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The Onaqui Mountain Wild Horses

Onaqui Mountain Wild Horses
Photo by Shelley Paulson

As I looked out over a golden valley at sunset, filled with over 100 wild horses peacefully grazing together, I wondered if this might be what heaven itself will look like. This wasn’t heaven, but it was close. I was standing in the Onaqui Mountain Herd Management Area 90 minutes southwest of Salt Lake City near Dugway, Utah.

Lone Mustang
When we first arrived at the HMA, we had to drive around the park for a good hour before we found a wild horse. At first, we weren’t even sure it was a horse because he was standing alone with no other horses in sight. Photo by Shelley Paulson

This herd management area (HMA) covers over 200,000 acres and is currently home to around 450 wild horses. The Onaqui Mountain wild horse herd has been roaming this land since the late 1800s and is a favorite destination for photographers and horse lovers wanting to witness the beauty and excitement of wild horses.

Because water sources in the area are limited, smaller bands of horses come together to form several large herds with over 100 horses each. The Onaqui HMA is one of the only places where you can see this many horses traveling together and living in relative harmony.

Onaqui Mountain Wild Horses
That’s when we spotted a herd of horses heading for a watering area set up by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Photo by Shelley Paulson

The Onaqui Mountain wild horses are not as shy as most wild horse herds and you can get relatively close to them, which makes for exceptional photography opportunities.

Onaqui Mountain Wild Horses
Mustang Fight
American Mustang Mare and Foal
In addition to drinking, there was also plenty of drama with stallion battles and posturing. A brief storm rolled in just before sunset, making for a dramatic backdrop for photographing the herd. The rest of the afternoon was spent observing and photographing the beauty of these animals, along with herd dynamics, both tender and comical. Photo by Shelley Paulson
American Mustang Kiss
Like a great symphonic finale, what was left of the storm clouds drifted by the sun just before it sank below the horizon, shooting peach rays of light into the sky. I held my breath as two horses touched noses and I clicked the shutter. Photo by Shelley Paulson

This article about the Onaqui Mountain Wild Horses originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!


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