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Sisters fight to protect wild horses in northwest Colorado

Wild Horse Warriors have been fighting to protect the wild horses of Sand Wash Basin for years.

MOFFAT COUNTY, Colo. — In the dead of summer, it's easy to think your eyes are playing tricks on you in Sand Wash Basin – heat waves wiggle up from the cracked earth, warping the horizon as white specks appear deep in the landscape. 

It's not a mirage; those are two of the hundreds of wild horses that call this area northwest of Craig, Colorado home. 

"If these guys can survive what they’ve been given out here whatever we’ve got going on in our lives, we can survive it," Cindy Wright said. 

Wright and her sister, Aletha Dove, are the co-founders of Wild Horse Warriors – a non-profit started to raise money for a fence along highway 318 to keep motorists and horses from colliding. As Colorado's population has grown, the once lightly trafficked highway has seen an uptick in users.

"More and more people are coming to the basin and to Browns Park," Dove said. "It's a very popular place for people to go hiking and fishing."

The pair raised $85,000 dollars in about two months for the fence that will stretch 7.2 miles from the Little Snake River to the cattle guard on the west side of the basin. 

But, the work began almost a decade ago. 

"I started calling BLM and CDOT about a fence, about eight years ago, and that’s when I was first out here," Dove said. 

For Dove, watching the first post go in the ground was emotional.

"It brings tears to my eyes," she said, hugging her sister. 

"This has been a long time coming," Wright said.

Inside the new fence, Sand Wash Basin's wild horses are facing dryer and dryer conditions every year. 

When I visited Wild Horse Warriors, all of the basin's ponds were bone dry, and just two well sites were working. 

The main watering site, Lake Draw, saw hundreds of horses a day.

So the sisters began calling the Bureau of Land Management and asking for permission to haul water into the basin for the horses. 

"In Colorado's classification I think we're in extreme drought out here," Wright said. 

Credit: Bryan Wendland

To be clear, Wright said the problem with Lake Draw's well isn't that there might not be enough water for all the horses. Instead, it's what happens when so many horses gather together in one spot.

"It's the fighting and the stress that occurs around the water source when there's so many horses competing for that same water at that same water source," she said.

On our way out to Lake Draw, the sisters got the call they'd been waiting for.

Wright said the BLM was going to help purchase water tanks to haul into the basin and help water Sand Wash Basin's horses.

RELATED: Hundreds of wild horses in Moffat County deal with a drought

"We’re going to put temporary tanks up somewhere around 500 gallons, and then every three or four days those tanks are going to have to be moved, so we’ll lead them to an area that has better vegetation and bigger tanks," Wright said. 

Now, though, the BLM has decided to call for an emergency gather to round up hundreds of horses and adopt them out to the public.

The agency said it's the best way to save the lives of the horses in the basin that are dealing with this drought.

In a statement, Deputy Director Nada Wolff Culver said: "As one of the agencies charged with the responsibility to protect and manage America’s wild horses and burros, the BLM is prepared to take emergency action where we can in order to save the lives of these cherished animals."

Wright said the BLM plans to take 700 horses out of the basin. That will leave around 200 behind.

RELATED: BLM plans to take in hundreds of wild horses in northwest Colorado

The sisters plan to fight, and lower the number of horses the BLM plans to remove. 

Wright said the animals mean too much to them, and too much to the people who visit Sand Wash Basin.

"It's very grounding, it's very spiritual," she said about being out in the basin around the wild horses. "It's that fresh breath of, 'Ok, now I'm ready to go back and face whatever's going on in my own world,'" she said.

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