Ruidoso has plenty to offer those who like to explore: the village; the shops; the mountain; the snow…and the lakes, streams and trails. Exploration can mean many different things to different folks.

Some of us might be content with discovering treasures at the many quaint shops in downtown Ruidoso. Some may be chompin’ at the bit to hit the countryside on horseback. Or perhaps your passion is the pursuit of the big catch from Lake Mescalero or Grindstone Lake. Whatever wets your worm or trips your trigger…Ruidoso has it.

Ruidoso can be as laid back or as wild as you make it. Pull up a comfy chair on a porch facing the west and just enjoy the spectacular views. Or put on your hiking boots and point your compass to the north and set off to discover what these magnificent mountains have to offer. Stay on public trails. Wildlife is abundant. But heed the warning…there’re bears in these here hills  Keep the camera batteries charged because deer and elk are everywhere…and if you get lucky, you could stumble across one of the wild horse herds.

If you haven’t heard about the wild horses of Lincoln County…hang onto your saddles…this is the wild side of Ruidoso. There have been reports of three herds currently roaming freely in Lincoln County. A fourth herd is caught up in legal battles and is currently roaming on a 2,000 acre ranch, which is a far cry better than where they’ve spent the last year and a half.

For decades, wild horses have been free to roam Lincoln County, with some favoring the Enchanted Forest of Alto. Some folks have been lucky enough to have been graced by the presence of the wild horses that roam the Alto area. Kiddos of all ages (me included) have squealed with delight at the sight of the majestic beasts.

The rugged mountain terrain has been their home. They’ve obviously known no other life except freedom. Free to roam. Free to graze. Free to romp and frolic. The wild horses of Alto have been a welcome sight for tourists and locals, alike. That is until one hot August day in 2016, when an unhappy resident of Enchanted Forest apparently captured and corralled the herd of a dozen mares and foals. The stallion of the herd, known as Blaze, eluded the capture… and the rest is wild horse history.

Blaze (Boss) wild stallion of Alto, NM in his enchanted forest home waiting for his family to return after 11 months. Photo by Debi Wilcox

WHOA (Wild Horse Observers Association) has been fighting to free the herd of fifteen Wild Horses of Lincoln County (WHOLC). There are sixteen horses in the Alto herd…fifteen were taken captive. WHOA v NMLB (New Mexico Livestock Board) in Carrizozo is where the next court proceedings will take place and the date is set for the week of May 14-18. The outcome will determine the fate of Lincoln County wild horses. The case “Will determine if any wild horses have the right to roam in their ancestral range in Lincoln County, according to the WHOLC Facebook page.

Patience O’Dowd, of Placitas, President and founder of Wild Horse Observers Association/Wild Horses of Lincoln County, states via the GoFundMe page that was set up for the horses, “The Wild Horses of New Mexico, including those wrongly penned in Alto/Ruidoso and the historic and Spanish Wild Horses of Placitas, are in an ongoing battle for their very existence.”  She adds, “They had thankfully been saved from sale to the highest bidder by the granting of a Temporary Restraining Order in September 2016.  95% of the 95 people asked…have affirmatively signed a petition stating that they want his (Blaze) family released to him into the Enchanted Forest community, on or close to their properties.”

O’Dowd continues “While signing, most of the people spoke out like it was yesterday when Blaze’s family band was taken and shared stories of Blaze’s family, including watching babies being born and Blaze watching over them.”

The opposition had asked that the court have Blaze’s family put up for adoption. O’Dowd says that “Adoption of these wild ones would harm (Blaze) their stallion, who, as a herd animal, has survived without his harem family band for six (now 18) months.”

In March, thirteen of the fifteen Alto wild horses were released at a Lincoln County ranch. A mare and foal were moved back to Enchanted Forest to address some health issues and will hopefully join the rest of the herd, soon. WHAOA and the NMLB are now sharing responsibility and authority of the wild horses.

Wild horses of Lincoln County take a water break.

Shortly after the mare and foal were moved to a temporary confinement in their old stomping ground, Blaze found them. According to the Wild Horses of Lincoln County Facebook page, they were very happy to see each other. “He and she initially explored her fence together (in the night) but, as we know, he has always been far too smart to voluntarily put himself inside a pen!” …“He has kept an eye on them and has even run off a few wild bachelor buddies, instinctively protecting his own.”

Blaze has enjoyed his freedom for reportedly thirty years. Imagine the torment he has endured without his family for the past year and a half and how excited he was to see the mare and foal. And, although WHOA is extremely grateful that the majority of the herd is enjoying the freedom that the 2,000 acre ranch provides, they look forward to the long awaited day when Blaze is reunited with his family.

Approximately 94,000 people have signed the petition to keep the Alto wild horses free for New Mexico tourism. The fate of the herd will be decided in just a few weeks. So, the next time you visit Ruidoso and you stumble across a herd of wild horses, stop for a moment and pay your respects to these wild and beautiful creatures. They deserve nothing less.