Chasing Wild Horses in Arizona (2023)

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Horses have been a big part of my life since I was first brought home from the hospital. Not only did we have horses while I was growing up that I learned to love and understand, but as I got older, I started training horses as well. The special ones were always the mustangs.

A piece of living American history, mustangs roam ever shrinking areas of the American West. States with large amounts of public land such as Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and Arizona have herds of these wild horses, descendants of those brought to North America by Spanish explorers. With my love of horses, my previous experience working with mustangs, and childhood fantasies based on the old Western movies that would come on TV over the weekends during summer, personally photographing mustangs in the wild has been a dream of mine for years.

There is something deeply satisfying when a wild animal finally gives you their trust, be it in allowing you to touch and guide them or the trust that must be given when an animal notices you in the field and allows you to continue to observe it. Maybe that is why I find wildlife photography so fulfilling.

During this year of wondering I was determined to capture images of American mustangs in the wild. Arizona was my jumping off point and did not disappoint!

Two areas I visited both in November and January were amazing and I had several stunning encounters. Below I share my experiences at these sites, images from both areas, and some recent news about some of the herds.

Eastern Phoenix

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Just outside Phoenix to the East lies a combination large of two national forests, the Tonto and the Apache-Sitgreaves. Within these protected forests there are many bands, some more widely known than others.

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The Tonto National Forest is home to one of the more widely known herd areas, the Salt River. People come from all over the country to catch a glimpse of the Salt River Wild Horses. The Salt River has many spots for visitors to pull out and look for the horses along Bush Highway. With a few hundred individuals roaming the lower Salt River area, with time and patience visitors can usually catch sight of these wild beauties.

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Location tip: Please use extreme caution when driving along the Bush Highway! The horses do cross the road frequently. Just within the last few weeks, one band stallion was hit and killed when trying to cross the highway with his herd.

Photo tip: As these horses are somewhat use to humans and their environment holds its own vast beauty, a range of lenses is suggested. Here you do not need to have a 600mm, even though it would help in many situations. A 70-300mm works just as well and allows photographers to capture not only individual portraits but also the herd in their environment.

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(Video) Explore: Chasing Wild Horses in the Tonto National Forest

Obviously early morning and late afternoon are key times to see wildlife in general. However, the horses in this area can be seen at all times of the day. Areas like Phon D Sutton Recreation and Coons Bluff Camp (open Friday evening through Sunday at sunset for actual camping) are areas that are frequently visited by the horses.

The types of family groups photographers are likely to encounter are going to be family herds and bachelor herds. Family groups are usually made up of one or two stallions (males), several mares (females), and, if you are lucky, some youngsters. Apart from some youngster play or tender moments between band members, family units are usually stable and are most commonly seen grazing with little action.

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Bachelor herds on the other hand can offer a bit more action more frequently. These herds are made up of older stallions that have lost their mares to other, stronger, stallions, and younger stallions that may only be a year or two old who have been kicked out of their family herd to fend for themselves. The youngsters learn how to act like stallions from the older guys so there is typically quite a bit of mock fighting and horseplay that goes along with these groups.

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I was lucky on one of my visits back in November to find a bachelor herd and catch several sequences of mock play between band brothers. Everything from tail pulling to full rearing and and chasing along the river banks.

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(Video) Gathering Feral Horses On the Navajo Nation!
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A bit of a drive from the lower Salt River, up into the Apache-Sitgreaves Forest, there are a smaller population of wild horses known as the Heber wild horses.

I visited this area back in November to find this herd. The band I found was a good size family herd with a beautiful palomino stallion and a few older youngsters.

Unfortunately, this area is suffering from the age-old fight between ranchers who want to use public land for their own and the wild creatures who live on the land. Within the last few weeks at least six of the wild horses have been shot along with several other animals, yet no cattle have been touched. With the federal government shutdown right now, there are no federal officers able to investigate these crimes.

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I did not see the horses that lost their lives as the ones I have pictured here are another family band in the area. The only surviving member of the band that was terrorized is a young filly (young female) who, at the time of this writing was doing ok under the watchful eyes of volunteers. Please, if you are out in these areas and see anything questionable, please report it! While the shutdown impacts the federal rangers, who would usually oversee the area, the County Sheriff's office is currently the responding authority. Also, this also brings up the point that you should always be aware of your surroundings when out, especially if you travel solo.

