The Wild Horses Of The Salt River are a group of majestic horses roaming the lower Salt River in the Tonto National Forest, just outside of Mesa, Arizona. These horses are a prime icon of the wild, free spirit of the American West. For this reason, the people of Arizona consider these wild horses to be nothing short of a national historic treasure.
Why Are Salt River Wild Horses Here?
Based on early newspaper reports, Wild horses in this area have been called out in news reports as far back as January 1890; it is believed that they were here as far back as the 1600s and are descendants of a herd brought to the area by Spanish missionaries.
In 2015 the United States Forest Service had put out a notice of intent to remove all free-range horses from the area. This notice provoked strong public outrage that resulted in thousands of people and businesses speaking out in protest over the removal of the horses. Even Arizona's elected officials in Congress and the House of Representatives wrote letters to the USFS to support the horses. As a result, the Salt River Horse Act (AZ House Bill 2340) was put into place to protect the horses for future generations to come. Thanks to this bill and the support of the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group, the total number of horses in this area is around 500.
Where Are The Salt River Wild Horses?
The horses can be found along the banks of the Lower Salt River just east of Phoenix. The Salt River is 200 miles long, and thanks to several dams along the river, the water flows year-round, providing a reliable water source to the Phoenix metro area and the wild horses. The section of the river below the Saguaro Lake is known as the Lower Salt River area, and this section of the river is one of the most scenic areas in the state. As you walk along the bank of the river, it is hard to believe that you are only 30 miles from the center of Phoenix. Here, gone are the sounds of the city, replaced by the sounds of songbirds, the gentle sound of the water, and the sound of horses splashing in the water.
Being a wild horse in the desert is not easy, but this group of horses has adapted to their environment, making the Salt River a key component of their daily lives. Thanks to the Saguaro lake dam releases, the Salt River flows all year, providing a reliable water source.
Finding food is a different matter. In the spring, the horses can graze on the desert grasses; as the days get warmer, they enjoy the Round-leaved Mallow that grows in the shade of the Mesquite trees that line the river bank. We have even seen them eat Palo Verde leaves in spite of the thorns of this tree.
In the summer, they rely on the river grass that grows in the river. Horses are routinely seen with their heads submerged in the river to reach the grass on the river bed.
Salt River Wild Horses Lifestyle
At last count, there are around 450 Wild Horses Of The Salt River. These horses travel around the lower salt river within the Tonto National Forest in small groups of 20 or so.
These groups consist of 20 mares and one to two immature stallions, all led by one dominant stallion.
As these small groups travel on the same trails, they come together at the river. As groups arrive at the river, the males already at the river rush to get between their mares and newly arriving stallions. This photograph is of a stallion dashing into the river to get into position.
We visited the horses in the spring, and the mares were coming into season, which created a lot of activity between the stallions.
Some of the males needed to remind the others who were in charge.
These small groups of mares have tight bonds with each other, and mares and foals routinely nudge each other in signs of friendship. In this photograph, the white horse seems to be checking on the other horse; thus, we titled this "Are You OK Dear?"
Two horses decided to race to see who was fastest while running in water. This is a three-piece set of the horses racing.
Please click here to check out the whole Salt River Wild Horse collection.