U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIORBUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
A Wild Horse Adventure Becomes a Lifestyle
Gunter started out in South America and rode adopted native creole horses to the United States border. He was unable to bring the creole horses into the United States, at which point he almost quit his goal. This is when he met Sonja and together they adopted four mustangs from the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program in Canon City, Colorado and set out to finish the journey.
“They have a good program in Canon City with the prison, where the horses are socialized,” explains Gunter. “Sonja and I were both amazed by what the horses knew when we adopted them.” Sonja added, “With the horses being from the wild, they are perfect for backcountry expeditions because they are already comfortable with the wilderness. They are not afraid of water or muddy areas or rivers. They have grown up in a wild herd and know how to communicate to one another about what they experience in the wild.”
For seven seasons since that time, Gunter and Sonja have been riding through the United States and Canada with the adopted horses and their dog, Leni. As adventures often go, this last season of their journey posed some challenges. After leaving the Canadian border and making it almost 100 miles into Alaska, they couldn’t cross the Nabesna River. Gunter summarized the hardship, “We made it to the Nabesna River and for several days we tried to cross it under different conditions and water levels. We even went upstream and tried to cross the Nabesna Glacier. In the end, we had to back track all the way to the Canadian border and truck the horses around to pick up where we left off.”
I watched Sonja and Gunter pack and repack for the next leg of the journey. They had worked out a plan with the help of BLM Glennallen Field Office Outdoor Recreation Planner, Cory Larson, to cross the Gulkana Wild and Scenic River and ride about 7 days on a network of trails to pick up their next food drop near the Delta Wild and Scenic River. From there they would ride south of the Denali Highway and cross under the Alaska Range to Cantwell, then ride through Denali National Park, ending in Healy. Exasperated, Sonja explained, “Pack and repack. It’s all I do! It’s difficult. You never know how much food we will need. It’s never the exact amount of days you think. Rivers and creeks swell six times their size and you have to wait for them to go down.”
As we meander along, I ask about their future plans. Gunter states, “We plan to take a three year break to be with family and to be in my home country in the summer. We want to find a place in British Columbia where the horses can roam freely on a large piece of land. We have found this place. It costs money but we will find a way to pay it and return each year to ride with the horses. We thought of bringing them home, but it’s not the right place for them. They would have to be in a stable.” Sonja adds, “Now we will raise funds for what we do next and work on telling the story of what we have done.”
Before I know it, we have walked and rode a little over a mile and I realize I need to say goodbye and turn back. I have known Gunter and Sonja for such a short time, that I am surprised to find myself a little choked up and reluctant to leave them and this great adventure. We stop at a good spot for the horses to graze, take a few pictures, and exchange some last minute conversations, hugs, and well wishes.
As I hike back to the trailhead, I glance back several times. Once to wave a hardy goodbye and then several times to watch them slowly meander out of sight. While I hike back to the car I reflect on how grateful and fortunate I feel to have been a small part of this great adventure and to have had a glimpse into Gunter and Sonja’s way of life.
— Marnie Graham, BLM Glennallen Field Office Public Affairs Specialist