Thursday, September 4, 2008

A Wild Horse

Last week I saw a wild horse (Equus caballus) out on the desert. It was a beautiful horse, and it looked powerful and free, important concepts in the United States. Seeing the horse took me back to another time, before there were barbed wire fences dividing up rangeland, before modern comforts of one-ton diesel crew cab pickups with air conditioning, before urban sprawl. 

Even as I was admiring the horse, I was concerned. One wild horse can find plenty of food and water out in the desert, but there's not just one. These descendants of escaped horses and mules from miners, settlers, and others have been bountiful reproducers, and some herds number over 100. These herds can be exceptionally hard on the delicate desert ecosystem, trampling fragile water sources, overgrazing, and pushing out native wildlife.

The ancestors of this horse came over to North America first via conquistadors in the fifteenth century, and then over time by various other travelers from Europe.  Equus caballus was not the first horse in North America; horses crossed the Bering Land bridge from Asia thousands of years ago, but they eventually died out. Bones from what is believed to be Equus scotti have been found in a nearby cave. 

I should mention that the term "wild horse" is used by some to refer to only horses that aren't descendants of horses that have escaped from domestication; these horses are called "feral horses." Nevertheless, thoughout the West, wild horse is the term most often applied to any horses that aren't owned by someone. 

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has a large wild horse and burro program. They periodically round up horses that have exceeded the BLM-determined carrying capacity and then offer these horses for auction or adoption. Usually more horses are available than are wanted.

I'm wondering if this horse is going to find some others to associate with. Usually the horses are found in small bands with a dominant mare, additional mares, foals, and one stallion. Where ever it's going, I wanted to share with you a glimpse of the American desert and a sight that's not seen every day. 

4 comments:

The Incredible Woody said...

Beautiful!!

Anonymous said...

Amazing!

Anonymous said...

Cool! (Oh, I forgot that's your word Desert Survivor.)

Cheryl said...

Beautiful horse!

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