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Wild horses run free, or can get hired to serve community

The Montezuma County Sheriff mounted patrol unit and Bureau of Land Management staff gave a presentation on wild horses and their use in law enforcement during an event Wednesday at the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument Visitor Center and Museum. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)
Bureau of Land Management offers wild horses for use in law enforcement

Canyons of the Ancients National Monument Visitor Center and Museum features a wild horse photography exhibit.

And during a presentation Wednesday, the Bureau of Land Management and Montezuma County sheriff showed off how wild horses are used by local officers.

The photography exhibit highlights the local Spring Creek Basin Herd with images provided by local photographer TJ Holmes.

On Oct. 23, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the public is invited to meet Holmes, along with adopted wild horses Whisper and Skipper and their owners, at the CANM visitor center and museum.

When some wild horses leave the open range on BLM land, they get jobs in the community.

The can be seen working in sheriff or police departments, with the U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. National Parks, National Forest and BLM.

Wild mustangs Cody and Rocky were trained to join the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Mounted Patrol Unit. They were on display for a small crowd gathered at the visitor center outdoor plaza.

After being elected in 2015, Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin created the mounted patrol program, and chose to train wild horses for the job.

“This was a dream of mine,” he said. “They are an important tool for our department in so many different ways.”

Mounted patrol officers and their horses participate in search and rescues, patrol large events, enforce laws, and even make traffic stops, including pulling over a DUI suspect on Colorado Highway 145 in Dolores on Halloween a few years ago, Nowlin said.

The patrol horses have rescued five lost people since going into service in the county, he said.

The popularity of mounted patrol horses with the public is the best kind of community policing, he added.

The physical and mental attributes of wild horses make them ideal for law enforcement service, Nowlin said.

Because of their time in the wild, they are more suited for different types of terrain and weather than other horses, and have stronger hooves. Wild horses have very alert instincts and can be trained to do scent work to find a person or specific item, which Cody and Rocky have been certified for.

Training of wild BLM horses adopted for community service is done by prisoners at the Centennial Prison training facility in Cañon City as part of a rehabilitation program.

Wild horses go through 120 days of intensive training to become law enforcement ready, Nowlin said. They are accustomed to work in traffic, around emergency vehicles, and in crowds.

The Montezuma County Mounted patrol program includes stables in Cortez and Dolores and got started thanks to $83,000 in grants from the Colorado Justice Assistance grant program and the Laura Jane Musser fund.

Connie Clementson, Tres Rios Field Manager for the Bureau of Land Management, explains the BLM wild horse herd program and how some are adopted to serve in law enforcement. Cody and Detective Yvonne Huff are part of the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office mounted patrol unit. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)

“We are excited that the sheriff department has chosen to use BLM wild horses in their program,” said Connie Clementson, Tres Rios field manager for the BLM.

Mustang deputies

Eleven-year-old Cody was born in holding to a wild mare who had been rounded up from the Divide Basin herd in Wyoming, said his rider, Sheriff Detective Yvonne Huff.

Cody was constrained to a pen for many years before being adopted by the Sheriff’s Office, and went through successful physical rehabilitation. The line-back dunn is on the larger side with stocky hooves, a characteristic of the Divide Basin wild herd.

“In the five years I’ve worked with Cody, he has been a great partner. I trust this horse with my life. He found lost parties during three search and rescues, and can hear missing people before we do,” she said.

Rocky came from the Sands Basin Herd in Idaho. He previously worked as a pack horse for Mesa Verde National Park.

“He does an amazing job,” said his rider, Sheriff Deputy Nathan Horton. “You can take these horses anywhere, they have great footing, and you can depend on them. I’m proud to be part of the program.”