For centuries, horses have found a home in Kansas. Domesticated by Native Americans and settlers. Over a decade ago, a new breed was introduced.
When immersed deep in the Flint Hills, surrounded by miles of pastureland for as far as the eye can see, it's not hard to imagine what the prairie would have looked like two hundred years ago. All that's missing is the rumbling of bison herds. While their physical presence may be gone (except for a few public places like Tallgrass Prarie and the Konza Prairie), their spirits still linger. Deep in the roots of the tallgrass prairie. But, a few years ago what made a reappearance are wild horses.
What? Yes, it's true. In fact, there are thousands of horses residing within these rolling hills and have been for over a decade. They're descendants of the stallions and mares brought to the Americas by the Spaniards generations ago. Herds were introduced to the Flint Hills, relocated from the Western United States, in a partnership between Kansas ranchers and the Bureau of Land Management.
Protected by the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. In an effort to control the population of these creatures, and conserve the land, thousands of wild mustangs have been transported from the rangelands of the West to Kansas. Before arrival, the herds are separated into single-gender groups. Be it mares or stallions. I will acknowledge there is much debate and controversy about the program, concerns with cost and land management.
I first learned about these wild creatures a few years ago. From reading articles and blogs I knew the best opportunity to see the horses would be around Teter Rock, east of Cassoday. After getting off the Cassoday exit of I-335, I turned left on 150th road. Note, this road starts off as black-top but it soon turns to gravel. I did notice the closer to Teter Rock the rougher the road was in places. I would go as far as to say, for some vehicles (or inexperienced drivers) it's a dry-weather road.
It's roughly 12 miles between Cassoday and Teter Rock, the GPS may say Teterville, and halfway there is when I first noticed the horses. I was a little surprised by how close to the road they were. But, their "flight" instinct kicked in when I made my way over to the fence, luckily I brought my 400mm lens. There were herds on both sides of the road, grazing on the lush green grass while the wind whipped at their manes. It was beautiful to watch their interactions. (Note: I actually took this trip two days in a row and both days they were in the same general area.)
After capturing a few photos I soon felt my presence was an intrusion on their peaceful afternoon. They were generous with me, but it was time to move on. So, I jumped back in the car and continued on to Teter Rock. Once I arrived at my final destination there are fence fields west of Teter Rock. The first was full of cattle, but the next had more horses. I could also see additional herds along the horizon in the distance. In total, I would say I viewed hundreds of horses broken into smaller clusters.
Depending on where you're traveling from this could be a leisurely half-day trip, or if you're looking for a spot off of I-335 it's a scenic drive. Teter Rock is certainly a great spot for a picnic. As long as you don't mind possibly eating amongst the cattle close by, very close by. So close, one left nose prints on the side of my car. I can't wait to visit again.