Quite a ride: A history of Sahuarita’s wild horses

Sahuarita's wild horses

Most of the time when we discuss America’s wild horses, we are speaking of the ones who are under the care of the Bureau of Land Management. However, there are many small bands of wild or feral horses roaming the lands …mostly of the Western United States. These horses are *not* protected by the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 – their survival is in the hands of locals and groups interested in protecting them as well as their own wit and instinct for survival. ~ HfH

From: Green Valley News
By: Susan E. Swanberg

Sahuarita's wild horses

Sahuarita’s wild horses. Photo courtesy of Elaine Woods

The hoof prints of unshod horses punctuate the wash between Rancho Resort and the Mission Mine in Sahuarita. The prints vary in size, but all are smaller than the feet of an average-sized quarter horse.

It’s early March, and the wild horses of Sahuarita are back – though some wonder if they ever really left.

Jodi Cervantes, associate manager for Lewis Management Resources, the company that manages Rancho Resort, saw them herself several weeks ago.

“There were four full-grown horses and two colts,” Cervantes says. She likes the horses, but advises residents to be careful around them.

“We let residents know not to pet them or feed them.”

Her favorite is a horse she calls Buddy; she could get within 10 feet of him. She hasn’t seen Buddy for some time.

Rancho Resort residents report frequent horse sightings; they were seen on both ends of Rancho Sahuarita in December and January. Elaine Wood says she’s seen the horses on and off for about five years. Like many of Rancho Resort’s residents, she enjoys watching them. Earlier this year, Wood got close enough to take a few photographs with her cell phone. One year, Wood says, a wild horse gave birth in the wash near the subdivision.

Wood also remembers a small bachelor herd of stallions that was removed several years ago and wonders what happened to them.

Nobody’s horses

Local legend has it that the horses wandered away from the nearby T’ohono O’odham reservation, but nobody is certain. Residents of Sahuarita who’ve seen the horses say they didn’t notice any identifying marks or brands on them.

Questions from a reporter posed to the T’ohono O’odham Nation about the horses were left unanswered.

Although Sahuarita’s wild horses often roam the grounds of the Mission Mine on the west side of Interstate 19, they are not owned by Asarco, owner of the mine.
“They are not Asarco horses,” said mine spokeswoman Sandra Elizondo. Wild horses have been seen occasionally on the grounds of the mine, however, since at least 1997.

What the people of Sahuarita do know for sure is that the horses remind them of the Wild West.

Wild horses

Thundering herds of wild horses once roamed the prairies and deserts. Many of the horses that ran free in the West for generations were descendants of horses brought to this country by Spanish explorers and European settlers, horses that strayed or were abandoned to the wild where they survived and reproduced.

How to deal with the remnants of historic bands of horses or horses that have strayed more recently is complicated. Depending upon where they’re found, individual “wild” horses are labeled and treated differently.

In the 1970s, Velma Johnston — known to supporters and detractors alike as “Wild Horse Annie” — began a campaign to protect wild horses in the United States. Her efforts culminated in the passage of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, which passed Congress unanimously and was signed into law by President Nixon in 1971.

Under the law, wild horses and burros were protected wherever they existed at the time the law was passed. The act defined wild, free-roaming horses and burros as “all unbranded and unclaimed horses and burros on public lands of the United States,” including lands administered by the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service.

The free-roaming horses of Sahuarita are far from BLM or Forest Service lands and therefore do not come within the protection of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971.

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AUTHOR: Amber Barnes
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