Minden - For eight months, a small band of Pine Nut range mustangs remained elusive on more than 900 acres of fenced land belonging to the Lake Tahoe Douglas Sewer District.
The acreage is at the foot of the Pine Nut Mountains just a few miles down a dirt road from the end of Stockyard Road, in the Carson Valley.
In their self-imposed captivity, the tiny herd of eight were living in the lap of luxury. Plenty of water and, as spring arrived, the abundance of thick tall grass, horse-belly high growing around the three man-made reservoirs on the property.
"This won't be the case when fall comes," said district manager John Hastie. "The reservoirs all dry up in the fall and so does the grass. The possibilities of injury with all the plant structures on the property is great, too."
As to how the herd got into the enclosure in the first place, Hastie could only surmise that during one of the times crews were in there doing water samples, a gate was left open and the small band of mustangs slipped in undetected.
"The gates are always supposed to be locked," Hastie said. "Someone must have been careless and left one of them open."
It was time to move the horses out of the enclosed area and onto open range where they belonged. A phone called placed by Hastie to the Bureau of Land Management put him in touch with Sheila Schwadel, a member of the Alliance of Wild Horse Advocates and the Fish Springs Wild Horse Posse.
Schwadel and members of the Alliance formed an agreement with BLM to allow them to move vagrant horses to safe ground when they become a nuisance. This agreement ended the use of helicopter chases.
"This agreement is a winning situation for all of us," said Schwadel. "It allows us to keep our horses here and it relieves BLM of having to deal with most of the problem."
A group of volunteers, comprised of the members of the Sheriff's Mounted Posse along with friends, neighbors and Schwadel, met at 8 a.m. Wednesday at the edge of the first sewer district reservoir to plan a strategy for the least stressful way to move the wary herd out of the gated enclosure.
One of the volunteers, Ray Andres, was riding a mustang that had been caught in the controversial 1998 BLM round up of Pine Nut range mustangs when 13 wild horses were removed from the range under protest from local residents.
Andres' horse had been a 7-month-old captive. Given the name "Shadow," he had finally come into the hands of Sheila Schwadel, who raised and trained him. Ironically, Shadow was now helping to move other horses to safer ground.
After several hours of patience and perseverance on behalf of the volunteers, a mustang stallion standing at the open gate of the enclosure with the rest of the herd close by, finally led his band to the open range.
"It is a relief to me," said Hastie. "I am very appreciative of Sheila Schwadel and all the volunteers for their efforts. A big thanks and gratitude goes to the posse for their help."