By Whitney M. Woodworth, AZ Central
Couples holding signs, kids waving banners, moms pushing strollers and teenagers snapping photos marched along a Mesa street Saturday afternoon in support of protecting the almost 100 horses that roam free along the Salt River.
More than 120 participants in the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group's "Walk for Wild Horses" marched and chanted, "Let them be, keep them free."
One person dressed as a horse, identified by the name tag: Salty the Horse.
The group's president, Simone Netherlands, greeted the horse enthusiasts in the parking lot of the Iowa Cafe, located at Higley and Brown roads. The non-profit organization has monitored and campaigned for the Salt River horses for the past 20 years but recently garnered national attention when U.S. Forest Service published a notice in August that the horses would be rounded up and impounded.
The Forest Service delayed the roundup, but the postponement ends Dec. 18, Netherlands said.
In addition to the Salt River herds, an estimated 400 more horses roam wild in the state of Arizona, according to the horse management group. Herds have been spotted near Heber, Yuma and the Cerbat Mountains, Netherlands said.
"These horses have never seen the inside of a barn," she said. "They deserve compassionate and humane management."
Richard and Judy Bernard of Deer Valley first spotted the horses while kayaking in the Salt River over the past couple years.
"We fell in love with them," Judy Bernard said. "Seeing them heals the soul."
They began attending the group's events after seeing the controversy surrounding the horses' removal unfold on the local news.
"We have a responsibility to them," Richard Bernard said. "Arizona is fortunate to have the horses so close. Other people don't have that privilege."
Netherlands encouraged attendees to buy raffle tickets and T-shirts to fund the organization's legal battle with the U.S. Forest Service. She said the non-profit recently paid $14,000 to an attorney to fight the removal order.
"We have to be ready and able to fight this," she said.