Horses have been a constant in my life. I never outgrew my “horse-crazy” phase. After college I plunged headlong into the horse business—training, showing, coaching, and, finally, writing about English equestrian sports and horse-related travel. I wrote about wild horses, too, but seeing them in the West eluded me until my visit to the Carson Valley.
The modern horse evolved in North America but migrated across a land bridge to Eurasia about 10,000 years ago, only to be reintroduced by Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s. So, are they “native” or “invasive”? It’s an ongoing debate. In 1971, public outcry about the cruel and costly methods of controlling the animals prompted Congress to pass the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act to help protect them. The legislation defined wild equines as “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West . . . [that] enrich the lives of the American people.”
Since 1971, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has managed wild horses on millions of public acres that are also in demand for grazing cattle and sheep. That tug-of-war continues. So does the controversy over BLM methods of controlling horse populations, which include capturing them and selling them or offering them for adoption. (According to the BLM, more than 270,000 have gone to good homes.) Alternatives, such as darting horses with contraceptive, can be done on the range without traumatizing horses. Private groups such as the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) are funding these measures to keep wild horses and burros out of the BLM’s roundup program. AWHC’s Communications Director Grace Kuhn says that AWHC “manages the largest human fertility control for wild, free-roaming horses in the world.”
The fate of the wild horses has drawn the attention of national news outlets, which is welcomed by wild horse advocates and tourism bureaus throughout the West. “There are few places where you can see these majestic creatures grazing and playing in such an expansive, wide-open, natural landscape,” says Jan Vandermade, executive director of Carson Valley Tourism. “The palpable sense of Old West culture lives on here.”
Info: A 3-hour tour for up to 4 people costs $300. (775) 800-3750.