OUTDOORS: Wild Horses

Wild horses showing off on the open prairie. (Wikimedia Creative Commons) 

Many people consider horses to be spirit animals that can touch the soul of their owners. These people believe horses are kind, gentle, healing, and make great friends. I am not one of them.

It’s not that I don’t like horses, it is the other way around: horses hate me. Every horse I ever had a relationship with went out of its way to buck me, kick me, bite me, and in some instances, leave me stranded in the woods. It all started with a rescue horse, named Ralph, that my grandfather brought home.

Ralph, the horse, was sentenced to a glue factory, probably for crimes he committed against his prior owner. My grandfather brought Ralph home, with the idea that a horse would be good for me. Problem was that Ralph had two distinct personalities.

Whenever my grandfather was around, Ralph was clean, hardworking, kind, even tempered, and honest to a fault. Whenever he was with me, away from my grandfather, Ralph was dirty, lazy, mean, violent tempered, and an incorrigible liar. I am sure that Ralph smoked cigarettes, sold dirty magazines and stole lunch money from school kids.

Ralph hated when I rode him. When he saw me coming with the bridle, he ran away. When I caught him, he would bite me. Some days, Ralph would act like he wanted to be ridden, and allow me to saddle him up without the usual argument. We would ride off, far away from home and it would begin.

That horse would walk under low hanging branches, sending me flying high heels over tin cups off his back. Then Ralph would look at me and laugh out loud and take off running, all the way back to the barn. Sometimes it would take hours for me to drag my injured carcass back home.

Colorado is truly a horse lover’s paradise. Aside from the many horses privately owned in our state, we also have a sizable population of wild horses, called mustangs. A mustang is a free-roaming horse of the American West that first descended from horses brought to America from the Spaniards. Because they are descended from once domesticated horses, perhaps feral horses would be a better term to describe them.

In 1971, the United States Congress recognized that “wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the west, which continue to contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people.”

The present herds of mustangs vary in degree to which they can be traced to original Iberian horses. Some of them contain a greater mixture of ranch stock, and more recent breed releases, while others are unchanged from original Iberian stock.

Mustangs are medium sized horses, measuring up to 15 hands tall, and weighing in at up to 800 pounds. On the prairie, wild horses can live up to 30 years. Mustangs live in large herds. The herd typically consists of mares, foals, yearlings and are guarded by a stallion.

The population of mustangs has been decreasing for several decades. It is estimated that 72,000 wild horses roam freely in 10 Western states. It is estimated that another 43,000 mustangs live off-range in corrals and pastures while another 250,000 of them have been placed in private care.

If you want to view these beautiful animals, you can do it in western Colorado. The Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Area is just 8 miles northeast of Grand Junction. This area spans 36,000 acres and has a resident herd of up to 150 mustangs, including palominos, paints, grays, blacks and many others. Spring and fall are the best times to find the wild horses here grazing on the plateaus and canyons.

Another place to view mustangs in our neck of the woods is the Spring Creek Basin Herd Management Area in Disappointment Valley, located between Norwood and Dove Creek. This herd contains bays, sorrels, grays and pintos dating back to the early 1900s.

According to legend, these horses descended from those of a Montana rancher who originally came to the valley to sell off a herd of stolen horses to the U.S. Cavalry. The herd is now managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and roams freely on 21,932 acres of open rolling hills and mountain terrain.

If you decide to visit these areas and view the mustangs, check with the local BLM office before you go for current conditions and current information regarding the wild herds. There are other places in Colorado where you can visit mustangs and information is available on the BLM website at blm.gov.

Old Ralph lived with us for many years. I went away to school, and upon returning home, Ralph was gone. My grandfather said that Ralph got old and passed but I often wonder if Ralph showed his true colors to my grandfather. As mean as Ralph was, I miss him, maybe just a little.

Mark Rackay is a columnist for the Montrose Daily Press and the Delta County Independent, an avid hunter and world class saltwater angler, who travels across North and South America in search of adventure and serves as a director and public information officer for the Montrose County Sheriff’s Posse. For information about the posse call 970-252-4033 (leave a message) or email info@mcspi.org

For outdoors or survival related questions or comments, feel free to contact him directly at his email elkhunter77@icloud.com.

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