“I think that we are fortunate to have them on our rez. I’ve seen four or five at a time before, but not this many. It just takes you back [to when we were] growing up as kids,” says Benita Martinez, smiling while watching the 50-plus horses scattered around her. Martinez, along with nearly two dozen other seniors, came out on April 5, 2013 to see some of the wild horses that roam the area.
The wild horses living on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community are believed to be the descendants of the horses brought over from Spain in the 1600s to accompany Hernán Cortés and the other Conquistadors, and Jesuit missionaries like Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, who established Catholic missions in southern Arizona. The breed is likely the Spanish Barb. There is confirmed documentation of this breed coming into this area of south-central Arizona.
More recently, range-management staff from the SRPMIC Environmental Protection and Natural Resources (EPNR) Division has been making efforts to protect the wild horses from threats, including inbreeding, shooting the wild horses and overcrowding, to name a few. In order for one horse to survive in the wild for one year, it will need roughly 180 acres for grazing. With approximately 11,000 acres of range, it’s enough for about 50 to 60 horses to live here comfortably. However, currently the herd numbers about 200 head total. This overcrowding has caused food to be scarce, but the staff ensures none of the horses will starve.
Inbreeding causes babies that are born with a weak immune system and they usually die. Therefore a species that inbreeds will usually not survive. Domestic livestock can be inbred but we call it line breeding. Good traits can be increased with line breeding and domestic livestock can receive vaccinations that strengthen the immune system and protect them from disease.In order to protect them, the population must be 70-80% from an outside herd. Staff currently have the numbers where they want to ensure inbreeding is not taking place.
The SRPMIC-EPNR Division has formulated a plan to round up and adopt out some horses to new owners and other tribal communities, as long as they have the appropriate resources to care for the horses. The adoption process takes a few months and is taken very seriously. There are several visits to the horses’ new home, and the new owners must complete a 12-month trial ownership period. If for any reason the owners are not abiding by the agreement, SRPMIC will take back the horses and try to find them another home. So far, the plan has been a success, with about 200 horses adopted by new tribes or owners.
Another action being taken by the Community to keep the population under control is the use of contraceptives. Administered by a dart gun, the contraceptive serum lasts for 12 months. It is 85 percent effective, and the process does not harm the animals in any way.
Six years ago, EPNR Senior Environmental Specialist Brian Gewecke started working for the Community. At that time, he had nearly 400 wild horses to take care of, all looking pretty unhealthy. Since then, the number of horses has been cut in half, the remaining horses are well-fed and in good health, and, with the help of his team and other third-party organizations, the target goal of 60 horses living on the Community should be reached quickly.
“People just don’t understand what they are getting themselves into when taking over the care of a wild horse,” said Gewecke. “One of the main problems is people think they can get a horse, break it and teach it all sorts of things, but then they realize, ‘Man, this thing is wild!” As a Veterinarian Technician and a graduate of “horse college,” Gewecke is a walking library when it comes to proper horse care, feeding and social behavior.
If you are interested in adopting a wild horse from SRPMIC, email Gewecke at firstname.lastname@example.org.