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Wild Horses of The Badlands

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Stunning views of beautiful wild horses high in the Badlands of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, ND on an extremely windy day. This one of the few national parks where visitors can observe free-roaming wild horses. Their presence represents Theodore Roosevelt’s experiences here during the open-range ranching era.

By the late 1800s European settlement of the plains had reached the Dakotas. Ranchers turned horses out on the open range to live and breed. When needed, they would round up horses and their offspring for use as ranch horses. For generations, ranchers used land that would later become the park for open-range grazing.

After the park was fenced, a horse round-up held in 1954 removed 200 branded animals. A few small bands of horses eluded capture and went unclaimed. These horses continued to live free-range in the park.

For several years the National Park Service tried to remove all horses from the park. In 1970, a change of park policy recognized the horse as part of the historical setting. New policies were written and enacted to manage the horses as a historic demonstration herd. (The horses do not fall under the protection of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act which only applies to animals on US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands.)
During the summer months, bands of horses may be seen grazing throughout the park. They are often seen along the park boundary from Interstate 94. Horses can also be seen at a distance from high points such as the Painted Canyon Overlook and Buck Hill. While hiking or driving, look for fresh manure to locate horses –stallions mark their territory with "stud piles." These are common along the scenic drive through the park.

Feral horses typically range in small bands of 5-15 animals. Each group has an established social hierarchy, consisting of a dominant stallion, his mares, and their offspring. Frequently a subdominant stallion will "run second" to the leader. Stallions herd their mares by extending their heads and necks low to the ground in a gesture known as "snaking." When a band is in flight, a dominant mare will take the lead with the stallion bringing up the rear. Young stallions roam together in bachelor groups, sometimes in proximity to a stallion harem.
Once formed, these social groups remain remarkably stable and often range within an established territory. Foals are born in the spring after an 11 month gestation period. Upon reaching sexual maturity at age 2-3, young colts and fillies are driven from their natal group and form new bands. Occasionally a bachelor stallion attempts to steal mares from an established group, resulting in fights between rival males.

Extreme caution must be exercised in attempting to observe feral horses closely. Binoculars are advised for optimal viewing. Horses have keen senses of smell, hearing, and sight. They are extremely wary, often sensing the presence of humans in advance. They are especially fearful of horseback riders.

Filmed with Canon SX70HS on Amazon at: https://amzn.to/2QftDPd
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