In November, southern Missouri experienced unseasonably warm temperatures for a 5-day period. The weather pattern was the excuse we needed to escape to the rustic backwoods in our home state. We decided to point our van Alice towards a tiny mountain town called Eminence. As we pulled away from our house to drive south, we had no idea we would encounter wild horses in the Missouri Ozarks.
That afternoon, we entered Echo Bluff State to check out our options for campsites. The beautiful campground sits next to the Current River and has about 100 campsites, but the place was virtually empty. As we pulled in, the female Ranger at the gate welcomed us and answered our questions. At the end of our discussion, she added, “There have been several sightings of the wild horses in the park lately. So, be on the lookout for them.”
What? There are wild horses in the Missouri Ozarks?
According to Midwest Living Magazine, farmers in the area turned horses loose during the depression because they couldn’t afford to feed them. In 1964, the Ozark National Scenic Riverway was formed to protect the Current and Jack Forks rivers. The act also included 80,000 acres of land giving safe spaces for the wild horses to roam.
Today, there are 4 herds with a total of about 50 wild horses in Shannon County.
For two days, Gail and I walked for miles through the thick hardwood forests in the area. In the Current River State Park, we found our way to Painter Ridge and Centennial Trail Bluff. Hiking through sections of the Ozark Trail, we also meandered our way through grassy meadows and walked along the edge of the Current River.
The feral horses remained elusive no matter where we went.
The Morning We Found the Wild Horses
On our final morning in the Ozarks, we decided to drive a few miles south to a large group campground area called Rounds Springs. We were packed and ready for our drive home but the campground was the opposite direction of our house. Maybe it was a gut feeling or a last ditch effort to see the wild horses-I don’t know.
I was feeling a bit rushed and wasn’t 100% supportive of driving further south, but I thought, “It’s no big deal. We will drive a few miles to see if we can spot them and turn around.”
Suddenly, Gail screamed in surprise and delight. “There they are! The horses are right there!”
Sure enough. They were grazing in a field near a maintenance building in the group campground. As quickly as I could I turned Alice around and slowly edged our way closer and closer to the herd.
They knew we were there but they remained calm. As carefully and quietly as possible, I grabbed my camera and slid open the side door on our van. I positioned myself to easily take pictures without startling the herd.
Within a few minutes of our arrival, the alfa mare lifted her head to stare directly at us. Her wild and unkept white mane completely covered her eyes as she captured my attention. She was an animal with an attitude. As she stared at us in her dominate way, she gave out a whinny and a snort to let us know we were close enough.
We respectfully complied with her warning and kept our distance as I continued to snap frames.
Earlier in the year, Gail and I had spent time in Utah and had seen some wild mustangs there. The first wild horses I had ever seen on the open range were in the west. Little did I know at the time there are wild horses a mere four hours from our home.
Gail and I always enjoy visiting this part of the country. The clear springs, rivers, waterfalls and hardwood covered Ozark mountains call to us to return again and again. But now, we have another reason to visit; to find the wild and elusive horses near the Current River.
For other stories of our travels in Missouri see: