Mesa Verde National Park Corrals First Band of Wild Horses

by Sean Griffin
(Photo by: Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Whit Hibbard, a low-stress horse trainer who currently helps out at Mesa Verde National Park, helped to corral a band of 11 wild mares and four foals.

This band of horses got trapped inside Hibbard’s corral. Now, their time as wild mustangs in the backcountry of the 52,000-acre park ends.

The lively group of horses will then be transferred to the National Mustang Association Colorado Chapter. Their ownership will also be transferred to that group.

Gentling and taming will take place at the Mustang Camp in New Mexico. An adoption process is currently pending.

The park captured 19 horses in total. They captured 16 on Sept. 24 and then 3 horses on Sept. 27.

The wild horses will be adopted into a life of leisure. They’ll receive human care and attention they’ve missed their whole lives.

“They will end up in good homes and live a better life, better than dying in the winter weather, or from dehydration or getting killed by a mountain lion,” Hibbard said. “I feel this is a worthwhile, positive mission.”

For three years, Hibbard, colleague Tim McGaffic and park wildlife manager Nathan Brown have been coaxing the herd into a specially designed corral through a low-stress bait-and-trap method.

The location of the roundup stays secret to protect the horses. Furthermore, it also prevents trespassers who could sabotage or threaten the project, park officials said.

Hibbard Talks About the Horses at Mesa Verde National Park

The bait-and-trap method remains the park’s preferred method of gathering horses. Nearly 80 horses roam the valleys and mesas in the national park. Mesa Verde National Park contains famous ancestral Puebloan sites.

“It takes more time than conventional roundups and is better for them,” Hibbard said. “There’s no yelling and cowboys pushing or a helicopter stampede. We use psychology and gentle, nonverbal pressure. We use water and food to get them to do what we want. They think it is their idea.”

The bait-and-trap gather will continue for the next couple of years, Brown said. The park hopes to remove all the horses in the reserve by 2024.

Wild horses in the park dates back to its creation in 1906. However, they are considered feral or trespass livestock. They’re technically not considered as wildlife.

Park regulations don’t allow for them to remain there. They also can’t be managed in any way, said Park Chief of Natural Resources Paul Morey.

The horses cause damage to fragile cultural sites and compete with native wildlife for natural resources. They also damage water springs and have sometimes threatened visitors, according to Morey.

A park environmental assessment then concluded the horses must be removed. However, they settled on the most humane and low-stress gather technique.

The Mesa Verde horses descend from privately owned horses. However, for generations, these horses have been born wild in the park.

However, the park doesn’t receive designation from the federal Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burro Act of 1971.