Author: Gabriella Lowe

Horse Travel Vacation Spots: Oatman, Arizona

Oatman, Arizona is a town in the Black Mountains of Mohave County, Arizona. The compound began as a small mining camp during the gold rush. In 1915, two prospectors found over $10 million in gold; in the months following this discovery, Oatman’s population swelled to more than 3,500 people (up from just a couple dozen). In recent years, the town has experienced a tourism renaissance; laying close to Route 66, road tripping visitors stop in the tiny town to see the old buildings, gorgeous mountains, and the famous wild burros.

The wild burros of Oatman are descended from pack animals turned loose by early prospectors. Each morning, they wander into town looking for food. These burros roam freely through the streets of Oatman, feeding on treats provided by tourists. The burros are gentle, but wild—signs posted throughout the town advise visitors to exercise caution. However, tourists are welcome to approach, pet, and feed the burros without fear of disciplinary action. Currently, the animals are protected by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Oatman offers more than the ability to pet wild burros. A standard weekend in this town can include anything from classic car rallies to staged “Wild West” shootouts. The town is fiercely proud of its Route 66 heritage, selling souvenirs for tourists passing through on their way west. The town has a high desert climate and is significantly cooler in both summer and winter than the surrounding area, making it an excellent place to stop and spend a few days.

 

 

Categories: Vacation Spots

Horse Travel Vacation Spots: Sable Island, Nova Scotia, Canada

Sable Island is a small piece of land situated around 200 miles southeast of Halifax, Nova Scotia. The island was inhabited, originally by sealers, shipwreck survivors, and salvagers known as “wreckers.” To address the number of shipwrecks occurring in the area, the governor of Nova Scotia established several life-saving stations on the island in the early 19th century. Over the course of several years, a humanitarian settlement was established for rescued seamen and women. Uninhabited since the late 19th century, the island now serves as an important science research center. It also, coincidentally, is home to several hundred horses.

The Sable Island horse, also known as the Sable Island pony, is a small, feral horse found only on Sable Island. In 1960, the Canadian government approved legislation to protect these feral horses. In the decades since, noninvasive herd and genetic analyses have been conducted on the group of horses. Otherwise, the herd is unmanaged and not subjected to any kind of interference. These horses generally stand at around 55 inches tall and weigh around 800 pounds.

Visiting this island is notoriously difficult, but the payoff is immense. The island is protected and managed by Parks Canada, which must grant permission to anyone wanting to visit. In 2013, Sable Island became a National Park Reserve; visitors must observe utmost environmental respect. Though not particularly accessible (the island can only be reached by plane or ship), tour companies have begun taking visitors. The trips are expensive, but travelers are rewarded with unique views of plants, animals, and—of course—horses.

Categories: Vacation Spots

Horse Travel Vacation Spots: Outer Banks, North Carolina

North Carolina’s Outer Banks is a 200-mile-long string of barrier islands splitting the coast of North Carolina and southeastern Virginia. A popular tourist destination, the Outer Banks are known around the world for their strange subtropical climate and the wide expanse of open, available beachfront. Visitors have the opportunity to camp out, swim at leisure, and browse the shipwrecks just off the coast. However, the Outer Banks are known for more than the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” and ample beachfront opportunities—they’re also known for feral horses.

The horses living on these islands are sometimes called “banker ponies.” According to local legend, they are descended from Spanish Mustangs who washed ashore in one of the centuries-old shipwrecks. Visitors can spot populations of feral horses on Ocracoke Island, Shackleford Banks, Currituck Banks, and the Rachel Carson Estuarine Sanctuary.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, the horse population on these subtropical islands grew enormously; thousands of feral horses ran free along the islands. However, the increase in nearby beach resort popularity has made a dramatic impact on their habitat. Many conservationists feat that the horses might vanish altogether. Due to high levels of inbreeding, the herds lack necessary genetic diversity. Unfortunately, the also impedes the horse population’s survival.

If, however, you travel to this part of the country to spot feral horses, take care to search primarily in wildlife sanctuaries; visitors are asked to stay at least fifty feet away from the horses. However, horses are occasionally spotted in areas with higher human traffic. They spend time digging for fresh water near saltwater cordgrass.

Categories: Vacation Spots

Horse Travel Vacation Spots: Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Area

Colorado has everything: hiking, skiing, fishing, kayaking, and—unbeknownst to many visitors—a massive feral horse population. Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Area is one of the best spots to view these majestic creatures; the area’s 36,000 acres of plateaus and canyons are home to between 120 and 150 horses. Local legend has it that these horses carry the genetics of the native ponies owned by the Utes, who lived in the area.

The Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Area is managed for several uses, but feral horse conservation is a primary concern. The rugged landscape means that these horses are best accessed by bike, horseback, or the hiking trails winding throughout the area. For the best views, visit Indian Park and North Soda in the summer and Coal Canyon or Main Canyon in the winter.

