About Wild Horses


Distance/Parking – On the Onaqui HMA (Herd Management Area) visitors are recommended to stay atleast 100 feet from wild horses and other wildlife.  If new foals are present in the band then 200-300 feet distance is the rule of thumb.  Extra space is advised around watering holes so that the horses aren’t deterred from approaching or getting adequate hydration. This is a dry desert environment and water access is critical to ensuring a healthy herd population. 

Any activities viewed as harrassment of the protected wild horses is in violation of Federal Law.

Be mindful of where you are standing when photographing or observing the horses and avoid standing near either a stud pile or red ant hill which are common throughout the area.  Stallions routinely spar around their "stud piles" so care needs to be taken not to be in their way.

Also choose your parking spot carefully so that your vehicle is not blocking a well-traveled horse trail. 

Hot engines and dry grass do not mix so avoid parking over or driving over dry grass at all times when your engine is still hot.

Travel within the HMA – There are well established roads that traverse the landscape within the range that are appropriate for some low clearance vehicles during the drier months and also roads that lead into more difficult terrain where 4WD and alterrain tires are necessary.  Even the flat roads are filled made of sharp rocks so 10 ply tires are strongly recommended.

It’s imperative to stay on marked/well-maintained 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.  You should plan to carry atleast 1 spare tire and a portable air compressor is also recommended.  Staying on existing roads at all times is a legal requirement and avoid driving over dry grass at all times.

Wild horses travel anywhere from 10 miles to 40 miles in any given day so plan accordingly bringing plenty of water, food and layers of clothing if you're making a day of it.

Feeding Wild Horses – Feeding wild horses is not only in violation of federal law, 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 immediately 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, endangered sage grouse 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.  It is also likely that your dog will get charged and possibly injured as well.

Human/Horse Interactions - Wild horses offer a unique experience into the behaviors and lives of just that - wild horses.  Creating as little disturbance as possible is key to maintaining their wild behavior and visitors should refrain from: clapping, whistling, waving, making sharp noises to get a horse's attention, jumping, sudden/quick movements, walking into the middle of the herd or into bands etc. 

If the horses approach you, slowly back away whenever possible to create the least amount of disturbance.  Sudden movements at close distance such as arm waiving, stomping, etc. will and can spook them and possibly make for a more dangerous situation.

Drones - The Onaqui HMA is a closed airspace.  That means that it is not legal to fly an aircraft, including a drone, over the HMA unless flight clearance has been given in advance by the military base which borders the range.  Drones also terrify the horses and will send them into a panicked stampede causing injury or even death.  No drone is "quiet enough" or can be flown "high enough" that this will not completely terrify the herds.

Basic 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.

Yawning - If a wild horse is looking at you and yawning it make seem very cute, but they are not yawning because they are tired.  This is their way of asking you to give them more space.  Regardless of your distance if a horse(s) start yawning at you, you need to back away to avoid further agitation.

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 some of the summer watering holes may freeze and the horses roam further into the desert getting moisture from recent snowfall or melting drifts.  They continue to graze on bushes and shrubs in addition to the dried grasses.  An average adult horse will consume 5-6 pounds of food per day.

Although the horses can be harder to find in the winter due to their location on the range and difficult road conditions, the beautiful snowcapped mountains offer stunning backdrops. The horses should now have their thick, shaggy winter coats to keep insulated in the  colder months. 

Photographing the mustangs in the snow is a sight to behold if the trip is timed just perfectly with weather and road conditions.

Spring – Spring is a short but breathtakingly beautiful period during April and May where young foals are being born and the green grasses start carpeting the dry desert basin.  The remnants of snow begin melting from the highest of mountain peaks and the herds may begin to frequent their regular watering holes that have thawed from the winter.

Summer/Fall – Summer and fall bring with them higher temperatures and various wildflowers that add lots of color to the otherwise dried grasses throughout.  The dust on the range can be an interesting dynamic when the high winds pick up, 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. 

There tend to be foals that continue to be born even in the summer and fall and in late July and August thunderstorms tend to blanket the surrounding mountains in the late afternoon and evening hours. 

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 13-16 hands high (52-68 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.

Wild Horse Management

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