We went looking for them. The wild horses. This was June, 2012.
We were ourselves on horseback, because there is no other way to reach the remote Inyo Wilderness, far on the East of California, spilling over into the wilds of Nevada, 8000 feet up. We rode for several days into the high desert all alone in the silence.
The horses here are descendants of the Spanish and other horses who have been abandoned or escaped into the wilderness over the last few hundred years. The foals are almost all killed by lions immediately upon birth; the few who survive are indeed the strongest and fittest. We found a herd of over 100 animals, adults and foals together.
Seeking good pictures, we tied our own horses up at a distance and walked towards the wild ones. When we had gotten as close as we dared, we sent the only child in our group, a girl of 17, ahead with a camera to see if she could get some good pictures from closer up. Perhaps this was not our finest moment. (!!)
The child approached, snapping away.
I saw it happen. I myself, I saw it with my own eyes.
The lead mare turned and looked at the child. She was not alarmed, this mare: her ears were up, she was interested. She began to gallop towards the girl. Why? Who can say?
Then the four or five horses around her also began to gallop. Then the whole herd stampeded, directly at the child.
It was one of those moments when you cannot believe your eyes. Wild horses run away, right?? But these are running right towards us!! This cannot be happening! They'll turn aside, right? Right? Right...?!
When the lead horses got within 20 yards of the child, the girl finally turned and ran back towards us. Never in my life have I seen anyone run so fast in cowboy boots! By this time we were all waving our hats and shouting, and finally the herd turned, right in front of us. The earth shook with the impact of all those hooves, a deep sound, as much felt as heard, the deep deep drums in a wild music.
That day I witnessed a force of nature, as much out of human control as a hurricane, and as majestic.
As wonderful and terrible as life and death themselves.
I looked right into its eyes. It was the same at that instant: death, and life.