Before arriving in Vieques, I saw images of wild horses roaming the island. And I may have had a bit of a “Man from Snowy River” image in my head of wild horses evading human capture and majestically claiming their land. So, it was a bit of a reality check from the moment that we landed and were picked up by our property manager to see lean, sometimes scruffy horses of all ages casually grazing along the roads and on the streets. And to learn that they are not really all that wild – more like unattended.
Rather than large majestic wild horses, these beautiful beasts are a little rough around the edges, some even needing a little TLC. The horses of Vieques are descendents of the horses that invading conquistadors brought to Vieques in the first decades of the 16th century. Known as “Paso Fino” or Fine Step horses, these are a smaller horse than what I had envisioned, and purposefully so. They originated in Spain and were brought to Puerto Rico where they are bred and raised at a number of horse ranches. These horses are well known for their fine delicate step, allowing them to navigate streets made of stones, such as those in Old San Juan. They were bred to be easy and comfortable to ride. And while the horses of Vieques are not show horses, they are still gorgeous and happy.
Just like the dogs on the island, there is a casual culture with loose animals and ownership branding that means that some of the “wild” horses are actually owned by someone. With no municipal animal control function, a lack of boarding facilities, and low-income owners without proper land for feeding, horses are allowed to stroll freely. Just think — there is no poop pick-up! On many a night, you see locals ride bareback through the streets alongside cars.
There is no need to seek out a special viewing experience as they will be everywhere you look. In fact, there will be times late at night on a dark road that you will hope that you do not see them, especially in the middle of the road blocking your way. For this reason, and many others, driving in Vieques at a slow pace is highly recommended (see my driving article here). At our guest house, Oreanda, we had a mother and colt visit us each morning grazing through the property.
Though seeing loose animals is a cultural shock, and there were times where we saw some skinny and scarred horses, it is still an amazing sight to see large herds of horses roaming the beaches and open fields of the little island. These are not groomed and spoiled horses, but they are still valued by the community. The best viewing of horses was probably in Sun Bay, where there is a large field far from cars and near the water. There were also nearly a hundred in the former Navy compound located near Green Beach.
And don’t worry if you see a horse lying on the side of the road – it is most likely taking a nap.