Native Village
Youth and Education news
 MAY 1, 2010   VOLUME 3

Lone wild horse on Wildhorse Island gets company
Condensed by Native Village


Montana: No one remembers the name of the last wild horse on Wildhorse Island.

"He's getting up there in years," explains Jerry Sawyer from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. "We were not sure he was going to make it through the winter. His ribs were showing, even though there was plenty of forage. Things are just shutting down because of old age."

Sawyer estimates the horse is 25 - 30 years old and in his  "sunset" years. But it was a mild winter. The horse survived,

Now he's got a partner: a wild mustang transplanted to the island in December. And three to four more are coming this year.  After all, what's an island called Wildhorse without wild horses?

The last horse on Flathead Lake's largest island was the last living member of a group moved there in 1993. The Parks management plan calls for a herd of five wild mustangs to run free on the island's 2,164 acres. The island is also home to mule deer and big horn sheep.

FWP's management plan calls for a herd of five wild mustangs to run free on the island. The herd's purpose is to honor the island's name. A wild horse sighting is one of the most prized treasures for island visitors.

The newest horse on the island is 6 - 7 years old. He originally ran free in Oregon or Washington.

"Someone had gotten it, and either it got loose or was let loose, and they couldn't find the owner," Sawyer says. "The horse was captured and returned to the BLM  (Bureau of Land Management).  They called us and said they had a horse in Missoula if we wanted it."

Since being transported by a barge to the island in December, Sawyer got reports that the newcomer and old-timer found each other.

"They're pretty social animals," Sawyer says. "At first they're pretty wary, but over time they work out who's the more dominant. There's always a lead horse in a herd."

The island's name dates back to the 1854 journal of explorer John Mullan, who called it the "Wild Horse" island.  Mullan recorded the story of a Pend d'Oreille Indian whose father had horses were stolen by the Blackfeet. The  son the stole horses from the Blackfeet and swam them out to the island for safekeeping.

Mullan reported a band of 60 to 70 of the animals on Wildhorse in 1854.

The state is working to make Pryor Mountain mustangs the next batch of horses transplanted to Wildhorse. The mustangs have Spanish and Portuguese bloodlines.

All will be geldings.

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