Tag Archives: horses

Wild, Wild Horses


I’d always wanted to see the wild horses living on the Colorado side of the San Luis Valley. I’d made the trek from Taos, NM to San Luis, CO (and beyond) on NM Hwy 522/CO Hwy 159 several times, but I’d never seen a single wild horse. The only indication of them were the yellow roadside signs proclaiming “open range” and a silhouette of a horse letting drivers know it wasn’t cows they needed to be concerned with.

The Man and I had been staying at our friend’s place 40 miles north of Taos for a few days when we decided to make a quick trip to San Luis, the oldest town in Colorado. It had been cold the last two nights, and the sky was overcast when we hit the road, but no rain or snow was falling.

We passed into Colorado and hadn’t been in the state long when there they were! There was a small herd (six or eight individuals) of wild horses on the road and on its shoulder.

Oh Baby! We’re so lucky! I exclaimed to the man. I’ve always wanted to see the wild horses, but this is my first time!

Pull over so we can take pictures, The Man implored.

There are a lot of reason I love The Man. He is a kind, caring person who makes me laugh. He is patient with my moodiness and terrible driving. He’s smart, enjoys reading, and encourages my creative endeavors. Also? He likes to stop and take photos of interesting roadside attractions as much as I do.

I carefully maneuvered the van to the shoulder of the road. The horses moved nervously, and the ones in the middle of the road shuffled to the side. It was good they’d moved because a little sports car came flying by way too fast right about then. From the opposite direction, a large pickup pulling a 5th wheel slowed to a crawl so as not to spook the horses. Some people got a clue, and some people don’t.

According to the Fence Post website,

At the far southern end of the San Luis Valley in…is the hidden treasure of a thriving herd of mustangs.

These horses are not pure mustangs but are more closely related than the wild horses of the managed areas of Colorado.

The bands of horses in Costillia County date back 400 years and are not protected by the Bureau of Land Management, so they are not subjected to culling and rescue operations. These horses still roam on original Spanish land grants dating back to the 1600s and not on BLM land. The open range bordering the Rio Grande River and the vast plains and mesas of the San Luis Valley provide 60,000 acres of natural habitat for wild mustangs to move freely in and to thrive.

Once I could see no other cars on the highway, I slowly moved the van closer to the horses until I could see they were getting nervous. I turned off the engine. and The Man got out to take his photos. When he returned, it was my turn.

I walked slowly toward the horses, trying not to spook them. I didn’t want them to trot off before I could get even one photo, but I also didn’t want to upset them with my presence. After all, I was the interloper.

The horses were big, stunningly beautiful creatures, mostly brown, but with black tails and manes. They were such a joy to see, walking freely through their world.

The photos I got of the wild horses are not great. I wish the camera on my phone took better photos. I wish the lighting had been better. I wish I could have gotten closer to the horses or that my camera did a better job of zooming in. However, overall, I was pleased to get any photos at all.

Getting photos of the horses was not the most important part of my day. The most important part of my day was seeing those majestic, free beasts in real life, out in the open, living their lives a few yards from me.

I took the photos of horses in this post.

Horse People (Continued)


From inside the livestock trailer, I heard a man’s voice say Good morning, so I said Good morning in return.

The man’s voice called the dog. The dog ran to the gate of the trailer, then away from it. The man continued calling the dog in a low, calm voice. At the time, I thought the dog was just being playful, was enjoying being off leash, didn’t want to give up its freedom. But now I remember the dog cowering just outside the trailer’s open gate, ears flattened against its head. Like the girl, the dog was silent.

When the man had the dog, I walked around to the open gate of the trailer. The man was tying the dog to a rope attached to the trailer.

I’d barely identified myself as the camp host when the man said to me, Well, you sure don’t waste any time.

I guess he meant I hadn’t wasted any time in coming over to collect the camping fee. I thought it was a strange thing for him to say. People who stay in a campground typically know there is a fee to camp, and most people are happy to pay up and get the task out of the way.

In that instant when the man spoke to me, my whole plan changed. Maybe the look on the girl’s face had finally registered as fear. Maybe I’m particularly sensitive to dangerous men. But what came out of my mouth was, I’ll make you a deal. If you clean up after the horses, I won’t charge you the camping fee. I know y’all got in late last night.

