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Managing the Mustangs
by John Smith
Mar 13, 2011 | 593 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
After a couple minutes of conversation with John Carpenter, I got the feeling he suspects I don’t know which end of the horse eats and which end kicks.

Carpenter read a recent column about the plight and politics of Nevada’s wild horse population and wanted to offer his considered opinion. The rancher and former state legislator knows a thing or two about the horses, having watched them gallop across the state all his life.

Born in 1930 in Fallon, Carpenter graduated from Ely’s White Pine High School. He represented Elko and Humboldt counties as a state senator in the Legislature for 12 terms until 2007, a stretch that included 10 special sessions. He’s a member of the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association, the Nevada Woolgrowers and the Nevada Farm Bureau.

By many measures, that’s about as native a Nevadan as it gets.

His family had ranches outside Ely, then moved up to Elko in the late 1950s. He started the first horse roundup using a helicopter and calls it a useful tool that, used properly, isn’t too hard on the animals. Over the years, he’s dealt with the Bureau of Land Management and the horse huggers, and I get the feeling he wouldn’t mind rounding up both groups.

“I’ve been around horses all my life, and they just have to be managed,” Carpenter says. “You just can’t leave them out there unmanaged. The rancher, he’s going to have to take his cattle or sheep off the range. And the wildlife really suffers because of the damage the horses do to the range.

“They’ll take over. They’re going to ruin the range and ruin the waterholes, and there won’t be anything for the wildlife and other animals that have the right to be out there.”

By right, he means the right granted under the Taylor Grazing Act. He means the ranchers’ sheep and cattle. They can also be tough on the range, he admits, but they are managed.

Managing the horses isn’t easy, and the BLM has had inconsistent, and at times highly controversial, success with its official roundups. The Calico Complex roundup, for instance, cost about $1 million to gather 2,700 horses.

Whether that’s a cost-effective use of taxpayer money during a recession remains a topic of debate between the ranchers and the horse lovers.

Carpenter says plainly something must be done with the horses, and adoption isn’t proving to be a satisfactory answer. There are too many horses and not enough folks capable of gentling them.

“They let them get out of control and couldn’t get them adopted, so they started putting them back East in these holding pastures,” Carpenter says. “Then the economy went to hell and people quit adopting them. There’s no way they can adopt the horses they need to take off the range each year.”

And he’ll let you in on a little secret. Saddle-breaking the animals is no mean feat. They don’t call them wild for nothing.

“Most people don’t have the facilities or the know-how to gentle them,” he says.

A large horse sanctuary ranch, such as the one proposed by Madeleine Pickens, could help provide an answer if she spends enough money, develops enough water and grazing, and manages to survive the BLM and other federal agencies.

“Most people don’t know where to go to find a wild horse,” he says. “But if they were on a ranch where they could come see them and enjoy them, and manage those horses on ranches so they don’t destroy the range, and take the rest of them off, that might work.”

But compromise doesn’t always win the day in Nevada.

“It’s all a deal of management,” Carpenter says.

But he knows managing wild horses is easier said than done.

John L. Smith writes a weekly column on rural Nevada. He also writes a daily column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at 702 383-0295 or at
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