I knew there were wild horses, or mustangs, in the area around Reno. I had had glimpses of them, from a distance, as I drove through the Sierra Nevada foothills. A dyed-in-the-wool animal lover, I was so enthralled by the prospect of wild horses that when we rented the house at the foot of the Virginia Highlands I mentioned to our landlord that I was hoping to see some of the famous wild horses that roamed the foothills. At the time I didn’t understand the sly smile when he assured me I would see some. The fact that the street to the north of us was named Wild Mustang should have been a clue.
Still clueless I was not prepared for the sight on that bright sunny November morning. Our dogs had started barking and were nervously pacing by the window. Thinking I would be confronting an annoying solicitor I threw open the front door. The mare closest to the front step lifted her head, her expression one of annoyance not fear. I stepped back and closed the door. In awe I gazed out the window to see the wild horses grazing on our front lawn. It was a small herd of eight, the youngest not yet weaned. I did not want to startle them. I wanted them to stay on the lawn and graze. It was a selfish want. I wanted the opportunity to watch these magnificent animals for as long as possible. I rushed to get my camera. Everyone back in Canada would think I was hallucinating when I regaled them with stories of wild horses. I needed proof. I needed to act fast. I wasn’t sure I would ever get that close to a wild horse again.
The herd stayed on our lawn for about twenty minutes before sauntering down the street in search of, dare I say, greener pastures. I was sad to see them go and could only buoy my flagging spirits by reviewing the pictures I had managed to take.
Two days later, with the clamor of barking dogs ringing in my ears, I looked out the window. The small herd was back. This became a ritual that was repeated for about six weeks. Every second day, between 11:00 am to 12:00 pm, the horses strolled down the street. Ignoring the houses designed with Xeriscape front yards consisting of stones and bushes, they stopped in our front yard to nibble the green expanse of lawn. From my perch at the window, I watched as the youngest was nursed by his mother. When satisfied, he sat quietly still too young to graze on the grass himself. At first we were too timid to go outside during their visit. Our fears were allayed after one of our neighbors came out to feed the horses carrots. Carefully my husband and I ventured onto our front stoop. By the raised heads you could tell that the horses were aware of our presence. Although they did not appear alarmed, the adults kept a watchful eye on us. We were always careful not to approach the young foal or colt, stories of animals protecting their young foremost in our minds. After a few visits we became brave enough to feed the horses some carrots.
Alas by late December the visits stopped. I took comfort in the thought that the herd had moved on to different grazing areas. They were from a long line of survivors and I could only hope they would continue to thrive, living in the foothills during the summer and moving to the valley floor for the winter. We lived in Reno during the unsettling years of 2008-2010. It was a time of economic devastation which left neighborhoods littered with smashed dreams and abandoned homes. Watching the small herd of mustangs that thrived in the harsh desert of the valley floor and the rugged Sierra Nevada mountains was calming. Observing their persistence against such strong odds, I knew deep in my soul that we would be okay. We would weather the current storm and we too would thrive.