The Fifteenmile Horses

Since I learned of their existence, the Fifteenmile wild horses have intrigued me. Here was a herd, in relatively close proximity to the well-documented Pryor and Peaks horses, that no one seemed to be paying that much attention to compared to the work being done in these other two herds.

In trying to find further information on the herd, I learned a few things. Apparently the current HMA or areas near it were the site of the “first recorded wild horse roundup on federal rangeland.” This happened in 1938. I also learned that the Fifteenmile HMA itself was established in 1985, and it currently is 83,130 acres in size. But, again, the herd remained intriguing to me as I found that there really isn’t much in the way of information on specific individuals in the herd or anything like that. To help put the knowledge of this herd in perspective, here’s some text from the EA for the recent roundup that occurred:

“The Fifteenmile HMA was last gathered in 2004 to remove excess wild horses. Following that gather, approximately 80 mature horses were known to remain on the range, with a few foals. An aerial census in February, 2008 revealed a total of 232 horses, which was considerably more horses than were expected. Evidently, approximately 50 to 60 horses evaded capture during the gather in 2004, and were not known to be on the range. Based upon the February, 2008 census, it is estimated that the 2008 post foaling population of the Fifteenmile HMA will be approximately 280 total wild horses.”

Add onto this above text the fact that 377 horses were gathered in 2009, and there were an estimated 10 to 15 horses not gathered. Also, the fact that a significant number of horses had left the HMA further complicated the ability to fully understand the population. With all of these mysteries, my curiosity finally got to me; and I set out to find these horses. Surely it wouldn’t be that hard to find wild horses in a population that is estimated to be just over half the size of the current Pryor population in an area approximately twice the size of that in which the Pryor population lives, right? (Sense the sarcasm here?)

After driving from Worland, I finally came to the HMA boundary.

The landscape of the Fifteenmile HMA is really interesting. It ranges from colorful badlands to areas with grasses, brush, and even some trees. There are definitely a lot of possible hiding places for wild horses in there.

It was a little while before I started seeing stud piles, and shortly after that I found a group of horses. This was a big group, 18 horses, and it had multiple mature stallions among the mares.

The horses were very wild. They would stare and then run a little and then stare some more before running a little more. They weren’t really running away, just moving their position relative to me; and so I was able to photograph them. I was a ways away so these are some edited photographs.

There were two stallions out of this group, this sorrel and grey, that seemed to be really agitated by human presence. I was able to get pretty good looks at them as they were often running a perimeter around the rest of the horses.

Eventually, the horses all moved away; and I didn’t want to bother them by further pursuing them. I spotted a group of horses out in the distance at the base of a large hill, and so I set out to figure out how to get to them. In the process of driving up a random road, I was really surprised to see another group of horses run down the hill. I stopped and sat quietly as I knew they would soon be running around me.

They stopped momentarily to check me out. This harem was more typical of what I was used to, with a single stallion, mares, and what seemed to be a couple offspring. This view was short lived as they soon took off again. They apparently went to a pond I had passed earlier before heading out of sight.

I never figured out how to actually get to the other horses, but I did get some good views and determined there were 8 horses: 4 pintos, 1 buckskin, 1 bay, 1 sorrel, and a dark horse that looked black to me but could have been bay.

I had a very enjoyable time in this area, though it is thus far seeming to be a difficult area to find horses in. If there really are only 80 to 85 horses left on the HMA, I managed to get up-close views of nearly 30% of the herd, not counting the 8 horses I saw in the distance. I am very much interested in further determining what exactly is out there in the future, and I hope to find others who may know more about the herd or are interested in learning more with me. I’d also love to hear more from others who do monitoring of the herds they live near. I am becoming more and more interested in local wild horse monitoring projects, and it would be great to build further relationships with those who I’ve not yet become acquainted with.

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Published in: on November 3, 2009 at 4:54 pm  Comments (8)  

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  1. I agree with you completely! The best protection for our wild horses is knowledgable local wild horse monitors who know the herds and the land, as you do with your Pryor area! People like that will be the key to saving our wild horses. Especially people who document their knowledge and the horses the way you do. the National parks service herd from the Dakotas is a good example and so are the book cliff herds and the spring creek herds. Those people who follow the horses and document their health and behaviour and herd families are doing invaluable service to the horses and for all of us who care about the wild horses.
    Good on Ya Matt, as my Daughter in law would say.

    • Well, I think it would be great if as many herds as possible had locals watching out for them. The ones you mentioned are some of the only ones I know. There is also the Friends of a Legacy group which works with the McCullough Peak horses; we are in pretty good contact. But surely there are others out there that don’t have websites or anything. At least I’d hope this.

  2. It is so exciting to read your comments on your field excursions, especially this one since they are sort of “mystery” horses!

    Do you ever worry about large predators while you are out in the mountains looking for horses? After watching the newest movie about “Cloud, Challenge of the Stallions” I keep wondering if they are armed up there when filming those horses, if they have a “look out” for mountain lions while they are filming.

    • I don’t really worry about lions too much in the Pryors, even when I’ve hiked way back into some of those areas. There actually a story in the newspaper recently about a lion stalking a 14 year old while he was hunting with his father. The boy ended up killing the lion as it was apparently showing some signs of possible aggression. Still though, it’s not something that really bothers me.

  3. There is a blog on the horses in the “Little Book Cliffs” BLM area in western Colorado. The link to the blog is
    http://wildhorsefever.spaces.live.com/
    We were there in Sept. and saw about 10 horses. They live on a high, grassy mesa. I would guess there is probably someone near each area–just a matter of finding out who they are. Yes, they are probably the most knowledgeable resource regarding these herds.

    • I’m very jealous you were able to go see the LBC horses. I’ve heard that they can be very elusive. The people down at LBC really do a great job. I’ve learned some things from them that I hope can be incorporated here. I’ve also learned other things from the few people I know working with other herds. It’d sure be great if we could share everything we’ve all taught each other with other interested parties.

  4. I only recently learned of these horses. When in 2009 were the 377 horses rounded up? How many were returned to the range?

    • The Fifteenmile gather happened during the week of October 18th.


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