header image cc: Anouk Masson Krantz from her beautiful book on the Cumberland island.
Are there still wild horses?
As horse lovers, we all love the idea of wild horses roaming free, and each of us has our own vision of what this looks like depending on where we come from.
If you’re from the United States, you’ll think of the Mustangs grazing the prairies and trekking the canyons of the wild west.
Australians will think of the Brumby (The Man from Snowy River, anyone?), which originated like the American Mustang from domestic horses brought to Australia by European settlers.
Europeans have the Konik horse (and the stunningly imposing and snowy Camargue horses) and Asia has the wild Przewalski’s horse, native to the Central Asian steppe.
Beyond these vivid images, there are many more free-roaming horses to be found throughout the globe and we’ve rounded up the top 20 places to see wild horses for you. And we’ve noted which spots you can actually do a horseback day tour or riding holiday and see wild horses from the back of your own (hopefully not so wild) steed.
Let's check out where you can find wild horses.
/ ISLAND VIBES /
1. Wild Horses of the Marquesas Islands
A tranquil paradise not on the typical tourist’s visit list, the Marquesas Archipelago is one of the most remote island groups in the world – and Tahuata is a secret hideaway filled with wild horses.
Only accessible by boat from Hiva Oa, it is just 61km squared in size.
Learn more about the stories behind the horsemen of these islands and see some stunning photographs, in this article from National Geographic linked here.
2. Hawaii's Waipi’o Valley Herds
The 50th state of the USA doesn’t really fit in with the rest. Filled with waterfalls, mountains, warm waters and verdant landscapes – it is also home to a herd of wild horses.
On the Big Island and nestled within the Valley of the Kings (Waipi’o Valley), visitors can see wild horses roaming throughout the valley. Small but tough, these island horses thrive in this tropical paradise.
3. Cumberland Island National Seashore / Georgia USA
Likely to date back to the Spanish missionaries in the 1500s, the wild horses that roam along the seashore do so quite freely as it is classified as a national park.
The island doesn’t allow cars, meaning you’ll need to ferry there and then explore either on foot or via bicycle, which makes the experience of seeing the wild horses here even more special.
Surrounded by old Georgian plantations, the bands of feral horses graze amongst the ruins. Genetic tests of the Cumberland horses indicate they are closely related to the breeds Tennessee Walkers, American Quarter Horses, Arabians, and Paso Fino.
As with all wild animals, respect their space and do not try to pet or feed.
4. Chesapeake Bay - Assateague & Chincoteague Islands
The famous wild horses you dreamed about adopting as a kid where very likely the little ponies that live on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay.
Every summer for almost 100 years, the Island ponies are rounded-up to swim across the channel at low tide. Who remembers this celebrated ritual from the children’s book Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry.
Some of the Chincoteague ponies are auctioned off to keep the park and reserve running, while the rest are returned to the wild. The horses can be seen year round on the islands in Maryland and Virginia. but the annual swim takes place July 26.
/ THE WILD WEST /
5. Onaqui herd in Dugway, Utah
These wild horses live along the same route once used by the Pony Express.
About 60 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, the Onaqui herd is believed to be descended from escaped ranch horses over a century ago.
The herd is quite large, around 450 horses and filled with a range of beautiful colors. From pintos, roans, bays, and sorrels. To keep numbers manageable for this free-ranging herd, the BLM has applied fertility control vaccinations every 3 to 5 years on select mares in the herds, allowing this natural heritage to continue.
6. Tonto National Forest
Roaming the lower Salt River in the Tonto National Forest in Arizona, these wild horses are a treasured community symbol of the Wild West. Volunteer conservationists of the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group work with the State Government to protect and manage the herds.
This wonderful group runs a number of publicly funded programs, including data collection, humane fertility control, a rescue program and sponsorship for critically injured wild horses, habitat improvement and cleanups and more to ensure these wild horses can freely and safely roam their native lands.
Supporters can sponsor individual horses as well as purchase beautiful photographs donated by photographers for the cause here.
7. McCullough Peaks near Cody, Wyoming
Legend has it, the wild horses found in McCullough Peaks in Wyoming are descendants from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
These free roaming equines come in some stunning colors from buckskin, palomino to strawberry roan and blues as well as unique patterns like piebald and skewbald.
And the backdrop where they live (desolate landscapes dotted with canyons and cliffs) makes the entire setting all that more wild and dreamlike.
The wild horse management area is about 20 miles from Cody, Wyoming and a 70 miles east of Yellowstone National Park.
8. Badlands, Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota
Another beautiful herd of wild horses can be found where the great plains meet the badlands in outer reaches of North Dakota. You’ll find the horses roam the south end of the park, in small bands of 5 to 15 horses in each herd.
Historically, European settlement reached the plains in the 1800s and ranchers would turn their horses out onto the open range to live and breed. Whenever they needed more horses, ranchers would go out and round up a few of the free roaming herd and start them under saddle for ranch work. This ranchland is now the National Park.
You can view a beautiful portfolio of wild horses photography by Into The Wild We Go here.
9.Pryor Mountain Mustangs
In the Pryor Mountains just outside of Lovell, Wyoming a special herd of wild horses live. They’re of Colonial Spanish American heritage, a tough little horse that comes from the horses of Portugal and Spain.
These wild horses have been living in the rugged mountain area of Pryor for nearly 200 years and are protected by the Wild Mustang Center.
Studies confirm based on history, genetics, and phenotype that the wild horses here are indeed from Spanish stock, so these Spanish Mustangs are a rare and endangered breed. They tend to be 14 hands on average and have a distinct feature of wide foreheads that taper to a small muzzle with large, expressive eyes and small ears that slightly point inward.
These Spanish Mustangs also come in some beautifully unique colors. Dun (red, apricot, zebra), grullo, black and sorrel.
10. Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Area, Colorado
Only 8 miles from Grand Junction, Colorado, the Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Area encompasses more than 36,000 acres of canyon and plateau, perfect for hiking or horse riding – and catching a glimpse of the wild horses that call this area home.
As with many of the photogenic Mustangs of America, brilliant colors and coat combinations abound. Palominos, paints, grays, blacks, bays, sorrels, blue and red roans as well as a few appaloosas!
This reserve is one of just 3 set aside in the USA specifically for wild horses and helped managed by Friends of the Mustangs.