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There is a scare in the air for wild horses

by Mary Cioffi
Special to The R-C

As more people try to social distance while state parks are closed they head to the public lands to spread out and enjoy the fresh air in the Nevada desert. There is nothing prettier than the view of a band of wild horses roaming across range and through the sagebrush. Wild horses galloping across the Nevada desert can be breathtaking. But recently the simple act of people coming to view them has become a little intimidating as the activity in the air has increased on the Fish Springs Range in the Pine Nut Mountains of Gardnerville.

Last week I received reports of a old world war II plane flying low and sending 30 horses at a gallop into the trees to search for safety. I drove out and there were several planes doing some touch and go and landing but they were all respectful and just doing what pilots in small planes do. A local asked me to do something to stop them and I suggested she might be grateful they had that skill if she was injured or lost on the range. I responded with my standard “the horses have to share the range, it is public lands.” That said we still expect humans to be respectful of the wild horses who can be harassed by humans from sunrise to sunset. I received 3 more calls of the world war II plane intentionally flying low to spook the horses. First the complaints came from Fish Springs and then from Washoe Lake. Fun for the pilot, not for the terrified horses.

Weeks ago several bands of horses all joined together to run from a buzz in the sky but stood in fear as they could not find a safe direction to run as the drone in the air was high and one minute came from the west and only a minute later was north of them and then east. They all took off finally running for the safety of the trees. The operator of the drone most likely had no idea of the chaos and terror they were causing to 50 wild horses below. Mares keeping their foals close and band stallions are there to protect the band. The confused and scared stallions were unsure of how to protect their families from the invisible buzzing threat. They ran a couple miles before the drone left the area.

Last night as I went out to dart a mare with birth control. I stood 40 yards from the horse when the horses raised their heads to a noise in the sky. I see a para-glider in the air with a motor making a buzz. The horses all stood and watched and then the glider went off in another direction. I warned the people I was visiting to always be mindful of anything in the air. I once was out there when a small plane dropped down to make them run and run they did. Quickly turning sending me running for my truck as the horses galloped by giving me some great photos and a pounding heart. But this morning photographer John T Humphrey out to the wild horses for a close photo of the 3 week old injured filly in Blondie’s band. The filly appeared to have a puncture wound that was infected. We are watching the foal and monitoring the injury. John is a skilled wildlife photographer and always mindful of his position. When he arrives the band is spread out and he walks toward the band with his big telephoto lens toward the filly to provide the Pine Nut Wild Horse Advocates with an update photo. Suddenly he hears the para-glider who flies low to chase the wild horses. The pilot obviously not seeing John comes from the opposite side and suddenly John sees the entire band of 15 horses stampeding straight at him. He seeks cover behind a large bush as the horses gallop right past him, including the injured filly who is covered in dried blood and running to keep up with her Mom.

It was memorial day weekend and people were there to have fun and the horses were chased from the air and from the ground, over and over, all weekend. There are two injured horses, elderly horses, young horses, newborn babies and healthy horses. But those searching for a few minutes of fun only see a bunch of horses. A moment of thrill for the one chasing, a moment of terror and potential danger for the wild horses, who are prey animals and have a quicker response than many other animals. They were chased throughout the day. for humans sport for four solid days from sunup to sunset. You can only imagine the fear as a horse sees a human in the air on a machine with a buzzing engine headed straight toward them. We need to be kinder. We need to be more considerate of wild animals and we need to document it when we see it so we can bring the offenders to justice. Harassing wild horses is against the law.

Mary Cioffi is president of the Pine Nut Wild Horse Advocates