Horse News

Wild Horses Evoke Deep Feelings

by Kevin Cook as it appears in Colorado’s Reporter

“…wild horses touch something inside us”

They evoke a different emotion, the wild horses do.

Wild Mongolian Takhi – photo by Terry Fitch

When we experience something magnificent, we feel awe. When we experience something troubling, we feel sadness. When we experience something terrible, we feel anger. When we experience something precious, we feel love.

All these emotions we feel; all these emotions we understand.

But wild horses touch something inside us, something uncommon, something special, something uniquely connected to them. Something for which we have no name, which bears no surprise considering we struggle with everything about the animals, even identity and name.

They are, in all analysis of tooth and bone, of sinew and muscle, of blood and chromosomes, of form and behavior, the same species as the horse that provides trail rides for tourists and backcountry access for hunters. The same horse that once pulled wagons across territorial plains and plows across farm fields. The same horse that once carried Spaniards and Mongols into war and conquest.

Nevertheless, adding the descriptor “wild” makes them seem like something more.

Some people use “mustang,” a name that conjures a charming if not outright romantic image of a free spirit in the wilderness of the Old West. Somehow, the name completes the set of American icons: God, Mom, the Flag, Apple Pie and Mustangs. And Spurs.

Regardless of name, the animal remains biotically and ecologically the same.

Horses comprise one of three families in the mammalian order called “Perissodactyla,” meaning “uneven fingers” but more meaningfully interpreted as “odd-toed mammals.” The other two families are rhinoceroses and tapirs, all of which bear their weight on and walk on three toes; horses, of course, bear weight on and walk on one toe.

Species count is contentious. Everyone agrees on five living rhinoceroses and four living tapirs, but sources differ on the horse family.

If the quagga is discounted for recently becoming extinct and if the Przewalski’s horse is discounted as a subspecies of the horse, then the family includes just eight species. But Przewalski’s horse has an extra chromosome plus several morphological features that taken together should segregate it as a distinct species.

The entire order, then, has but 18 living species as compared to something close to 220 species in the order Artiodactyla, which includes the camel, cattle, deer, giraffe, pig and pronghorn families.

Such information paints the background for the portrait of the wild horse as we see it.

The drive west from De Beque — 23 miles of rocky and rutted road but pleasant scenery — detaches mind and body from the conventions and routines of daily living. So when you see them, you realize … they’re just horses. But they wear no shoes or halters. No one feeds them or trims their manes and tails. They are no one’s pets or livestock; and through laws and provisions of public policy, they are not regarded as wildlife.

They are, after all, horses. Wild horses. And when we experience them, they evoke a special feeling, a sentiment. Something for which we have no name. Something splendid, something wonderful, something thrilling. Go see the wild horses, and then you will know.

Kevin J. Cook is a freelance writer and naturalist based in Loveland, CO. His Wildlife Window column appears in the Reporter-Herald every Thursday.

17 replies »

  1. This article was written by Colorado’s Kevin Cook…it is not from my pen but I share it here, today, for your “Feel Good Sunday” fix.

    Sorry, I am still traveling and time is very precious commodity but you folks are, outside of the horses, first and foremost on my mind.


    • It is a small world–I actually know this man. My daughter was in a special wildlife class he taught when she was in elementary school. A wise and wonderful writer. Thank you for posting his article.


  2. Thank You RT for posting this awesome feel good Sunday morning post, , The Beauty and peace i feel when i am with Wild mustangs or any of the horses, is one that I am still trying to find the words for, they dont have to do a thing but just be there for me to see , I look at them they look back with such a knowledge ,love peace ……They want me to know who they are, and what they are , and what they bring………………… and most of they want to be, just as we want to just be!!! When I am with the horses , they make the world seem right , the horses i can see have so much to show to us, i know they speak with their eyes…………………….. i can feel it !!!!! i could go on about them for hours………..


