One of the reasons I love discovering a new place on horseback is that I feel like a modern day explorer. I like to learn that insider’s information that only a local can provide and bring that home to share with my friends and family. Pat Kearney of Hondoo Rivers & Trails, who led me out to ride Capitol Reef National Park in Utah during the filming of our Equitrekking Utah episode, is a horse lover and history buff, a great combination for a guide. I caught up with her recently to hear more about an upcoming series of rides she’s leading to view wild horses in Utah. It’s a rare experience to view wild horses on horseback, so I wanted all of the details.
Tracking the horses is an adventurous expedition, because first you have to find them. The San Rafael Swell, where the Equitrekking Travel San Rafael Swell trip to observe the wild horses led by Pat takes place, is an area of 2,800 square miles. According to current estimates by the BLM, over 200 horses live in the San Rafael Swell, which is located in Central Utah on the Colorado Plateau. So how do you find a moving target in that vast amount of space, especially among big American West scenery including soaring buttes and sandstone cliffs? Well, you probably need a local like Pat with some knowledge of their habits and good tracking skills.
You aren’t going to see a ton of wild horses on this trip, but you will see some special bands among the beautiful scenery. Pat described her favorite band that she’s named the Hondoo Country Band. Like all wild horses, they can be elusive, yet curious. This band may not run when they see Pat and her riders, but they will be reluctant to hang around. While some wild horses roaming the west are descendants of Spanish stock, the horses in San Rafael Swell are a mixture. Many are thought to be descendants of Calvary mounts, who after not as many were needed for war, were turned loose. Early travelers headed for California left others. The horses in San Rafael are thought to have been there since the early 1800s.
Pat’s been observing these horses since 1978, seeing generation after generation and following each band’s progression. She likes one handsome buckskin in particular and said that this wild herd looks healthy. She also likes their different coloring. She hasn’t seen any Paints, but has observed many dark bays. In fact, black and buckskin are the more prevalent colors in the herds at San Rafael Swell.
If you go to ride with Pat to search for these bands, you’ll learn about the area history and unique geology, while visiting a historic outlaw camp and mining ruins of the ZCMI mine. You might camp under peaceful cottonwoods along a picturesque stream, but be prepared for some possible nighttime movement. Pat’s awoken to a stallion trying to “service” her mares and other wild horses who curiously walk through camp. It’s a horse safari in an area where horses rule.
You’ll travel through trails established by Native Americans, herdsmen and outlaws during the day and hear stories about these trailblazers while relaxing by a campfire at night. Other area wildlife includes Peregrine Falcon, Bighorn Sheep, Golden Eagles, and Red-tailed Hawks. Truly away from it all, you’ll certainly take in some amazing sunsets, as you search for the west’s wild horses on a Utah horse safari.
Learn more about Equitrekking on PBS and the Equitrekking episodes on DVD and learn about exceptional equestrian vacations and horseback riding tours at EquitrekkingTravel.com. Follow Equitrekking on Facebook and @Equitrekking and @DarleyNewman on Twitter.