The Little Book Cliffs wild horses boast a diversity of colors, band sizes, and ages. They include palominos, paints, grays, blacks, bays, sorrels, blue and red roans, and even a few appaloosas. Within the past few years, a curly was introduced to the herd and has since foaled. The incredibly photogenic herds are beloved by both locals and tourists. In fact, due to high public visitation, these feral horses are less skittish than others around the country.

Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse area is just eight miles northeast of Grand Junction. The wild horse area is characterized by four major canyon systems. While here, do your best to spot elk, turkey, mule deer, desert bighorn sheep, quail, rattlesnakes, snowshoe hare, mountain lion, bobcat, and bear.

Categories: Vacation Spots

Horse Travel Vacation Spots: The Virginia Range, Nevada

Nevada is home to nearly half of America’s free-roaming horse population. Though the state is expansive, many of these horses are part of the Virginia Range herd, which occupies a region in the western part of the state. This famous herd is often referred to as “Annie’s Horses,” after the decades-long crusade of “Wild Horse Annie,” or Velma Johnston. Johnston worked to protect free-roaming and feral horses across America, and she hailed from Nevada. These horses, allegedly, inspired her campaign.

Annie and these horses also inspired The Wild Horse Annie Act. Johnston became aware of the ruthless manner in which feral horses were rounded up in Nevada; ranchers, hunters, and “mustangers” were responsible for harvesting wild horses for commercial purposes, pointing up an important lapse in animals rights upholding. Johnston’s grassroots campaign, which primarily involved school children, worked to bring these topics into the public eye.

The campaign worked—the public became enraged by the issue—local and national newspapers published articles about the exploitation of the feral horses. Finally, in January of 1959, Nevada Congressman Walter Baring introduced a bill prohibiting the use of motorized vehicles to hunt wild horses and burros on public lands. The bill unanimously passed and became public law in September of 1959.

Visitors can see these magnificent horses by hiking the trails east of Reno. They gather around watering holes, so tread lightly near water. For more information about Wild Horse Annie and her spectacular mustangs, see the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros’ website. Travelers will delight in the hiking, beauty, and accessibility of this U.S. horse destination.

Categories: Vacation Spots

Horse Travel Vacation Spots: Chincoteague, Virginia

Chincoteague is home to America’s most famous wild horses. The Chincoteague Pony lives in a feral condition on Chincoteague and Assateague Islands. This particular breed was made famous by its inclusion in Marguerite Henry’s book, Mist of Chincoteague. Chincoteague ponies exist in all solid colors and in pinto patterns. Though phenotypically horses, they are considered to be ponies because of their small size—on average, they stand at just 54 inches tall.

The Chincoteague Pony is almost mythic. Though many origin stories exist, the most popular posits that they are descendants of a stock released on the island by 17th century colonists seeking to escape livestock laws and taxes on the mainland. Though ponies live on both Chincoteague and Assateague islands, a fence divides them along the Maryland/Virginia state line. Around 150 ponies live on each side of the fence, and each population is treated twice each year for veterinary inspections. These feral ponies are some of the best-looked-after in the world.

If you travel to Chincoteague for the ponies, you will not be disappointed. Several avenues exist for pony-sighting. The Saltwater Pony Tours are among some of the most popular. The scenic cruise makes for a lasting memory for any horse lover; visitors board the boat and cruise around the islands, through the back-bay areas, and along beaches the ponies love.

When you visit Chincoteague, you may come for the horses but stay for the atmosphere. The island is proud of its colonial history, hosting a number of historic buildings and landmarks. Whether you love horses or history, this is an excellent horse travels vacation spot.

Categories: Vacation Spots

Horse Travel Vacation Spots: Waipi’o Valley, Hawaii

Known colloquially as “Valley of the Kings,” Waipi’o Valley has more horses than hula dancers. Waipi’o Valley was the capital and permanent residence of many early Hawaiian ali’I, or kings. The valley floor, which is at sea level, is almost 2,000 feet below the surrounding terrain. A switchback road leads down to the valley from a lookout point on the southern wall, gaining 800 vertical feet in just 0.6 miles. The main road is open to vehicles, but it is restricted to only four-wheel-drive cars. Adventurers can utilize the Waimanu foot trail, which leads down a steep path to the Waimanu Valley.

Tucked between the jungle trails of this lush tropical paradise are some of the most beautiful feral horses in the country. Though not very big, these horses are said to be very hardy—they need to survive traveling up and down the steep valley walls. Seeing these feral horses among the tropical forest and waterfalls is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If you’re a horse enthusiast, it’s within your reach.

Na’alapa Stables, a nearby ranch, offers guided horse tours of Waipi’o Valley. Their experienced guides take tourists and locals alike on journeys through the lush jungle trails, fresh water streams, taro fields, and waterfalls. Waipi’o Valley has an intensely diverse range of plant species and observing them on horseback provides a truly unique experience. What’s more—observing beautiful feral horses while on horseback is a horse lover’s dream.

Na’alapa Stables provides their tours six days a week, meaning you are guaranteed availability while on your vacation. For more information about their guided tours and the horses of the area, see their website.

Categories: Vacation Spots

What’s the Deal with Horseback Safaris?

