“Do we detect a hint of Eco-tourism in the wind? Do a few people actually ‘get it’? Please, please, for the sake of the wild ones, lets hope so!!!” ~ R.T.
“I am writing about the wild horses and the passion that they stir within us, as humans,”
Wild mustangs have been embroiled in controversy across the West for decades. But in spite of all the political wrangling, there’s one thing most people would likely agree on: wild horses are beautiful.
Increasingly, they’ve become the focus for photographers and other horse-lovers who venture out into the Utah’s West Desert.
“I’m fascinated with them and how they survive out here,” said Al Perry, as he sighted a large herd of horses through the viewfinder on his camera. “They go about their business without concern about me or others in the area.”
Perry, a retiree from Indiana, was photographing the Onaqui herd that ranges across desert mountains and valleys near the U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Ground.
“I counted them last night and we had about 155 out here,” said Jim Schnepel of the Wild Horses of America Foundation. “That’s kind of atypical of wild horse groups.”
As the unusually large group of horses clustered into one easily photographed bunch, several groups of people arrived, most carrying cameras.
Author Susan Imhoff Bird is working on a book about the living symbols of the Wild West.
“I am writing about the wild horses and the passion that it stirs within us, as humans,” she said.
Schnepel expressed similar sentiments as he gazed at the herd.
“It’s just something in me,” he said. “I just love them deep down.”
An occasional visitor to mustang territory is Rep. Jason Chaffetz. He sometimes stalks the horses with a camera and has captured several impressive action shots.
“They’re graceful; they’re beautiful,” Chaffetz said. “But they like to fight, too. And that’s the fun of it.”
The Onaqui herd has roamed near Dugway Proving Ground for decades with little public notice. But more and more, the horses’ solitude has been challenged by growing numbers of recreationists, gawkers and photo buffs.
“The horses do have a kind of a natural curiosity about people and a willingness to interact with people,” Schnepel said. “So as more people come out here, they get habituated to being around them.”
The horses are not exactly tame; they’re still wild horses, after all. But they often allow visitors to come very close. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management recommends that visitors stay at least 100 feet away. But the horses themselves often make that difficult by circulating right around the humans.
“You gotta be careful because they’re still very much wild animals,” Chaffetz said. “They will in an instant start fighting and running, and you gotta stay out of their way. But you can get remarkably close.”
However, the horses don’t seem to tolerate some types of human activity.
“You dare not come out with an A.T.V. or a motorcycle,” Perry said. “They are really spooked by that.”
Visitors often have the thrill of watching two stallions fight for dominance.
“The stallions are pretty protective of their mares,” Schnepel said. “That’s what we’re seeing here. You see the little bit of infighting going on. They’ll start chasing (other stallions) away when the distances get too close.”
It’s obvious that the wildness hasn’t been bred out of them, which may explain why so many people seem drawn to the spectacle.
As author Susan Imhoff Bird put it, “We as humans have a desire to connect with the wildness within.”