Toward the end of September, our journey around Nevada took us through the Owyhee Desert in Elko County, just south of the Idaho and Oregon borders. While most of our route went through remote areas, this felt the most remote. The Owyhee is the type of desert environment where an ocean of sagebrush extends out to the distant horizon, broken up by rolling hills, buttes, and mesas. The vegetation here is mostly sagebrush and bunchgrasses. This arid country is largely uninhabited by humans, with no towns in or around it. A few scattered ranches operate around the edges, but access into the interior of the Owyhee is difficult. The old roads are not well maintained, but they are good enough for horse travel!
After the rigours of the mountainous Jarbidge area, I was excited to drop down in elevation and do some desert riding. They Owyhee did not disappoint. It appears at first to be flat and desolate, but when you ride through you notice the little nuances of the land. There are lots of interesting rock formations, dramatic canyons, and old ruins scattered throughout. Not surprisingly, we didn't see any people out here. If you are looking for solitude, the Owyhee would be a good place to go!
The Owyhee is home to several Herd Management Areas for wild horses, and we saw plenty as we traveled through. One evening from our campsite we watched nearly a hundred horses come over a hill and head down their well-worn horse trails to a water source. They were a very colorful herd; we saw everything from roans and greys to buckskins and paints. They all looked healthy. We enjoyed watching them make their evening commute to the water hole.
Sage watched the horses coming over the hill too. All was peaceful, until Sage had the audacity to whinny at them. Almost immediately, a magnificent red roan stallion responded to Sage with a terrifying roar. Not a whinny, not a nicker, not a squeal - a roar. Suddenly, the whole herd came charging toward us, closing in on us from several sides. The red roan stallion led the charge, aiming straight for Sage. I ran to defend Sage, who was inside his electric corral. The red roan stallion stopped a few hundred feet away, and began to snort and stomp his hooves. Sage became enraged! He roared back at the stallion, and began tearing around his electric corral, rearing, bucking, and striking out. His whole demeanor changed; Sage seemed to be twice his normal size. I could do nothing to calm him down. The red roan galloped back and forth, screaming and snorting. The rest of his herd anxiously ran along the fringe, but they hung back. Clearly this fight was between the red roan stallion and Sage.
I can honestly say this was one of the scariest moments during our entire ride. We have been charged by stallions and small bands countless times, but nothing matched the ferocity of this particular stallion. I absolutely believe that if Sage had been able to get out of his corral, this would have been a fight to the death. I could only hope that he didn't run through the electric fence. Scared, but with no other option, I stood my ground between Sage and the red roan, armed only with a plastic bag. I made a flew bluff charges toward the red roan stallion, and to my relief he begrudgingly began to retreat. The rest of his herd withdrew over the hill. The red roan was the last to disappear, but he stopped periodically to face Sage and roar.
The whole confrontation probably only lasted a few minutes, but it felt like an eternity. In the chaos, Ryan snapped these incredible photos. Bella, unfazed, took advantage of the distraction and ate our dinner. It took Sage some time to calm down, but he remained on high alert for the rest of the evening. This was not the last encounter we had with wild horses in the Owyhee, but it was certainly the most intense. It was a stark reminder of how territorial and aggressive wild horses can be, especially wild horses who live in such remote areas.
The Bureau of Land Management is currently in the midst of a wild horse gather in the Owhyee Desert. (You can read their reports HERE.) The horses they have permanently removed are now at the National Palomino Valley Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Center where they are available for adoption. So far they haven't captured the red roan stallion.
The latest updates from Samantha on the Nevada Discovery Ride.