The Salt River Wild Horses

Dear Students,

I read in the paper today about a herd of wild horses at the nearby Salt River.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) protects, manages and controls wild horses and burros under the authority of the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act to ensure that healthy herds thrive on healthy rangelands. The BLM cares for these living symbols as part of its multiple-use mission under the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act.

Wild Horses sign from Flickr

Wild Horses sign from Flickr

This is not a joke. There really are wild horses out here. About 100 feet behind me is the 101 Loop Freeway, with many thousands of cars going by, every day. Yet, the wild horses still roam out here on this Indian Reservation (Salt River Indian Community.)

We bought the home we’re now living in, in Scottsdale, Arizxona, in 1976. At that time, we could walk down to the end of our street, cross Pima Road, and be out on the reservation, where we could turn our dog loose to run all he wanted. Our walks got longer and longer, until we were walking about five miles every evening.

It was on one of those evenings we discovered the wild horses. We counted 21 of them and they were so beautiful! At first, we thought they must belong to some Indian family. But no, we decided they were wild because they were unshod and not fenced in. This is a very large piece of desert, so the horses have plenty of room to run.

We started to discover things about them. They like to eat the beans off of mesquite trees here. We’d find a large tree with horse manure all around and all the beans eaten off to a certain height. We reasoned that’s how they survive when there is no grass, which is most of the time. read more

For more about the Salt River Herd and herds like this, follow Painter Karen McClain. She has a passion for wild horses. She maintains a video catalog here and is a great starting point to learn more about these magnificent animals.

There are herd management areas across the United States. Because horses have no natural predators, the herd can double in size in 4 years. Roundups help manage the herd. In Colorado, an innovative program like Project Noble Mustang pairs the confined with the untamed. In Arizona, it’s not so simple. One camp decries the horses as “feral“, turned loose on reservation land, rampantly reproducing and throwing the land out of balance, essentially a pest. Some of the wild horses in the pictures show branded and gelded horses…which casts suspicion on their status as Mustangs. The Conquistador Equine Rescue and Advocacy Program say the animals are descended from the Spanish Conquistadores and have logs and evidence to prove the horses do not come from reservation land. The stakeholders include folks that recreate in the area and love the horses, ranchers that compete with the horses to feed their livestock and encroaching traffic where large horses roaming freely along highways is a deadly proposition.

Project Noble Mustang –Colorado inmates train mustangs for US Border Patrol

To understand the journey of the wild horses on public lands, I turned to 12 year old Brigit Brown of Moriarty, New Mexico. She turned a project for National History Day in her school into an award-winning documentary. The film won first place in regional and state competitions, and was featured at the Supreme Extreme Mustang Makeover in Dallas, Texas, in September 2011.

Wild Horse Annie and the Last of the Mustangs: The Life of Velma Johnston by David Cruise and Alison Griffiths

This is a complicated issue with room for passionate people to effect a change. Without enough homes for the horses and without natural predators, man becomes the predator. Advocates educate the public to improve resources for the herds. If you care about the horses, then add your voice. If the horses don’t matter to you, then you won’t notice when they are gone.

Misty of Chincoteague written by Marjorie Williams Illustrated by Wesley Dennis

With the wind in my hair,
Mrs. Kenney


2 thoughts on “The Salt River Wild Horses

  1. I have seen a couple driving on Riggs road almost to the I-10. I always wonder how they survive out there in the heat. There is an amazing island off St Marys in Georgia called Cumberland island… it is inhabited by hundreds of wild horses, armadillos, and other creatures. It is preserved from vehicles but you can take a boat and camp there overnight. Our boys loved it when they were small (and we lived less than two hours from there). Those horses were confident and you moved out of the way when the pack leads their pack towards you. They would also stand individually on the beach with the wind blowing their manes looking out at the ocean for endless amounts of time. So magical! I didn’t care for all the armadillos passing by our tent at night though!


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