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While these horses continue to face persecution for just being, shedding light on the situation and having more visitors bring in tourism dollars to the area can be a great way to combat this human aggression against the animals. So, go and visit them, see how they live, photograph your adventures, and share!

Why, Arizona

No, I'm not asking a question. Why is an actual town just south of Ajo on the edge of the Tohono O'Odham Nation Reservation.

Within this tiny community there is a wonderful RV park, Hickiwan Trails, that backs up to a vast area of wild land protected by the reservation. There are close to ten miles of hiking trails that start at the park as well as full restroom facilities. Tonya, the owner, is a great wealth of information about the local lands and community events. It is a very peaceful area that I foresee myself revisiting time and again.


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Location tip: Staying at the park is the easiest option as you are then free to hike out on the land as a guest of the tribe. If you decide to stay elsewhere or if you want to drive out onto the reservation, outside the Ajo-Tucson Highway, you will need to get a permit to be on the reservation from the Chief.

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Upon these lands roam hundreds of wild burros and horses. The burros can be heard braying at all times of the day and night and are frequently seen near the camp in the evening as they come to a local watering hole in the area.

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Location tip: If staying overnight and you are a light sleeper, bring ear plugs as the burros are known to make a ruckus at literally all hours including 1 or 3 am. Sometimes the coyotes join in as well.

Just like the horses, there are family groups and bachelor bands. Being burros, even the family herds can have a bit of action, and they can come out of the bush with a full head of steam. Or, some vie for attention when their curiosity is peaked by a random photographer.

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Photo bomb!

In one day, I was able to find about 50 wild burros and three wild horses there on the reservation! So many great photo opportunities and not another photographer in sight. Due to only having the RV for transportation, this time my friends Pat and Margie were kind enough to take me out in their Jeep where I was able to capture images such as those below.

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(Video) IDENTITY CHALLENGE | Chasing wild horses, hunting lizards, and questioning my identity

Photo tip: This is an area not frequented by photographers and so the wildlife is a bit more sensitive to human attention. A longer lens, such as the Tamron 150-600mm G2, is highly suggested so that you can get up-close images without actually getting physically up-close.

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There are other areas around Arizona that are home to wild horses and burros, but those are for another visit. I had such a great time in these locations, even as I explore more, I will continue to visit these spots to get my mustang fix.

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Would you be interested in photographing these beautiful American West icons? Be sure to keep an eye on my Photo Adventure page as I am putting together an Arizona Equine Adventure, so you can capture your own images!

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#burros #horses #Arizona #wildlifephotography #photographytips #locationguide

(Video) Wild Horses - Arizona Tonto National Forest


What is the best time to see the wild horses in Arizona? ›

Before sunrise and after sunset, along the waters of the Tonto National Forest and into the adjacent Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Reservation, visitors have a pretty good chance at catching a glimpse of Arizona's wild horse population.

Where are the most wild horses in Arizona? ›

A good number of Arizona's wild horses reside in Tonto National Forest along the Salt River, a river that runs through Arizona.

Can you capture a wild horse in Arizona? ›

But the most famous and controversial inhabitants are the area's “wild” horses. Once slated for removal by the U.S. Forest Service for reasons of public safety, today these horses are protected by state law.

How many wild horses are in Arizona? ›

How Many Horses Are There? The Bureau of Land Management estimates there are about 500 horses who live along the Salt River.

Can you see the wild horses without a tour? ›

Can you see wild horses in the OBX without a tour? You 100% can see the wild horses in Corolla or Carova without a tour, if you have a 4WD vehicle. They actually have a road grate and fence keeping the wild horses corralled in the northern end of the Outer Banks, so you will not find them wandering further south.

Is Wild Horse Island worth it? ›

With extensive trails, rare and beautiful plants, and a scenic shoreline, the 2,200-acre island is a must-visit for visitors to the Flathead Valley. Montana may be most known for nearby Glacier National Park, but Wild Horse Island is proof that there's much more in the state deserving of your vacation time.

What Beach has the most wild horses? ›

Assateague Island National Seashore is located close to Chincoteague Island, Virginia and Ocean City, Maryland. Assateague contains over 37 miles of pristine beach. More than 300 wild ponies wander the beaches, inland pine forest, and salt marshes.

