There is nothing quite like the sight of a herd of American wild horses, manes flying, thundering hooves across a great expanse of sagebrush. The majestic American mustangs, with mares and foals leaving a trail of dust to hover in the wind, just long enough for you to catch your breath. And count yourself lucky to have witnessed pure, unbridled freedom.
Most people have never seen wild horses. Camper vans travel through the American southwest every summer. Encouraging the kids to ‘keep their eyes peeled’ for the wild mustangs usually results in nothing but a backseat shout-out for a herd of cattle. But the fact is, it’s EASY to see wild horses. You just have to know where to go.
Nevada: Home of the Mustangs
The Nevada high desert is chilly before the sun comes up. But for the ‘Pony Girls’ (me and my horse-crazed photographer girlfriends… the name just stuck), we knew what to expect. An easy drive 40 miles north of Las Vegas, Cold Creek sits at 6,000 feet and boasts dynamic mountain views, a year round stream, …. and wild horses.
Within minutes of arriving at Cold Creek, we spotted our first family band. They showed no fear of us, grazing contentedly, occasionally munching on spindly spikes from joshua trees. We were 45 minutes from the hustle and bustle of Las Vegas, but a world away, surrounded by mustangs in the high desert.
With our home base at the historic Prospector Hotel in Ely Nevada, our next destination was Antelope Valley. The once-white rental SUV now covered in dust, we drove through the desert in search of wild horses and were fortunate to see a few herds that charged across the open spaces. In stark contrast to the Cold Creek wild horses, these animals kept their distance, testing our telephoto lenses. But giving us good reason to put the cameras down and simply enjoy the moment.
From Ely Nevada we drove to our lodging in Tooele Utah (a beautiful drive that normally takes 3 ½ hours, if you don’t have a flat tire. We had a flat tire. All part of the fun!)
Wild Horse Experience in Utah
If you desire an incredible wild horse experience but have limited time, stay in Tooele and head to Utah’s Cedar Mountain and Onaqui Mountain area. There is an excellent chance for wild horse sightings in the expanse of the Great Basin Desert.
This area is an official ‘National Back Country Byway’. Driving the historic Pony Express Road takes you back to 1860, when over 400 mustangs carried riders thousands of miles to deliver the mail. Today, it’s an easy drive for any vehicle, and you will eventually be rewarded with sightings of skittish pronghorn antelope, jack rabbits, and best of all, wild horses.
Over the next two days we found three herds that were very accepting of our presence. We kept a respectable distance but had ample opportunities to observe true wild horse behaviour. Stallions showing off muscle to win the affection of mares. Foals at play. The hierarchy that exists at the watering hole.
It was a privilege to be among the wild horses and to witness the interactions between the family members. We watched as a giant stallion tenderly groomed his young foal while his mare pressed her body against his, safe and content.
Herds Under Increasing Pressure
Each year, hundreds of wild horses are rounded up and confined as a result of pressures from industry, ranching and development. By writing this story and sharing my images, it is my hope that you will consider a trip to the high desert in Nevada and Utah. It is not difficult to find wild horses. And along the way, you will experience wide open spaces, breathtaking vistas, and true freedom. Something the wild horses figured out a long time ago.
Sandy Sharkey is a writer and accredited equine photographer who travels the world in search of her favourite subject: the wild horse. Through her stories and images, Sandy hopes to ensure that wild horses run free for generations to come. More photography and prints available at sandysharkey.com.