Horses being rounded up by the state

Tuesday's helicopter roundup of horses from the Virginia Range netted 78 horses, most of which will be sent to a sanctuary in California, said Paul Iverson, director of the Nevada Department of Agriculture.

The roundup, which began at about 5:30 a.m., took place about 9 miles from the road above Silver Springs in Storey County.

Iverson said he hopes about 100 more can be removed from the range today.

"I think we'll run out of money tomorrow," State Veterinarian David Thain said. "We only have so much money to pay for the helicopter."

It costs the state $500 an hour for the helicopter.

Iverson said the helicopter guided 79 horses into the catch pen, but one mare was killed when she tried to jump out of the pen.

Thain, who watched over the roundup said "every now and again they just do something stupid."

Thain said the mare didn't even get a running start.

"I was standing right there," he said. "She tried to go over the rails and another horse came by and knocked her feet out from underneath her. She just hit wrong and broke her neck.

"It's unfortunate. It's a difficult problem. Whenever we work these guys it's always a possibility. We try to work them quietly and smoothly."

Thain said the helicopter was able to gather the horse in groups of 15 to 20 and head them toward the catch pen, set up in a large flat area in the mountains.

Once the horses are headed out the pilot backs off unless a few strays need to be hazed into going the right way. Once near the pen, a tame horse is used as a decoy.

"The horse is turned loose and runs into the trap. The other horses say 'there's a horse let's follow them,'" Thain said. "Most of the horses look to be in really good shape. The colts look pretty good."

Horses are being removed from the range in an attempt to ward off starvation and other problems caused by drought and the overpopulation of horses for range conditions, Iverson said.

"Where we should have no more than 600 or 700 animals on the range. We have 1,200," he said. "Basically they are eating themselves out of house and home.

"We're heading into another tough winter. (Water levels) are already below normal. Last year we had to supplement with food and water and I'm sure we'll have to do it again this year. The problem is we don't have enough money. As the water dries up and the food is gone they start moving down to the highways. Any horses we get off the range is good for the population."

Once caught the horses are kept in pens at the Stewart Conservation Camp in South Carson City. They are given shots, wormed and treated by a veterinarian. Then they are put out for adoption or taken to a sanctuary in Solvang, Calif., where they will roam on 2,000 acres of the Gardner Ranch, Iverson said.

"They're in heaven compared to where they've been," he said. "Sanctuaries are the way to go if we can do it. But not a lot of people have this kind of money and can do it."


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