About Wild Horses

Common Terminology

Herd – A “herd” of horses is a large group made up of smaller bands of horses sharing the same territory.

Band – Bands are small family groups of wild horses which generally can range from three members up to twelve or more.  These bands are led by a dominant mare over 6 years of age and a band stallion and can contain several additional mares, foals and younger horses of varying sexes.

Bachelor Band – A bachelor band is a small group of young stallions who have been kicked out of their natal (family) bands but have not yet won their own mare or started breeding.  These groups of males provide companionship and practice sparring for each other and as they gain maturity and confidence will start branching out to try to steal mares for themselves from current band stallions.

Natal Band – The band to which a horse a born into.

Stallion – Dominant stallions (male horses) vigilantly guard their mares and foals against both external threats from predators and against other stallions that enter their territory in an effort to steal mares for their own bands.  There is often both a band stallion and a lieutenant.  The lieutenant acts as a second in command and will often be the first to defend the mares.  If his efforts are unsuccessful the band stallion will then step in to fight to protect his family.

Mare – A mature female horse over the age of 6.

Foals – A baby horse.  Baby horses are typically born in April, May or June although they can be born very late or early in the season.  Young females are called “fillies” and males called “colts.”

Stud Pile – A pile of manure that is primarily made by adult stallions as a way of marking their territory.  It’s common to see males in conflict on or around the stud pile as they challenge each other’s position in the herd or possession of mares.  Be mindful of where you are standing when photographing or observing the horses because if you are on or near one of their stud piles they may view it as your attempt to challenge them or you may inadvertently get caught up in a horse conflict.

Snaking – Snaking is a behavior where a horse, usually a band stallion, lowers its head and shoulders in an elongated manner like that of a snake.  They will do this to move their mares away from encroaching stallions or to move their entire band to another area within the herd.  They may also exhibit this behavior towards humans if you're too close for their comfort.

Etiquette

Distance – On the Onaqui HMA (Herd Management Area) visitors must stay 100 feet from wild horses and other wildlife.  If new foals are present in the band then 300 feet distance is the rule of thumb and extra space is also advised around watering holes so that the horses aren’t deterred from approaching or getting adequate hydration. Be mindful of where you are standing when photographing or observing the horses because if you are on or near one of their stud piles they may view it as your attempt to challenge them and come over to accept the invitation.  Also be mindful of where you park your car so that you're not blocking a horse trail.

Travel within the HMA – There are well established roads that traverse the landscape within the range that are appropriate for low clearance vehicles during the drier months and also roads that lead into more difficult terrain where 4WD may be necessary.  It’s imperative to stay on marked roads and trails so that you don’t damage the already fragile west desert eco-system which the animals rely so heavily on for survival.

Feeding Wild Horses – Feeding wild horses is not only illegal, but it’s also very dangerous for the horses regardless of how good the intention may be behind it.  Horses have sensitive stomachs and by feeding them “treats” you may cause them to experience gastrointestinal upset which can easily lead to bloating and death.  Domestic animal treats like carrots can also easily lodge in their throats because wild horses don't chew them properly as it's not part of their diet. 

If you see treats such as carrots or apples out on a wild horse range please always remove them and pack them out with you.

Domestic Pets – Just like any wild animal, horses become highly alert and even agitated at the presence of domestic pets.  Dogs should never be allowed to roam off-leash on the range because of not only the disturbance to other wildlife (badgers, burrowing owls, pronghorn antelope, raptors, etc.) but the chaos it can cause within the horses.  An unexpected interaction with a dog can easily cause a chaotic stampede resulting in injury or death to the mature horses and foals.

What the Seasons Have to Offer

Winter – Winter on the range is considered to be between December and the end of March.  During these months the summer watering holes freeze over and the horses roam much further out into the desert drinking from recent snowfall or melting drifts and graze on bushes and shrubs in addition to dried grasses.  An average adult horse will consume 5-6 pounds of food per day.

Although the horses are harder to find in the winter due to location on the ranges, the beautiful snowcapped mountains offer stunning backdrops and they have grown in their thick, shaggy winter coats to keep insulated in the freezing cold months.

Spring – Spring is a short but breathtakingly beautiful period during April and the very start of May where the desert finds itself carpeted in yellow and purple wildflowers and young foals are being born.  The remnants of snow begin melting from the highest of mountain peaks and the herds begin frequenting known watering holes now thawed from the winter months.

Summer/Fall – Summer and fall the wildflowers have given way to dried grasses and arid temperatures.  The dust on the range can be challenging in terms of keeping your camera equipment clean, but is well worth the effort by the almost otherworldly images that can be captured of the wild horses running, sparing and stampeding in swirling, light-filled clouds of dust.  The roads are also mostly easily passable during these months and often the herd can be found grazing nearby for easy access and viewing opportunities.

Size & Lifespan

Wild (feral) horses came from a variety of origins including Spanish explorers, miners, ranchers, US Cavalry and Native Americans.  The Bureau of Land Management manages 177 HMA’s (herd management areas) in the US and the horses range in size between 700-1000 pounds and stand 13-15 hands high (52-60 inches).  Although uncommon, wild horses can have a lifespan of up to 30 years.

Foals will nurse from their mother a year, sometimes longer, and will live with their natal band until either another stallion steals a filly away for his own or the band stallion forces out his colt once he begins maturing to eliminate competition.

Colors

Cream

Gray

Flea-Bitten

Dun

 
 

Bay

Palomino

Chestnut

Brown

 
 

Red Roan

Black

Piebald

Skewbald

 
 

Black Roan

Tobiano Pinto

Buckskin

Grullo

 

Wild Horse Management


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