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Volunteers bring water to wild horses in Arizona’s heat

Sierra Ferguson Arizona Daily Sun

At 8:00 a.m., the sun had yet to scorch the parched landscape in the shadow of the Gray Mountains in northern Arizona, about 40 miles north of Flagstaff. Paul Lincoln crouched under a non-working windmill and examined the dusty ground for hoofprints.

“Notice that no two hoofprints are the same. A hoofprint resembles a human palm. See that ridge that looks like an arrowhead? We call it an arrowhead. It is sacred to us. Horses are like thunder and lightning. They are sacred to us.”

Lincoln is a former Navajo police officer living in Tuba City. Every morning in the summer, he and his partner Glinda get in their truck and drive to Cameron to pick up a water trailer and haul water to a series of tanks and gutters in Gray Mountain.

These tanks are an important source of water for the wild horses that live nearby.

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Gray Mountain is lower than Flagstaff at about 5,000 feet, but temperatures have soared to a sweltering 109 degrees Fahrenheit in the past few weeks, Lincoln said. He said the horses had dragged their heads down from the mountains, starving and dehydrated.

“It’s a desolate area. The vegetation is dry. No water. No shelter from the sun.”

Wild horses make their way across the plains near Gray Mountain as volunteers fill water tanks and leave hay for the horses and their companions.

Rachel Gibbons, Daily Sun, Arizona

In the fall, the horses are mostly self-sufficient, but Lincoln knows they need a little help in the summer sun.

That is why in 2018 we decided to start fetching water and hauling hay to the base of the windmills. Initially, Lincoln lived in Gray Mountain and found that the horses wanted water. He started filling the kiddie pool and water bottles and did his best to bring hydration to the herd.

That same year, nearly 200 horses died from dehydration in the Gray Mountains area.

“Horse Heroes”

Facebook posts began to spread about the animals’ plight, mobilizing people like Irene Taggart and Beth Buchanen to support Lincoln’s simple cause of bringing life-saving water to wild horses. bottom.

“I saw a post from another real estate agent named Billy McGraw saying that the horses in Gray Mountain were starving and dehydrated. There were people on the ground trying to help,” Taggart said. “I drove out and it was amazing. I met Paul and Glinda. Paul started making me laugh. I felt like I had known him my whole life. It was magical to me.” It was something that fulfilled my desire to be with nature and relieve my helplessness.When I saw the horses, I knew we could help them.”

Soon, a grassroots effort sprung up and a new Facebook page called “Grey Mountain Horse Heroes” was launched.

Meanwhile, a group of interested people connected with a Gilbert-based nonprofit that has been supporting horses in Arizona since 1995. Wildhorse Ranch Rescue, a 501(c)(3) organization, has proven to be a valuable partner.

The nonprofit helped raise funds for Lincoln and his volunteers by first buying the infrastructure: water tanks and fish tanks, and then the water to fill them.

The tank itself holds about 1,100 gallons of water. It costs over $750 a week to keep you full.

“The idea that wild horses bring water to the Gray Mountains is part of this piece,” said Kimberly Meagher, founder of Wildhorse Ranch Rescue.

As long as the horses themselves have a safe place to drink, the water will be available to wildlife, horses, cows and locals who need it, Meagher said.

The site where the tanks under the windmills are located is mostly accessed via a paved road and is frequented by the region’s horse herds.

“This is where it all started,” said Lincoln. “The windmills weren’t working then. We are trying to get the Navajo to work with us.”

Through Facebook, Gray Mountain Horse Heroes gained international attention.

Buchanan said donors from France, Canada, the UK, Australia and Italy rallied to buy water and food for the Gray Mountain horses. A generous horse enthusiast from Texas helped raise his $1,000 for this cause.

“That’s where our hearts are.”

Guided by his love of the region’s wild horses, Lincoln ran regularly and cared for the health of his herds to survive the harsh summers.

“It just started that way. Trying to help them inspires me to help animals as much as I do humans. Defenders. Mine are horses,” said Lincoln. .

Five years later, Lincoln said the horses recognize his truck and always come down for a fresh drink and a breakfast of Bermuda hay while on site.

“You could actually touch it. After a while, they trust you and they know things like cars,” he said. “They have personalities…I keep an eye on them and look all over the herd when they come here. Or she’s very small too.”

The animals aren’t domesticated, but they’re thirstier than ever. Water is scarce in this region even in monsoon years. A strong wild horse cautiously descending from the mountains to drink water has dried up the tank in the past few weeks.

