At 7:00am February 11th, we all met at the designated meeting place, a gas station called the Flying J in Tooele Utah, before the break of dawn. BLM, roundup contractors, and public viewers of the roundup all filled up their cars and got ready for the drive to the trap site, about 50 miles west of Tooele.
We joined the line of cars waiting to depart, and as soon as the clock hit 7:00, the first car took off. We all followed in a line out of town to the herd lands. The sun was rising over the snowy Utah Mountains as the paved street came to an end and we started our journey off road.
This was a truly stunning drive. The entire experience getting out to the trap spot was mystic and beautiful; such a contrast to the events to come. As we drove farther and farther from the main road, we got closer and closer to the scenic hills and mountains I had admired in the distance. I thought about how often times we experience nature in this far off way – looking at the beautiful scenery from the remote road, I had admired the magnificence and thought I was connected to nature. However, it wasn’t until we were up close and away from these lasting signs of civilization that I felt truly a part of the landscape. There is a true bliss in being so engulfed by the natural world.
This realization reminded me how sometimes we stop at civilizations edge to admire the view and forget to go deeper. It’s only when we dive in that we experience that blissful understanding that we are a part of the natural world, and that notion that nature is something we look into from the outside in is only a fallacy of our human perspective – at our core, we are just as much a part of it as the wild horses.
After 1.5-2 hours of driving, we reached the spot where we parked our cars and waited for them to set up the trap.
We waited a few hours while they got the trap, trailers, and helicopters ready for the first time at this roundup site. They set up the trap up with panels, and placed a large V of netting to direct the panicked horses inward towards the trap rather than giving them the option to escape through the sides. When the helicopter drives the herd into the V, the horses are looking for some escape and direction of where to go to find safety. This is why the wranglers hold what is known as a “Judas Horse” out in the V. The Judas Horse is a domestic horse trained to run into the trap when he is released. A human stands with the Judas horse on the sides of the netting and waits for the helicopter to push the herd of wild horses into the V. When the horses see the Judas horse and lock onto him, the human lets this horse go. The Judas Horse then runs into the trap, and the herd of wild horses follow him right in. Before they have a chance to process what has happened and turn around, men come running at them from behind with whips and plastic bags, and then they shut the panels so that they cant escape (although some horses still try and sometimes hurt/kill themselves trying to get through the panels).
When the horses are pushed in and they lock the horses inside the panels, they are then pressured down this shoot-like row of panels straight into the trailer. Once in the trailer, they are taken from their homelands to temporary holding on a private ranch.
At the end of the month, 300 or so horses will be taken to similar holding in Delta Utah.
On the first day, it wasn’t until 2pm or so until we heard the helicopter bringing in the first herd of horses. We don’t know how long he had already been running them across the land, but just from the time they come into our view until they meet the trap, they have galloped miles and miles. They come in running for their lives chased by an inescapable predator. He pushes them across the valley; I was shocked at how low and close the helicopter gets to the horses.
On this day, 29 horses were captured. It was a long day of waiting and fast action viewing. In all of the adrenaline of watching this event, it wasn’t until later that night that the emotional understanding of what I had just witnessed sunk in.
On the way out, I drove past the trailer full of the wild horses who we had just seen roundup up. They were crammed together and fearful. One horse was pinned vertical against the edge of the trailer, standing only on his back legs, struggling to get his front legs off the horse next to him and back to the ground. Instead, his back legs slipped out, and landed on his back end, still pinned vertical in the trailer. I hope he found a way to stand back up again, but they were signaling us to move along before I could see.