What’s Growing On: Wild Horses in Paynes Prairie

Wild horses have been there since the 1500s and were brought here to herd cattle.
Wild horses throughout Paynes Prairie have been there since the 16th century.
Published: May. 12, 2023 at 3:19 PM EDT|Updated: May. 22, 2023 at 11:33 AM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

MICANOPY, Fla. (WCJB) - Some of the wildlife at Paynes Prairie State Park have been residents long before America was even discovered. And as much as they may have overstayed their welcome, they are a part of what makes this preserve so unique.

Paynes Prairie State Park, spanning over 21,000 acres, has long been known for its diverse wildlife and unique ecological features. However, the presence of wild horses has created a renewed sense of wonder and excitement among locals and tourists. These animals were once thought to be extinct in the area but today there are over 60 roaming the thousands of acres and only add to the already picturesque landscape.

They remain untouched by humans and are very self reliant, but in colder months it is a bit more difficult to find food. This time of year they are foraging on the blooming dune meadows and salt meadows lush with sea oats and cordgrass.

Future Farmer of America Alum, Amanda Lathrop tells us, “Since the wild horses are scavengers they really have to find their food especially in the winter.”

The horses are descendants of Spanish explorers’ horses from the 16th century, have thrived in the park’s vast grasslands, wetlands, and oak hammocks. Today, they are known as cracker or tacky horses and their presence not only adds to the park’s beauty, but also offers an opportunity for researchers and conservationists to study their behavior and impact on the local ecosystem.

They were even named the Florida horse of the year for their sustainability after nearly 400 years.

“Florida designated the Florida tacky horse back in 2008 and that is a direct reflect from the wild horses.”, Winthrop.

In addition to these wild you will find alligators, over 300 species of birds as well as a small herd of bison. They were introduced here from Oklahoma in 1975 and today there are 50-70 that roam the prairie.

The Florida State Parks system and local authorities are working together to ensure the preservation and conservation of the wild horses and other the other animals on the Prairie in their natural habitat.

Paynes Prairie State Park’s wild horses have not only captured the hearts of those who encounter them but also serve as a reminder of the importance of preserving and protecting our natural heritage. As these majestic animals continue to roam freely in the park, they symbolize the resilience and beauty of the untamed wilderness, creating an enduring connection between man and nature in the heart of Florida.

Even if you stop by Paynes Prairie so may not see them, but they are there because they are scavenging through the grass and whatnot, and it’s absolutely breathtaking once you lay your eyes on them.”, Winthrop.

Click here to subscribe to our newsletter.