Up close and personal: Utah’s Wild Horses Draw Crowds

By John Hollenhorst as broadcast on KSL.com

“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,”

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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.”


  1. I’ve been taking families and photographers out to see our beautiful American Mustang since 2011. (Sonly Boys Tours) People from all around the world come to Reno Nevada JUST to see the wild horses. I hope that some day the state’s political leaders will support our magnificent partners and give them the respect they deserve.


  2. Sweet! Looks like I’ll be getting Susan’s book! XD

    And Rep. Chaffetz actually calling wild horse “graceful” and “beautiful” and going out into the desert to take photos of them?! That comes as a huge surprise to me. In the past, his voting record on wild horse and burros has been poor. He voted against the ROAM Act in the 111th Congress and went so far as to call wild burros “invasive”. However, I’m also a firm believer in redemption. If Rep. Chaffetz is willing to devote his time to researching the wild horse and burro “issue” and decides to support their preservation, it would be absolutely wonderful. PLEASE do the right thing Representative! It’s never too late to do so.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. We leave the “instant” world behind when we are fortunate enough to spend time in nature – especially with wild horses and burros. Actually, if you give it a chance, time almost stands still when in the presence of wild horses and burros. I wish that everyone could sit in nature’s wild world and breathe the same air that the wild ones breathe … that is how we learn to understand and respect nature. Those precious moments are truly magical and never forgotten.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. The Colorado Tourism Office is hosting a series of “listening sessions” this month, so anyone who is interested in supporting wild horse tourism in our state, please let them know! Our largest remaining herd is the Sand Wash HMA in the northwest corner of the state and is by local accounts there (informal surveys) a bigger draw than big game hunting, which is very popular there.


    Liked by 3 people

  5. Baroness: Europeans see wild horses as representing America
    April 15, 2008

    It’s not only Nevada residents who are debating the fate of the state’s horses that roam the Virginia Range – residents of Europe are interested as well.

    Antonia Umlauf Baroness von Lamatsch of Austria, a prize-winning filmmaker, said that like many Europeans, she was fascinated with America’s wild horse herds.
    “My curiosity for the most beautiful creatures in the world brought me here,” she said. “The last living monument to America, and it is the greatest thing to see them free.”

    “You still have all this beautiful wild country,” she said. “This is not possible in Europe. Forget it.”

    She said she was amazed that the need for Nevada tourism was not important in protecting these wild herds.

    “This is a major draw for tourism,” she said. “It’s like whale watching, no one thought much about that at first, but now it’s big business.”

    Liked by 1 person

  6. How about a Mustang Car rally?

    Save the Mustangs

    Hollywood comes to Hot Springs – Film star and animal rights activist Stefanie Powers shares horse stories with Dayton O. Hyde, owner of the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary, before a press conference announcing the “Save the Mustangs” program.

    Save the Mustangs
    Actress Stefanie Powers holds court at Sanctuary

    HOT SPRINGS – On a flawless Black Hills day, with the pristine prairies and green hills in the background, a group of about 35 people from all walks of life converged upon the Wild Horse Sanctuary to begin a joint effort to save wild mustang herds from slaughter. Recent media attention has attracted Ford Motor Company, the makers of the popular Ford Mustang sports car, who have jumped on the bandwagon with film star and animal activist Stefanie Powers, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Take Pride in America to help save about 2,000 wild mustangs that currently face an uncertain future. “The Ford Mustang is America’s iconic sports car and takes its inspiration from the wild mustang, a true icon of American freedom,” said Ford’s Chairman and CEO Bill Ford.

    Last week 32 of the mustangs were delivered to the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary (“WHS”), after being rescued from certain slaughter. While stressed from travel and compromised health, the horses were in stable condition and ready to meet the press Thursday, when the auto maker announced it will provide aid to save the mustang population. “The wild mustang embodies the passion, spirit and heritage that are an integral part of the American experience,” said Bill Ford in the company’s press release. “We felt compelled to do what we could to help preserve these beautiful, legendary animals,” he said. The company was initially contacted by Powers, who learned of the animals’ plight. Powers is well known for her work with animal preservation through the William Holden Wildlife Foundation.

    To help provide a means for the public to contribute to the ongoing care of the horses in their new habitats, Ford has established the “Save the Mustangs” fund. Contributions to the program will be managed by Take Pride in America and are tax-deductible. Take Pride in America was created in 1985 to preserve and maintain American public lands and historical sites and has evolved to protect places and things that symbolize the American spirit. Through its Wild Horse and Burro Sponsorship Program, which offers a variety of sponsorship levels to assist wild horses that have been placed in holding facilities, Take Pride in America is heavily involved in the effort to preserve wild, free-roaming mustangs and burros.

