Mustang Tales: Bringing the Reader to the Range


Bringing the Reader to the Range

By Kathryn Wilder

In August of 2015, I was a lucky passenger in TJ Holmes’s Jeep, joining her, Suzanne Roy, and Jen Maramonte in an especially rewarding visit to Spring Creek Basin Herd Management Area in southwestern Colorado. Actually I am often lucky, as TJ is my friend and neighbor and I go into the basin with her regularly.

But this day we had Suzanne, campaign director of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, and Jen, a fellow advocate, so our brains and conversations were full of questions, stories, ideas, and plans. We spent the hours-long tour of the basin in intelligent and enlightening dialog alternating with the silence that befalls you when you stand in the presence of mustangs.

We talked about the plight of the Mesa Verde horses in Mesa Verde National Park, which apparently belong to no one and therefore the park is refusing to take what we would deem appropriate responsibility. We talked about the Salt River horses in Arizona, also unclaimed by any particular branch of American government, and for whom AWHPC is fighting strongly (and winning!) as the Forest Service threatens removal. We talked about the Virginia Range horses and the way the Nevada community, Bureau of Land Management, and AWHPC are coming together to try a completely new approach to wild horse management. And we talked about the successful use of the fertility-control vaccine PZP in our own Spring Creek Basin herd, and how it is possible to partner with BLM and work toward a shared goal of healthy horses and habitat. 

Jennifer Maramonte and Suzanne Roy

These discussions took place as we bounced about the range toward the northwest corner of Spring Creek Basin, where spring rains had managed to fill a pond partway, inviting mustangs to feed on the farthest hillsides and canyons. Much to our delight, five bands were present, including Chrome’s, usual inhabitants of the mid-west to southwest areas of the basin.

Soft clouds kept the afternoon cool as thirty-one mustangs grazed calmly within the bowl that drains into the northwest pond. Suzanne and Jen were quick to notice the separation of bands even though the horses were in close proximity to each other, quick to recognize stallions and yearlings, and to understand relationships between band members. Once a horse was singled out and identified, the two women new to the basin remembered that horse, following it as it moved among the many fat and shining mustang bodies. We couldn’t have had a better representation of our mustangs, or better summer weather, or better company. This journey into the basin was perfect. They all are.

As TJ drove us out through the dusk of a summer’s day, Suzanne asked me to send her an op-ed piece I was writing for High Country News ( ), and we talked briefly about other writing projects having to do with mustangs. That small conversation was a seed planted.

A month later TJ and I towed an empty trailer over the Rocky Mountains to rescue a particular mustang from Cañon City Correctional Institution. That was my third trip with TJ to “Cañon City,” as we call the BLM short-term holding facility within the Colorado prison complex. As always, we had much to talk about on the two-day drive, the return leg longer with a horse in the trailer, TJ’s truck hauling its load effortlessly albeit slowly along the many curves of the Arkansas River and Wolf Creek Pass. We talked about Suzanne’s visit and work, about our mustangs, and about writing. I thought again of Suzanne’s invitation to send her the HCN op-ed, an invitation that extended to other wild-horse writings.

That’s how the idea for “Mustang Tales: Bringing the Reader to the Range” was born: a seed from Suzanne planted in the desert soil of Spring Creek Basin, left to germinate on its own, sprouting in TJ’s truck, a mustang in the trailer.

“Mustang Tales” will be comprised of my renderings about anything having to do with the wild horses of the West: traveling to herd management areas and wild horse territories, profiles of advocates, wandering the depths of Spring Creek Basin or the sanctuary TJ manages, working with my own mustangs, and any other adventures and education having to do with mustangs. While I understand that there are differing opinions regarding wild horses, PZP, removal, slaughter, training methods, etc., I am not here to argue but simply to share my experiences, strength, and hope for healthy ranges supporting healthy horses. 

Whenever possible, TJ Holmes’s phenomenal photos will accompany these writings. Sometimes my photos will have to stand in. Sometimes it will just be words.

Please feel free to follow along as we meander with mustangs across the ranges of the West.

Kathryn Wilder lives among mustangs in southwestern Colorado, where she’s at work on Seven Horses: One Woman’s Search for Water and Home in the Arid West, and a novel about mustangs and PZP. Her essays and stories have appeared in such publications as River Teeth, bosque, Fourth Genre, Southern Indiana Review, Midway Journal, Bugle, Sierra, many Hawai`i magazines, and half a dozen anthologies.

TJ Holmes has documented the mustangs of Spring Creek Basin Herd Management Area for nine years, and photographed them for years longer. You can follow her and the Spring Creek Basin bands at