Listen to John T. Humphrey talk about the Fish Springs wild horse bands, and you would think he’s telling you about his family. Or maybe a drama filled soap opera. His many years spent documenting the wildlife in the Pine Nut Mountain Range makes him as close to an expert as one could be, in fact, I’m certain the horses consider him a part of their family. An honorary band member, brother, uncle, caregiver. They can sense his gentleness and genuine concern for their well-being.
There’s the day he came upon a newborn foal, a time when the band circles around the precious baby, welcoming it to the herd and protecting it from any threats of harm. In an unexpected move, Blondie the band stallion stood aside and let J.T. observe and photograph little Scarlet.
Knowing the range is part of J.T.’s charm. He took a group of tourists out on the range when one lost their new drone in the dusk. J.T. took one look at the last photograph sent from said drone, recognized the stick in the image, and immediately hiked up the hill to retrieve it while the others scattered for a search and rescue mission.
When J.T. takes a tour group out onto the range you get so much more than a chance to witness these wild mustangs in their native environment, you get stories of how they survive in this seemingly harsh place like they have for hundreds of years. The stories of battling stallions, sometimes to the death, for each other’s bands. The bachelors that quite literally ‘horse around’.
Sometimes people want to go out on the range on their own and take in the sights of these magnificent creatures, so naturally we asked J.T. for his expert tips for staying safe and avoiding dangerous and costly mistakes. Read on so you can have the best experience out there.
First and foremost, safety on the range is key, know your limits and keep yourself safe. Roads in the Pine Nuts are dirt and subject to the whims of Mother Nature. Obstacles and hazards like snow and rain absolutely affect how far you’ll get, and it’s common for vehicles to become stuck, even for locals. There are winding trails and tight turns making it easy to become disoriented. Take it slow and stay aware of your surroundings.
When you see the horses, you’ll undoubtedly feel the thrill, but do keep in mind they are wild animals. To them you’re a threat so be sure to keep these tips at the forefront of your mind:
-Horses are naturally curious so drive past them before you stop and get out. This will help get you the best photo, and avoid the typical “butt shot.”
-Be sure you don’t get between a stallion and its band, as he will see you as a direct threat. Nor should you get between two bands. There can be challenges between stallions and you could inadvertently become an obstacle. Always give them room and use your zoom.
-Keep your distance, and observe the horse’s behavior. If their heads are up, they’re sizing you up. The stallion will certainly position himself between you and the band, as he’s the protector. If their head is down with ears back, that is a warning. When they start to stomp their hooves and huff, turn away and walk a normal pace behind your vehicle, placing your vehicle between you and the horses. They are likely getting ready to charge.
-Never bring pets and small children out on the range. Dogs can bark and scare the wildlife, and fast movement of kids and pets spook them.
-Never feed the animals. They are wild, and the volunteers of the Pine Nut Wild Horse Advocates who look out for them will remove anything that isn’t naturally available to them. The water troughs are diversionary, intended to keep the horses from entering neighborhoods. There is plenty of food and water out on the range even if you can’t see it.
-If you leave your vehicle for any amount of time be sure to check the shade underneath for snakes. This is their environment so if you see one don’t panic, simply try to scare it away. There are numerous other critters out on the range such as birds, raptors, coyotes, mountain lions, lizards, bears, you get the idea. Enjoy them all.
Trash is always an issue, so pack out what you pack in. You can even do your part and pick up any trash you find. Horses and wildlife always appreciate a clean home.
If all this seems like a lot to keep in mind, you can always book a tour with J.T. He’s full of information about the area and the horses, and can get you the photo or experience you’ve always dreamed of. Follow along with John T. Humphrey Photography on Facebook, and keep up-to-date with the horses by following the Fish Springs Wild Horse Alliance.
There are plenty of other fun things to do in this valley including tours with wildlife guides of all kinds of specialties, as well as food for every taste and myriad things to keep you busy.