March 15, 2016
The history of wild horses in America goes back hundreds of years, to some of the first Spanish explorers who came to Mexico with dozens of animal. Today, tens of thousands of wild horses roam throughout america, descendants of these first horses as well as from ancestors that either escaped or were abandoned by their owners. Most of these animals can be found in the Southwest, often in large herds, though smaller populations can be seen throughout the U.S., from New England to California and even Hawai’i. Here are a just a few of the many places you can see American Wild Horses .
Probably the most famous band of wild horses in the eastern U.S., the 125 or so Assateague Island horses can be seen year round on their island home near the Maryland coast. Local legend describes their ancestors as having survived a Spanish shipwreck, though it is more likely that they are descended from horses set loose on the island by owners looking to evade livestock taxes. Either way, Assateague Island provides visitors an opportunity to see horses frollicking on the beach and cooling off in the surf. As a bonus, visitors can also visit the southern part of the island and see the Chincoteague ponies, made famous by the children’s book “Misty of Chincoteague.”
Located just south of Gainesville, Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park is one of just a handful of places where visitors may see the rare Florida Cracker Horse. The breed originated in Florida and was used extensively in the cattle industry, but began to fall out of favor around the time of the Great Depression. In the 1980’s, a private breeder donated his herd of purebred Florida Crackers to the State of Florida, who used them to start the herd in Paynes Prairie. Today, the horses can be seen roaming free over the state park’s 21,000 acres of marsh and savannah, joined by a wide array of wildlife, including American alligators and reintroduced plains bison.
One of only three areas in the U.S. set aside specifically for wild horses, the Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Area is a sprawling landscape of canyons and plateaus, located near the city of Grand Junction in western Colorado’s high desert. The 36,000 acre park is administered by the Bureau of Land Management, who maintain the herd of about 100 horses. Every few years, the BLM rounds up between 20-60 horses for the Wild Horse Adoption Program, which allows qualified members of the public the opportunity to own a wild horse. This helps to keep the population at a sustainable size.
A large, fertile valley on the northern coast of the Big Island, Waipio is one of the most beautiful areas in the U.S. Visitors can enjoy stunning views with black sand beaches, waterfalls, and amazingly, Hawaii's own wild horses.. Horses were brought to the island in the 1800’s to help farmers work the fields and transport goods, but many were set free as tractors became more common. Today, it is estimated that about 40 wild horses roam the 3,000 acre valley, though the exact size of the herd is unknown.
The Midwest’s own herd of wild horses can be seen near the southern Missouri town of Eminence. Here, a herd of between 20-50 horses has roamed the river country for over a century, with many of the horses thought to be descended from animals set free by depression-era farmers who could no longer afford to keep them. The herd was almost removed from the area by the Parks Service in the 90’s, but was saved by a group of local activists who eventually succeeded in having the wild horses designated as a part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Visitors hoping to see the Missouri wild horses may spot them along the river banks or grazing in the fields surrounding Eminence.
The great majority of the nation’s wild horses are located in the American West, with Nevada in particular holding over half the population, numbering in the tens of thousands. One of the most revered places in America among fans of wild horses is the Virginia Range of western Nevada, where over a thousand horses roam free. Some of these animals joined the herd relatively recently, either escaping or being abandoned by their owners, while many others are descended from spanish horses brought to North America hundreds of years ago. They can be viewed most easily from the trails near Reno and Carson City, especially near watering holes, or by taking one of the guided tours offered by a few local companies.