Wild Horses Along the Pony Express Trail

April 27, 2020

RayB_simpsprghors17c_3ap20 (002)


Photographer: Ray Boren 
Summary Author: Ray Boren 

It’s spring in the desert valleys of western Utah — prime time to search for, and occasionally (but not always) find, the Onaqui Mountain herd of wild horses, including recent and newborn foals. Bands of horses rove thin grasslands and sagebrush, edged by higher stands of juniper and pinyon trees, south of the Great Salt Lake along the 19th century’s fabled Pony Express route, which is now an unpaved back-country road and part of the U.S. National Park Service’s Pony Express National Historic Trail. In the photographs here, taken on April 3, 2020 (with telephoto lenses and from a vehicle), up to a hundred wild horses have gathered to graze, rest, nip, kick and mingle in the vicinity of a pump-fed trough, one of several extra water sources in the area available to horses and cattle.

Simpsprghors05c_3ap20The handsome horses, so evocative of the Old West, range the 206,878 acre (83,721 hectare) Onaqui Mountain Wild Horse Management Area, administered by the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program. The BLM says the animals — at times numbering more than 400 individuals, and part of but one of 177 Herd Management Areas (HMAs) in 10 Western states — are offspring of once-domesticated horses that have grazed the area since the late 1800s. Through the use of contraceptives, volunteers with the Wild Horses of America Foundation and the BLM say they’re attempting to control the herd’s reproduction and population while maintaining its genetic viability and natural behavior. As is evident on a white mare in the photo with a cute foal, some horses bear neck and hip brands that indicate when they were treated in this program in the past. (The brands are no longer used, the foundation reports.)

The Onaqui herd grazes near Simpson Springs, site of one of the 190 Pony Express relay stations used by horse-mounted mail couriers (including young Buffalo Bill Cody) who galloped the almost 2,000 mile (3,219 km) route between St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, capital of the then-new state of California. Before the Pony Express, it took 6 weeks to 6 months, depending on the form of transport, for news and mail to get from the East Coast of the United States to the booming West Coast. Pony Express riders cut that drastically, to about 10 days from Missouri to California, at least. The enterprise’s brief but legendary heyday only lasted a year-and-a-half, between April 1860 and October 1861, when the newly completed transcontinental telegraph wire made the service obsolete.

Photo Details: Camera: NIKON D3200; Exposure Time: 0.0020s (1/500); Aperture: ƒ/8.0; ISO equivalent: 100; Focal Length (35mm): 750.