Why are there so many wild horses in Arizona? ›

Only about 600 wild horses live throughout the rest of Arizona. That includes several large herds living along the banks of the lower Salt River in the Tonto National Forest. "These are descendants of the Spanish horses that were brought over by Spaniards trying to conquer America."

What state has the most wild horses? ›

Nevada is home to nearly half of the nation's free-roaming horse population. Many of those horses are part of the Virginia Range herd, which occupies a region in the western part of the state.

Can I just take a wild horse? ›

Although you cannot capture wild mustangs yourself, there is an adoption program that you can take advantage of. Because mustangs don't have many natural predators, they can cause problems if their population goes unchecked.

Are wild horses sold for slaughter? ›

This charge is absolutely false. The Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management care deeply about the well-being of wild horses, both on and off the range, and it has been and remains the policy of the BLM not to sell or send wild horses or burros to slaughter.

Can wild horses be friendly? ›

Wild horses are inherently different from domestic horses and even the most experienced horsemen have quite a learning curve to overcome when understanding wild horse behavior. The horses may seem docile and friendly, but they are wild and will always be unpredictable and potentially dangerous.

What 3 states have the most horses? ›

Which states have the most horses?
  • California: 535,000.
  • Florida: 387,100.
  • Kentucky: 238,000.
  • Ohio: 256,000.
  • Oklahoma: 253,00.
  • Texas: 767,000.
22 Sept 2022

Where is the largest herd of wild horses? ›

Feral horse populations

Australia has the largest population in the world, with in excess of 400,000 horses. The Australian name equivalent to the mustang is the brumby, descendants of horses brought to Australia by English settlers.

Can horses survive in Arizona heat? ›

As we all know summer heat in Arizona can really take a toll on our livestock, especially our horses. When temperatures start rising above 100 degrees, our horses will find the hot weather very uncomfortable, therefore we have to take extra care and make sure our horses are comfortable, healthy, and happy.

Can you touch a wild horse? ›

Things to Remember While Observing Wild Horses

For your safety and the safety of the horses, do not approach, touch or feed them. Stay at least 40 feet away, the legal minimum (a “bus length”), but remember that may still be much too close depending on the circumstances.

What should you do if you encounter a wild horse? ›

Watch the horses from a safe dis- tance. If the horse stops what it's doing to stare directly at you, stop there. If it starts to move away, you are already too close. Bring binoculars and use a telephoto lens so you won't disturb the horses or endanger yourself.

Are there bears on Wild Horse Island? ›

The park is noted for its wildlife including bighorn sheep, mule deer, songbirds, waterfowl, bald eagles, and falcons, as well as five wild horses. To protect wildlife viewing opportunities, pets are not permitted on the island. This is bear country and bears do frequent the island.

Are there still wild horses on Wild Horse Island? ›

Park Features

Check out the wildlife including bighorn sheep, mule deer, songbirds, waterfowl, bald eagles, falcons and wild horses.

Can you kayak to Wild Horse Island? ›

To access Wild Horse Island by canoe or sea kayak, drive 29 miles south from Kalispell on Highway 93 to Dayton Yacht Harbor for a 90-minute paddle to the island. Warning: It's a windy journey. By power or sailboat, you can launch from over 20 access sites, state parks, or marinas, most commonly from Big Arm State Park.

What is the only truly wild horse left in the world? ›

Przewalski's horses, critically endangered horses found in Mongolia, are the last truly wild horse.

Where do wild horses run free? ›

Wild, free-roaming wild horses can be found on public lands across 10 western states. Wild burros roam rangeland in California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah and Oregon.

Why do ranchers not like wild horses? ›

Ranchers and some environmentalists view the horses as feral pests that damage ecosystems, compete for resources with cattle and wildlife and should be culled or sold.

What is the problem with wild horses? ›

Widespread and overabundant feral horses and burros wreak havoc on the rangeland ecosystem by overgrazing native plants, exacerbating invasive establishment and out-competing other ungulates. As a result, water resources are impacted and important and iconic wildlife species are threatened.

What do wild horses in Arizona eat? ›

Wild horses eat a little differently than domesticated horses. Instead of carefully cultivated pasture, hay, or pelleted feed, wild horses eat what they can find, when and where they can find it. That means sometimes grass, but also sometimes a variety of weeds and even shrubs.