Safaris worldwide often offer a combination of walking and driving. These methods of viewing wildlife have both pros and cons—a walking tour allows visitors to more intimately experience the animals they see, but it comes at the cost of potential safety breach; a driving tour will let travelers get close to the Big Five, but the automobile noises may cause the animals to flee. There is, however, another safari option.

 

The primary difference between a horse safari and a typical experience is that you no longer have the grind of an automobile engine under your feet. Gone are the doors and windows that may protect from unexpected animal attacks (though those are few and far between). With a horseback safari, you breach the line between observer and nature—you become a part of your surroundings. Running alongside giraffe, wildebeest, and antelope is an experience you will not soon forget. This is as close to nature as you will ever get.

 

Horseback safaris exist worldwide, but there is a concentration of availability on the African continent. Canter through the Okavango Delta in Botswana and the Great Dyke Mountains of Zimbabwe, the beaches of Mozambique and the desert of Namibia. Like with traditional safaris, riders can choose between single-day trips and longer excursions—most usually up to eight or nine days.

 

Though horseback safaris will bring you closer to nature, you will likely pay a bit more for the intimate experience. Additionally, all attendees should have some experience (or extreme confidence) with horseback riding. Though most companies spend months training their stable, horses—like the surrounding wildlife—are animals; you can never be certain that you can trust its judgment, especially in the presence of big cats and other predators. In addition, even if you are an experienced horse rider, you are most likely experienced on a small set of horses. On a horse safari, you are going to be on a horse that is new to you and you will be new to him. Take that situation combined with animals and a new landscape and it can be tricky.

 

While we have given you the bad news, the good news is that most of the horses are trained and experienced and only make the cut if they are truly gentle and are good with people and around these animals. Think of the kinds of deer around golf courses or parks that are less skittish because they are just used to seeing people. Not quite the same, but you understand.

 

The true magic of a safari on horseback is that you can get to places and see things that you just cannot in any other form. If a guide on a game drive parks a vehicle in a spot where you can’t get a great view, you are a little stuck. If you are on horseback, you can move around and get into a great position. Plus you are just more inserted into nature and don’t have to listen to the noise of the engine.

Categories: Blog

Przewalski’s Horse

Known as the Mongolian wild horse or Takhi, Przewalski’s horse is the last wild horse species alive. Native to Central Asia and the Gobi Desert, this animal has never been domesticated. It is rare and endangered; in fact, they were once extinct in the wild. The last Mongolian Przewalski’s horses were seen in 1966 but were reintroduced into their natural habitat several years after.

 

Every Przewalski horse presently living is descended from 9 of 13 horses captured in 1945. Two of these animals were hybrids—one sired from a wild horse stallion and domestic mare, the other from a wild stallion and a tarpan mare. These 13 horses were descended, in turn, from approximately 15 animals captured around 1900. A cooperative venture between the Zoological Society of London and Mongolian scientists resulted in the successful reintroduction of these horses from zoos into their natural habitat in Mongolia. Currently, there are around 300 Przewalski’s horses in the wild.

 

The native population declined in the 20th century due to a combination of factors. Copetition with livestock, hunting, capture of foals for zoological collections, military activities, and unusually harsh winters are considered to be the primary reasons for the Przewalski’s horse population decline.

 

This horse, when compared to domesticated horses, is short and stocky. Their typical height ranges between 12 and 14 hands—around 48-56 inches, and they can be around 7 feet in length. Their coat is generally dun with pangaré features and can vary from dark brown around the mane to a yellowish-white belly. While other horse species have 64 chromosomes, the Przewalski’s horse has 66.

 

Categories: Blog

The Domestic Feral Horse

Though unknown to many (including horse enthusiasts!), there is a difference between wild horses and feral populations. The term “wild horse” is meant to describe horses that have never been domesticated—such as the endangered Przewalski’s Horse. This is the last remaining true wild horse in the world; all others have been driven to extinction.

 

Therefore, a feral horse is considered to be domesticated, in a sense, because its ancestors have been domesticated. Though some populations of feral horses are managed as wildlife, the term “wild horse” is a misnomer. Feral horses are descended from domestic horses that escaped or were deliberately released into the wild.

 

As a result of its existence in nature, feral horse behavior has shifted over time; they more closely resemble the behavior of wild horses. They live in groups called bands, herds, harems, or mobs, and are often led by a dominant mare. The rest of the band is composed of additional mares, their foals, and immature horses of both sexes.

 

Like with most wild herds, band makeup shifts over time as young animals are driven out or welcomed in. Within a closed ecosystem, however, the ability to maintain genetic diversity necessitates a large group size—the minimum size for a sustainable, free-roaming horse population is between 150 to 200 animals.

 

These domestic feral horses were likely introduced by the Conquistadors in the 15th century AD; some horses escaped and formed the feral herds we now know as mustangs. Australia has the largest population of feral horses in the world—with an excess of 400,000 feral animals, it is not hard to spot one or a group cantering together. Though unusually controversial (livestock producers are often at odds with horse enthusiasts about habitat impact), the domestic feral horse populations will, likely, continue to thrive.

 

Categories: Blog