Most of us probably read Walter Farley's horse stories when we were kids, along with Marguerite Henry's and lots of others. I think one of the subtle attractions of historical romance has always been the horses. Medieval chargers, milady's palfrey, matched greys prancing down Rotten Row, the ubiquitous stallion the hero lifts the heroine onto as they ride off into the western sunset.
Just as we readers often have our book boyfriends, I suspect many of us also have that lingering fascination for the horses.
Here in central Arizona, that drama is playing out for real. Although my state is home to approximately 500 wild, or "feral," horses and burros, not all of them are protected by the 1971 federal Wild and Free-running Burros and Horses Act. One band fell through the bureaucratic cracks and didn't get assigned to an official territory.
They are the Salt River Wild Horses, numbering about 100 animals and roaming free along the lower Salt River in the Tonto National Forest in central Arizona. Recently, the US Forest Service, which administers the land, decided that the horses had to go. Ranchers want to lease parts of a 156,000 acre parcel of federal land for cattle grazing, and rather than share the land with 100 horses, they want them gone.
Over the past few days, local citizens have brought the horses literally to the attention of the world, as there were fears a round-up of the horses would begin as early as this Friday. Mostly through Facebook posts and shares, the public was made aware of the Salt River horses' plight. Local media showed up to a press conference yesterday, and the horses even put in an appearance. The news reached New York City and Tampa, Florida, and New Zealand. Unlike the lions of Zimbabwe's refuge, the Salt River horses are animals without an official territory; they belong literally as well as figuratively to no one. The Forest Service calls them "unauthorized livestock," and therefore unprotected.
A volunteer non-profit organization, the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group, has been monitoring and studying and documenting these horses for several years. Their Facebook page is loaded with information and comments . . . and pictures and videos.
I'm not tech-savvy enough to know how to load the videos; maybe I'll figure that out this evening. If not, you can check out the Facebook page.
I've lived in Arizona 30 years this month, and I've never seen the wild horses. I didn't know for sure where they are. Now I know. It's not that far away.