Branding Iron

Blaine Northrop, Chief Brand Inspector



I drove past the North Dakota State Penitentiary the other day and it reminded me of the year or so I spent in Reno, Nev.", trapping horses on the city streets.  The horses were so bad inside the residential areas that two of the schools refused to let the children out at recess for fear the studs would attack the children.  I have pictures of the bands of horses standing in front of the schools’ entries.


 It was not uncommon to drive down the city street amongst homes valued at $300,000 to $500,000 and see horses grazing on the lawns and manure piles on the streets.  My job was to remove the horses from the city. 


Outside the city limits of Reno, there is a mountain range that has approximately 3,000 head of horses in it.  It’s about 20 miles wide, stretching from Reno to Carson City, Nev. , and 50 miles long, starting on the east side of the Washoe Valley, running east through Virginia City and Stagecoach, then ending at Fernley.  Range studies estimate the area can sustain only around 500 head of horses. 


Like all of Nevada, the Horse Management Areas (HMA) are overpopulated by huge percentages, so, when I captured the horses roaming the streets of Reno, I housed them all at the Nevada State Prison.  The east side of the prison was the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) facility, where the prisoners fed and cared for around 1,700 head of BLM mustangs.  The west side of the prison is where I held the Virginia Range Estrays (VRE).  All the horses I captured were considered feral, domestic horses and property of the State of Nevada, which put them under the Nevada Department of Agriculture’s jurisdiction. 


My horse trap was a set of panels eight-feet high, built out of heavy two-inch pipe 10 feet in length.  The panels weighed more than 200 pounds each.  This is where the prisoners came in.  Every time I had to use the panels, I would take three prisoners with and have them help.  They couldn’t wait for me to pull into the prison and pick them up.  It gave them what they thought was a few hours of freedom, plus they knew I would buy them a treat once we were finished. 


The first prisoner I chose was David.  Nate was the second, and Jason the third.  I’ll never forget, we had just finished setting up panels on the edge of Virginia City when David and Nate were telling me about the crimes they committed.  Both were sorry for what they had done and knew they had to pay the price.  Jason, on the other hand, just stood there listening and said, “You know, just because somebody robs a bank, people, for some reason, think they’re bad.” We all had a good laugh.  It looked to me like he was going to be a hard learner. 


After we were finished, I stopped at the local 7 Eleven, bought them their treats and took them back to the prison.  You’ll be hearing more about these men in my upcoming columns when I write about the things that happened with the activists while capturing the VRE horses.