On snowshoes in the basin

18 01 2008

Seven’s family in the snow

(Seven, Houdini, Two Boots and, just barely, Twister in Spring Creek Basin.)

Dec. 29 was my last visit to the basin. The conditions were about the same as on Dec. 16: sunny and in the lower 20s. I was able to drive into the herd area, staying in the tracks of other drivers, notably a Division of Wildlife officer I talked with on  my way in. I parked past the water catchment and continued on wearing my snowshoes (always listen to your mother!). Alpha and Steeldust, the big grey stallion that is currently the dominant stallion in the area with three mature mares, two young mares, a young stallion and two 2007 foals, were soaking up the sunshine on a hill just northeast of the first main road intersection. I watched them through the binoculars but didn’t go close to them.

My main goal was to find Grey (Traveler), as I had not seen him since a November camping trip. I saw 24 horses that day, but I never did see Grey. A single dark horse, possibly bay, was down to the southwest, on a ridge probably near the corrals off the county road. It could have been any of the bachelors, and although I saw only that one horse, I think it is likely there were others below the ridge out of my sight.

Walking along a road that goes past my favorite water hole, I came upon Seven, the released 7-year-old grey stallion, and his family: Houdini, Two Boots and Twister:

Seven’s family

(From left, Seven, Houdini, Two Boots and Twister. You can see in this photo that Two Boots is much bigger than Twister. Seven is just gorgeous in his winter-silver coat. I am sure Seven is a son of Grey’s.)

They saw me as I saw them, as they were down low on the north side of the road. We all stopped, but they weren’t too bothered by me. I took photos and walked along the road, stopping now and then to take more photos. As long as I was walking parallel to them, they didn’t seem to mind (maybe by now they’re used to my two-legged presence in the basin), but when the road curved and took me slightly toward them, Seven decided enough was enough, and he led his family away to the northeast.

This group has an interesting story – a couple of interesting stories, I guess. I named Seven “Seven” because I got tired of referring to him as “the 7-year-old grey released stallion”; also, I’m a lurking Star Trek fan. Yes, I know he won’t be “7” forever, but his 7-year-old year had to be a memorable one. He was captured – and released – and he found himself a family.

Houdini became “Houdini” after I realized who she was. She had been with a band of horses in April led by a Grey look-like I called Junior (although I no longer believe him to be a son of Grey’s). Junior’s band was captured (some thought Junior was Traveler because the “strawberry roan” mare was with his group) – obviously, Houdini escaped, hence her name. She is one of the first I named post-gather. I still have not been able to determine the gender of her foal (I’m starting to think filly), but I named her Two Boots, both for her two hind socks and in honor of a Pryor Mountain stallion named Two Boots, which I saw while visiting in September 2007.

Houdini and Two Boots

(Houdini with baby Two Boots in April 2007.)

And then there’s Twister, the orphan.

I first saw Twister in mid-October, with two pintos. Although my first thought was “stallion, mare, foal,” there was the nagging question of how two dark bay pintos had produced a rose grey foal. Then I recognized one pinto as a stallion I had seen with a bachelor group in April: Corazon, for the top part of a “heart” on his left side. Then I realized the other pinto also was a stallion! Whoa! What’s the story here?

Twister with Corazon and Cinch 

(Twister, left, with Corazon and Cinch, who is almost out of the frame at right.)

My theory is that Twister’s dam was gathered, and he was somehow missed. He’s rather small (especially compared with Two Boots), so he may have been born late in the season and just couldn’t keep up. With his coloring, he would have blended in with the ground as viewed from a helicopter. Kudos to these two stallions (I named the darker one Cinch for the belt-like markings on his right side and neck) for taking this youngster in, although I’m sure he’ll always be small from lack of nutrition. Then, in early November, I found Twister (for the orphan Oliver Twist) with Houdini’s family! Now that’s a good match. Twister adores Two Boots and follows her everywhere, sticking closer to her than even Houdini or Seven.

It should be noted that, from a distance, it’s easy to confuse Traveler and Houdini, as they are both light grey with dark manes and tails (although Traveler’s mane and tail are darker). And some of the bachelor boys Traveler has been with match Seven and the foals. Again, this is from a distance, like looking through binoculars, because it’s hard to judge the size of the foals from that far away.

Two Boots is very dark right now, almost black, but s/he has shown some lightening of her coat from her baby pictures. In addition to her socks, she has a large star and “coon tail” markings or “white ticking” at the top of her tail in the form of horizontal bars – quite distinctive.

The duns – Hollywood (released stallion) and his mare, Jif – were east of Alpha’s band.

Duns with Alpha’s family

(This photo does double duty: That’s Hollywood at right and Jif at left with Alpha and Steeldust’s band in the background. Alpha is at far right – “white,” for sake of identification – and Steeldust is the grey by Jif’s right front knee. This photo was taken in mid-October 2007.) 

