Whether you're in Colorado exploring the Sand Wash Basin, enjoying the tranquility of the Salt River Valley in Arizona, or breathing in the salty air of North Carolina, viewing wild horses in their natural habitat is an amazing experience. You don't need to be a horse owner to fall in love with their beauty and power. Viewing wild horses in person is usually as easy as driving to one of the BLM's 177 Horse Management Areas (HMA) and practicing a bit of patience. But while these areas across the country are open to guests, there are specific rules that need to be followed.
You don't want to be "that person" who ruins the experience for everyone else, so pay attention to these simple guidelines before you plan your trip.
Check In If You Can
Most HMAs have BLM field offices somewhere nearby. These are informative centers staffed by knowledgable people who want to help you make the most of your visit. Before you enter the HMA, it's a good idea to stop at the office to check in and receive any current information. The staff will let you know what the road conditions are like and even point you in the direction of where the horses were last seen.
Don't Go Off-Roading
When you're out in the open land, it can be tempting to make your own path, whether you're in the car or on foot. It's essential, however, that you stay on the designated roadways or footpaths. Remember that in most areas, the horses are fighting for a limited food supply. The last thing they need is for you to trample or damage the grasses and other plant life.
Keep Your Distance
Some HMAs have different rules for viewing wild horses, but they all require visitors to stay far away from the horses and other wildlife. A good guideline to follow is to always stay at least 100 feet away. If a horse starts moving in your direction, it's your responsibility to move away and keep your distance.
Don't Disturb the Peace
When you finally spot the horses you've been looking for, it's natural to be excited. You'll most likely whip out your camera. What you shouldn't do, however, is provoke or spook a horse into a better pose for your picture. For example, never click your tongue or clap your hands to get a horse to look up in your direction. Even more importantly, never spook a horse in hopes of seeing it gallop away. You are there to observe only. Let the horses go about their days in peace.
Minimize Time Near Watering Holes
For many wild horse territories, water can be a scarcity. The horses travel for miles to get a single drink, and watering holes are extremely important. If the horses don't feel comfortable, they might avoid the location altogether. This is obviously detrimental to their health. All visitors should avoid watering holes as much as possible.
Never Feed the Horses
It doesn't matter if you offer the horses human food or treats meant for domestic horses. Anything outside of their regular diet can be detrimental to their health. Eating food from humans is also risky because horse can become too accustomed to humans. If they learn humans are a food source, they run the risk of becoming "nuisance animals" and putting themselves in dangerous situations.
Keep Your Belongings to Yourself
It's not uncommon for wild horses to be curious about the humans hanging around. If they approach you, it's still your responsibility to move away. It's also your responsibility to ensure the horses don't injure themselves on your belongings. Never leave chairs or tripods unattended. If you park your car, you also need to make sure all windows are closed.
Leave Your Dog At Home
As much as you love adventuring with your canine best friend, it's best to leave them behind when viewing wild horses. Even if your dog is accustomed to being around horses, wild horses aren't used to being around dogs. Your dog's smell can make the horses uncomfortable.
Viewing wild horses in their natural environment is an incredible experience. It's something every horse lover should do. And as long as you follow the proper etiquette, pack your bags and have fun.