What state is the horse capital of the world? ›

Lexington is the Horse Capital of the World, center of the Thoroughbred breeding universe and home to the Kentucky Horse Park, as well as the historic Keeneland Racecourse.

Do mustangs still run free? ›

Mustangs live in the grassland areas of the western U.S. and mostly eat grass and brush. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management oversees the "wild" horse and burro (donkey) populations, and allows them to run free on 26.9 million acres (10.9 million hectares) of public land.

What US beaches have wild horses? ›

Wild horses roam the beaches of the Outer Banks and Crystal Coast. Take a guided tour to see them at Corolla and Shackleford Banks. For 500 years, the most enduring – and endearing – residents of the Outer Banks, the wild Colonial Spanish Mustangs, have called this sliver of land between sound and sea home.

Do wild horses like humans? ›

Assuming that the horse hasn't been mistreated, horses are incredibly friendly towards humans. This is most likely an extension of their behaviour that can be seen in the wild.

Are wild horses just feral? ›

The so-called “wild” horses that abound in Australia and North America are actually feral. A domestic animal becomes "feral" simply by fending for itself when left in the wild, without being helped or managed by humans in any way.

How do you get a wild horse to trust you? ›

The number one trust builder is to be predictable by being consistent! Be consistent with your energy level, emotions, and how you show up around your horse. Stay consistent with your communication, always sending and receiving messages in the same way — a way that both you and your horse clearly understand.

What does wild horse meat taste like? ›

Horse meat is widely reported to be somewhat sweet, a little gamey, and a cross between beef and venison, according to the International Business Times.

How much do slaughterhouses pay for a horse? ›

Doug Verstraete, manager of Beaver Hill Auctions, said the price of loose horses averaged 55 to 60 cents a pound, but some prices reached as high as 70 cents per lb. “Just having another buyer alone helps the price,” said Verstraete of Tofield.

Does BLM pay you to adopt a horse? ›

The Adoption Incentive Program allows qualified adopters to receive up to $1,000 up to 60 days after title date. The incentive is available for all untrained animals that are eligible for adoption, including animals at BLM facilities, off-site events and on the Online Corral. A $125 fee applies at the time of adoption.

What are wild horses afraid of? ›

In the wild, horses are most scared of natural predators like lions, wolves, and alligators.

Why do horses chase humans? ›

Horses may behave aggressively towards people if they feel threatened, or if they are trying to escape or avoid doing what the person wants them to do. They may also behave aggressively as a result of previous experience.

Do wild horses have any predators? ›

The horse, a prey animal, depends on flight as its primary means of survival. Its natural predators are large animals such as cougars, wolves, or bears, so its ability to outrun these predators is critical.

Why were there no horses in North America? ›

The ancient wild horses that stayed in America became extinct, possibly due to climate changes, but their ancestors were introduced back to the American land via the European colonists many years later. Columbus' second voyage was the starting point for the re-introduction, bringing Iberian horses to modern-day Mexico.

What country has the least horses? ›

Guam (20) and Grenada (30) had the lowest totals. Two countries, Rwanda and St. Helena, reported no horses.

What is the largest horse farm in the United States? ›

It is said to be the longest continuously running Thoroughbred horse farm in Kentucky, 365-acre (1.48 km2) established in 1867 by American Civil War Colonel Ezekiel Field Clay.
Runnymede Farm.
TypeHorse breeding
4 more rows

What is the rarest wild horse breed? ›

Przewalski's horse (UK: /ˌpɜːrʒəˈvælskiz/, US: /-ˈvɑːl-/, (Пржевальский Russian: [prʐɨˈvalʲskʲɪj]), Polish: [pʂɛˈvalskʲi]) (Equus ferus przewalskii or Equus przewalskii), also called the takhi, Mongolian wild horse or Dzungarian horse, is a rare and endangered horse originally native to the steppes of Central Asia.

Who is the most famous wild horse? ›

— They all have a story about Picasso, now the most famous wild horse in America, as if the old pinto was putting on a show just for them.

What states still have wild horses? ›

A: Today, wild horses and burros can be found primarily on government-designated Herd Management Areas (HMAs) in ten western states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming.

Can you keep a wild horse in Arizona? ›

Together, we changed the course of history for the Salt River wild horses, who now have a legal right to live on the Salt River in Arizona and are protected under State law.

