National Geographic : 1971 Jan
On the Track of the Wests Wild Horses By HOPE RYDEN Photographs by the author and DICK DURRANCE II NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTOGRAPHER THE SKY WAS STILL POPPING WITH STARS as I curled up by a clump of sage on an Air Force reser vation in southern Nevada. A tiny spring, rimmed with hoofprints, trickled past my hiding place. No other sound marred the desert night, and the quiet sang in my ears. I settled down to wait for dawn-and wild horses. Suddenly there was a stirring in the brush not 15 feet from where I lay. Twigs snapped, hoofbeats sounded on soft earth. Bulky undefined shapes loomed almost within touching distance. I tried to quiet my breathing. If the horses didn't hear me, they wouldn't detect my presence; they had approached from upwind and would not pick up my scent. A few seconds passed, and I heard a horse blow and then begin to drink. I lay absolutely still, listening. A long pause followed each slurping sound. The spring was shallow, and after drinking for a moment, the horse had to wait for it to fill again. I relaxed. The band would be at the water hole until the sun came up. Perhaps I would get pictures. Since the 16th century, descendants of domestic horses that had become feral, or wild, have ranged throughout the West. As late as 1925, the number was perhaps no less than a million, although an accurate census then, as now, would have been impossible. In recent decades, uncounted num bers have been put under saddles, shot because they com peted with livestock, or trapped and sold for pet food. The Bureau of Land Management believes that on public "The most beautiful, the most spirited and the most inspiring creature ever to print foot on the grasses of America," wrote Texas folklorist J. Frank Dobie of the wild horse. Perhaps a million roamed the West in freedom half a century ago; today an esti mated 17,000 fight for survival on harsh and inhospitable public lands. This alert mare peers from a pifion forest in southern Nevada's Kawich Range. KODACHROMEBYDICK DURRANCEII © N.G.S.