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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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
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.”
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.
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.”
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&
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.”
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!
Cattoor Livestock Roundup, Inc.
Dave and Sue Cattoor
Troy and Sandy Cattoor
PO Box 289
by Mike Laughlin - A version of this article
was published in Range Magazine, Spring 2008 Issue.
Photos by Lee Raine