Counting black beauties, bay beauties, duns, palominos, roans, blacks, sorrels, whites, and grays too...

Counting wild horses from a small airplane or helicopter can make some observers queasy, but Bruce Thompson, a wild horse and burro specialist and an expert in aerial surveys, is often called on to help with wild horse counts throughout the west. “It is pretty special to have a bird’s eye view of wild horses, spread across the landscape,” said Thompson “I’m thankful that these flights and our counting system allow us as skilled observers, to get the most accurate counts possible.” As most herd management areas in the west cover huge areas with poor roads, BLM uses aerial surveys to estimate how many horses are in each population. Some complexes of adjacent herd management areas have over 3,000 horses in areas that require several days of flying. Since 2013, BLM has used methods outlined in the Standard Operating Procedures for Wild Horse and Burro Double-Observer Aerial Surveys that cover the entire area thoroughly and lead to accurate estimates. The variety of horse colors in many herds makes it easier to distinguish bands. “We keep track of those marks, and photograph and video large groups, so we can rule out the chance of double-counting the same group of horses.”  

WHB Specialist conducting aerial survey
Wild horse and Burro Specialist Bruce Thompson flies over many different Herd Management Areas in Nevada conducting aerial surveys each year.
wild horses or elk in this photo?
Can you identify which animals are wild horses or which are elk?
aerial survey photo of wild horses
How many horses do you count? Answer: 151 wild horses in this photo