The Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range was established after a two-year grassroots effort by citizens concerned about the long-term welfare of the Pryor Mountain horses. In 1968, interested individuals and groups convinced Interior Secretary Stewart Udall to set aside 31,000 acres in the Pryor Mountains as a public range for the wild horses. This was the first of its kind in the nation.
For more than a century, the Pryor Mountains have been home to free-roaming bands of wild horses. This herd of horses is a genetically unique population. Blood typing by the Genetics Department of the University of Kentucky has indicated that these horses are closely related to the old type European Spanish horse.
As you explore the range, look for horses with unusual coloring which may correspond to their Spanish lineage, such as dun, grulla, blue roan and the rare sabino.
Also watch for primitive markings such as a dorsal stripe down their back, wither stripes, and zebra stripes on their legs. These unusual features are considered typical of Spanish characteristics.
So, where did the horses come from? The origins are unclear, but a common belief is that the horses escaped from local Native American Indian herds and eventually found a safe haven in the Pryors.
Like many wild horse populations, the Pryor horses live within family groups. As you travel throughout the Range, you may find over 25 family groups and assorted “bachelor” stallions. Most families (or harems) average 5-6 animals, with a dominant stallion, a lead mare, and a variety of other mares and young animals. Horses love to follow a good leader and the Pryor horses are no different. The Pryor stallions seem to make the daily decisions for the rest of the family group, but in other populations the decision makers are often the lead mares.
Scientific studies have shown that the genetic diversity of the horses is high and the current level of inbreeding within the population is low. In some populations, inbreeding can be a problem if the numbers of horses in the herd are too low. The Pryor population has been historically managed at a successful size of between 120 and 160 horses. The population appears to be confined to this range by both natural and manmade barriers, and thus the only source of new horses are the 20-30 foals born each year. Since the horses have few natural enemies, it is necessary to limit the number of animals. The Bureau of Land Management gathers and removes animals every 2-3 years in order to maintain a desired number of horses.
Where Can I View Wild Horses?
Most visitors will have opportunities to view wild horses along Bad Pass Highway within the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. Small bands of horses are often visible from this paved road year round. Look for horses in the low elevation lands north of the Mustang Flat interpretive sign.
Adventurous visitors will find that most of the wild horses can be found in the higher mountain meadows surrounding Penn’s cabin during the summer and early fall months. However, four wheel drive vehicles will be required to make the journey to the Penn’s cabin vicinity.
Photography and filming opportunities in the Pryor Mountains are excellent. All photographers and filmers are cautioned to respect the comfort zone around wild horses at all times and not to, in any way disrupt the horse’s natural behavior.
Casual use activities such as noncommercial still photography or recreational video taping do not require a permit or fees. Commercial filming and certain categories of commercial photography do require a permit and fees. For further information, please contact the BLM Billings Field Office.
Reprinted from BLM brochure.