    “This is an example of government partnering with corporate America,” said Jon Harmon of the Ford organization, as he introduced the various partners in the Save the Mustangs campaign, including Powers, who said, “we’re all in collaboration. This is a good guy story.” Powers, who epitomizes Hollywood glam with her movie star cowgirl attire, was every bit the lady on location. As beautiful and charming now as she was 20 years ago, Powers expressed great delight in the scenic attributes of the WHS. “It’s so beautiful here,” she said as she viewed the expanse of prairie and canyon from the visitors’ center. Her love for animals was evident in her inquiries about local wildlife, especially wild turkey. In her opening address to the crowd, she said, “This is a positive answer to a dilemma we have right now of the rescue of these horses,” who were in a separate corral enjoying sweet feed before being turned out to pasture. While some of the horses’ ribs were showing, they did not appear too scraggly and, according to WHS’s Hyde, “mustangs are always lean.” The other 19 horses are under quarantine and are expected to arrive next week.

    Wild horse lovers can learn more about the issue and can help support the cause by visiting http://www.savethemustangs.org.


  7. Ford Ramps Up Effort to Rescue Wild Mustangs

    HOT SPRINGS, S.D.-Ford Motor Company stepped up its commitment to preserving thousands of wild mustangs on Thursday by providing funding to save 2,000 of the horses, along with setting up a “Save the Mustangs” fund.

    Company executives witnessed a symbolic release of 51 horses into a new habitat here, on land that was the setting for the recent action movie Hidalgo. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, along with actress and animal-rights activist Stefanie Powers, participated in the effort.

    Powers told Inside Line wild-mustang preservationists wanted schools and urban families to join in “virtual adoptions” of the horses. She urged the public to support companies such as Ford.

    “Unless the corporate world can see conservation and preservation making good business sense, it won’t happen,” said Powers, who said she was not being paid by Ford. “Ford has an altruistic bent, but we can’t simply rely on certain leadership in corporations. One day, Bill Ford may not be the CEO of Ford. If their bottom line doesn’t look good, the board may say we can’t save the mustangs. We have to support these companies by buying their products.”

    Ford gave $19,000 earlier this spring to save 52 mustangs from slaughter. Congress in December replaced a 34-year-old ban on slaughtering mustangs with a law permitting older and unwanted horses to be sold.

    What this means to you: Mustang lovers can visit http://www.savethemustangs.org to find ways to help head off the demise of these threatened animals, along with Ford.


  8. Ford Saves Wild Mustangs From Slaughter
    They’re now free. Fifty-two wild mustangs first sold for slaughter are running free in KOTA territory.

    “We figure we could get a good jump start on saving mustangs and get them good homes,” said Ziad Ojaki of Ford Motor Company.

    The grueling trip ended and now they roam freely in their new home, just south of Hot Springs at the Wild Horse Sanctuary.

    “We verify that they have the capacity to take care of these animals and that they have pasture and resources,” said Kathleen Clark of the Bureau of Land Management.

    Ford Motor Company actually saved the mustangs from slaughter. They intervened after a South Dakota Indian tribe sold the horses to a broker who sent them to an Illinois processing plant. Ford purchased and donated the mustangs to the non–profit sanctuary.

    “A good part of our success has been driven by the mustang, so we saw that as a good opportunity to pay back and pay forward,” said Ojaki.

    “These animals were sold and became private property, once they were private property there wasn’t anything illegal about the tribe trading them nor was it illegal for the broker to take them to slaughter,” said Clark.

    Actress and long–time horse advocate Stefanie Powers brought the matter to Ford’s attention and persuaded them to ship the wild mustangs. Ford plans to help save about two–thousand nationwide.

    “I’m a great lover of horses. I have 26 of my own so to see this event occur is just good news,” said Powers.

    The issue drove the Bureau of Land Management to the three U.S. processing plants begging them to refuse to buy horses sold for slaughter. In December Congress replaced the mustang slaughtering ban with a law permitting older and unwanted wild horses to be sold.

    “It’s difficult to gentle a horse that hasn’t been around people, riding, or through a training program then all of a sudden they are 11 years old and it makes it more difficult,” Tom Dyer of the Bureau of Land Management.

    “They’re beautiful and they couldn’t be in a more beautiful setting,” said Ojaki.


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