What is the hottest temperature a horse can stand? ›

Vital signs of normal and horses suffering from heatstroke
Vital signNormal adult horseAdult horse suffering from heatstroke
Rectal temperature (F)*99.5 to 101.5 at rest Up to 103 during exerciseOver 105
Pulse rate (beats per min)30 to 44More than 60
Breathing rate (breaths per min)8 to 12More than 40

Can you catch a wild horse in Arizona? ›

Declaring wild horses and burros as “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West,” the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act made killing or capturing mustangs (from the Spanish word mestengo, or “stray beast”) illegal.

What time of year is best to see wild horses? ›

While it is possible to do a self-guided journey, the best bet for seeing the wild horses of Corolla is to book a tour with one of the reputable companies in the OBX. Reservations are recommended, especially during peak tourism season in June and July.

What is the best time of day to see the wild horses in the Outer Banks? ›

We went at 4pm and saw plenty of horses, a fox and a snake! We liked the afternoon because we had the rest of the day to do other things. I would think morning or evenings are the best times since it isn't so hot and sunny. over a year ago.

What is the best time to see the horses on Corolla beach? ›

If you're interested in seeing the wild horses of Corolla, there are a few things you should know. First of all, they are feral horses and should not be approached or fed. It's also important to know that the best time to see them is in the early morning or late afternoon, when they are most active.

What time of day are Javelinas active? ›

Javelinas are active during the cooler parts of the day; in the summer, this means early morning and early evening. They prefer large trees, caves and rocky overhangs to get away from the midday sun and to hide from predators. Family Matters Babies may be born in any season, after a gestation period of 5 months.

What beach has the most wild horses? ›

Assateague Island National Seashore is located close to Chincoteague Island, Virginia and Ocean City, Maryland. Assateague contains over 37 miles of pristine beach. More than 300 wild ponies wander the beaches, inland pine forest, and salt marshes.

Should you touch wild horses? ›

Things to Remember While Observing Wild Horses

For your safety and the safety of the horses, do not approach, touch or feed them.

Which state has the most wild horses? ›

Nevada is home to nearly half of the nation's free-roaming horse population. Many of those horses are part of the Virginia Range herd, which occupies a region in the western part of the state.

Are there wild horses on the beach at the Outer Banks? ›

The Outer Banks, barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina, are home to some unlikely animals. Horses descended from Spanish mustangs have been living wild here for hundreds of years. To survive on these islands, the horses dig for freshwater and swim from island to island in search of fresh grazing areas.

What beach in the Outer Banks has wild horses? ›

The Corolla Wild Horses can be found on the northern beaches of Corolla and Carova. This area is only accessible by four wheel drive vehicles because you must drive on the beach itself.

Do you have to pay to drive on the beach in Corolla? ›

Currituck County requires 4x4 parking permits to park on the beach beginning the last Saturday in April to the first Saturday in October. You do not need a pass to drive on the beach or park at the home. Two 4x4 parking passes are included with each 4x4 vacation home.

Where is the best place to see wild horses on the Outer Banks? ›

Where to Spot OBX Horses in the Wild. The wild horses live primarily in the northern portion of the Outer Banks, which includes Corolla and Carova Beach. The horses roam the northern portion of Currituck Beach, which is a rural area with little development.

Where are you most likely to see the wild horses in Outer Banks? ›

The Corolla Wild Horses are located in the northernmost beaches of the Outer Banks, in the 4WD area that's just north of Corolla. Wild horses, also known as Wild Ponies, are also found on Ocracoke Island, and can be viewed at the Ocracoke Pony Pen just south of the Hatteras / Ocracoke ferry docks.

What are javelinas scared of? ›

Javelina may act defensively when cornered, to protect their young, or when they hear or smell a dog. Dogs and coyotes are natural predators of javelina, and they can seriously hurt or kill each other. Javelina around your home may also inadvertently attract mountain lions, because mountain lions prey on javelina.

How do you stop a javelina from attacking you? ›

"It is good to be really loud if you encounter some of this wildlife, sometimes just clapping and yelling and being loud is all you need to do for them to run in the opposite direction," Kristy Morcom with Wildlife World Zoo said.

Do javelinas chase humans? ›

Javelinas are not entirely dangerous, as they do not attack just about anything. However, they wouldn't hesitate to launch an attack on humans and pets if they feel threatened.


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