Travel Arizona: Tour One through Wild Horse Pass

Foal at KOLI Equestrian Center, ArizonaThere’s more going on here than it looks.

Acres of arid sandy desert soil punctuated by tufts of dry foliage appears from a distance desolate and lifeless. But get in the middle of it, on horseback, and your eyes dart across the ground watching for snakes, scorpions, lizards and creeper crawlers that populate this area.

Holes of all sizes give away the presence of prairie dogs, cottontail bunnies, Jack Rabbits, ground owls, roadrunners and even coyotes that enjoy this desert buffet. Rabbits do dart out and the horses are non-pulsed. Their reaction to coyotes, though, I’m not sure – only saw one of those from the car window during the short drive to the stable from the resort.

It’s busy out here – especially after sunset – but this morning at the crack of dawn when my ride starts, the desert is inhabited by harmless birds of no interest to horses. We need to watch a hoof doesn’t end up in a deep hole. However, our mounts are out almost every day and barely need to be led. Nothing will set them off, except a rattler, and fortunately, we don’t hear one of those.

I’m riding through the Gila River Native Reserve in Chandler, Arizona during one of the hottest summers on record. Today, temperatures will reach 95 degree F, which is normal, but it’s why a 5:30am alarm woke me up this morning.

This time of year, Arizonans only ride before things really start to sizzle.Riding at KOLI Equestrian Center, Arizona

The KOLI Equestrian Center (all western gear, of course) is minutes from the Sheraton Grand Wild Horse Pass resort near Phoenix, host to this year’s BlogPaws conference, an annual gathering of pet bloggers and brands from around the world – I’m thinking every conference should be adjacent to a riding facility.

Before anything gets going inside the highly air conditioned conference centre, I’m heading outside to climb into a saddle and meet the members of the KOLI herd – some part wild mustang thanks to stallions that roam the thousands of acres extending from the mountain range in sight to where we stand beside the barn.

Yes, wild mustang. Two foals now at the KOLI barn are surprise wild mustang offspring, and apparently that’s not uncommon.

But more about the Mustang later.

First, I’m here for a one-hour introductory ride along the resort’s edge close to the golf course. (There are two on the property, along with a casino and outlet shopping mall).

I’m riding Sundance, a frisky gelded Paint, across the cracked and peeling soil through no discernible trail. My guide Grace is astride Slider, another Paint. Paints are popular in this stable’s herd of 25. I meet them all at the barn including the inseparable Clydesdale brother and sister pair that pull the wagon during the resort’s Saturday evening hay ride activity, and Marvin, the former wild mustang now the owner’s personal mount and favourite.

Riding at KOLI Equestrian Center, ArizonaOur ride this morning covers only a fraction of the 2400 acres of Gila River Indian Reserve all the buildings on this property sit on. The Sheraton leases land from a Native Band made up of Akimel O’otham and Maricopa tribes. The Estrella and Maricopa mountain ranges are in view at all times, but our route circles in the other direction.

We pass the Wild West set used to stage shows for conference groups, but today it’s filled will grazing baby bunnies with apparently no fear of horses.  We trot a short distance – cantering is not allowed thanks to the many holes borrowed in the desert’s surface.

Yet Sundance senses the direction of home and with wide-open terrain in view, and picks up the pace. Without my intervention, I’m confident we could have galloped straight back to the barn.

This is a pleasure ride. To learn more about the history and culture of the people who own this territory, you have to book a longer ride with either Chuck or Roger, the brothers who own and operate the KOLI Equestrian Center and grew up on the reserve.

No surprise, I make this booking two days later, especially after Grace tells me about the Wild mustang roaming this land – 1100 in total. To find them, you need at least two hours to ride toward the mountain range and back.

The Mustang, grouping in small easy-to-find herds of less than a dozen, are accustomed to but not entirely comfortable with their saddled brethren.

Unless it’s time to mate … but that’s a story for the next ride.

Riding at KOLI Equestrian Center, Arizona

Sundance at KOLI Equestrian Center, Arizona

Read about other warm weather rides such as Horseback Riding in Turks and Caicos on horsetrotting.net.

The Gila River no longer runs through the Gila River Reserve (though it’s recreated in the garden at the Sheraton Grand Wild Horse Pass). What happened to that river set historic president for both ecological preservation and legal rights of Native American tribes.

