3. Be Prepared
Most of the viewing locations are on very rural dirt roads, so making sure you and your vehicle are prepared for the adventure is crucial. While you can visit the Onaqui Herd as a day trip from Salt Lake, other herds are much more remote. Another large group, comprised of the Conger and Swasey herds, grazes two and a half hours from SLC in the undulating hills beneath Swasey Peak in Central Utah. The Range Creek HMA, three and a half hours from Salt Lake, requires an even more adventurous viewing experience. To catch sight of these mustangs, you’ll have to weave through nearly 20 miles of steep dirt roads: past petroglyphs, through forested canyons, and atop windy plateaus.
If you decide to plan a longer excursion into the backcountry, be sure to get your car tuned before you leave, and gear up with extra water, food and gas. Always fill your gas tank in the nearest town — you’ll often go miles without seeing a station.
In addition, check recent weather conditions, especially during the winter or the rainy season. Roads often become washed out and impassable after heavy rains, and in the summer, temperatures can rise to over 100 degrees. These high temperatures are not only dangerous, but they decrease horse activity. Stick to mornings and evenings to avoid the midday heat, to get your best chance at sighting these wild mustangs.
Lastly, like any outdoor adventure, tell someone your travel plans and give them a copy of your intended route.
4. Respect Horse Herds
Horses are prey animals, meaning they are instinctively wary of people. You need to allow them adequate space — at least 100 feet or more — and maintain a respectful viewing distance. It’s important to treat horse sightings as you would any other wildlife encounter—never get between a mama and her baby, or a stallion and his mares.
As you’re viewing the herds, keep in mind that animals have the right of way. It is your responsibility to move if one gets too close. While Mustangs are gentle creatures, they are also quite powerful. If you spook them, they can injure you. Never chase a horse or provoke them for the sake of photos.
Additionally, as cute as they may be, don’t feed or pet the horses. They will lose their fear of humans if they begin to associate them with food and close human-wildlife encounters can result in injury or death of either the person or the animal.
Engaging in respectful behavior will not only honor the herd and their home, but you’ll walk away with a more enriching experience. If you move slowly and speak in whispers, horses will behave more naturally. Turn your vehicle off when you’re viewing horses to help keep the noise down. You’ll not only put the herd at ease, but save gas as well.
Side Note: As tempting as it is, you’ll want to leave the pup at home for this adventure. If you do end up traveling with your dog, keep them on a leash at all times in the HMA.