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Wild mustangs known as a symbol of the southwest, roaming free in parts of Arizona

Posted: 2:51 PM, Dec 20, 2021
Updated: 2021-12-20 20:54:48-05
Salt River Wild Horses

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Wild mustangs are a symbol of the southwest. They roam free in many parts of Arizona.

Even though their numbers are a fraction of what they once were, it's still possible to see these wild horses up close and to see what makes them "Absolutely Arizona."

"They're wild. They do exactly what they want to do," said Matt Daley.

Daley knows a thing or two about the Salt River wild horses northeast of Mesa.

"It's very therapeutic for me."

He's spent much of his free time the last few years photographing the mustangs here along the Salt River and in other parts of the state like in Monument Valley.

"It becomes addicting. You want to comeback out here and just find peace and quiet and kind of reset your soul from all the stuff going on in the city."

Salt River wild horses

According to the Bureau of Land Management, there are just under 100,000 wild horses in north America, with many of them living on Navajo Nation land.

Only about 600 wild horses live throughout the rest of Arizona.

That includes several large herds living along the banks of the lower Salt River in the Tonto National Forest.

"These are descendants of the Spanish horses that were brought over by Spaniards trying to conquer America."

An estimated one million horses once roamed out west, but 200 years ago settlers began mass exterminations.

A small number were able to survive along the Salt River.

"Luckily, out here they have a lot of hiding places so it was pretty tough to do that. They weren't successful luckily. The horses started coming back into population."

Something Daley is thankful for.

He'll spend an entire day observing and photographing the wild horses.

"They're all very loving of each other. It took me awhile to see that and they're very protective of each other."

Daley's favorite horse to photograph is the elusive Shadowfax.

Salt River wild horse named Shadowfax

Nicknamed "King of the Salt River" the 25-year-old stallion is a survivor.

Daley's favorite time to take photos is at sunset.

"It's nice and quiet, it's peaceful. The horses have already ate and napped throughout the day. The composition of the photography, like where you can see, you can combine our beautiful Arizona sunsets with wild horses together is what I've been trying to go after."

And his sunset photos are awe-inspiring.

Salt River wild horses at sunset

Daley's experiences have inspired him to want to protect the wild horses.

The Salt River Wild Horse Management Group does help watch over the herds.

But Daley thinks more can be done.

"We can come together and protect more horses across Arizona and other states that need our help because they don't have a voice."

Daley says he appreciates Arizona's native tribes for efforts to protect the wild horses.

The Salt River Wild Horse Management Group has a list of 10 guidelines for watching the wild horses.

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Pat Parris is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9. He is a graduate of Sabino High School where he was the 1982 high school state track champion in the 800 meters. While in high school and college, he worked part-time in the KGUN 9 newsroom. His father, Jack Parris, is a former general manager of the station. Share your story ideas and important issues with Pat by emailing pat.parris@kgun9.com or by connecting on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.