'Bodies strewn all over the place': Why are wild horses being shot in southern Utah?

Wild horses of the Onaqui herd are pictured near Simpson Springs, in Tooele County, on March 20, 2020. After discovering the bodies of 16 wild horses presumably shot dead in San Juan County, brothers Wayne and Curtis Yanito are looking for answers.

Wild horses of the Onaqui herd are pictured near Simpson Springs, in Tooele County, on March 20, 2020. After discovering the bodies of 16 wild horses presumably shot dead in San Juan County, brothers Wayne and Curtis Yanito are looking for answers. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)



Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

BLUFF, San Juan County — What started as a typical drive to work on a chilly January morning quickly devolved into something much darker for Wayne Yanito.

"I was on my way to work when I noticed the first horse, a paint. I went to take a closer look and observed obvious gunshot wounds. As I drove to higher ground, I saw the bodies of more horses who were shot to death," said Yanito, who works for the San Juan County road department.

He said it was Jan. 3, 2022, when he found the carcasses of six dead horses along state Route 162 in San Juan County between Bluff and Montezuma Creek.

He reported the shootings to San Juan County officials, but since then the shootings have persisted. The total count of dead horses in the area now stands at 16, said Lynda Logan, of Advocates for Wild Equines.

Logan said that she and her team were contacted by Yanito and his brother, Curtis Yanito, seeking the organization's help with the issue.

"There's bodies strewn all over the place up there, and we just want to make sure that it's being looked into," Logan said.

Logan and the Yanito brothers all suspect that the horses are being shot with high-powered rifles, saying that along with "obvious gunshot wounds," they've found shell casings and observed tire tracks around the areas where the bodies have been found — all evidence leading them to believe that someone is shooting the horses from a vehicle.

Logan even created a YouTube video that shows pictures of the horses taken by the Yanito brothers, as well as a map detailing where each body was found.

"There were a bunch of horses there, now you hardly see any horses," Wayne Yanito said. "It needs to stop. I don't think it's right."

Curtis Yanito joined his brother in the search for dead horses earlier this month after Wayne's initial discovery.

"It's really sad to see these things," he said. "For a Native American, you know, an animal like that — it's not right. The horses are pretty sacred."

Logan said that the killings in San Juan County share shades of similarity with the recent killing of at least 25 horses on U.S. Forest Service Land in Alpine, Arizona, as well as the shootings of wild horses in Heber, Arizona.

"This is becoming a pattern, unfortunately," Logan said, adding that she believes ranchers in the area may be "taking matters into their own hands."

Ranchers and wild horses have a long-chronicled history of feuds.

All 16 horses shot to death in Utah were found on land belonging to the Bureau of Land Management, on the McCracken Wash grazing allotment.


It's really sad to see these things. For a Native American, you know, an animal like that — it's not right. The horses are pretty sacred.

–Curtis Yanito


Although the bodies are all located on BLM land, the BLM isn't the lead agency investigating the killings since the horses weren't killed in a wild horse and burro herd management area. That duty falls into the hands of the San Juan County Sheriff's Office.

"Since the horses are feral, the investigation is being led by the San Juan County Sheriff's Office with BLM law enforcement assisting," explained Lisa Reid, BLM wild horse and burrows public affairs specialist.

The San Juan County Sheriff's Office hasn't responded to requests for comment from KSL.com.

Another factor complicating the investigation, Reid and Logan said, is that no one really knows where the horses came from. It is possible that the wild horses crossed the San Juan River onto BLM's grazing allotments from the Navajo Nation, which borders S.R. 162, or migrated there from the canyons and forests to the west where wild horses have been spotted.

"This is happening. It's been happening, obviously, because you have bodies in various states of decomposition, which means they've been killed over months and months," Logan said.

"It's just really sad to see the whole thing," Curtis Yanito added. "I didn't like it."

Logan said that anyone with information can contact her at 480-888-5019 or email coreteam@advocatesforwildequines.com. Tipsters can remain anonymous.

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Logan Stefanich is a reporter with KSL.com, covering southern Utah communities, education, business and military news.

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