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Hundreds of wild horses in Moffat County deal with a drought

Drought has limited the water sources for the horses of the Sand Wash Basin. Advocates say it's leading to horse fights and sustainability concerns.

MOFFAT COUNTY, Colo — A non-profit that tries to protect the wild horses of Moffat County said the drought has cut off some of the horses' limited water sources.

Hundreds of horses live in the Sand Wash Basin Herd Management Area, about 45 miles west of Craig. The Bureau of Land Management controls the 245-square-mile space - one of four in Colorado. 

Cindy Wright, a native of Steamboat, discovered the basin's beauty on a visit after her children had grown up.

"There's a magic in Sand Wash Basin," she said. "You watch the wild horses, and it just finds a place in your heart and doesn't let go."

She and her sister co-founded the Wild Horse Warriors for Sand Wash Basin to support the horse population in the area - work like repairing washed-out ponds and fundraising for a fence to keep the horses off of Highway 318.

Usually, the horses can rely on snowmelt and spring rains to fill up the ponds that serve as their water sources, Wright said.

This year, with most of Moffat County under the worst level of drought, Wright has been startled to see those ponds dry out to nothing. 

"It looks like September or October, not May or June," she said. "It's very scary."

As a result, she has watched the horses crowd around the four ponds that still have water - something they wouldn't normally do.

"What that does is put all of those horses and all of that pressure on those water sources, which increases fighting between the horses," Wright said. "They're stressed because they're all coming into the same places, and it's too many horses at the same time."

Wright points out the extra hoof traffic and demand can damage the land around the ponds as well.

She and her non-profit hope to get the Bureau of Land Management's blessing to move water around within the basin so the horses have more options. They are also raising money to revive two wells they believe could generate more water in the horses' territory.

"Most of our wildlife can leave an area to find more water. But the horses in the Herd Management Area are fenced in," she said. "We know we're not going to haul hay and feed them, but we can provide water for them. I feel like it's our obligation."


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