“The Four-Legged Terrors” or Majestic Beauties of Hidden Valley?

Andrew Gardner, Chozen Pierce and Jos Fagundes look into neighbor disputes over the growing presence of wild horses roaming around Reno’s Hidden Valley neighborhood. From neighbors afraid horses will be run over, to manure piles, mountain bikers damaging fencing, lawns destroyed and stores stopping to sell carrots, the disagreements are coming to a boil.

Wild horses in the Hidden Valley a community in Reno, graze on the grass of home owners and its private golf course. A battle has been brewing for years on what to do with the horses.

Nuisance and Loathed or Welcomed and Majestic?

What is one thing people think when the subject of horses is brought up? Is it horses majestically filmed for a movie? Or the races people dress up for just to watch horses run in a circle? And who could forget equestrian sports where horses jump over obstacles for points and glory?

Yet for a certain group in the Hidden Valley neighborhood of Reno, Nevada, the horses have led to a large amount of money spent to keep them out and neighbors arguing amongst each other about what to do with them. The Hidden Valley community southeast of the airport behind the recently built Veterans Parkway has been split into those who say they “loathe” the horses for destroying their properties and causing their drive around Hidden Valley to be filled with horse manure and having to brake to avoid the horses and those who find the beauty in the horses walking around streets and backyards.

On that side of the equation, there is the Wild Horse Connection, a nonprofit with members who help the horses and educate the community about these wild animals. They also help the horses when they get loose from their range by rescuing them and returning them safely. They take donations to help horses with food and water. They care for the horses by going out in all kinds of weather, observing and protecting the wild horses in their natural habitat. They help install fences and other range needs to keep the horses where they should be. Volunteers also name each horse they encounter and attach deep significance to the horses as if they were a human part of the community.

With a neighborhood reputation of housing an older community, frequent garage sales and a Christmas light competition, horses have now become another novelty to the Hidden Valley community, with many diverging views and an uncertain resolution.

A screengrab from the Wild Horse Connection Facebook page, now selling calendars.

Nevada Laws Pertaining to Feeding and Fencing

According to NRS 569.040, a Nevada state law established in 2015 it is illegal to feed the stray/feral horses.

Residents who are fed up with the horses stress it is important to not feed the horses because this constant feeding causes them to leave the nearby Virginia Range (between highway 580, 95A out of Fernley, I-80 and Hwy 50) in which the horses are supposed reside. The horses often make their way into the neighborhood of Hidden Valley through fencing taken down by mountain bikers. Horses are also lured through the park into Hidden Valley by resident and non-residents who feed them illegally with food like apples, carrots, and hay.

Some angry residents refer to members and supporters of the Wild Horse Connection as “Crazy Horse People”, who hand feed the horses from inside their cars. This has led groups of horses to approach cars that are parked begging for food. Some people can be seen leading horses by hand down the street as if a prized show dog. A group outside of the Wild Horse connections have found themselves following the horses using cars, and guiding them along using brooms with plastic bags attached to the end of them

NRS 569.431 is another law which pertains to horses, stating that in order to keep the horses out of your property you must now build a legal fence in order to keep them out.

“Beside chasing them off, we have followed the lead of fellow horse enablers and put up what we called a hillbilly fence, that makes your property look beat down,” Craig Kincaid, a resident of Hidden Valley, complaining of horse-related nuisances. “ No one that sold us our house mentioned we would have to border up our house or suffer mounds of horse poop on our lawn.”

Several horses get ready to cross into a residential street of Hidden Vally.

Residents and Non-Residents Taking the Side of the Horses

Laurel Busch, a Hidden Valley resident who has lived in the area since 1985, isn’t a member of the Wild Horse Connection, but says she is on the majority pro-horse side, and donates money to help the Wild Horse Connection.

“Most seem to like the horses and are proud of them,” Busch said in an interview with the Reynolds Sandbox. “They make our neighborhood special and authentically Nevada. But some are furious about having to watch out for them on the streets and about the damage the horses do to their yards.”

When it comes to solutions, Busch doesn’t believes the horses should be treated like coyotes or rabbits, as in shot or shooed away, but she is afraid of what could happen with their growing presence. “We don’t have any street lights here and I’m afraid a gruesome collision between a vehicle and horse is inevitable,” she said.

Alyssa Cova, is a non resident, with an extensive history with horse, who goes to Hidden Valley to take photos of the horses. “Horses are a strong part of American history and an interesting social dynamic within a community,” she said.

Cova believes the solution to stop the excessive property damage and keep the horses safe is to spay/castrate some of the horses, reducing their aggressive behavior and their population numbers rather than getting rid of them entirely. She believes the community could lose value without its horses.

Some neighbors are now afraid horses will soon be run over by cars.

Store Revolts

The growing wild horse presence has led to an influx of Hidden Valley grocery stores either no longer selling five-pound bags of carrots to certain people known to illegally feed the horses or not selling them altogether.

John B, a local general manager of a grocery store, who wanted to speak while staying anonymous said these decisions came after conversations with government officials.

