Wild and free in Sand Wash Basin

Noelle Leavitt Riley
Picasso is a beautiful pinto stallion in the Sand Wash Basin.

We know from the fossil record that equines roamed the North American Continent in pre-historic times. The horse that we know today arrived in the early 1500s with the Spanish Conquest. When the Spanish left America, they also left their mounts to fend for themselves in their new land. The American Indians developed an interest in the horse in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The fact that the horse was once domesticated before matters little from a biological point of view. When left to their own devices they quickly reverted to their ancient instincts and behavioral patterns. Most state and federal agencies label the horse as “non-native” species, but is that really fair or accurate?

There are two key elements in determining if a species is native or not. Where did it originate and whether or not it has co-evolved with its habitat. YES on both counts! If that is not enough the federal government officially recognized the native horse as “wild” when Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burros act of 1971. It reads in part: “That Congress finds and declares that wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the west and that they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the nation and enrich the lives of the American people, and that these horses and burros are fast disappearing from the American scene. It is the policy of Congress that wills free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death, and to accomplish this they are to be considered in the area where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands.”

There are currently Herd Management Area’s (HMA’s) in ten western states, four in Colorado: Piceance-East Douglas, Little Book Cliffs, Spring Creek and our own (now famous) Sand Wash Basin. Sand Wash Basin draws visitors and photographers from all over the U.S. and other countries. The one horse that everyone wants to see is the iconic “Picasso,” a beautiful pinto stallion that may be 25 or 26 years old. He spends much of his time alone now, having been displaced by a younger, stronger stallion.

“Picasso,” even the mention of his name conjures up the romantic allurement of the wild horse. Aptly named for his amazing and bold tri-color pinto markings, Picasso, is the one that is most sought after.

There are other older stallions that share the wide open spaces, Tag, Lightning, Nomad. With much social media now documenting the daily lives of our Sand Wash horses we know generations of offspring. Sand Wash Basin is a treasure for those who take the time to visit and learn more of the history of the wild horses there.

Pat and Patti Mosbey have been involved with the wild horses at Sand Wash for over 15 years. Patti is a regular contributor to the Sand Wash Advocate Team Facebook page. Her books of Sand Wash Basin are available in Craig at Downtown Books.

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