I didn’t fear for my own personal safety. The man didn’t do or say anything I could point to as a threat. But I had a suspicion that if the man got pissed off, I wouldn’t be the one he’d take it out on.

I think he thanked me. Then he asked, If we want to stay another night, should we talk to you?

The last thing I wanted in my campground was this bad vibe man, his cowering dog, his silent girl, and his six shitting horses.

Well, I said, I’ve got people checking in on this site tomorrow, and this really isn’t a horse camp.

No, he agreed. This really isn’t a horse camp. I guess there’s no water either?

No, I sadly shook my head, no water.

We’ll just have some breakfast, he said. Then we’ll get out of your hair.

I continued about my business cleaning fire rings. I kept a watch on the family out of the corner of my eye.

A woman and two younger children emerged from the pile of blankets and sleeping bags on the ground. I couldn’t determine the gender of the youngest child, but the middle kid was a blond girl, probably seven or eight years old.

Two things struck me as strange.

First, after breakfast was cooked (on a high standing stove), the people did not sit down to enjoy their meal. Although there were three picnic tables in the area they were occupying, they stood in a loose circle while they consumed their food. I couldn’t tell what they were eating or if they used plates, but standing during breakfast is not normal camper behavior.

Second, for most of the morning, the man’s voice was the only one I heard. He didn’t raise it high enough for me to understand his words, but I could hear it drifting through the campground. I didn’t hear the women’s voice once, and at least an hour passed before I could hear the kids. Whether the woman and children were whispering or silent, I don’t know.

The man did another weird thing while I was cleaning the fire ring on site #1. He let a horse wander off from the rest of its herd. He didn’t let it go far, but I wondered why he was allowing it to move around freely. Was he challenging me, hoping I’d say something so he could argue with me or have a reason to be be mad?

Typically I would have commented on the beauty of the horse (a muscular, brown creature), but my instinct was not to chit chat with these people.

When I finished cleaning fire rings, I went back to my campsite to get ready for the rest of my day. I started hearing the children’s voices echo through the campground. The kids were not screaming at the tops of their lungs, but I could hear their happy and excited voices.

I was beginning to think I was imaging things and there wasn’t anything weird about these people when I heard the man raise his voice. I was pretty sure he was reprimanding one or more of the children, and I clearly heard him say…yelling out loud! He was reprimanding the children for their happy, exuberant voices! (And really, if a kid can’t yell in a campground at 9:30 in the morning, where can a kid yell?)

Then I heard the twack twack twack sound of something (a switch picked up from the ground? a horse-related tool?) slice through the air and hit something. When I looked up, the man was walking away, but the middle child was standing frozen, with her arms held stiffly at her sides. I didn’t hear any children’s voices after that.

Once again, I was rendered mute by a grown man hitting a little kid, but this time I’d only heard the abuse. What could I do? I know how abusers work.  Anything I said or did, the woman or the kids would pay for later. I didn’t even have an excuse to talk to the girl and offer her some small kindness.

Sometimes I feel so useless.

The day after the horse people left, I walked through the area they’d occupied and could still smell horse feces. I started poking around with the toe of my boot and found the man’s idea of cleaning up after his horses was to bury the feces. Asswipe! I ended up having to clean up the horse feces myself, and it was a more difficult task now that it was covered in duff. I will admit I had fantasies of breaking that man’s kneecaps.

Horse People


When I went to bed, the campground was empty.

I woke up at 12:30am, and I really had to pee. I was so groggy as I pulled out my pee bucket and found the toilet paper, but I seemed to be hearing noises in the campground. The noises weren’t right outside the van, but were somewhere within the campground. Once back in bed, I tried to figure out what I was hearing.

I did not hear the sound of a vehicle’s engine, which kind of freaked me out. If there were people in the campground, wouldn’t they have driven in? Could I have slept through a vehicle pulling into the campground? Probably. As groggy as I was when I woke up, I’d probably been sleeping really hard. If the vehicle were on the other side of the campground, I definitely could have slept through its motor running.

