Wild horses: They probably could drag me away, if so inclined

A trio of wild horses near the Main Canyon trail through the Little Bookcliffs.

It is that time of year when horse racing, ever so briefly, enters national consciousness as the equine equivalents of Barry Bonds take to the tracks in pursuit of the elusive Triple Crown.

But the brief thrill of watching ’roided-up, goofily named thoroughbreds run in ovals pales in comparison to the joy of witnessing wild horses.

Miles in the Main Canyon bottoms.

Colorado is home to four designated wild horse areas, all along the western edge of the state. My favorite—for no other reason than its proximity to my home—resides in the canyonland of the Little Bookcliffs just east of Grand Junction.

Somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 horses inhabit this secluded range, which will hopefully one day gain designation as a wilderness area. The ancestry of the horses is questionable; it’s possible they are the descendents of true mustangs and/or horses maintained by regional Native American tribes, although they may also be the offspring of horses abandoned by ranchers generations ago.

Reese explores ice falls in the Main Canyon interior.
Reese explores ice falls in the Main Canyon interior.

Regardless of their lineage, the horses of Main Canyon have never let me down. In a dozen or so trips, the dogs and I have always observed at least one small herd of three to six. Often we’ve hiked along the more gradually sloping eastern wall of the canyon to find a good vantage point, then just sat and watched the horses, stockier and more chiseled than their domestic counterparts, graze and break into an occasional frisky gait through the flatland below.

Spring ice falls in Main Canyon.

But Main Canyon offers more than just wild horses. We’ve also seen bighorn sheep and coyote, and the Main Canyon trail itself can be full of surprises. On one early spring hike, we came across the ice falls seen here.

Main Canyon offers more than wild horses.
Reese and Miles on ice.

2 thoughts on “Wild horses: They probably could drag me away, if so inclined

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  1. Steve,
    I enjoyed this post about free-roaming horses, but I’m a bit surprised that you avoided commenting, or even acknowledging, most of the controversies surrounding the horses. The only controversial issue (concerning the horses) that you briefly mention is their ancestry, which is just a part of the larger “wild” versus “feral” debate. There was no mention of the animals impact on the environment, conflicts with other species and land uses, how their numbers are controlled, or the Wild Horses & Burros Act that protects them.
    Ironically, you stir the controversy pot with negative inferences about horse racing. “…the equine equivalents of Barry Bonds…”, and “…‘roided-up…”. I wonder how your writing would be affected if you resided in Kentucky instead of Colorado. I assume that your pick did not win the derby. My advice; bet on the rider, not the horse.
    I have studied a plethora of literature concerning free-roaming horses (see how I carefully avoid the wild versus feral debate). I wrote an issue booklet and a literature review on free-roaming horses in national parks as part of my M.S. degree (natural resource management) requirements.
    I have gained a good understanding of the issues concerning the horses, and I believe the horses can, and should, be maintained at sustainable levels in some federal land areas.
    I strongly oppose legislation that assigns management of free-roaming horses to private groups, like wild horse leagues, instead of properly trained resource managers employed by the NPS or BLM.
    I like your writing and your environmental stewardship attitude. Keep on spreading the message.



    1. Dave,
      Thanks for reading, as well as for your thoughtful comment. I purposely chose to avoid the wild vs. feral debate here; this site is simply intended as a celebration of enjoying the outdoors responsibly with dogs. That said, it’s a valid–and interesting–topic for discussion. I agree that management of these areas should be handled under the auspices of the NPS or BLM as opposed to private groups; the Little Bookcliffs is an especially intriguing area given its current designation as a wilderness study area and its natural boundaries. I would be interested to learn more about the horses’ environmental impact, although I’m admittedly more concerned about the amount of cattle allowed to graze on public lands and the rampant destruction they cause.

      As for horse racing, I was being (somewhat) glib. Although I grew up in Illinois and spent some time at the Fairmount Park racetrack in my formative years, I’ve learned enough about the sport since that I feel justified in mocking it. Especially at the Triple Crown level, these horses aren’t racing merely on their individual physical merits and the skill of their jockeys any more than Bonds, McGwire, et. al. were jacking home runs at a record pace because they had natural ability and good managers.

      Thanks again,


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