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On May 29, 2017, I watch seven stallions and seven mares bolt from the two trailers that hauled them from the BLM corrals south of Boise—first at warp speed on the freeway and later across dusty bumpy country roads—to the Hardtrigger Herd Management Area (HMA). With these wild horses, the first of three batches to be released this summer, I came full circle in a series of stories I wrote about a devastating wildfire and its aftermath southwest of Boise. The 2015 Soda Fire scorched grazing land that had supported three bands of wild horses, along with cattle and other prairie critters. After the fire, the BLM found 30 horse carcasses and rounded up the survivors, bringing them to the wild horse facility south of Boise for evaluation, which is where I initially caught up with them.

Aftermath of the 2015 fire

Some of the rescued animals had escaped injury. Some were so badly burned that euthanasia was the only option. Others, mostly mares with foals who had lagged behind the stallions, had burns that were treatable. Through the ensuing years, some of the horses were adopted through the Wild Horse and Burro program. Others were temporarily pastured at various BLM facilities in the region.

Burned and bewildered at the corrals

Meanwhile, I got involved in the Idaho Fish and Game’s efforts to restore habitat, not only for wild horses, but also for the endangered sage grouse who depend upon sagebrush and bitterbrush for cover during their elaborate mating rituals. Beginning in December of 2015 I volunteered for various tasks from collecting native seed, to scattering seed, and planting seedlings. The BLM amplified volunteer work on the ground with aerial seeding of native forbs and sage.

Planting sagebrush seedlings

This spring the BLM assessed the burned areas and decided the land had recovered enough to support a limited number of wild horses. Thus, I was thrilled to watch the first batch of 45 lucky horses as they leaped out of the dreaded trailers to the surprise of freedom that awaited them. A large crowd of horse lovers gathered before the trailers arrived, cameras at the ready, for an event that brings a clutch to the heart and tears to eyes.

This particular site was selected not for its less than stellar onsite forage, but for its ease of access to the crowd of onlookers. After a few days of acclimating to their new freedom the magnificent 14 will migrate deeper into the HMA and find better forage.

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The anxious crowd awaits

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The brave leader of the first trailer load steps gingerly out.

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And they’re off!

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Up the nearby bench to explore

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And off to explore the extent of their new freedom

Apologies for the shaky video below. I was overcome with emotion. And I am not skillful enough to edit out my flub in the middle of the vid.