Out in the Sand Wash Basin sprawled across Northwest Colorado, a herd of wild horses has gained popularity as they gallop together across the landscape. However, one particular majestic pinto stallion named Picasso has risen above the fame of even his fellow herd members to become one of the most iconic wild horses in America.
Picasso is estimated to be about 30 years old, making him the elder mustang in the herd. His age certainly seems to come with plenty of respect among his fellow equines. According to a basin visitor, named Patti Mosbey, even the other mustangs treat Picasso with a sort of reverence.
According to Denver7 News, in the summer of 2014, as Mosbey was visiting the basin, she spotted the famous stallion with two bands of horses. As she looked closely, Mosbey noticed that as Picasso passed by them, the rest of the herd, “as if to pay respect to the King,” parted in two to make room for the legend.
“You almost thought they were deferring to him,” she continued, alluding to the special moment. “Nobody wanted to challenge him.”
However, Picasso, who has a dusty white-and-black mane, was the most famous horse in the herd long before he reached his current estimated age, which is believed to be rare for a mustang living in the harsh conditions of the basin, where the summers are fiery and the temperatures in winter go below sub-zero temperatures.
It was over a decade ago when a worker with the Humane Society, who was observing the wild horse herd, spotted his unique coat and pointed out that he looked “like a Picasso.”
In the aftermath, photographer Nancy Roberts caught sight of the now-famous mustang in 2010 and posted the images she captured of him to social media. Not long after, Picasso’s fame immediately began to grow, blooming into the legend that he’s become now.
“Whenever I posted a photo of him, people would just go crazy,” Roberts said in an interview with the Denver7 News. “I don’t know what happened. He just became the horse, the King of the Sand Wash Basin.”
There are about 700 horses that roam around the 157,000 acres of federal land in the basin; however, Picasso has managed to stand out among them and gained a legendary status.
It is also known that there are many visitors who travel miles to just catch a glimpse of the famous mustang. They are known to write poems, paint portraits of him, and even chart out details of his family tree connecting the various dots.
Among them is Sandy Sharkey, a retired radio broadcaster from Ottawa, Canada, who photographed the wild horses of America in May 2018. Sharkey told Denver7 News, “To see Picasso was going to be akin to seeing Brad Pitt in the desert.”
According to her website, Sharkey has traveled 14,000 miles by road (approx. 22,500 km) to photograph wild horses of North America. The avid photographer’s goal is to capture the “unbridled freedom of the wild horse, and to encourage others to find the ‘wild horse experience’ for themselves.”
Picasso is a testament to just how sturdy the horses are out in the wild. Even with a highway running through the basin, harsh weather that offers up lightning storms, and fights with other mustangs in the herd, he’s managed to survive—and his fame has only blossomed the longer he’s roamed the open basin.
Cindy Wright, co-founder of Wild Horse Warriors for Sand Wash Basin, told 5280, a city magazine in Denver, that “Picasso is the embodiment of strength.”
She further added: “People go into the basin to find healing when they are at a low point. He is symbolic of the ability to keep moving forward.”
Over the last couple of years, there have been calls that Picasso should be adopted; however, many fans of Picasso strongly believe that he belongs to the wild.
At some point, Picasso will probably die. At his current age, he’s been spotted less and less.
Sharkey shared with Denver7 News that when Picasso does die, it wouldn’t be the end of the era. “No horse lover worth their salt would call it that,” she said.
However, regardless of how long he lives, his stunning coat and the brilliant photographs of him that have taken over the years will continue to live on.