The Silver Lake Wild Horse Herd

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Meet the Only Wild Horses West of the Cascades

by Rich Wininger


Maverick is big. At 16 hands many people step back when he trots up; they don’t know that all he wants is love and attention. He is curious and unafraid and a great trail and mountain horse. Mountains are in his blood.

Maverick is a son of the Silver Lake Wild Horses, the only wild horse herd on the west side of the Cascades. These horses were originally turned out by a pioneer family in the 1920’s and now roam in an area southwest of Olympia, WA. You can see a mix of breeds within the herd—Quarter Horse, Morgan, and even a bit of draft horse. Horses were also brought in from the Yakima and Umatilla tribes. 

There are two family groups. The band led by the big red roan stallion is the most wary. The other band is led by a white stallion; though not as big he is built like a tank. Both stallions are on the alert, constantly looking for danger and guarding their families. They run in separate loops and do not normally mix: two families, two territories. 

The horses may be wild, but there has always been someone looking out for them.  First, it was the original pioneer family that turned them out. Then, for years, it was Hank. A quiet man, Hank loved the horses and watched over them. When Hank knew it was getting too tough to be out there every day he began looking for the next person who might help safeguard their future. Now Cleon watches over them; he can get close to the horses, they know him. There are many tricks to working with a wild horse herd like this.

The Silver Lake horses are hard to find. You may travel for miles knowing they are close but, more often than not, they can’t be found. If you do happen to catch a glimpse of the herd your heart skips a beat, they are beautiful animals. These horses are also healthy; it surprises people who are used to looking at the Mustang herds from the plains or the desert. Unlike those wild horses, the Silver Lake herds have plenty of food and water and few predators that an angry mare can’t handle. That can be good, or not so good. No predation, no population control. This story continues to unfold, bringing us to today.

One of the Silver Lake herd sires. Photo credit Dr. Meg Brinton

The wild horses range on land owned by a large timber company. Access to this area is restricted and for good reason. Herd protection is one of them. While protection is nice, horse herds left to themselves will develop health and population concerns. The Bureau of Land Management has significant wild horse population issues on their rangeland. Fortunately, the Silver Lake Wild Horse herd is much smaller and, so far, manageable. 

The main task to manage population has been to capture horses and place them in qualified homes. Left alone, herd size doubles every four years and quickly can become a big problem. Many Silver Lake horses have been captured and placed in good homes over the years. They are used in many different ways and are popular as trail horses. More recently, due to the severe recession and tough economic conditions, it has become more difficult to place yearlings/weanlings. It takes time and financial commitment to properly care for a horse, not to mention knowledge and experience to train a colt or filly.

That brings us to a request: We need your help! Current herd size is appropriate, given the range area, but we need to continue to find good, qualified homes for the weanlings as they are removed from the herd. We wish to get the word out to a broader range of horse enthusiasts, people who would consider adopting a Silver Lake Wild Horse.

These horses are intelligent, hardy and mountain smart. They deserve to be in homes where they are loved and properly cared for. If you have taken time to read this you might be part of the audience we are looking for. For more information, and for photos of these unique horses, please visit: and join me in becoming a friend of the Silver Lake Wild Horses.


Published April 2012 Issue

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