‘A part of our culture’: Tribal members want ‘better management’ of wild, feral horses on Wind River Reservation

    About 2,000 feral horses were removed from the Wind River Reservation earlier this year in an ongoing collaboration between the state and local Tribal officials, a legislative committee heard last month.

    “(We) really appreciate the state’s funding part of that,” Eastern Shoshone Tribe Chairman John St. Clair said during a July meeting of the Wyoming Legislature’s Select Committee on Tribal Relations in Fort Washakie. “We feel like we can go forward and hopefully reduce those numbers to a point where we can manage them in the future.”

    Kit Wendtland, special counsel to Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon, called this year’s gather operation on the reservation “a big success.”


    Wendtland said he’ll present “more details” about the project this fall, noting that Gordon is “likely going to do another budget request for a similar amount of funding this year (so) we can keep the program going.”

    Cultural significance

    Several local residents spoke about the feral horse program during last month’s meeting, including Eastern Shoshone Tribal members Bobbie Shongutsie and Austin Hill, who both requested a “better management plan” for the animals on the reservation.

    “A part of our culture is the horses,” Shongutsie explained. “The Eastern Shoshone people were the first ones to have the Indian relays. So our horses are very powerful. They are part of our prayers. They are also part of our land and keeping it maintained with all the natural grasses.”

    She acknowledged the importance of balancing the needs of ranchers with those of wild horses, but Shongutsie said the current management plan is “killing our culture.”


    She and Hill were part of a local group that tried to propose an alternative management plan to the Eastern Shoshone General Council in 2019, but Shongutsie said that effort has been stymied by a lack of quorum.

    The proposal included a wild horse training program for youth from “troubled homes” and people struggling with addictions, Hill said, criticizing the process that led to the creation of the current feral horse management plan on the reservation.

    “All that has to be brought forward into the General Council, and that hasn’t happened,” Hill said. “And all of a sudden there’s a management plan going on … and you guys don’t know where the horses go after they’re captured.”


    Wendtland had said the animals are “shipped out of state” after they are rounded up, but he did not provide further details.

    If the horses are sent to a “cannery” to be commercially processed, Hill said, “that’s a waste of culture” and a “waste of life.”

    “(To) have horses thrown away like that – that’s not right,” he said.



    Reservation resident Sybil Thunder Hawk said her concern about the feral horse management plan has to do with “the process of gathering” that has been used on the reservation, which seems “really dangerous,” involving “high-powered rifles” shot from low-flying aircraft in areas where there are “occupied homes.”

    The gunshots are used “to get the horses running,” Thunder Hawk said, and some of the animals end up “breaking their legs, biting each other (and) fighting each other” during the operation.

    “Some of the horses (arrive) to their destinations dead,” she said. “I would like to see the horses gathered in more of a humane (way).”

    Area residents have approached Tribal leaders about their concerns, she added, but it “didn’t seem like there was any interest” in addressing the situation, so “nothing (was) done about it.”

    Future possibilities

    Thunder Hawk also expressed support for Shongutsie and Hill, echoing their comments about the significance of wild horses among Tribal communities.

    “We practice our ceremonies and our culture with our horses, and we hold our horses in high regard as far as being a medicine for our people and our children,” Thunder Hawk said. “We believe horses are a healing power for us (and) a healing medicine.”

    Later in the meeting, St. Clair addressed the comments from the public, noting that “there’s enough horses out there to accommodate whatever comes up.”

    “There will be some available in the future to develop a program for our culture,” St. Clair said. “I think we can take that forward and perhaps create something like the horse sanctuary … but develop it more to where we can have our people, our children, participate in that and expand it. And I think we have the resources to do that.”


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