Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The wild horses of the Salt River

In light of the recent uproar regarding the future of the Salt River Horses in Arizona, including the false alarm of a “round-up in progress”, I thought I'd take some time to jot a few things down. Bear in mind I am playing the devil's advocate in some of these comments and I firmly feel those horses deserve the right to live free at the River. I do not feel they represent a safety hazard to anyone nor have there been any negative incidents involving horse-human interactions. Cool heads need to prevail and present the facts clearly and calmly. 

The Salt River Horses of Arizona are in danger of losing their freedom. Advocates are scrambling to find rationales for preserving this beautiful population of wild horses. You may read that they are descendent of Spanish Colonial Horses and therefore they should be protected. Unfortunately, as soon as domestic horses were allowed to interbreed with the Salt River horses over the years, the lineage became diluted and their historical value diminished. There is no test currently, that allows us to differentiate a wild horse from a domestic horse. This is the principal reason the United States Department of Fish and Wildlife denied the recent petition to make the mustang an endangered species. We cannot tell them apart from domestic horses. The wild horses have no genetic mutations that are unique and therefore they cannot be isolated or differentiated from the domestic population. Even conformation isn't reliable as the wild horses are the result mixing different breeds and similarities as well as differences exist among both domestic and wild horses.

Other attempts at proving uniqueness are that the Salt River horses are the only horses that eat river grass. The consumption of aquatic vegetation is actually quite common in the the wild horses of Camargue region of France and in the ponies of Assateague and Chincoteague. So the “mermaid horses” or more correctly the hippocampus of the Salt River is mere fancy. Another point cited to set this population apart is that there are a lot of grey horses in the Salt River herds. Anyone who has been to Sand Wash Basin or Spring Creek Basin will tell you that there are a lot of grey horses at those horse management sites. It is a dominant color and therefore, rather common in every wild horse population. The presence of the dun color, which is frequent in the more ‘primitive’ or ancient breeds (such as Spanish Colonial Horses, Nordic breeds, and/or the horse’s wild cousin, Przewalski’s Horse) is present in the Salt River Horses, but duns are far more far more abundant in wild horse populations that are more isolated. The Pryor horses represent a more bottle-necked population and they have a large number of dun horses, more proportionally than the Salt River.

Instead of struggling to find characteristics which are unique to the horses of the Salt River, perhaps we ought to focus on what they represent. They represent freedom, they represent our heritage and they played a significant role in how the west was truly won. They are a beautiful addition to the landscape of Arizona and the Salt River would be empty without them. They remind us of the beauty of nature and they bring visitors to the Tonto National Forest every year. I have seen these beautiful horses and they have captivated me. Do whatever you can to help these horses.

Senator John McCain, Phoenix office, 2201 East Camelback Road, Suite 115, Phoenix, AZ 85016. Main: (602) 952-2410 and Senator Jeff Flake. (P: 202-224-4521

 Neil Boswell - Forest supervisor 602-225-5201

Carrie Templin, Public Affairs Officer, Tonto National Forest. 602-225-5290

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