Patti Mosbey: They shoot horses... Don't they?

April 29, 2016 -- Hang on as I explain a very interesting event that happens at Sand Wash Basin several months of each year.

Sand Wash wild horses have advocates that travel for miles to perform an intricate, much needed service. In hopes of decreasing the number of foals and in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management), SWAT — Sand Wash Advocate Team — is in the field documenting the herd and administering a vaccine or birth control injection commonly known as PZP.

A mare has to be injected and then a booster administered the following year. The best results will prevent a conceived foal for up to five years. That’s where our “shooters” come in. Using a small specially equipped rifle the mares are darted from a distance.

SWAT Program Director, Aleta Wolf of Denver is the driving force behind the team. Teamed up with GEMS, Great Escape Mustang Sanctuary from Deertrail, this group of volunteers work together to provide birth control and adoption for horses that have been removed from the range. I’ll give you more information on GEMS in future articles.

Training for darting is provided in Billings, Montana. GEMS pay for the training and some costs toward traveling expenses. It takes commitment and dedication to complete the course. The PZP is provided by the BLM. SWAT currently has four trained darters who will be on the range as much as possible and another 2 that hope to participate as their schedule allows. The four primary darters are retired and live outside Moffat County. The other two live on the Front Range and have full time jobs.

Stella Trueblood, SWAT Field Manager, of Rand is one of the hardest working, most dedicated people I’ve ever met. Stella heads up the management and administration of the Sand Wash Basin fertility control plan. GEMS and SWAT realize the need for support by the local BLM. They began building a working relationship with the BLM Little Snake Field Office over three years ago. This was the start of creating a solid team to support the Sand Wash Basin herd. Retired from the grinds of a daily job she now spends countless hours in Sand Wash to track and dart mares on her list. Heat, cold and biting flies have not diminished her passion to make a difference in the horses she loves.

Her dedication is unsurpassed, traveling 140 miles from her front door to the entrance of Sand Wash Basin, not to mention the miles she will put on while she is in the basin. Packing her gear and supplies the night before to ensure an early start to her day and not knowing what the outcome of that day may bring. The PZP she packs has to remain frozen, sometimes a real challenge in the heat of the summer months.

Stella’s passion for the wild ones can be seen in her corrals as well. Three lucky “mustangs” call her ranch home, one from Piceance, Colorado, one from Nevada and one from Utah.

In Stella’s own words “I do what I do for the horses, so they may stay wild on the range where they have lived their entire lives and where they belong. I believe there is room on the range for both the horses and the sheep. I wish the horses had exclusive use of Sand Wash and the sheep would be grazed elsewhere, but that is not the case. I can’t change that but I can help limit their numbers by participating in the PZP program and darting horses with contraceptives to lower their birthrate. I’m not sure most people in Moffat County know what a treasure they have in the wild horses. People come from as far away as England to visit, the horses are famous worldwide!”

Patti Mosbey is a regular visitor to Sand Wash Basin. Photographing and documenting the daily lives of the Sand Wash herd is a passion for her. For more of her photos and adventures find her on Facebook at Sand Wash Adventures. Follow SWAT on Facebook at Sand Wash Basin Wild Horse Advocate Team – SWAT.

Originally published April 29, 2016, in the Craig (Colo.) Daily Press.

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