KBR Wild Horse and Burro News Feature
Dateline May 24, 2004

Nevada Dept. of Agriculture
Planning to Gather Wild Horses

Continuing population growth among the horses and unprecedented development in and around the Virginia Range is putting a great deal of pressure on the Virginia Range "Comstock" wild horse herd. To maintain range conditions and to reduce the numbers of horses being forced out of the hills into human populated areas, the Nevada Department of Agriculture (NDA) is scheduling a helicopter gather in the mid summer of 2004.


The Virginia Range herd is one of the most famous herds of wild horses in the Country. Comprised mainly of descendants of horses brought in during the famous Comstock gold rush, these horses have grown to become the largest herd of free-roaming horses in North America.

These are the same horses that Velma "Wild Horse Annie" Johnston first fought to protect, a campaign that ultimately produced the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. Ironically the Act protected horses on Federal public lands. The Virginia Range horses roam private and state managed lands. Therefore the only protection that they enjoy is that afforded by the state and the care and concern of persons within NDA who struggle to maintain a healthy herd of horses in the most rapidly developing region of the most rapidly developing state in the Union.

The Virginia Range before development


The Nevada State Legislature funds what can best be described as a "horse pound" or "horse shelter." Horses are brought into fairly spacious corrals and when sufficient space is available, family bands are kept together. The horses are checked by the State Veterinarian, vaccinated, wormed and are treated as necessary to restore and maintain reasonably good health. The state funds the "basics" to properly care for the horses and maintain them for a limited but reasonable period of time until they can be adopted.

During most of the year, horses that are brought in to the state corrals are "nuisance horses" and "road hazard horses." These are typically horses that are lured into populated areas by residents who think it's cute to set out hay and have wild horses show up in their yards. On rare occasions the state will conduct an aerial gather in an effort to offset the effects of the burgeoning foal crop and to deal with the horses' shrinking free range.

Horses are placed through state approved non-profit adoption groups. Through formal agreements with the state, these groups are then responsible to properly maintain horses assigned to them and to supervise the adoptions of these horses in accordance with state guidelines and procedures.


Aerial gathers are delicate operations. The state only contracts with experienced crews and the objective is to move the animals into the trap with as little pressure as is required to accomplish the task. The timing of the gather is designed to ensure that foals on the ground and are old enough to stay with their dams when the animals are being moved. Various observers are on hand to help ensure that no foals get left behind.

When the horses reach the facility, the horses are typically placed in what can best be described as a huge fenced pasture so that the family units can reunite and the foals can get settled in with their dams.

After all the animals have settled down, the family units are carefully sorted and moved to regular facility pens where they are evaluated and processed. After all have been properly processed, they become available to approved adoption groups to be placed with adopters.

This process has evolved over time and the horses are reasonably safe in the state corrals.


The objective of the horse adoption program is to ensure that horse adoptions become a good experience for the horses and the adopters alike. The most critical link in this chain involves the adoption groups. They have the responsibility to care for the animals until placed with adopters, they approve adopters and they supervise the adoptions. Adoption groups must have the skill and experience necessary to handle wild horses and the financial stability in order to properly care for them until adopted.

The state charges the adoption groups a modest fee per horse for processing, vaccinations, etc. The adoption groups can also arrange to have studs gelded in the state corrals. The adoption groups can set their own adoption fees and keep those fees to offset their expenses.

To qualify, groups must:

  • Be recognized by the IRS as 501(c)(3) organizations.

  • Not have a history of animal neglect or horse abuse.

  • Have the financial resources to properly maintain the horses.

  • Have the ability to safely transport the horses.

  • Enter into a binding agreement with the state.

  • Fulfill the requirements of the agreement including keeping records, documenting adopter compliance and submitting quarterly reports to the State.

Adoption groups are encouraged to provide adopter assistance and education to further ensure that adopted animals will be properly cared for and can adjust to and enjoy domestic life.


If you are a 501(c)(3) organization and wish to become a state adoption agent:

Contact Mike Holmes via Email or telephone Mike at 775.721.3470 to get information and to be sent agreement papers.

If you are an adoption group, or are considering becoming an adoption group and wish to receive training and adopter support materials, the following groups provide free assistance to adopters and allied adoption groups.

This feature was published by the KBR Wild Horse & Burro News who is solely responsible for its content
Protecting the Virginia Range wild horses is a collaborative effort of caring individuals and organizations.
All interested and qualified groups are encouraged to participate!

Visit the Virginia Range Wildlife Protection Association web site

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