The 3rd Annual Ride for the Salt River Wild Horses – Apache Junction, Arizona
There is something about growing up, developing a love of reading, being a certain age, and horse stories. A friend of mine posted a question the other day on Facebook asking what books first opened the door to literature to us, and why did that book have that effect. It was surprising to me how many people, especially of my generation, mentioned Walter Farley and his Black Stallion book series. Marguerite Henry, with her Misty of Chincoteague Island series, as well as her books based on historical horses, Man o War, King of the Wind, Black Gold, and Brighty of the Grand Canyon, is another beloved young adult writer who discovered this passion among so many readers.
My grandfather had always had a dream of having a horse on his property for each of his grandchildren. It was something he valued, cherished, and felt deeply devoted to. Eventually, he would begin to see that some dreams do not translate into reality very easily. Grandchildren live far away, they do not get to visit as often as perhaps one had hoped, and horses are a lot of work. However, I was one of the first grandchildren, and thus got to see the dream begin.
My grandfather, Papa, bought me a wild mustang that had been running with a herd south of the Chiricahua Mountains and ranging into Mexico. When the herd was caught, they were brought to auction, and my grandfather often told me the story of how that little Smoky horse captured his soul.
Papa too, loved horses. He was raised around horses. He rode horses to school. Chasing wild horses, and watching them from the top of ridges were realities to him. One book he gave me, and told me always captured his true love of horses, was Smoky the Cowhorse by Will James. It was about a wild horse, a mousy dappled grey who never really became tame, but befriended a certain cowboy…. and when that cowboy had no more need of him… he released him. The story always haunted me, and resonated in other tales that I too, came to love: Call of the Wild, and The Man from Snowy River. My grandfather named that mustang Smoky after the memory of that fictional horse.
Smoky was my horse, but I could never ride him. I sat on him a few times with my grandfather always close, and I saw the horse throw my father several times. Smoky was never meant to be tamed, but my grandfather said he never saw a tougher horse. “That little horse is tough as nails”, he would always say.
Something in the romance, and the magic, and the adventure of those stories stuck with me, and although my own “horses” have always been two wheeled V-Twins, I like to think that the passion for getting out, experiencing the world, and really seeing it the way we want to experience it… were passions both my grandfather and I share, and chased in our own ways. After all… it was my grandfather who coined the term, keep the greasy side down…. at least for me.
Something in me never lost my deep love of wild horses. The dream of them. The freedom of them. The lost world that they symbolized. The world of no fences, no brave cowboys, and no private property signs. I have spent many mornings on the White Mountain Apache Reservation in the Black River Wilderness watching the wild horses. Laying silently, and in awe, like my grandfather must have done so many times, watching the stallions circle their mob of mares and whistle their screaming clarion calls.
There are a few things that no matter how many times you see them, they can still take your breath away; wild horses are one of these things.
The wild horses of the Lower Salt River Wilderness Area are one of the last wild bands of mustangs in Arizona, and they are often the subject of much heated debate in the Arizona legislature.
The history of the Salt River Wild Horses is somewhat disputed, but easily proven if one looks deeper into history than a letter written in the mid 70s alleging that the wild horses were let loose by ranchers no longer wanting to care for the animals. In fact, an article written in January of 1890 calls the mustangs living along the lower salt as “native creatures” meaning at least five generations which would put them well back into the 1700s. The full history of the horses, as well as the aforementioned articles are included at the Salt River Wild Horse Management Site devoted to the history of the animals.
The ongoing argument tends to fluctuate around the heavily used Salt River, and attached lakes as recreational areas, the safety concerns involved with a herd of wild horses because of this human encroachment, and the environmental needs of the animals themselves.
There is wide political support for the protection of the mustangs, but continual legislation abounds in regards to their protection versus the further development of the facilities in the Lower Salt River Recreation Area.
The bottom line, is that all politics aside… we are quite a huge stain on the world – us humans. We are insatiable in our desire to explore our world and to be able to experience all she has to offer. But… there are a ton of us human things…. and we take up a great deal of space.
There are costs. Sometimes, we need to be reminded of them.
The purpose of the yearly ride, organized by The Salt River Wild Horse Management Group and Harley-Davidson of Apache Junction, is to generate continual awareness of this symbolically important issue and to continue to keep the pressure on the State to provide for the mustang’s protection. This year, the ride also coincided with my birthday, so once again, my good friend Jason rode Autumn, his Harley Blackline down from Winslow and we met up at the American Legion in Fountain Hills – to ride to donate to a great cause – to continually – daily – keep the greasy side down.
Until Next Time My Friends…