“ We were contacted by the Bureau of Land Management to not sell certain people and certain groups carrots because they just head to Hidden Valley to feed them,” he said. John B hopes to remain somewhat nameless due to the backlash received from pro-horse people just hoping to feed the horses, and doesn’t want to tarnish the name of his store.

The Bureau of Land Management stated in 2020 that on the Virginia Range there are currently several thousand wild horses, whose overall population is able to grow up to 20% every year. In 1971, President Richard Nixon signed into law The Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, which covers the management, protection and study of “unbranded and unclaimed horses and burros on public lands in the United States.” It allowed for wild horses and burros to roam free without the pressure of people hunting them or selling them, which led to bigger and bigger populations. Since then, a primary method of removing excess wild horses and burros from managed land has been to have them privately adopted.

The horses fall under responsibility of the Nevada Department of Agriculture (NDA). It has an active and ongoing fertility program with the American Wild Horse Campaign to cut down on the rising amount of horses, which has also annoyed ranchers due to the deteriorating state of publicly accessible grazing lands.

Worse and Worse for Some

Miss Norma, a long time resident of Hidden Valley, says she’s never seen so many horses.

“ I have never had to put up a janky fence the whole time I have lived here for 30 years and now this year I have one up around my whole property,” she said.

Norma lives on one of the most highly trafficked streets in all of Hidden Valley. She says the horses are often pushed onto people’s lawns by the same people helping the horses. “ I am 84 years old and don’t have the energy anymore to pick up horse feces and it often takes up my whole trash can.”

Residents have also complained of broken sprinklers and disappearing grass. One resident, Bryan, who moved from Spanish Springs, where most horses aren’t wild or free range, has been a resident for about one year and initially only feared the neighborhood skunks.

“ I thought moving in I would only have to deal with the horrible smell of skunks but not the thousands of dollars I’ve had to spend fixing my property after the horses are there,” Bryan said, after seeing a new lawn he put in destroyed.

“I had just put up about 300 dollars of Christmas lights all over my fences and house and I walked out after a night of the horses having their way, and most of my lights were ruined,” he said of recent attempts to decorate.

Horse Arguments Pro and Con Across Time and Space

The horse debate is not only happening in the state of Nevada but all over the United States and beyond our borders. There are many issues involved in the wild horse debate.

Horse meat, unlike in the US, is a delicacy in some parts of the world. Some people say horse meat is sometimes served unknowingly to patrons. In 1998, California was the first state to ban the shipment and slaughter of horses for human consumption. In 2007, the Slaughter Prevention Act was a bill that would prohibit the transportation and slaughter of horses for consumption. It was passed by the House but it never made it to the Senate.

Horse racing is another topic of argument for horse lovers and anti-horse people. Horse racing is enjoyed by many but pro-horse people raise the question of its ethics. It is one of the most popular sports across America but how well are the horses treated? Why are so many injured and then put to death?

Even still today some people still use horses for regular transportation, however it is more for entertainment than practicality. Pro-horse people have been advocating against the use of horse drawn carriages for many years.

Horse-drawn carriages can be a romantic gesture for most people, but they can be accidents waiting to happen. It can be cruel for them to be carrying the heavy loads of people along the pavement where they may breathe in the exhaust fumes from vehicles on the street. The horse can also develop leg problems as they get older. They are very skittish animals who can be spooked very easily if they are not trained the right way and can hurt or even kill people if they were to run amok.

Nextdoor Feuding and Old Ideas Resurfacing

Another way that residents in Hidden Valley have come to argue about wild horses is through the Nextdoor app, sometimes even pitting residents from the same family against each other.

“Time for some culling and fence building!”

“Love the idea of moving the herd. I’ve also resorted to the leaf blower as they won’t move when I try to “shoo” them away. I have new landscaping and they rip the lawn up by the roots.”

“A plastic bag tied to a stick and shaken works just as well without startling the horses into a run.”

“Some historical perspective. We had the same problems here in Hidden Valley in the 90’s. I would often come home from work with horses grazing on my lawn. After a horse was struck by a car and killed on Hidden Valley Drive, the wild horse advocates and other volunteers worked to build fences and mend old fences surrounding the valley. For many years this solved the problem. Today we have fewer entry points for the horses than back then; therefore, the job of blocking the horses should be easier. I hope a plan can be coordinated before a horse or a human gets injured. I would gladly volunteer help.”

While some suggestions are thoughtful, Rich Elliott, another resident of Hidden Valley, does notice recent, underlying differences though, with any time before. “ You used to be able to walk up to the horses and they would kind of shy away now they are coming up to you looking to be hand-fed. It’s kind of sad seeing how humanized they have become.”

Thousands of horses are scheduled to be removed each year from the Virginia Range, up for adoption, or possible relocation.

“Round them up and relocate them,” Kincaid says. “The Virginia range extends for thousand of screws, I assume there are places that have been untouched, yet the minute you move the horses people scream bloody murder.”

This small community in Reno has been having these discussions and different ideas for decades but it doesn’t look to end anytime soon, quite the contrary.

Investigative Reporting by Andrew Gardner, Chozen Pierce and Jos Fagundes for the Reynolds Sandbox

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