction site (Nov.) 

Adoption application

Stay informed about the issue at:

Barbara Sophia of Carbondale has been researching and documenting the intricate and complex interactions of wild horses in Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming and Montana. View her relevant work at:

Horses play in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. Photo by Barbara Sophia. 

A wild horse dances through the McCullough Peaks area. Photo by Barbara Sophia. 

 A couple of chestnut wild horse buddies from the Onaqui Herd. Photo by Barbara Sophia. 

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