It’s one of the questions we get asked the most, and the answer may surprise you. Most people don’t expect us to say that in fact yes, there are as many as 1500 wild horses roaming free across the lands of the Gila River Indian Community. While they usually keep far away from populated areas, our expert KOLI Equestrian Center trail riding guides know all the best spots to catch a glimpse of the elusive creatures.
The History of Arizona’s Wild Horses
These storied mustangs have been roaming the wild territory of Arizona since before Arizona was a state. Spanish explorers first brought domesticated horses to the region in the 1500s. Local Native American tribes soon became accomplished horsemen, and, under the care of the Akimel O’otham and Pee Posh, the horses flourished. In the 1800s, the Akimel O’otham and Pee Posh were known for their hospitality, and often exchanged settlers’ weary horses for healthier ones to ensure them a safe journey through the desert.
As time went on, free spirited horses began to break away from the domesticated ones in the community, and formed their own wild herds. At one point, there were more than two million horses in the area. Over the years, these herds have evolved into the magnificent, tough, and totally undomesticated creatures we can still see and admire to this day.
How to See the Wild Horses
Today, the herds of wild horses at Wild Horse Pass are protected by the Gila River Indian Community, and finding the mustangs can be tricky. They hate crowds, never tell anyone exactly where they plan on going, and travel in herds of 3 to over 200.
The best way to spot the wild horses is by booking an expert-led, private 90 minute trail ride through KOLI Equestrian Center – Wild Horse Pass’s one and only horseback riding attraction, recently named in Tripadvisor’s 2020 list of top 10% of attractions worldwide. Their guides know all the spots to give you the best chance of getting thrillingly good views of these incredible animals. Qualified wranglers will lead you through the beautiful desert landscape, while providing you with more history on the wild horses and their significance to the Gila River Indian Community.
If you are lucky enough to come across a mustang herd, there are a few things you need to keep in mind to ensure your safety and, of course, the safety of the wild horses.
- Never touch the horses and keep your distance.
- Do not interfere with their behavior in any way. Remember, these are totally undomesticated horses and everything they do has a purpose – whether it’s to find food, protect their young, or escape the peering eyes of the humans who have come to observe them.
- Keep your camera handy.
- Follow all instructions given to you by your KOLI Equestrian Center guides.
An encounter with one of these majestic animals is like nothing else you will ever experience. As Emmett White, a spiritual leader of the Pima Tribe, representing the Gila River Indian Community described them, “The horses do what they want; they have no master; they are what freedom used to be.”
Contact KOLI Equestrian Center to book your private 90 minute trail ride.
Disclaimer: Currently, the only way to see the wild horses at Wild Horse Pass is through a scheduled ride at KOLI Equestrian Center. Trespassing onto the Gila River Indian Community land to look for wild horses is strictly prohibited and enforced by the Gila River Police Department.