Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, Travel, Wild Horses, Wildlife, Wyoming

The Harsh Reality of Wild Horses

Wild horses running across the open plains are a symbol of the romanticized old west. Today, there is nothing romantic about their reality. This is due in large part to their mismanagement by the Bureau of Land Management.

From roundups done so poorly that they often result in the deaths of horses, to some horses being kept in inadequate holding facilities for extended periods of time. The reason for these horses being rounded up in the first place? Apparently overpopulation and not enough grazing land. Meanwhile, ranchers are allowed to graze their livestock on this land, a practice that is heavily subsidized.


In order to gain a better understanding of the lives of wild horses, I decided to visit some of them in Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area near Lovell, Wyoming. The horses that live there are known as the Pryor Mountain Wild Horses, and the south section of Bighorn Canyon is only a part of their range. I chose to go there because it is the easiest part to access. Other areas have very rough roads that require high clearance, four-wheel drive vehicles. The recreation area has paved roads, camping sites, gorgeous canyon views, and a marina.

baby bighorn
I saw this baby in late July

The downside to viewing wild horses in Bighorn Canyon is that you may not see them at all. The rugged landscape makes it easy for them to be out of sight even if they are right by the road, and their range is large enough that they may never be in the same area as you at the same time. Even catching a glimpse of them is a thrill.

I was privileged to watch several bands of horses and a few bachelor stallions, all within good viewing distance. It is important to be respectful of these wild animals by staying at least 100 feet away from them. Your actions should never cause them to change their behavior, i.e. moving away or being startled. They have to work very hard to sustain themselves in the wild, and the last thing they need is added stress.

horse band
Lovely group of mares with a still-growing foal in Bighorn Canyon

Watching these amazing animals not only survive but thrive in such a harsh environment reminded me that horses are incredibly tough and resourceful animals. Their biggest challenge is not the environment they live in, it is the humans who would see them eradicated for their own selfish gains.

Luckily, we have the power to help these horses. If you’re looking to add a new hooved member to your family, consider adopting a horse from one of those holding facilities I mentioned earlier. It is a commitment that should not be taken lightly, but one that would mean the world to any of those horses trapped in limbo. That is not an option for most people, but there are plenty of other ways to help. One of these ways is to stop supporting ranchers who want wild horses gone so that their livestock can have all of the public grazing lands for themselves. Also, we can help by paying attention to legislation that will affect wild horses and speaking up for them whenever possible. We can all do our part to make a difference for these horses, and maybe someday they will be allowed to live in peace.

Handsome stallion with no band of his own, but who was traveling with a much older stallion





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