We were asked a question about the wild horses in Theodore Roosevelt National Park and what genetics or lineage they have in common with the Nokota horses we visited with Frank Kuntz this week.
There is a shared lineage. Most people say the TRNP horses are “cousins” to the Nokota horses. When Castle McLaughlin was paid by TRNP to research the history of the wild horses in the park, her research concluded, and there are paper trails of proof to back her up, that the horses that were in the Medora area when the park was fenced in came a couple local ranchers who in turn bought and bred Sitting Bull’s horses when he surrendered at Fort Buford.
The difference between Frank’s horses (the Nokota breed) and the TRNP horses is that Frank and Leo started to buy the horses from the Theodore Roosevelt National Park BEFORE they introduced new blood and impacted the unique genetics that make our North Dakota horses special.
When we met Frank, most of our talks about the horses revolved around shared experiences we each have had with the park, even though there are more than 40 years between our individual experiences.
Then as time went on, we started actually going through TRNP with Frank and watching the horses in the park. Frank and I said down a few months ago and had a different conversation.
I told Frank that we believe, from our documentation and observations of the herd in TRNP, that because of the lack of human interference with the horses due to Covid and the 2021 drought, that the herd is starting to heal itself. We discussed that it is starting to heal itself from years of the babies being culled year after year, and years of some of the mares on birth control because of the CSU experiment now FINALY able to have babies. Years of them being out of balance in so many ways – sex, numbers, age, etc., it seems like nature is trying to restore balance within the herd. I told him that one thing I had been noticing in particular is that for every Nokota horse you show me, I can show you a horse in TRNP that shares those characteristics. Frank said he was noticing that too.
I asked him if he thought that it might be possible that over time, the Nokota traits might come back as the dominant trait among the TRNP horses? He said he has been wondering the same thing.
Is the herd truly repairing itself? Could the Nokota traits once again become dominant within this herd?
Only time will tell and that is why timing is so crucial right now.
We have had two years of limited human interference with the horses. There is a significant difference in their behavior patterns now that there can be an actual evolving hierarchy within each wild horse band since most of the babies have not been culled from the herd. You only have to sit with Stallion Flax and his band for a few moments to see this with Mare Dolly and their three children.
There are significant behavior pattern changes, whether we like it or not, with actually having bachelor stallions and them challenging the older band stallions. There are also significant behavior patterns between the young bachelors and the older ones, as the older ones take on teaching roles to the next generation of band stallions.
Horses are a species and like any other species, including us humans, their ultimate goal is for their species to survive. After years of TRNP park management dictating their survival, we believe that nature is showing us that there is a better way.
All of that will be lost if the park goes back to blind round ups again of our youngest horses without taking science and genetics into consideration.
If the park goes back to taking every young horse between the age of 4 months old – 3 years old, we will never know if the Nokota traits or any of the other imbalances within this herd will truly heal.
Once again, we will say that we understand that the current population of 180 horses far exceeds the park’s goal for wild horses in TRNP. We understand that the park will have to cull some horses and that those horses will need good homes. We applaud those of you who are able to give TRNP horses a wonderful new forever home. That is not now nor ever will be our argument.
Our argument is how can this herd survive and thrive for future generations if very little horses and very little genetic diversity is left in the park.
The 2018 research paper written by TRNP staff working alongside other very well-educated professionals talked about specific unique genetic traits within the TRNP horses as well as their need to address the inbreeding issues within the herd.
Robert Utley, the actual man who helped write the current National Park Service (NPS) policies, has stated that the historical significance of the wild horses in TRNP as well as several NPS polices have been ignored and violated.
Castle McLaughlin did extensive research, paid for by TRNP, on the history of the wild horses in the park. Her research was pretty much ignored.
Both Castle and Robert Utley are known experts when it comes to Western American history and still their research and valid concerns have gone ignored by TRNP park management.
Genetic research on both the Nokota horses and some of the TRNP horses have shown that unique genetics do still exist and still TRNP park management turns a blind eye to the significance of both groups of horses.
TRNP’s own actions to introduce new blood on several occasions only to prove those outcomes to be an epic failure every time.
11 years of experimentation on the wild horses in TRNP by Colorado State University (CSU) absolutely had an impact on the behavior of these horses, although those findings are absent from their reports. They did manage to use our horses to find a way to perfect the pesticide GonaCon as a way to permanently sterilize wild horses on the western range.
According to information shared on the TRNP horse portal, the CSU experiment is finally over. The park made its share of mistakes in the past. They do not need to keep repeating past mistakes. These horses are a state and national treasure, and it is time that they started being treated as such.
We have attached photos to this post of both Nokota and TRNP horses – can you tell who is who?