Wild Horses Monument, Grandfather Cuts Loose the Ponies

Wild Horses Monument, Grandfather Cuts Loose Ponies

Stopping at Wild Horses Monument was never on our list of cool things to see in Washington. In fact, I didn’t even know the stunning, steel sculpture of galloping horses existed until we were driving by it on our way to the Oasis Campground at the Gorge Amphitheater. I wanted to stop and check it out, but Brian refused and promised we could stop on our way back home. He was anxious to get checked-in and scope out our campsite and the concert venue, and he had already made one side-stop at VooDoo Doughnut and another at Horsetail Falls on our way through the Columbia River Gorge.

Our drive back through Washington however, did include a few sight-seeing pit stops! We stopped to check out the Cascade Volcanoes Viewpoint and an abandoned cabin and we explored the Maryhill Stonehenge War Memorial, but our first stop was Wild Horses Monument.

It actually was a really good thing we decided to check out the monument on our way home because the only exit for the scenic area is on the eastbound side of I-90! We pulled off the freeway into the barren parking area, and set out to check out the view. Looking one way, you see the life-size horses frozen in mid-gallop on the ridge, and looking the other you see sweeping views of the Wanapum Lake area of the Columbia River — it’s a spectacular spot for photos!

From the parking area, a rough, dirt trail leads about a quarter mile uphill to the base of the sculpture and an even more spectacular view. The trail is sandy and is covered with loose gravel. It’s not one to hike in flip flops or sandals… and trust me, with no shade to be found, you’re not going to want to do it in the blazing hot sun either!

Wild Horses Monument

Wild Horses Monument is a memorial to the wild horses which once roamed the region and a magnificent sight for travelers along I-90 near Vantage, Washington. The public art installation, titled Grandfather Cuts Loose the Ponies, is a display of fifteen life-size horses frozen mid-gallop while running wild across a ridge that overlooks the Columbia River. Designed and created by sculptor David Govedare of Chewelah, Washington in 1989, the amazing 200 foot long sculpture is constructed from welded steel plates.

The Vision For Grandfather Cuts Loose the Ponies

David Govedare conceived the idea for Wild Horses Monument in 1986 as a gift to celebrate Washington State’s Centennial Celebration. It was to be a monument honoring the native people and the wild horses that once roamed the lands. The ridge above the Columbia River near Vantage Bridge was selected for the monument site because it was the location of the last great roundup of Washington’s wild horses in 1906.

Govedare’s vision for Grandfather Cuts Loose the Ponies was to recreate the Great Spirit turning loose a herd of wild horses above the Columbia River’s Wanapum Lake. In his imagined tale, the Grandfather says as he tips the basket of horses:

Creatures of this planet, behold, a Great Basket! I send this basket, bearing the gift of life, to all corners of the universe. Now, take these ponies; I am cutting them loose. They will inspire a spirit of free will. They will be a companion for work and play on this planet.

The fifteen life-size horses seen today are made from half-inch-thick panels of COR-TEN steel, a special iron alloy that rusts on the surface but still retains its structural integrity. The horses, now colored a rich red from oxidation and each weighing approximately 1000 pounds, are welded to four-foot-long metal poles set into the ridge on which the sculpture stands.

Wild Horses Monument, Washington State
Love this panoramic shot of the rusted, steel horse sculptures from Washington, Our Home.

Funding For Wild Horses Monument

The original sculpture design included a 36 foot tall woven basket made of steel, tipped by Grandfather, with two horses inside and 16 more galloping away from it. The basket portion of the sculpture was supposed to be decorated by local artists with designs of people, leaping salmon, and running deer, but funding ran dry and the basket and remaining horses have yet to be built.

In early 1987, the project received support from the Centennial Committee of Grant County, and from the centennial committees of the surrounding counties, including Spokane, Adams, Lincoln, and Kittitas later the same year. Members of the Washington Centennial Commission also wrote a letter in support of the project and the state’s Department of Transport ceded the land on the ridge to Grant County which had pledged to maintain the sculpture.

The Thundering Hooves Centennial Sculpture Committee was set up to raise the $250,000 in private funds needed to construct and install the sculpture in the spring of 1989 during the state’s centennial celebrations. Fundraising was slow and there wasn’t enough money to finish the sculpture. As a result, only the lead stallion had been completed unveiled in Riverfront Park in August of 1989 as part of the fundraising drive.

In October 1990, the first six horses were installed on the ridge overlooking the Columbia River, in the following months, nine more were erected. While the incredible art piece remains unfinished today, it stands as a stunning tribute to the wild stallions that used to roam the Washington hillsides. Plus, the breathtaking views of the Columbia River alone — from the parking area or the hilltop above — are making this stop completely worthwhile.

Over the years Grandfather Cuts Loose the Ponies has become one of the most-seen public art installations in the state according to the Seattle Times, with 100 million vehicles having driven past it between 1990 and 2008 alone.

Know Before You Go

  • The only freeway exit for Wild Horses Monument/Grandfather Cuts Loose the Ponies is on the eastbound side of I-90 near Vantage in Grant County, Washington. When driving east on I-90, shortly after crossing the Columbia River, take exit 139 and follow the road to the scenic parking area.
  • The .2 mile trail to this incredible sculpture of fifteen wild horses frozen in mid-gallop leaves from the paved parking area and ends atop the plateau, overlooking the gorgeous Wanapum Lake area of the Columbia River.
  • The rough, dirt trail is steep and covered in loose sand and rocks. Be sure you are wearing tennis shoes or hiking shoes. If you have a hiking stick, bring it with you. Also, as always, bring plenty of water.
  • There are no facilities at this roadside stop — no restrooms, no water, no trash cans, no trees, no shade.

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