Reno “Mustangs”

I know the Virginia Range horses have a following, but I can’t bring myself to call the horses that live in Reno wild. It’s true, they form bands, woo mares, and nurse even though they are larger than their dams, but the most serious confrontations I have seen have been about food.
The first time I saw hay I thought it was a mistake. Maybe someone drove through, and it fell off a trailer. The second time, I thought it was to bait a band wandering residential streets and move them to a safer location. More cars showed up, and I realized they were deliberately spreading the hay around. One of them even got out and started petting a stallion. It was the first time in a while I was worried that stallions would get too close while sparing. When a stallion walked up to my car and sniffed my window, I decided I’d try again in the evening. I now have a horse sized nose print on my car, so I guess the silver lining is some of the pollen has smeared off.

Food conflict

This roan was especially protective of the feed.

I returned in late afternoon, and another horse approached my car. The rest of the band followed. Since they had been wary the last time I saw them, I knew they were anticipating treats. Much like you would with a domestic horse, I ended up clicking at them to move. There were two girls riding bikes, and I kept an eye on them as they pet one of the horses. I was worried for them. Horses can be unpredictable.
The girls left, and a man drove up in his truck. The horses were drawn to him, and he began tossing carrots from his truck.
As the horses vied for the treats, it attracted the attention of bachelors. A sorrel came first, but a bay pinto seemed very protective of his black bachelor friend, and territory. The pinto pawed the ground and skidded to a halt. The sorrel came over, and went through the characteristic ritual of sniffing poop and posturing.

Bachelors spar

The two bachelors spar over carrots.

The man tossed a few more carrots, and after grabbing one, the pinto snaked the black bachelor away. The sorrel tried to approach the truck again, but a band stallion chased him. Although I was too far away for good photos, the force of the fight caused pieces of carrot to fly, and the band stallion almost fell over.

Bachelor and band stallion

Not the best photo, but the band stallion was not happy with the bachelor. You can see the pieces of carrots as they spar.

I think people tend to have a savior complex when it comes to mustangs. If their ribs are seen at all, then it’s tempting to think they need more food. But even when it was just hay the horses were eager to have it all to themselves. If they’re expending so much energy fighting for it, is it really worth the extra calories?
I’m sure the people feeding the horses have good intentions, but if I’m being honest the answer is no. Horses have sensitive digestion systems. If something does not agree with them, you risk colic. If a horse gets too sick, especially a mustang, they may need to be put down.
Horses need time to get used to new food, but these horses greedily went after the carrots. Assuming that it’s not the first time someone’s fed them carrots before, you risk the horses becoming dependent on the idea that a car means food. At the very least, you risk damage to the vehicle. At most, a horse or a person gets hurt.


The sorrel bachelor decided to move somewhere else.

Those kids petting the wild horse may seem like a sweat moment, but that horse is still a stallion. Maybe that bachelor would have been aware and tolerated the girls, but the band stallion he was near may have only seen him as a potential threat to his mares. If those girls got hurt, the horse that caused them harm might be labeled as aggressive. Maybe they would try to relocate it but it’s easier to put down a large animal.
There are a lot of people trying to prove that mustangs are feral. If we are going to say that on a scientific level the horses are wildlife, we need to treat them as such. The Virginia Range horses have a reputation for being stray wildlife, and by feeding and petting them that perpetuates the stereotype. The people who feed and pet them aren’t doing the horses any services.
It almost makes it seem worth it to drive to the Pine Nuts to see horses, but the Pine Nut Ponies don’t need my help. There’s a large following for the Pine Nut Ponies with committed photographers and advocates that understand management practices.
I’m not saying that there aren’t advocacy groups like that for the Virginia Range horses, but I find it very hard to find information about them. Most of what I can find about the horses is a tour group, or information that’s outdated. Maybe I’m looking in all the wrong places, but if I plan on being a conservation photographer someday, I might as well take advantage of living in NV.

Bay bachelor

I opened my window for a photo and this guy wandered over.

I can’t bring myself to call the Virginia Range horses wild, but I can’t bring myself to call them feral either. Free roaming wild horses seems to clinical, because technically they aren’t protected under the Wild Horse and Burro act. For now, mustangs seems like a good compromise until I decide exactly how to feel about them.
I don’t know how many people actually read my blog, but maybe it will reach someone who can either educate others about keeping mustangs’ behaviors wild, or educate me that it is appropriate to feed or touch mustangs. I don’t anticipate changing my mind, but I’m always game to hear from other’s opinions. If not, I’ll just keep on reporting what I see. Hopefully people enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it.


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