I’ve been doing some research on “dun” vs. “buckskin,” and I found that duns can, indeed, have black points. Hollywood is a classic dun, with a multi-colored mane that many women would die for  – and pay for at beauty salons! – awesome zebra stripes on his legs and a dorsal stripe. I named him Hollywood after the Quarter Horse stallion Hollywood Dun It and because he’s so flashy with his half-star and hind sock and fetlock – and those zebra stripes! During my color research, I came across the term “peanut butter dun” (no kidding), which matches Jif exactly – hence her name! (I hope some of these names give you a chuckle; as I have said, the names are not official.) She also has zebra striping on her legs and a dorsal stripe, and her face exhibits a “sooty” coloration (which I’ve read buckskins do NOT have). She and Hollywood were seen hanging out with three of the “Bachelor 7” in November, but they seem to have returned to their solitary ways.

I don’t know the name of the low hill west of Round Top – or if it has a name – but I skirted it on the north side, then climbed a shoulder where I could look down on the saddle between it and Round Top. My goal was to get high and try to spot horses, which are commonly seen in the area north of there. It looked more climbable, given the snow and my snowshoes, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t stop a time or four on my way up. From about halfway up, I spotted Seven’s band moving north into an open area … with another band coming from the north, toward them. After some long moments staring through the binocs, I identified them: Bounce, the released black stallion, Slate, the released grulla mare, and Alegre, the very pretty dark grey mare I think is a daughter of Grey and Alpha. I was happy to see them because they were among the last horses I documented. I’ve seen them a few times now, but they’re among my favorites. Grey and Alpha had a grey daughter a few years ago I called Flash for her flash-lightning style face marking. Alegre looks almost identical to her. Slate got the PZP along with the other released mares, but her brand – on the top of her left hip – is the only one I’ve been able to actually see and photograph. Slate may be an obvious name. She was aged at 5. I think, based on how dark Alegre is, that this may be her first foal. I do not know if Bounce had these mares before the gather, so the sire of their foals is unknown. (Feb. 15: Updated information: Claude Steelman, who was at the gather every day, has a photo of Bounce and Slate coming to the trap together, so they were together at least immediately before the roundup, and he may be the sire of her foal.)


(Bounce shows off the suspension that earned him his name. Photo taken in November 2007.)

When you see Bounce for yourself, you’ll know exactly the reason behind his name! This boy was aged at 20 at the August gather. All the horses were lean then, and I would have believed he was older. He seems to be a different “type” than most of the other horses, and I’ve never seen another that had as much bounce to his step. If he IS 20, the years have been kind to him.

Seven and Bounce eventually came together out the open, and their squeals carried to me, far away on the hillside, where I sat on a pricky sage bush to avoid the snow. There was some striking, but although I watched the entire encounter through the binoculars, I didn’t see any real violence. After a few minutes, they moseyed on – Seven and family continuing to the northeast, and Bounce and girls continuing on to the southwest.

When I was up on top of the hill, two reddish-colored coyotes came up from the south side, saw me and went back down, but otherwise, I didn’t see any more horses from the top of the hill. However, there were some snowed-over horse tracks and an old manure pile up there, which kind of surprised me.

I could see the corral along the county road from the top of the hill, and it was easy to distinguish the larger horse tracks from the smaller deer and/or elk tracks, but I didn’t see any more horses until I was on the road past the water hole again.

Five horses were working their way up the hill where Alpha’s band had previously been. I could not identify them for sure because of distance, but I believe it was four of the Bachelor 7. That group consists of Grey/Traveler; a mahogany bay stallion with a large star and left hind sock named Duke (I believe he is the dominant one of that group); a bright bay stallion with an upside-down aspen-leaf star named, appropriately, Aspen; a medium grey stallion with a blaze and four stockings named Chrome; a rose grey stallion with star, strip and a snip that hooks between his nostrils named Hook; a brownish-grey stallion I named Mouse (I saw him with Corazon in April); and another brownish-grey I named Comanche. Comanche and Mouse are the same shade of brownish grey – likely born bay and turning grey. A young mare in Steeldust’s band I call Piedra (named after the local river and because she has a gem-shaped star) has the same coloring. This color is not to be confused with roan or grulla, as these horses will become more and more grey, eventually “white” like Alpha and Houdini (and Grey). Comanche differs from Mouse by being stouter and with a lighter face. Mouse has a curious “smoke spot” on the left side of his nasal bone, about where a caveson would go.

Speaking of roan, I heard someone at the gather say of the grey horses, “Oh, I just call them all roans.” I have seen greys, bays, blacks, sorrels, duns, buckskins, pintos, a seal brown mare and a grulla in Spring Creek Basin, but I have not seen a single roan horse in the area.

As a side note, the cattle are on the range; I don’t know how many. There seemed to be a lot, and when I saw them, they were all in the northwest, around the area where the trap site was last August. They’ll be there through February, I think.



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