On July 25, Elise Wilson hauled water to Gray Mountain and loaded several bales of hay into the back of a pickup truck for the animals. She donated the water she collected and filled her Flagstaff water station.

“We know the conditions are tough for horses and people here on the reservation. Most of us have horses and our hearts are with horses. We would love to help you, and that’s where our hearts rest,” she said.

Sometimes horses just can’t make it through the harsh summer. Foals in particular struggle to survive.

“I think some foals didn’t make it there,” Lincoln said. “A foal, a strong child, will reach here (in search of water).”

President Lincoln said he found an orphaned foal that didn’t survive by staying by the tank. But he has helped save some people.

Barbara Hill caresses her 3-week-old stallion Spirit and tells how they came to live together. Spirit lost her mother and needed care when Hill took her in, but now that she’s found a home on the ranch, she says she’s not going to let go of this sweet young horse. .

Rachel Gibbons, Daily Sun, Arizona

“Baby Ash” found in a corner

Wildhorse Ranch takes in orphaned foals from Gray Mountain and uses donations to cover medical expenses. Volunteers are still needed to get the stallions and mares from Gray Mountains to the Valley, see veterinarians and find more permanent reserves.

A foal named Lincoln, affectionately named Ash, was found in dire circumstances. Mr. Wilson ended up putting his foal in the back seat of his car and taking him to Wildhorse Ranch.

“I’ve always been involved with horses, but I never thought I’d put them in my truck. I had a horse trailer ready when we came. There’s no way he’ll arrive in a trailer,” Wilson said.

The drive takes about four hours in the best conditions, but Ash’s journey was particularly eventful, Wilson said. During the trip, Wilson was overtaken by law enforcement officers who were chasing him in another vehicle. Their journey was further delayed by high-speed pursuit.

Eventually, Ash ended up in Gilbert, requiring veterinary care worth thousands of dollars.

“Baby Ash has been in the hospital for 11 days. He’s a $7,000 foal,” Meagher said.

As an informal grassroots group, Gray Mountain Horse Heroes does not receive donations directly. Instead, you will receive dollars through Wildhorse Ranch. Donations supported baby Ash’s recovery.

“When we pick up our babies at Gray Mountain, Paul and Glinda find them, keep them safe, and feed them with milk. I was.

Not long after Ash was discovered, another orphan was discovered in Gray Mountain. Gilbert needed a foster home in Flagstaff because of the high temperatures and the serious condition of Dark Bay’s baby.

Barbara Hill adopted a few days old stallion. When she first saw a veterinarian, she needed her name to keep a record of her. At the time, she said, Hill was talking to her veterinarian daughter about the animated film “Spirit.” In this film, which follows the adventures of a wild horse from her birth, the horse is buckskin.

Despite his dark color, the name stuck. Mr. Hill said he noticed this little guy had a lot of mental power.

Since then, she decided to adopt him permanently.

The young horses that finally arrive at Gilbert are kept in barns equipped with commercial grade sprayers. Otherwise the heat will not be bearable there either.

Meagher said he hopes to one day build a fully air-conditioned barn, but until then all efforts to save wild horses are important.

“The really important thing for people to remember is that wild horses have a place in our society. It’s important to be safe,” Meagher said.

She believes that horses should be allowed to live in family groups, with the exception of orphaned foals who otherwise cannot survive.

“We believe they are wild and we understand population issues. We don’t simply think that, but it shouldn’t be zero,” Meagher said.

That’s why, five years later, Lincoln and his partners are still working hard to get the Gray Mountain herd through the summer.

A few steps away from one of the 300-gallon water tanks the horse relies on, Lincoln is piling up with turtle-shaped stones.

Every time he stops to water his horse, he removes the orange lid from the water trailer tote and carefully dips it into the tank. He then carries the water to the turtle and with a firm hand gently pours it over the backside of the rock.

He explained that it was a rain prayer.

Gray Mountain needs rain all the time. When it rains, horses no longer need to rely on humans for water. I feel safe when it rains.

Even when he isn’t, Lincoln is there, diligently caring for the animals he considers sacred.

These horses roam the Lower Salt River in the Tonto National Forest. The herd is now managed by the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group under contract with the Arizona Department of Agriculture. The herd is believed to be descended from horses brought to Arizona by Father Eusebio Kino in the 1600s. Video by LK Bailey

Joanna Eubank

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