Oldest horse on Flathead’s Wild Horse Island dies

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Missoulian.com | Tristan Scott

The oldest horse on Wild Horse Island in Flathead Lake has died. The gelding had been on the island for more than three decades.

The oldest horse on Wild Horse Island in Flathead Lake has died. The gelding had been on the island for more than three decades.

Having roamed Flathead Lake’s largest island for more than three decades, at one point upholding its name as the lone equine resident, the oldest gelding on Wild Horse Island has departed for greener pastures.

“It’s too bad, but he had a pretty good run,” says Jerry Sawyer, who manages the seven state parks located on Flathead Lake for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. “It’s pretty rare that they get that old. And he just kept hanging in there.”

Every winter, the old man’s ribs became a little more pronounced, his winter coat a few degrees more tattered, and wildlife managers grew increasingly certain that it would be his last.

And then, with spring’s arrival, he would emerge to prove his tenacity again.

“He was there a long time,” Sawyer said. “He had been shedding his winter coat and his metabolism was slowing down. He came across as really wild and wooly, and that was certainly a sign that he wasn’t going to keep going. He did have pretty good habitat, though, with plenty of forage, and the predators are pretty slim out there. There are coyotes and a few mountain lions. He did well.”

Longtime Wild Horse Island resident Barry Gordon last saw the old horse around the first of December, and said he was looking weaker than he had at the beginning of previous winters.

“He really hung in there,” Gordon said. “He was always the wildest of all the horses that we have out here. You never could get up next to him, but he was always the one that watched over the rest of them. He just finally gave her up.”

The old horse’s death leaves five mares and one gelding, a population that still outweighs what is technically allowed by Wild Horse Island State Park’s management plan – a maximum of five wild horses to run free on the island’s 2,164 acres. The island also supports significantly higher numbers of bighorn sheep and mule deer.images-15

FWP, which has to transplant bighorn sheep off the island to keep their population in check, has one major rule for the wild horses, which are present solely to honor the island’s name. They can’t reproduce.

That’s meant the males on the island, like the oldest horse, must be geldings.

In 2009, the herd of wild horses dwindled to only the old man, and FWP began restocking, first adding a mustang because they didn’t think the old horse could make it through another winter. When he did, they added four wild black mares – the first females FWP had ever transplanted to the island.

Unbeknownst to anyone, one of the mares was pregnant, and one day a seventh horse appeared on the island. According to Gordon, the old horse was protective of the young filly.

Continued on the Missoulian




AUTHOR: Jerry Finch
10 Comments
  • over 2000 acres and only FIVE horses? I mean, obviously it carried more then that to get the name, correct? To bad, itsounds like a good habitat for the horses. could rtansplant some of the horses in holding after gelding, there are plenty of islands other horses could be moved to, back to the wild–now there is an idea–

    April 24, 2013
  • Arlene

    Thank You the Story on how the mustangs should be able to live in peace and protection !!!!!! RIP Peace Beautiful Mustang !!!!

    April 24, 2013
  • Judy Lane

    For once a good story. See, they don’t have to round-up the Mustangs . They can take care of themselves.

    April 24, 2013
  • Mustang man

    He was a wonderful steward of the young horses and watched over the unexpected baby quite well. Funny thing is the rule is not a maximum of 5 horses but a minimum as outlined in the will and documents of the gentleman that gifted the island to the state, it also says nothing of them not breeding, anther little addendum of the state who transplanted the big horns out there and use the island a breeding facility for big horn sheep. There are hundreds of them there along with White tail deer that did exist there. The current horse residents are all Pryor mountain transplants.

    April 24, 2013
    • Arlene

      Great Point made Mustang man !!! A minimum of 5 Horses , thanks for Stating the true wishes of the man who donated the Island, seems like some are not really heeding to his wishes????? //////

      April 24, 2013
  • Kim L. Shawver

    Thank you for the updates!

    April 24, 2013
  • Daryl

    Sory that ends well, how refreshing, sorry about the older gelding leaving, we are all going to do this, but he was free for a long time and enjoyed it, God bless him, let’s hope the others stay free and live a long happy life too.

    April 24, 2013
  • Carol Lynn Lucas

    I was so pleased when I read the brochure of Montana’s tourism…I thought…now they don’t round-up there wildhorses.,.I must go see them and now to find out they only have such a small allowance for these wildhorses only made me angry…in fact I am so disappointed in the politics behind the destruction of every wildhorse herd…this is not sustainable…it is a joke…how can you advertise this repugnant joke…so Montana as well destroys the herds…Shame on you!

    April 25, 2013
    • Arlene

      Shame on the ENTIRE WEST Without the Mustangs , they wouldnt even be !!!!!! How can they be so ungrateful………….I am appalled at them……..They should be doing everything they can to protect the Mustangs , that made the West !!!!!!!!!!

      April 25, 2013
  • LNorman

    RIP old man. Breeding facility for big horn (a hunter’s fave) – but only sterilized wild horse males? crock.

    April 25, 2013