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The first family band of wild horses we saw
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Grey horse coming to check us out - about 50 feet from us
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Grey Stallion turning to leave after presenting us with his calling card
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Grey Stallion's family band all together for one last look
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Sunset that night
Something touches my soul whenever I see horses running free. I achieved my dream of seeing wild horses in their natural habitat last Memorial Day weekend
I convincied my non-horsey hubby, Mike, to take a road trip with me to Northwestern Colorado in search of wild horses. After some on-line research and contact with local Bureau of Land Management (BLM) offices, we chose to visit the Sandwash Basin herd outside of Craig, CO. According to the BLM, this herd is the most photogenic of the four herds in Colorado.
As we drove into the Herd Management Area (HMA), we encountered other people out enjoying the holiday weekend with their camper trailers, ATVs and dirt bikes. I wondered how well ATVs and dirt bikes mix with wild horses, based on our domesticated horses’ reactions to these vehicles.
We drove nearly nine miles into the HMA (the BLM had advised us wild horses are typically visible about seven miles in), when Mike thought he spotted two white "cars" in the distance. I quickly grabbed the binoculars; we had found our first wild horses!
Naturally, I wanted to get as close as possible to the horses. Armed with our cameras, we walked toward the herd with the wind in our faces. I was looking through the binoculars, getting a sense of the herd, when Mike told me a grey horse was headed in our direction. I didn’t think too much of it, kept looking around at the other horses and took some pictures.
Mike said, "He’s coming faster now."
I lowered my camera to watch the approaching horse. I figured it might be the stallion coming to investigate. He came toward us in a strong manner with his shoulders square and head high. After disappearing down into a gulley, he came back up about 50 feet from us, stopped, and cleared his nostrils a couple of times.
Mike was concerned because he felt the horse was displaying aggressive behavior. I told Mike to relax, round/soften his shoulders and not to look the horse in the eye. I was completely calm (to my surprise afterward) and continued taking pictures. The grey turned his head to the right then to the left to get a better look at us. Quickly his body language changed; he lowered his head, turned to the right, then turned completely around so we were facing his butt. I thought he was going to leave, but then he turned again and lowered his head to nibble some grass. Then he started walking, weaving and arcing closer to us in a relaxed manner. At one point he came straight on, but then started weaving and arcing again. Ultimately, he got within 10 feet of us. Mike was very nervous again, and I told him to just relax. I kept taking pictures and started talking to the stallion (since he was so close, we co nfirmed he was indeed a stallion).
I took pictures the entire time, while I told him how handsome he was and that all we wanted was to photograph him and his family. My voice was calm and confident – no fear. He relaxed pretty quickly and lowered his head to eat some grass. He kept an eye on us the entire time as he continued to get closer. He presented his flank multiple times, then stopped and turned his butt to us again. He defecated, turned around to smell his offering, then turned again and left at a trot to return to his herd.
"Bye, and Thank You!" I called to him.
Wow, what an amazing first encounter with a band of wild horses! How lucky were we to be downwind from the herd and for the stallion to be curious and protective enough of his herd to come investigate us. Although Mike felt threatened, I didn’t, and remained calm through the entire encounter. Having worked with mustangs during training, sometimes my adrenaline can get the best of me and spook the horse. Not this time, and it was probably a good thing. If I hadn’t been so calm and relaxed, there is no telling what the stallion might have done, especially if he felt he or his herd were in danger.
Looking back at all the pictures we took, I was able to see the stallion truly was not aggressive and showed signs of trust. Sure, he approached us straight on, shoulders square, but he softened pretty quickly and presented his flank to us multiple times. I was taught this is huge for a wild horse, since this is their most vulnerable area. When the stallion had had enough and determined we were not a threat, he gave us a warning. He turned his butt to us, marked his territory and ran back to his herd.
The stallion’s family band was one of the largest we saw that weekend. I counted approximately 12 members with three foals on the ground. We saw a total of eight family bands that day, approximately 70 horses total. We were not able to get as close to the rest of the herds, and no other horses or stallions approached us (mostly we were upwind).
We camped out that night, grilled some steaks and enjoyed the peacefulness of the land. The next day we awoke to a gorgeous sunrise, took the dogs for a walk and packed up camp to head out. I was hoping to see one more family band on our way out, and as luck would have it, it was the grey stallion’s band we got to see again. This time we saw the foals a little more closely, but some of the mares were pretty spooky and took off running. The stallion came up the ridge to see what all the commotion was about and when he saw me, he was like, "Oh, you again…no big deal, but let’s all stick together," as he escorted the mares and foals back to the rest of herd.
I couldn’t have asked for a better wild horse encounter! These wild horses are living symbols of our American History. They are on our public lands and available for our viewing pleasure. I highly encourage you to go out and discover the horses for yourself and see what kind of wild horse encounter you might have.
Kim Baker has been working with horses for eight years and is currently studying with several leading natural horsemanship trainers to become a professional natural horsewoman. Kim's passion is to develop an educational program encompassing holistic practices for improving the partnership and relationship between horses and their owners. Kim competes with her Arabian gelding Night in Trail, Western Pleasure, and Native Costume, and they are also now going to explore the world of Reining and Ranch Versatility. Kim is also certified in Reiki I & II, and studying animal communication. Visit Kim's website www.kbnaturalhorsemanship.com