When I camped in the Steen Mountains a little over a month ago, a fellow camper asked if I’d seen the wild horses yet. I hadn’t but resolved I would the next time I returned. Like many, I’ve long held romantic visions of horses.
Born in Seattle, I spent my fifth year in Goldendale Washington, my grandfather’s birth town, when my brother suffered from life-threatening asthma attacks. What could have been a traumatic event, considering that my father continued to work in Seattle for the entire year, was transformed into a adventure when I was given cowboy boots and a cowboy hat to complement my Gene Autry holster. Mom took us to all the local rodeos, telling us how our grandfather had broken broncs for a living for several years. For one year, at least, I knew I was a “cowboy.”
After we returned to the big city, horse stories became a staple in my reading life. Two of the first books I ever owned, and still own, were My Friend Flicka and Thunderhead. I’m pretty sure I also read every one of the Black Stallion books. I still can’t drive through the Horse Heaven Hills in Eastern Washington without imagining I see herds of wild horses running in the distance.
I was really looking forward to seeing wild horses in Sheldon or Hart Mountain National Wildlife Refuges. Since I never saw any in Sheldon, my heart gave a leap when I spotted this horse in Hart Mountain.
Surely it had to be a wild horse, miles from anywhere. But where was the herd? Aren’t horses herd animals? It was pretty clear that there was no herd of horses in sight because it seemed like I could see forever.
In fact, it wasn’t until I was leaving Hart Mountain NWR that I finally saw a herd of horses beside the road. I pulled over and started shooting shots, but than I began to wonder if these were wild horses or domesticated horses.
Do wild horses spend most of their time grazing, like domesticated horses do?
Do wild horses shy at the sight of humans, or do they stare indifferently when you point a camera at them?
Do wild horse look different than domesticated horses? This horse certainly looks like the few horses I’ve ridden.
If they were wild, why were they drawn so close to the cattle ranches? I was left with more questions than answers. When I went online to look at wild horses, they looked an awful lot like this band of horses, so perhaps these were wild horses.
Later, talking to a visitor at Malheur, he noted that at least one herd of wild horses in the Steen Mountains had taken on a “unique” look, gone back to what the “original” horses looked like. I’ll have to keep my eyes open for a herd like that on my next trip there.