It always starts with one, that’s all you’ll see. But as you creep closer, one turns into two, then two three, then with a few more steps, forty. This is what we do. We are the girls who run with wild horses.
It was a Tuesday. The other intern and I were out at the Devil’s Garden in the Modoc National Forest searching for the wild horses. Sun beating on our backs. We had driven north an hour on a dirt road and then swapped the truck for the ATVs when the terrain got too rough. We were pretty deep in the Garden chugging along- the two of us, our protection dog, and our very trusty ATVs. As we turned around a bend, there it was. It always starts with one, that’s all you’ll see. But as you creep closer, one turns into two, then two three, then with a few more steps, forty. This is what we do. We are the girls who run with wild horses.
In this particular batch, we counted over eighty-five horses. There were horses of every color. Take your pick: buckskin, black, bay, brown, red roan, blue roan, buckskin roan, chestnut, and palomino. All peppered across a landscape waiting for their turn at a stock tank. The two of us crept closer, trying to get the perfect shot, as well as the most accurate count. The other intern cut in front of me and stealthily hid behind an invasive juniper tree in order to get a nice view for the camera. I stayed behind about fifteen feet, counting away. As I finished, I wanted to catch up with her to get as close as possible. I edged forward to creep behind a tree. My cover was blown. Totally exposed. A band of three bachelor studs spotted me. The middle one, a tall, dark, and handsome bay with a full white blaze looked right at me. With one fell motion, he snorted, and the three of them began to prance towards me. Graceful and majestic, their muscular bodies pounding the ground with all their might. That is the American Mustang right? This is what we all think of?
What I am not telling you is there was a skinny, mangled mare off in the distance trying with all her energy she had left to feed her foal after a rough winter. Is this the mustang we think of? How about the fourth generation rancher who lost his livelihood to introduced wild horses that ate all of the grass? Do we incorporate this? What about the large draft cross horse in the middle of the field that is the subject of old work horses being turned out in the Garden generations ago? Do we consider this crossbred mustang? What about the mustang that was brought over by the Spanish conquistadors who massacred the indigenous peoples of the Americas? Is this the symbol of freedom we think of? What does “Mustang” even mean? Is it a nicer word for mutt or the purest form of wild?
These questions all come rushing to my mind when I think of the American mustang. These questions only scratch the surface of what we will be unraveling for you. We are here. In the midst of it all, uncovering the story of the American mustang. We are the girls who run with wild horses.