Wild horses, descendants of the horses brought by the Spanish, have roamed freely along the Salt River before the Tonto National Forest was designed in 1902. Even though they had been living on the land for over a century, their fate was uncertain in the early 21st century. In 2015, the United States Forest Service issued a notice declaring the herd as “unauthorized livestock” and announced a plan to capture, remove and auction off any unclaimed horses.
The Salt River Wild Hose Management Group was formed and worked with congress for a Federal and State government solution for their protection. The herd, once close to extinction, now numbers close to 500 and with legislation passed has a legal right to live on the Salt River. The group, made up of volunteers, manages the herd to control their population, ensure their health and operates a sanctuary for wild horses injured and in need of care.
Many who bring or rent kayaks or paddle boards float down the river in the early morning and have a ring side seat to see the horses cooling off in the water while grazing on the eel grass.
We followed the bright yellow Salt River Canyon “Watch for Horses” sign to an unpaved parking area with a green gate on the right side of the highway. We opted for an afternoon exploring the land above the river while the horses grazed. The horses are wild, so don’t be fooled….at a moment’s notice they will bolt toward you or a member of the herd, rear, kick, nip or bite whatever is close. We kept our distance and were sure to keep a tree between us and the groups of horses scattered throughout the meadow.
We will be back, perhaps to float down river in a kayak in the early morning to capture them in the water.