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Rounding Up Wild Horses
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Cattoor Livestock Roundups,Inc.

Helicopters herd the horses.In the distance, you can hear the helicopters coming to the corral with another band of wild horses. Near the mouth of the capture corral Dave Cattoor stood, looking out into the vast expanse of wild horse country in Central Nevada’s, Antelope Valley.   Dave was holding his “pilot horse” Shorty by his halter.  When the wild horses approached the mouth of the trap, herded along from behind with the helicopters, Dave turned Shorty loose and he ran to the front of the wild horse band, leading them safely into the capture corral.  Dave said in his quiet way, “I can put wild horses in your barn with Shorty’s help.”

Cattoor Livestock Roundups, Inc has repeated this scene many times in locations throughout Nevada, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah, since 1975.  This premier wild horse-gathering outfit has been in the business for over 32 years working with the BLM, USFS, NPS and private individuals and has captured over 200,000 wild horses, wild burros, and wild cattle.  During this period, they have purchased and built new livestock holding equipment, improved air-to-ground radio communications, purchased three helicopters, fuel trucks, water hauling trailers, horse hauling equipment and improved gathering techniques.  They have learned the best methods available to assure safety for their employees and the animals they capture.

Dave Cattoor grew up in mustang country on the Western Slope of the Colorado Rockies near Maybell, Colorado. He learned the ways of wild horses from the old-time wild horsemen in northwestern Colorado and southern Wyoming. He caught his first wild horse when he was 12 years old and from then on, he has followed wild horse trails throughout the west.

The Roundup
In the early days, wild horses were caught either from horseback or by water trapping. These capture methods were slow, dangerous, and sometimes not very efficient. In the early 70s, Federal laws were changed to allow the use of helicopters to gather wild horses. This improved the gathering process a great deal and it became much easier on the wild horses and their colts. Wild horses in the distance coming to the corral.

Dave says this about helicopters and pilots, “A good helicopter pilot does not run wild horses during a round up. These pilots must be experienced and understand livestock habits. The horses are gathered with the helicopter and herded along much as you would move cattle. The animals going to the capture trap travel at their own speed and unless they need to be turned, the helicopter backs off and just follows the animals. If the horses in the lead start to run off, they can be turned back in order to slow the herd down. Even most of the mares with small colts can keep up using this method. Helicopter roundups are the most efficient and safe way to gather wild horses, burros, and wild cattle. During the past couple of years, we have started using two helicopters to gather in the same area. This has worked out very well and has cut our gather time in half and is much easier on the wild horses and their colts.”

Dave explained how they select a capture site in a roundup area.  “Preliminary scouting both by air and on the ground is done to find the natural routes wild horses travel .The capture site needs to be close to the animals you want to catch and somewhere that they would naturally go, so that you do not attempt to force horses but they will travel there more or less on their own. An example would be a natural spring or livestock water where horses have been going for water. Once the capture site has been chosen, proper capture pens and wings must be installed. These pens are constructed of materials that do not harm the horses and will make gathering, sorting, and loading easier for the animals and wranglers alike.”

A colt is lead to water.When asked about what happens when colts or horses are left behind on a gather, Dave said, “We have wranglers and saddled horses ready at the capture pens. When the helicopter pilot radios that a colt or horse has fallen back, we send the wrangler and his  horse to bring the animals in.”

Once the animals are safely in the capture corrals, they are sorted or sometimes loaded in semi-trucks and horse trailers and hauled to a separate set of sorting corrals at a holding facility.  At these corrals, Dave’s wife Sue Cattoor, and their son and business partner Troy along with several wranglers and a BLM Horse Specialist proceed with the sorting operation.  When needed, a State Brand Inspector and a veterinarian assist them. The horses are sorted, studs in one pen, dry mares in a pen, and mares with colts in another. Extreme care is taken to keep the mares and their colts together.  All of the horses are run through a chute and are “mouthed” to determine their ages.

Sorting corrals Sue Cattoor said, when asked about what will be done with these captured horses, “According to the most recent estimates, the wild horse and burro population grows at a about a rate of 18 % a year. Since the enactment of the Wild and Free Roaming Horse and Burro act of 1971, horse and burro populations have increased dramatically. Recent estimates of wild horse and burro numbers exceed 31,000 living on Federal lands.  Nevada has over one half of these wild horses and burros. These animals have virtually no natural predators, except for an occasional mountain lion, and their herd size can double about every four years. This leaves the BLM and other federal land managers in the very difficult position of managing the AMLs (appropriate management levels) for wildlife, livestock, and wild horses and burros to the best of their ability in these multiple-use areas.”

“If the BLM waits too long to make a gather, wild horses can get into such bad physical shape from lack of water and feed that many may die. This is what happened to the Jackson Mountain wild horses, north of Winnemucca, Nevada, in September 2007.  They were gathered too late.  There had been fires and a terrible drought in this area for many months. The cattle permittee had already removed his cattle from the allotment due to lack of water and feed. We gathered the wild horses and shipped them to the BLM holding facility at Palomino Valley, north of Reno.  Over 100 horses died after being transported there. Salmonella was said to be the cause. However, salmonella is present in many healthy horse’s digestive tracts.  When horses are in a weaken condition, as these were when we gathered, they are more susceptible to succumbing to it’s effects.  Wild horses are not wildlife that will migrate to a better area when food and water run out. They are livestock that must be managed and their numbers must be controlled out on the range so that they have enough to eat and drink.”

Dave explained, “We have gathered at this same Nevada location in Antelope Valley five times in years past and this area is overstocked with wild horses once again. The livestock permittee has been cut back to 200 cows for two months out of the year on his federal grazing permit and he owns the private water source where most of these horses are drinking. The BLM Horse Specialist will make the determination as to how many of these horses are shipped and how many will be turned back out on the range. The horses that are shipped will be hauled by semi-truck to a BLM holding facility held, and fed there.  There presently are more wild horses in holding facilities than there are out on the range. These horses are on welfare. They are the wild horses and burros that no one wants. Over half of the BLM wild horse federal budget is going to feed these gathered unwanted horses& burros”

Wild horse holding facility in Fallon, Nevada.  Approximately 2000 horses are fed and cared for on a long-term basis.

The Future
When we asked Sue Cattoor what the answer is to all this, she replied, “There has to be somewhere to take these excess horses that are gathered. Holding facilities are filling up.  It has become very difficult to get people to adopt wild horses anymore. It would seem that the only answer to this huge problem is for various special interest groups to find additional homes for these horses and burros or allow the un-adoptable ones to be humanely destroyed like we do dogs and cats. With the current purposed changes in the horse slaughter laws in the United States, this country is filling up with unwanted horses. In this November gather alone, there were at least 25 branded horses.  We could one day be gathering more privately-owned horses that have been turned out on federal lands because their owners did not want to feed and care for them than we are gathering wild horses.”

If you want to learn something about wild horse gathering, spend a day in a mustang capture corral in the middle of wild horse country in Central Nevada with Dave and Sue Cattoor and their crew.  You will get an education on what wild horse and burro capture is all about from people who spent a lifetime, watching, following, and catching these animals throughout the west!

Contact information:

Cattoor Livestock Roundup, Inc.
Dave and Sue Cattoor
Troy and Sandy Cattoor
PO Box 289
Nephi, Utah 84648

Story by Mike Laughlin - A version of this article was published in Range Magazine, Spring 2008 Issue.
Photos by Lee Raine


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