  3. I wish that all persons could just spend a couple of hours in the wild, quietly in the presence of our wild horses and burros in their home. Asking nothing from them. Watching them interact with their families. Watching the stallions snake their mares away from other stallions. Watching the mares with their foals. Watching the innocent bright-eyed foals experiencing their brand new life in the wild. Watching them as mother nature intended they should live… free to be born and live and die where they belong.


    • Dear Grandmagregg, What you said made me cry happy tears, if only each person would just even once experience this something so right, so there for us , so real and so alive with the wonders of life, so innocent and ready to give without asking only just to be ……………… and do what comes naturally the horses have given this to me , thousands of times. on the desert in Las Vegas……………..up until 10 years ago when they started to disappeared !!! I was devastated………….


  4. What a great article – someone else who truly appreciates our wonderful wild horses. I enjoyed this very much – hope your return journey goes smoothly, RT


  5. Thank you for sharing this beautiful essay. It reminds us that we are all connected. Your Blog has enriched my life and helped fuel my passion for saving what remains of wild horses. Thanks for all you do. Thanks for keeping us informed, motivating us, and saying what needs to be said.


  6. Thank you so much for a wonderfully written article! every time I look at my “wild” mustangs, I trully still think of them as “wild”, it is with respect and honor. Gentling is done with respect and honor. Everyday I look at them in awe! They approach me for scratches and hugs, and appreciate the scratches on the withers and reciprocate by grooming me on the arm, shoulder or hip. I absolutely despise the manner in which they are captured, the use of fertility drugs by the BLM, the separation of families and the deaths of foals by running them to death with the use of helicopters, knowing that they cannot keep up with their mothers. I think they should be prosecuted for animal cruelty, but don’t know if it’s possible, as it continues to happen over and over again. I truly don’t understand how human beings can be so despicable.


  7. You think you own whatever land you land on
    The earth is just a dead thing you can claim
    But I know every rock and tree and creature
    Has a life, has a spirit, has a name.


    • That is a beautiful song, sung by a beautiful voice, and with a beautiful message. Thank you for sharing it, grandmagregg


    • Thank you grandmagregg! I love this song (my daughter sings this in her high school choir!), & the words are haunting. Nothing brings you closer, or connects you to, or gives you that warm all over feeling than observing wildlife & nature! My lifetime dream is to one day get to see in person, wild horses, mustangs! Running wild & free, grazing peacefully, kicking up their heels in play! I hope I will realize that dream before they’re gone. I get all giddy inside just watching or seeing deer, & other wild critters, I can only imagine what it would be like to see wild horses! 🙂


  8. Rightfully appreciative essay on the wild horses. They are the horses living in the natural world. My, this is how they lived over 99.99999 percent of their time on Earth! What could be more natural? On another point, and as a student of both the tapir and the horse family, and to a lesser degree the rhino family, the mammalian Order Perissodactyla is commonly referred to as “odd-toed ungulates” (the latter term applies to all hoofed herbivores). This is generally understood as those hooved herbivores who bear the main axis of their weight on the centre hoofed digit. The rhinos and tapirs have three toes on the rear feet and four on the front feet (each foot). The equids (members of horse family) in early evolution had the same as the rhinos and tapirs, but in more recent times lost all but the center hoofed digit as they prolonged and streamlined their limbs and body to become the most efficient runners in the world. By best I mean those who can sustain the highest speeds for the longest times of any land animal. They are endurance runners, as well as walkers, of the highest evolved order. I talk a lot about their ecological place in the life community in my book: The Wild Horse Conspiracy, available on Hope some of you can get a copy and take the time to read it. It took me over four years to compose, and was edited several times, including with the professional help of an editor with a biological background.


    • Craig, I have your book, “The Wild Horse Conspiracy” it contains a world of information that has and is taking place with our America Wild Horses. I suggest everyone interested in our American Wild Horses and Burros read your book. There are so many facts that the average American does not know about in which the Government allows to happen to these beautiful horses. Thank you for writing such an informative book. Please keep up the good work in defending the defenseless. God bless.


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