Idaho's Wild Horses

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Wild Horse Gathers

Sands Basin/Hardtrigger/Black Mountain HMA Emergency Horse Gather (Concluded Sept. 4, 2015)

Interested in observing a wild horse gather?

Idaho contains six Herd Management Areas (HMAs). In the wild, horse herd sizes increase on an average of 20% a year. At this rate of increase, excess horses need to be removed every two or three years to maintain rangeland and herd health. When the Appropriate Management Level (AML) in a Herd management Area is exceeded, then a gather plan is developed for the removal of the excess animals. Once the plan has been approved, the trap site is set up and the gather operation begins. Most Idaho gathers take place during the fall, thus allowing the spring foals to be large enough to be moved to the trap site with their herd.

First, a trap site is carefully selected. BLM and contractors work to find natural routes horses travel, close to the herd’s location. Traps are typically selected near natural barriers or where the horses can easily be guided into the area to avoid injuries. A trap consists of a large catch pen with several connected holding corrals, jute-covered wings and a loading chute. The jute-covered wings are made of material, not wire, to avoid injury to the horses.   The wings form an alley way used to guide the horses into the trap. Trap locations are changed during the gather to reduce the distance that the animals must travel.

 trap site
A typical gather day begins before sunrise. BLM employees and contracted wranglers drive to the gather site, which may be one to two hours away from the nearest community. The wranglers must be at the trap site and ready as soon as the helicopter has located a group of horses.

 A helicopter is used to locate the horses and move them to the trap location. Just after sunrise, the helicopter lifts off in search of the animals to be gathered. The pilot uses a pressure and release system; he often stays ¼ to ½ mile away from the horses while herding them to the trap site, allowing them to travel at their own pace. For most of the round up, the horses are allowed to rest and move at a slower pace for their safety.


As the pilot moves the horses closer to the trap, he contacts the wranglers via radio to alert them as to when the horses will be at their location.

 helicopter herding horses

horses herded by helicopter

As the herd reaches the wings of the trap, the pilot must get closer to the herd, putting enough pressure on them so they follow the prada horse into the trap. At this point, the herd gallops into the trap site. helicopter bringing horses into trap
Once the animals are close enough to the trap, a “prada” or “judas” horse is released by wranglers hiding in the underbrush. 
 judas horse
The prada or judas horse is used to lead the newly gathered horses into the awaiting trap. judas horse leading horses into trap
 The prada horses have been trained to run to the trap with the newly collected horses following. This method of horse gathering has proven to be much less stressful on the newly gathered horses, thus allowing the gather to be conducted smoothly and at a reduced cost. Wranglers assist prada horses by moving from behind brush or other cover after the horses run into the wings of the trap, helping to guide the animals into the holding corral. horses coming into the trap

Once in the corral the horses are sorted and moved a short distance to a temporary holding location. They are then allowed to rest prior to being placed on trucks headed to the nearest holding facility. 

Within a few weeks of arriving at the holding facility they will receive their freezebrand, shots, blood test and a veterinarian check up. Following their booster shots, the horses will be available for adoption. Horses settle down in temporary holding


 observing a wild horse gather