I hiked with my head bowed to the hot afternoon sun. I had just turned off the dirt road that cut straight across the Great Divide Basin, and was headed towards what looked like low hills and trees in the distance. My feet crunched through the gravel of two track, small puffs of dust settling around feet that were relieved to be away from the hard grind of the sandy dirt road.
A shrill whinny sounded off to my right, and I turned to see six mares and a foal watching me from a low rise about a hundred yards away. They stood in place, staring warily, while a foal roamed among them, stopping next to the largest black mare.
I was excited, and drew in my breath, holding perfectly still. I had waited days to see the wild horses I had heard so much about. I had expected thin, rough, weather worn creatures, but these animals were muscular and healthy, coats shining in the sun. These were certainly not the rugged mustangs I had anticipated.
I moved slowly, trying to get pictures, but the mares turned and galloped back another hundred yards before turning to stare at me. They were clearly wary of humans, and probably surprised to see one traveling on foot, with a huge humped back.
Back over my shoulder I thought I heard a distant scream, and turned to look across the dry, flat basin. In the distance I could see a single white speck. I watched it, realizing it was becoming larger. As it drew closer, the white was infused with brown, and I began to see the mane and tail of the horse blowing out behind it as it galloped hard towards me. The horse approached amidst a cloud of dust, snorting and baring down on me before he wheeled away. I realized it was a young stallion. He was here to protect his mares, and I turned slowly as he galloped around me in circles, tail arched and head held high, blowing hard through flared nostrils.
The stallion abruptly turned and faced me, digging at the ground with his front hoofs and shaking his head hard. He was magnificent, and I could tell he had seen few humans that represented anything good. The wariness of the mares and the aggressiveness of this male made me realize these horses were not accustomed to humans. Either that or they associated us with no good actions.
These animals represented the rugged splendor of the west. I felt my blood pulse, as the thrill of the encounter rushed through me. This would be something I would remember all my life. These would be the moments I returned to when responsibilities and obligations held me to a life of limitations and commitments.
I smiled softly and dropped my head in submission, hoping this indicated to him that I meant him no harm. His life would probably be brutal and short, but I had no doubt he would live it free and hard, pushing limits, and experiencing more in his few exhilarating years than most humans would experience in a life time.