Manes and tails flying, a herd of horses galloped along paved streets of this San Diego suburb and through a parking lot, fields and an Olympic training center for up to two hours before a mustachioed cowboy herded them back to the ranch.
Wild horses apparently led other horses to escape from a ranch east of town on Wednesday afternoon, Chula Vista police spokesman Bernard Gonzales said Thursday.
"They had come down from the hills just above Chula Vista and they had intermingled with some other horses," Gonzales said. "I guess that the leader of that pack of wild horses induced the other horses to run free.
"In their natural state, a horse will follow the dominant horse. They were all following the lead horse."
Abel Canales, a ranch hand at the OK Corral, told The San Diego Union-Tribune that the wild horses may have come from Mexico, which is just a few miles away.
U.S. Border Patrol trucks tried to herd them and television helicopters followed as the horses and a few colts galloped through the wide streets of the Eastlake area, which is the urbanized portion of the town.
The horses ran into the U.S. Olympic Training Center near Otay Lake, where they cantered around the flag court and fields before heading through a parking lot and back onto the road. The Olympic facility includes training venues for track and field, canoe/kayak, cycling, field hockey, soccer, archery and rowing.
Two of the horses, including a colt, stopped about a mile away. Volunteers from the San Diego Humane Society roped and calmed them. Televised reports showed one roped horse neighing and kicking its front legs as a volunteer struggled to hold it.
"It was pretty stressful, they were both injured, minor injuries on their legs, and they're both very fatigued from galloping around," Human Society Capt. D.J. Grove said.
Pursuers on horseback managed to push the rest southward onto a road and then a trail through open country and finally got the horses, winded but not seriously hurt, back to the ranch, Gonzales said.
Canales said he followed the herd on horseback and was finally able to rope the lead horse and guide the herd back to the ranch. With his white cowboy hat, bushy mustache and lasso, he cut a dashing figure on the TV news.
"I felt like a cowboy out in the Old West," he said.