This photograph of a wild horse hangs in a prominent place in our living room, an image I took a few months ago in Nevada’s Kamma Mountains. It is odd, the story of how this horse came to hold a special place in our home and our hearts. I can almost laugh about it now.
We first met the horse two years ago when we stopped for lunch on a narrow but well-defined dirt road that had just summited and was beginning its descent. Jeff cut the engine and we opened our sandwiches, content to eat in silence and admire the view. Then through my open window, I caught drifts of whinnying and snorting.
“Did you hear that?”
“We won’t see it. It’s too far off.” I hoped Jeff would contradict me. Instead the noises stopped.
I finished my sandwich and divided the bits that had fallen onto my napkin, between our two hounds. I was about to suggest to Jeff that we continue on our drive when I glimpsed motion on the west side of the range. A bay stallion emerged, tentatively at first, then gaining confidence as he saw that we remained quiet in his presence. Instinctively I steadied my breath. Seemingly in response, he pranced toward us and began to circle the Land Rover. With his head held high and high pronounced steps, it was as if he planned to captivate us–and it worked.
Jeff and I got out and gently closed our doors. We leaned on the hood, letting the horse take the lead, wondering what would be his next move–when inside the vehicle one of our hounds spotted the stallion, clamored over a pile of gear to a window and began to howl. Jeff rushed to quiet the dog while the horse cast me a look even my mother couldn’t summon on the most obstreperous day of my childhood.
It took a few moments to settle the hound. When we returned our focus to the horse, we entreated him with pleading gestures and apologies, to no avail. He avoided our gaze. He snorted and pawed. He trotted, not so far from us that we feared we had frightened him but just enough that we knew he had scorned us. To further affirm his indignation, he tossed his mane before galloping into the canyon from which he had come.
Grief came swiftly and with a solid heft, the sorrow of offending a cherished guest. Neither Jeff nor I spoke of the incident, not then, or any time during the two years that followed, though a couple of times we mumbled allusions to our guilt and our loss. Never did we indulge in the dream that we might one day redeem ourselves in the eyes of that horse.
But the opportunity came, in November in the Kamma Mountains, after a day of tracking wild horses behind the Painted Canyon, and on the well-willow pass, and along Jungo Road, and near Rabbit Hole Spring.
My husband suddenly said, “Let’s go see if we can find him.”
We drove in silence over the pass where we had last seen the stallion, on a road we had seldom driven since.
It was neither a gray day nor a sunny day; neither warm nor cold. When we reached a familiar corner, I began to scan, grateful that my eyes were trained to spot a form, however small, against the tall ridges.
“There?” But it was a boulder.
“There?” I pointed to a dark spec at the base of a mountain about a half mile up on our right. My husband slowed the Land Rover. We stopped, rolled up the windows to muffle the sounds of the dogs, and got out. It was neither windy nor still. The air was not scented with sage as it had been in spring. We set one foot in front of another, angling toward the horse, eyes averted, steps silent on the powdery road.
As we made our way toward him on that nebulous day, he began moving toward us. He trotted and stopped. Watched. Galloped. Stood still. Studied us. Made his way to the Land Rover, where he lifted his nose and sniffed, probably searching for that silly dog who has since died. Seeming satisfied, he roamed back toward the base of the mountain. I watched as my husband followed. Quietly. Slowly. Angling. Averting. Until he came within a few lengths of that horse. And stood there. Just stood there.
I took photos and when Jeff came back whispered, “Let’s walk up the road, I want to get some shots from a different perspective.”
We did and the wild horse walked with us. We walked and he followed. We stopped and he stopped. We began again, he began again. We pretended not to be completely amazed.
Jeff paused as I continued up a rise in the road. A carved earthen bank on my left precluded me from seeing whether the stallion still followed. Until Jeff said, “Look up.” Eight feet above, stretched over a mound, peering down at me, there he was.
Zooming in on images of this stallion, I found scars presumably inflicted during the course of nature. His right hind quarter, now fully healed, evidences shredding by a mountain lion or, seemingly less likely, a horse. In the midst of that finely etched field is a mass of tissue pushed up into the shape of a mountain. It is white-tipped, as if snow-capped. There also is a scar on the horse’s neck in the shape of a hoof. His tongue is out which could be a sign of nervousness or a sore mouth. He appears to live alone, leading me to surmise that, in his interactions with other horses, he could be contentious or otherwise challenging; in the world of wild horses, oft crossed lines are sometimes replied to with ostracization.
To us, he has demonstrated grace and resilience, for which we are grateful.
It is our privilege to bring you stories from the range of Nevada wild horses, and to support American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign and Wild Horse Education in their efforts to protect these and many other horses.