Devotees admire indomitable spirit of the White Horse of Black Daisy Canyon
By Dianna Troyer
For Idaho Farm Bureau Federation
A springtime Facebook post proclaimed the beloved and reclusive White Horse of Black Daisy Canyon had survived his 25th winter living alone in central Idaho’s Lost River Valley.
“It was great to see him again a couple of times in May,” said Barbara Harp, who photographed him on May 30.
He was basking in the sunshine high on a ridge across from her house a couple of miles south of Black Daisy Canyon.
Since wandering away from an elk hunting camp in 1997, the gelding has lived in the vast canyon north of Mackay, relying on plentiful grass, a nearby reservoir, and a spring that fills a trough for livestock and wildlife.
“I had to take a photo before time eventually takes him,” Harp said.
She grabbed her camera, dashed outside, and steadied it on top of a fence post.
“He was so far up on the ridge, I really had to zoom in,” she said.
Slender and pure white, he looked like a radiant ivory statue, she said. A breeze rustled his mane as he turned slightly to look over his right shoulder.
The short, sturdy gelding’s numerous admirers say his indomitable spirit symbolizes freedom, grit, and the self-sufficiency characteristic of the West.
He embodies being at peace living alone, content with the solace of nature and his own company. Local residents accept and respect his choice of living as a hermit and give him privacy and space.
Barbara and her husband, Rodger, are familiar with the renowned runaway’s springtime routine. In May, he leaves the canyon west of Mackay Reservoir and meanders south.
“He likes our side of the ridge, soaking in the sunshine,” Harp said. “It really feels good that time of year.”
By fall, he still looked robust when Harp’s husband saw him on Sept. 15.
“Rodger was glad to see him looking healthy across the river from our home,” she said.
The Harps’ neighbor, Scott McAffee, has also seen him.
“We’re all amazed he has survived, especially during winter with all the wolves in the valley,” McAffee said. “In winter, along the ridges, the wind keeps the snow blown away, so he has grass to eat.”
The horse has fans outside the valley who have read about him, including Tommy Thompson and his wife, Kathy, of Orofino.
“He symbolizes an Idaho spirit – treasuring his freedom, surviving without handouts, and being content by himself in the wild,” Tommy said.
To Kathy, the horse reminds people to have hope, to look forward to a new day and the future.
“In what sometimes seem like times of great despair, there is hope, so often from God’s other creatures,” she said.
Another longtime fan, Gene Alba of Bliss, hiked three days with his dog, Mutley, before finding the elusive equine Sept. 12. Every summer since 2015, Alba has visited him, forming a bond by whistling and talking to him.
“He knows us,” Alba said. “At first, he stayed about 350 yards from us. Now we come to within about 20 yards. A couple of summers ago, I was camped out and filming him when he suddenly ran away, startled by a predator. I thought I wouldn’t see him again, but the next morning he was about 30 yards from my tent, like he had come back to check on me and say hello. We spent the day near each other.”
Alba first heard about him while passing through the area during summer and staying at the reservoir campground.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about him living alone,” he said. “I worry about whether he’ll survive another winter, so I come every summer to see him. He looks good, a bit heavy with a full belly. People tell me it’s because he eats so much grass to put on weight for the coming winter.”
The horse’s appearance has changed considerably since 1997 when he walked away from a hunting camp in the Copper Basin about 15 miles west of the reservoir.
Eventually, he shed his remnants of civilization – a bell dangling from a strap behind his ears and a hobble on a front ankle. As gray horses do, his color has naturally turned to white as he aged.
Alba is curious about who once owned him. A hint about the horse’s origins is a freeze brand on his neck, indicating he was likely part of a wild horse herd and had been sold through the Bureau of Land Management’s adoption program.
He behaves like a wild horse, “curious but cautious,” said local hunting guide Will Marcroft. “You can get only so close to him. He likes to keep a certain distance between himself and people.”
Marcroft said he was with elk hunters from Washington who camped in Copper Basin.
“He must have broken his hobbles,” Marcroft said. “They looked for him but couldn’t find him and had to get back home. You have to admire that he’s survived all these years, especially with our cold winters and predators that are common around here like wolves and mountain lions.”
Marcroft estimates his age to be late 20s.
“That’s old – for a horse in the wild and a domestic one, too,” he said. “It’s always good to see him. We all know there will come a time when we don’t see him anymore, but we hope that won’t be for a while yet.”
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