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Arizona Wild Horses: The Salt River Mustangs

black and white image os a white wild horse standing next to a river

Photo Credit: Maria Marriott, Wild Horse Photographer

Nestled amidst the rugged beauty of Arizona's Tonto National Forest lies a hidden treasure - the magnificent Salt River wild horses. Drawing visitors from around the world each year to witness their untamed beauty, they have become a favorite of wild horse photographers and nature enthusiasts, alike. I was privileged to be able to visit these amazing mustangs five years ago, and this encounter resulted in one of my most popular images: "Unicorn."

The Salt River wild horses have a rich history that dates back centuries. Believed to be descendants of Spanish horses brought to the region by conquistadors in the 16th century, these mustangs have roamed the banks of the Salt River for generations, adapting to the desert landscapes of Arizona and forging a unique way of life in the wild. The unique combination of desert, river, and forest along the banks of the river make it an ideal habitat - and also a very different opportunity for wild horse photography.

One of the most striking features of the Salt River wild horses is their remarkable diversity in color and markings - from dazzling whites and rich chestnuts to deep bays and sleek blacks. Whether grazing peacefully along the riverbanks or traversing the surrounding meadows and thick forests, it is hard to witness them without feeling pulled into their timeless beauty. In fact, at times it was almost as if a fairy tale was playing out, so special was the combination of light and shadows on this magical subject.

Wild Horse Photography Meets Fairy Tale

In my favorite capture from this trip, a wild grey stallion struts from the forest after soundly beating an opposing stallion in a fight.

a wild stallion comes out of the woods surrounded by dust and light

Photo Credit: Maria Marriott, Wild Horse Photographer

The clouds of dust stirred by the encounter of two powerful stallions, and the thick overhang of the forest, forming an arch over the stallion, filter golden beams of light. It is a scene that would fit perfectly into an old Disney movie, such as Snow White. 

And so I named it “Unicorn”.

Preservation and Protection

The Salt River wild horses play a crucial role in the ecosystem of the Tonto National Forest, contributing to the biodiversity of the region and serving as a living link to Arizona's storied past. Their presence also serves as a reminder of the delicate balance between nature and civilization, highlighting the importance of preserving wild spaces for future generations to enjoy.

As I photographed along the banks of the river, I watched numerous rafters pass and heard numerous exclamations of wonder as they viewed the wild horses.

black and white photo of a white wild horse overlooking the river

Photo Credit: Maria Marriott, Wild Horse Photographer

Thanks to the dedicated efforts of non-profits devoted to the safety of wild horses and local volunteers, the Salt River wild horses are protected and monitored to ensure their well-being and continued existence in their natural habitat. Through education and advocacy, these groups work tirelessly to raise awareness about the importance of preserving this unique population of wild horses.

For visitors seeking to experience the beauty of the Salt River wild horses firsthand, guided tours and photography excursions are offered by local groups, offering a rare opportunity to witness these magnificent wild horses in their natural environment. 

For me, this visit to the Salt River left a lasting impression - not just the thrill of viewing the beauty of the wild in this untamed landscape, but having a unique set of environmental factors to challenge me as a wild horse photographer. The light, shadows, dust, river, and forest provided challenging conditions, which ultimately resulted in one of my best wild horse images.

Archival Quality

All images are printed in-house on 100% plant based museum quality paper carefully selected by Maria to enhance the tonality of her images. Each limited edition print is carefully inspected, hand signed and numbered before shipment.

About The Artist

wild horse photographer maria marriott

Maria's work has been recognized for its emotional impact and intimate portrayal of wild horses. She works closely with several non-profit organizations focused on the benefits of equine therapy and preservation of the mustangs on our Western lands.


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