But what were the other noises I was hearing? There was a metallic sound, somewhat like the metal lids on the metal trashcans being jostled, but not very loud. I wondered if a bear were getting into the metal trashcans, but I think a bear messing with trashcans would make a lot of noise. I don’t think bears are carefully quiet when helping themselves to midnight garbage snacks.

I could also hear the sounds of some kind of animal(s). I couldn’t decide what kind of animal it might be.

Are the cows back? I wondered. When I’d closed up the van around eight o’clock, there had been no cows in the meadow. I don’t think cows are the type of animal to go exploring in the middle of the night. Besides, I’ve been around cows at night (me in a house or my van, the cows in a pasture or a meadow); I know what kinds of noises cows make. The noises I heard did not sound like cows.

I was back to thinking maybe I heard a bear. I’ve never heard a bear, so maybe the noises I was hearing were bear noises. Maybe it was a very quiet bear, carefully lifting the lids on the trashcans and replacing them gently.

What didn’t make sense about bears eating from the trash cans is that the campground had not been very busy in the last few days. Any bears exploring those trashcans would not find much to eat.

Maybe I had dozed off. Maybe I was dreaming. But suddenly I was wide awake and I swore I’d heard a footstep. But whose footstep? Man or beast? Bear or cow?

I waited to hear a lid lifted from a trash can or one can crash into another. Nothing.

Nighttime in a remote, empty campground can be very disconcerting. It’s so quiet. It’s so dark. I never know who or what is out there.

One of my personal rules of being a camp host is that I’m in the van with the doors locked by nightfall, and I don’t get out of the fan at night to greet strangers. If someone I already talked to and checked-in while the sun was out knocks at at night, I ‘d get out of the van and help them if necessary. But I’m not going to deal with strangers in the dark, especially if my brain is addled with sleep.

I lay in the dark, still and quiet, straining to hear any and every little noise. Then I saw the beam of a flashlight once, twice.

I was pretty sure even a Ninja quiet bear would not have a flashlight, which meant I was dealing with humans. I didn’t know if I preferred humans to bears. What were those people doing out there at nearly one in the morning? Who were they? Did they just want to camp, or were they plotting evil schemes? And what were the weird noises?

Everything must have settled down, and I must have dozed off because the next time I turned on my tiny flashlight with the red beam, it was 2am and all was quiet.

I was awake with the first light of dawn. I dressed and prepared to face whatever havoc had been wreaked on the campground in the night.

The trashcans on my side of the campground had not been tampered with. So far, so good.

I saw a big pickup truck hauling a long livestock trailer on the other side of the campground. I saw bedding spread out on site #6 (but no tent). I saw a dog, and it saw me. I couldn’t tell if it was tethered in any way, but it didn’t run over to meet me, so I left well enough alone. I didn’t see any people moving around, but at the back of site #6, I saw six horses milling about.

Oh! Horses! That was the animal noise I’d heard in the night. I don’t have much horse experience, so I wasn’t surprised I hadn’t identified the sounds I’d heard as coming from horses.

I also figured the metallic sounds must have come from the trailer–the gate opening, the horses unloading.

I did my paperwork so I could turn it into my supervisor later in the day. I swept the restrooms. I cleaned fire rings. I plotted how I would demand payment from the horse people, no mater if they protested that they’d not spent the whole night. They’d woke me (and scared me, no less), and they were going to pay.

Between 6 and 6:30, I looked over to site #6 and saw some people moving around. When I finished with the fire ring I was cleaning, I grabbed my clipboard and walked over, fully intending to write a permit and collect payment.

I noticed a person walking among the horses. The person had long hair; I thought it was a small woman. I also noticed the dog I’d seen earlier was not leashed and was frolicking around the horses. I think I said, Good morning, followed by, The dog does need to be leashed in the National Forest.

The female person did not turn to look at me.

I said, Miss? Miss?

The female person turned to look at me. I saw she was not a small woman, but a young girl, maybe 11, maybe 12. She looked at me in utter confusion.

The dog, I pointed. A leash, I said.

She didn’t utter a word. She seemed to be frozen. She just looked at me with blank eyes of confusion. I think there was something besides confusion on her face, but I didn’t realize it at the time.

To Be Continued