Interested in the history of the Gila River? Check out Gila: The Life and Death of an American River available on Amazon.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, meaning if you click on a link above then make a purchase, horsetrotting.net receives a small commission with no extra cost to you. Cheers!

35 comments

  1. That buckskin is adorable 🙂 ❤

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    1. Mom is a horse in the herd. Dad is a wild mustang. Mom got a little crazy one night in the desert…

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  2. Oooh, that’s so awesome! I would love to try horseback riding, but I’m actually a bit scared!!

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    1. Horses are amazing. A little learning about how to be around them and there’s nothing to fear. Caution and common sense, however, are good things.

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  3. Our mom didn’t attempt horseback riding when she was there. It looks like she missed a lot.

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    1. I’m surprised more people didn’t. I’m also surprise at the number who tell me their afraid of horses. Horse are just really big calmer (yes usually) stronger dogs.

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  4. Talent Hounds · · Reply

    Horses are such amazing creatures. I love to ride as well 🙂

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    1. Awesome. Do you trail ride when travelling? Or only ride at home?

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  5. So cool! That’s so interesting that the mustangs like to intermingle. I haven’t ridden in over a decade but it would be nice to get back on! 🙂

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    1. I took a break for almost two decades and can’t believe I did. I’ll keep riding until I fall off and break a hip.

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  6. (Not sure if my last comment posted!) That’s so interesting that the mustangs like to intermingle — so cool!

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    1. Because the male horse at the stable are all geldings, the females (most Paints and Quarter horses) only have wild mustang to ‘intermingle’ with. The fences aren’t that high.

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  7. I remember seeing the equestrian center near the hotel when I was at Blogpaws. How cool to have that there!

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    1. Very cool. I booked a morning ride the minute I found out about it. And the hotel drives you over.

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  8. Have never been there but it sounds amazing – I love deserts so it would be awesome doing something like this

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    1. I hadn’t really been to a desert before but they are far more interesting than I first thought (and nothing like roadrunner and coyote cartoons).

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  9. That looks like an amazing experience. I’m glad you had the opportunity.

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    1. Thanks. The next one is better – I actually met wild mustang. Amazing that these creatures still live wild.

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  10. I used to love to ride horses. Haven’t ridden since I fell off one about 20 years ago. Glad you didn’t see any rattlers while riding.

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    1. Snakes. My one fear when riding. I’m not afraid, but they sure freak out horses.

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  11. Sounds like you had a great ride! I used to love to ride when I was a teenager! Horses are such amazing animals.

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    1. I started as a teen – quit in my 20s to study etc – then got back into it in my mid-30s. I’m now 49, and won’t stop until I can’t get on anymore.

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  12. rosadoodle · · Reply

    I use to ride years ago. I loved it. The pictures make me long for riding. It looks beautiful!

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    1. Thanks. I truly believe landscape is best viewed from the back of a horse.

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  13. I didn’t know you went riding while we were there. I thought it would have been too warm!

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    1. You could go early, early morning (6 am) or evening. But mostly morning. Summer is not their most popular riding season – which is why I got two solo rides!

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  14. I love paint horses, they’re my favorite! I lived in AZ for nearly 10 years and never got to see the wild Mustang, something I regret. I hear it’s so beautiful to see them running wild. I never ride in that kind of heat though, you are braver than I am! Glad you had the opportunity to ride.
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

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    1. I never notice the heat … until I get off the horse. Then I need a shower. Just the idea of wild mustang is beautiful. The next ride I see them close up … a little too close.

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  15. The first place I ever rode a horse was in Arizona! Beautiful land and horses!

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  16. DIY Dog Mom · · Reply

    This looks beyond gorgeous!

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    1. The desert was more beautiful than I thought – but then I think everything is more beautiful on horseback

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  17. at first I thought, wow you went outside during that heat! But so glad it was early before the sun was blaring. What a beautiful ride!

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    1. If there are horses, I’m there. Rode in the rain in Nashville.

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  18. […] horses fascinate me and I had the good fortunate of encountering some of them near Wild Horse Pass Resort near Phoenix, Arizona when I visited there last year for the 2016 BlogPaws […]

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