Wild in the Swamps: Florida Authorities Chase Elusive Horse Herd Through Wilderness Area

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by Fran Jurga | 13 December 2009 | The Jurga Report at Equisearch.com

A renegade band of "wild" horses has been roaming a marshy wilderness area along the Kissimmee River in South Florida for at least four months now, the local media say. Who are they? And, more importantly, whose are they? This WPTV video was made back in October; later reports suggest that the herd's number may be growing...and that they still aren't interested in being caught.

I'm all for the digital age, but I don't think I am really looking forward to Sunday mornings in the future. One of the great luxuries of our age is carving out some time for yourself to page lazily through the Sunday papers. Will it be the same when I curl up with my Apple Tablet Reader a year from now? What will cats have to play with on Sunday mornings without newspapers? Will coffee still taste as good? Will bacon still smell that way?

Are we about to lose the ritual self-indulgence of Sunday morning?

And when I finally run out of newsprint, I move onto the computer and keep reading, especially on a rainy day like today. And so it was that I found, by chance, my absolute favorite Sunday morning story of this week.

Something about this little news item and photo sparked my imagination and if this had happened a few years ago and not in this age of the unwanted horse, it would have sparked everyone's. A few years ago, I would have stayed home and started work on a fantasy story for children, with this story as its theme.

The story comes from South Florida's sunsentinel.com. South Florida is pretty much the horse capital of the world now that the winter show and racing seasons have begun. Thousands of valuable horses and their riders, trainers and grooms have migrated there for the winter.

It's the last place I would expect to hear about a herd of feral horses running loose and evading capture. The swamps of the Kissimmee River are not very far from the arrow-straight white fences and greener-than-green paddocks of Wellington's dressage, show jumping and polo farms, or from a couple of racetracks and training centers.

But that is exactly what is going on. No one knows where they came from, or if anyone owns them. About 20 horses have been living au naturel for some time now in a wilderness management along the Kissimmee River. They were first spotted back in the summer.

I don't think anyone has gotten close enough to tell much about these horses. Everyone assumes they are someone's castaways. But some foals have been born while they have been out there in that swampy wilderness. They're evolving into a tribe.

Who knows? Maybe some warmblood from Wellington that has never been allowed turnout finally ripped off its blankets and leg wraps and is out in the wild, finding out about bug bites and sunburn. Maybe some racehorse from Palm Meadows that spent 23.5 hours a day in a stall is finally really running like the wind...and in the wind.

And so a crazy mixed-up band of misfits gallops on through the swamps, ignoring the food traps that humans have set for them. Maybe I've read too many Carl Hiaasen novels; this whole scenario certainly sounds like something he'd dream up, so the concerned animal lovers and the overarmed deputies trying to round up the horses can do hilarious battle amidst swampy sunstroke, snakes and mosquitoes while the clever horses elude them one more time. Populate the swamp with some militant environmentalists, a broke-down cowboy horse whisperer, a college professor trying to find his lost boa constrictor, and a couple of racetrack exercise riders who moonlight as Hooters waitresses but took a wrong turn on the way home from a funeral and you'd have a Carl Hiaasen novel started.

Surely things will get ugly soon and these horses will be brought in and we'll find out if they really are wild...or just innocent victims of human abandonment. No doubt some animal rescue farm in South Florida is about to have its hands full and its budget drained by 20 horses needing to be rehabbed and re-homed.

But just for tonight...one more night...they're out there in the moonlight.

How different they are from the mustangs in Nevada that may (or may not) be rounded up by the Bureau of Land Management this winter. Wildness is all those horses have ever known. It is their heritage, their identity and (hopefully) their destiny. And these Florida media sensations are stealing the headlines and perhaps confusing the issue of what wild horses really are and where they should be.

Of course I'm worried whether they are sick or injured, but no owners seem to be reporting a missing stable full of horses, so who are they? It stimulates the imagination more than a knee-high pile of newspapers did. And it made me smile a wicked little smile that the climate summit, Tiger Woods, health care reform, college football scores and holiday sale prices never could.