“They seem to be arriving and leaving at the same time, halfway in and halfway out of the world.” That’s my impression of the wild horses I photographed for the exhibition “Ghosts of the Great Basin,” opening October 21st at the Utah Art Festival Gallery in Salt Lake City.
American wild horses (more accurately termed feral horses or mustangs) endure a tenuous existence and uncertain future. People brought these horses to the country’s wilds, yet we saddle them with a love/hate relationship. There are far too many for the land, as we manage it, to support, yet our will to make decisions about them wavers. They are truly in limbo, as pointed out recently in a New York Times story.
Mustangs overpopulate their American ranges by up to 10,000 horses today, and we provide extra water and food for their survival. They are efficient competitors for resources with livestock and wild game, which generates some criticism. But to many, they are simply beautiful, inspirational free spirits.
In addition to the wild herds, there are 40,000 more in captive holding pens in the Midwest. Some are adopted, but that is not a solution because it is much easier to raise a domestic horse. They depend on humans to exist, yet we don’t know what to do with them.
The reality is that of about 70,000 feral Mustangs, we are warehousing about 1/3 of them on the range, and 2/3 in captivity, and none of them are truly wild. Another story of hurting the ones we love.
Gallery stroll and artists’ reception — 6:00-9:00 pm, October 21st, 230 S. 500 W., Salt Lake City. Details at the Utah Art Festival Gallery website.
Many of our so-called domesticated animals are quite happy to call it quits with people and return to wildness if given the chance. So it is with horses. The western US states host as many as 30,000 feral animals making up several hundred herds. All of them are the descendants of domestic horses that escaped their confines as long as 200 years ago. They are so successful roaming remote deserts and rangeland that their population is a problem, outstripping their resources. They would damage environments and starve if not for soft-hearted Americans who prop them up with food and water. We cannot bring ourselves to see them hurt, even though managing them becomes ever more expensive.
The Onaqui Mountain group of perhaps 200 horses lives in western Utah’s Great Basin, within sight of the salt pans of the Great American Desert. Despite our desire to see them romantically as bold, strong, free-spirited masters of nature, their existence is tenuous in every direction. We may run out of time and money to manage them, or just tire of the task. If left on their own, the next drought will mow them down like desert grass. There are too many to adopt. As I looked over these photographs in the light of their uncertain future, they seemed to be ephemeral and ghost-like, and that is why I chose to make them glow. They seem to be arriving and leaving at the same time, halfway in and halfway out of the world.