Visiting the wild horses of Carson Valley

all photos courtesy of Carson Valley Tours

One of my favorite wildlife shows has been Meerkat Manor. It is like a soap opera with meerkats. It followed a couple of meerkat troops in the plains of Africa and monitored the social dynamics that take place. Each troop had a queen, her mate, and all the lesser meerkats who were responsible for childcare and security of the troop.

What about the social dynamic of horses? After all, horses have been domesticated for millennia. They are, for the most part, kept apart in stalls and pens. What are horses like in the wild with no restrictions of man? What social structure and dynamic do they have?

Normally cheapskate me would be just crossing my fingers hoping that I might see some wild horses from my own car. After four trips to Virginia City, this did happen when some wild horses actually wandered into town. OK. Good. Been there, saw that.

This month was an entirely different experience when I went on a jeep tour to see the wild horses of the Carson Valley near Minden, Nevada. My guide was Dwayne Hicks, who runs Carson Valley Tours. Dwayne is a retired veteran who loves photographing the wild horses and the raptors in the area. He supplements his pension by selling his photographs and doing various tours in the valley. Dwayne loves the Carson Valley area the same amount as I love Sacramento - a lot. He knows its history, its inhabitants, its terrain, and its wildlife. He was a fountain of information and a wonderful tour guide. He is also nice enough to take care of the photography and send you the photos later. A bonus for me!

Dwayne drove us out to the east side of the valley, trying to get away from the ever increasing housing that eats away at the horses' territory. We were on part of the Bently Ranch (another blog post soon). The Bentlys are contrary to many ranchers in that they love the wild horses and so they keep their ranch pretty much free of fencing. Dwayne went over the rules regarding wild horses and the laws that are overseen by the Bureau of Land Management - no feeding or watering of the horses. Leave them alone and don't interact with them. Just observe. 

It didn't take long before we came across a group of three stallions. These guys were buddies hanging out for a drink. Dwayne explained that males that don't have a band or care about procreating hang out together in bachelor groups. All the local wild horse followers know and name the horses. This group had Red and two others. 

Dwayne was looking for particular bands with his favorite horses. We took off over a couple of more hills and came across another bachelor band with a few more stallions. In this group was Socks and Socks Jr.  Socks is an older horse of about 20 years old. Socks had once had a large band of his own until one day a younger stallion, Samson, came into the area and challenged him. Dwayne says that at the time, Socks was not at his healthiest and so when Samson challenged him, Socks took a stand and then changed his mind and said, "OK. You win." and walked off with his son Socks Jr. The locals didn't see him for several weeks and feared that he had gone off to die, but he later returned, recovered and healthy. Ever since he's been hanging out as a bachelor.

We moved further along and were very lucky to find more bands hanging out in close proximity to each other. 

Off to our right was Blondie with a group of about 14. Blondie has been in charge of his band for a few years and is about 10 years old. He was named, obviously, due to his recognizable blond mane. 

In the middle was Zorro with his two mares. He's a new stallion who only recently came into the region and decided he was ready to have his own band. He took over his females from another stallion, Skip. And then I was lucky enough to witness a confrontation...

Zorro confronts Blondie

Some of Blondie's group started to shuffle and Zorro, from a distance, saw and started galloping over. Blondie saw this and took a dump to mark his area. He then went out to meet with Zorro. Zorro approached all cocky and reared up. Blondie just sort of stood there like, "yeah, what?" Zorro kept up his testosterone act and then takes a dump also, saying, "Don't cross this line!" And that was that and both returned to their areas. 

Dwayne explains that is the usual interaction. The stallions meet up, discuss, go back to their groups. There's one case that he knows where the stallions actually fought to the death. The new stallion killed the elder.

I really enjoyed the day and loved learning about the lives of wild horses. It's something that did require a guide who knew the area and bands. The only way to get a real experience, short of living in the area yourself, is to do a tour. 

Carson Valley Tours
(775) 781-8808