Earlier this year I was travelling through the badlands of North Dakota in Theodore Roosevelt National Park when I stumbled upon a beautiful sight which immediately put The Rolling Stones into my mind. Wild horses were all around me!
Native horses became extinct on the North American continent over 10,000 years ago. They were reintroduced by the Spanish in the 16th century and many of these horses escaped and became wild. They were called mustangs which is derived from the Spanish word mesteno (meaning wild). The horses thrived on the great plains and it was not uncommon for large herds, some in their thousands to roam the countryside. The plains Indians made great use of these horses for travel and hunting.
In later years the wild horses were seen as a nuisance to ranchers and the like and many were eradicated. In the 1950’s and 1960’s attitudes changed and preservation of horse populations started to be implemented. By 1971 a law was passed to protect the horses as a national heritage species (Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act).
Today wild horse herds still exist in a few parts of the west including Washington state (there is a fantastic hilltop monument to these wild horses near Vantage in eastern Washington state) and North Dakota.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park maintains a total herd of around 100 horses. Typically herds of 5-15 horses roam the park with a dominant stallion, his mares and their offspring. Some herds will only consist of younger stallions, awaiting their turn to have a herd of their own.
Travel around the park and you will soon encounter at least one of the herds. I was lucky and found four herds all quite close to each other.
This was the first time I had ever seen wild horses. There was something special about seeing them roaming freely about the badlands.
If you are ever travelling in North Dakota, don’t miss Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the far west of the state as it’s a beautiful place with lots of great sights including the wild horses. You might even spot a Buffalo or two out there!