The lone horse on Flathead Lake's Wild Horse Island finally has a running mate. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) added a second horse to the island in late December, its first step to bolster the population of the state park's namesake.
The timing of the new addition came as a pleasant surprise to the agency. Original plans called for as many as four new wild horses to be moved onto the island in spring, but FWP adjusted its strategy when a horse from the Pryor Mountain herd, famous for genes traced to horses of the Spanish Conquistadors, became available. The horse was adopted at a Bureau of Land Management auction and apparently escaped from its owner.
"The owner must have had it for a while and then it got loose and they never came back to claim it," says Dave Bennetts, park ranger for the Flathead.
Livestock inspectors held the horse in Missoula until officially designating it "abandoned property" and donating it to the island. FWP's plans to hold the horse in Kalispell until spring didn't pan out because the horse was causing a ruckus with the other horses.
"Because it wasn't getting along with the other horses they had boarded there we were forced to put a plan into motion that wasn't ready to go," says Bennetts. "Luckily, all at the same time, the barge was available, the weather was good and we had the window."
Bennetts says FWP's next step will be getting three or four more horses from holding places in either Ulm (south of Great Falls) or Billings to finally fulfill the island's wild horse capacity and give visitors even more reason to visit the state park.
"I don't think everybody always fully appreciates what's really out there," says Bennetts. "It's 2,500 acres with a healthy bighorn sheep and mule deer population, as well as the wild horses, whose population will hopefully be bolstered soon."