A herd of wild mustang horses are stranded and starving on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation due to the historic snowfall and freezing temperatures in the region. Several hundred horses in the feral herd appear stressed and thin.

Dozens are trapped in a wooded valley with no available food source because fallen trees and snow drifts have covered their usual trails out of the valley. The horses are so hungry that some have left the remote foothills and approached the front yards of tribal members in the town looking for food.

Four young horses have died, and likely more are dead in the backcountry where people can’t easily see them, said Tami Fawcett, founder of Mustang MEND, a Redmond-based horse rescue organization.

“This is truly a tragic situation, and these horses are suffering,” Fawcett said. “No one wants to see these poor horses like this.”

Mustang MEND and Central Oregon Equine Rescue are working with families on the tribal land to get hay to the horses, where possible. The horse rescue organizations are actively seeking cash and hay donations to help feed the horses until the spring grass starts to appear on the ground.

So far, the groups have bought about $1,000 worth of hay and feed and are making plans to buy a semi-truck load of 25 to 30 tons of alfalfa hay, which cost about $7,500.

“We are just trying to prevent suffering because they are suffering right now,” Fawcett said.

Fawcett said she is concerned about the mares in the herd, especially the mothers who do not have enough nutrition to produce milk for the newborns.

Sadly, Fawcett expects to find a large number of orphans in the coming weeks. Orphans and other horses that can be rehabilitated will be taken in by Mustang MEND and prepared for adoption.

Mustangs make excellent riding horses once they are trained, Fawcett said.

“They bond closely with humans and become trustworthy partners,” Fawcett said. “They are athletic and intelligent and excel in many different riding disciplines.”

As the horses are rehabilitated, Mustang MEND will need foster homes to house some of the horses. Donations will also be needed for veterinary care and food, Fawcett said.

The long-term goal is to reduce the population of the feral herd through adoption and possibility introducing birth control into the population. The horse rescue groups are planning to discus long-term options such as birth control with tribal members. The horses are managed by Warm Springs tribal members and are not part of the wild horse populations protected by the Bureau of Land Management.

It is not sustainable to have the horses reproducing at a rate the land cannon support, Fawcett said.

“Ultimately, we would like to reduce the numbers of this herd so that these situations don’t continue to occur when we have bad winters in the future,” Fawcett said. “We are working closely with the local tribal members to devise a plan.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7820, kspurr@bendbulletin.com