Backcountry Horses

It’s hard to research South Steens horses without seeing reference to “backcountry horses”. At first I thought it had to do with a portion of the range.  Using the Pryors as an example Backcountry:Dryhead/Sykes, “Hollywood”*:Mountain Top/Burnt Timber. It made sense, at least, until the actual visit to the range.

If you’re coming into the range from Burns, OR, the nearest “town”~ is Frenchglen. The road is described as South Loop, so I’m not sure if there are other ways to get to the horses, but right away we saw fresh horse sign. The first horses we saw were not concerned at all with our presence. Thus far, it wasn’t shaping up to what I’d call backcountry.


It didn’t take long for the horses to decide to move.

Of course, it was the first time visiting the range, so I was willing to defer to those with more experience. My confusion grew as I saw that all of the horses I had been seeing were listed as backcountry horses. The behavior of horses not used to people was Domino, but even then Aspen didn’t seem as concerned.


Cotton’s band (left) and some bachelors.

On our second day, we saw horses that seemed more fitting of the label “backcountry” horses. The catch was: they were pretty close to the entrance of the range. Still, they looked up as we approached, and leapt over sage as if showing off. It was hard to tell if they were really worried about us being there, or feeling their oats.


Who needs to go around sage when you can jump over it?

It’s part of the fun of visiting a HMA for the first time. Sometimes my research is limited to what will help me see horses while also being safe in a new range. If there wasn’t some wildness to visiting wild horses, I wouldn’t keep on going back. Even in herds that I’ve gotten to know more, there’s always something new to see.

*I have Hollywood in quotes since I’m still figuring out if it’s a region in the range, or a group of horses more frequently seen.

~I use the word town loosely. It’s a general store, motel, and a handful of houses.

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