The Virginia Range wild horses have been here since before there was a Nevada.
A small but vocal minority of Nevadans say that the horses on the Virginia range are all strays that were dumped from local ranches. That could not be farther from the truth. The Virginia Range horses have been on this range for over 300 years; much longer than white man has been in the West. Their DNA was analyzed by the University of Nevada in the 1970s, and that study confirmed that these are Spanish horses. Other horses may have been dumped there over the years, but those make up a tiny minority of this herd. People interested in these studies can explore the UNR library and read this data in more detail.
Why the name estray?
When Wild Horse Annie was working so hard to save these horses from the mustangers who were killing them for dog food, she finally succeeded and this country briefly protected the wild horses with national legislation. The horses that she wanted most to save were left out because Storey County was nearly all private land and the Bureau of Land Management refused to include these horses. So the state of Nevada took them on and designated the Agriculture Department as the agency of management. The state was at that time and to this day largely controlled by agricultural interests, especially cattlemen. They did not want these horses to be acknowledged as wild so they put the estray/feral designation in the laws that govern what happens to these horses. In fact, the horses were here centuries before the white man; if anyone is estray/feral, it is us.
Why ecotourism for horses?
This type of tourism has been one of the most popular attractions in the United States for half a century! It brings hundreds of millions of dollars to the southeast states of North Carolina and Virginia. It is also becoming a huge business in Wyoming and Montana, as well as South Dakota. Nevada has more wild horses than any other state and recent tourism surveys by major casinos found that wanting to view these horses was the second most-asked-for entertainment. Clearly, Nevada has been missing a huge tourism draw. Ecotourism for Storey County could bring thousands of additional visitors to Virginia City each year.