A North Dakotan who has been working for years to preserve what he says is the original blood line of horses from Theodore Roosevelt National Park says the upcoming wild horse sale is a bad accident waiting to happen.
The park will cull 105 horses from its herd next week and sell them Sept. 28 at Wishek Livestock, the first time it’s held a wild horse sale outside of western North Dakota.
Frank Kuntz, of rural Linton, who formed the Nokota Horse Conservancy to save horse genetics he says date to Sitting Bull’s horses and early ranch stock from Roosevelt’s time in the Badlands, said the Wishek location is dangerous because its outdoor pens are constructed of steel girders and other sharp metal hardware.
“There’s not an alleyway or a pen where they can safely handle these horses,” Kuntz said. “It’s ridiculous to put them in a facility like that.”
Kuntz said he’s especially concerned because one of the park horses jumped the sales ring in Dickinson in 2009 and injured an elderly man in the audience. He said the park should use its own roundup facility, which is constructed with wood and tubular metal.
Park superintendent Valerie Naylor said the sale will continue as planned, though the park’s animal handling facilities near Fryburg could be considered in the future.
She said there is always risk when wild animals are taken out of the wild and handled during the roundups, which are held every several years to reduce the number of horses in the park.
There are some 200 horses in the park and the upcoming sale of roughly an equal ratio of foals and 1-, 2- and 3-year-old horses will reduce the overall number by half.
She said park staff and the livestock barn management are working together to ensure the animals are safe.
“They’re (Wishek Livestock) taking the horses’ safety very seriously and the whole community is taking this very seriously,” Naylor said.
She said ideally, the sale would be held closer to the park, but local livestock facilities weren’t interested, big enough, or available on the date.
The horses will be transported nearly 200 miles to Wishek and Naylor said problems in transport can occur no matter how far the distance.
“We’ll do our best, but there are no guarantees,” she said.
Kuntz has been advocating for the horses’ safety and bloodline preservation and sent letters to the Department of Interior.
He said a resolution passed by the 2013 Legislature sanctions the preservation of the park horses as a historically important living treasure.
Instead, he said the park continues to damage the historic nature of the herd and it no longer represents the old, Native American-infused bloodlines.
Sen. Robert Erberle, R-Lehr, who sponsored the resolution, said it’s wrong for the Interior Department to say the department doesn’t recognize the Nokota name because it’s a registered trademark of one interest group.
“The state of North Dakota is that special interest group,” Erberle said in a letter to the Interior Department. He said it wouldn’t be hard for the park to honor the state’s resolution by culling out horses that don’t have Nokota characteristics and reintroducing those traits if new sires or brood mares are added.
“Having a hodgepodge of sires such as Arabians, Clydesdales and others does nothing to enhance the horse herd in the park,” he said.
Kuntz said he’s been preserving the original bloodlines for decades by buying the most pure horses offered for sale. He said the Nokota conservancy has horses that could be used to restore original genetics in the park horse herd.
“We would be more than happy to do that,” he said.
Naylor said the park has never tried to reintroduce the old bloodline into the herd and has not introduced any new breeding stock for more than three decades.
“I think there would be very little chance that we would put unknown horses that he has bred, or that anyone has, into the park. These horses have been there for generations,” she said.