Slate – 2006

26 03 2008

Barb Headley, a member of the Mesa Verde Back Country Horsemen and a herd monitor with the San Juan Mountains Association, sent me some photos last week that she took in the summer of 2006 in the herd area. They’re really some fabulous photos, and they show Slate and Bounce and Hollywood, as well as an older grey stallion (that I think was gathered and removed in August 2007) and Slate’s 2006 foal and yearling colt.


That’s Slate at center with her 2006 foal – nice looking, eh? – her dun yearling at left and the grey stallion.


There’s Hollywood at left and Slate in the foreground.


Slate leading the way with her 2006 foal, followed by the grey stallion and Bounce. Barb said she thought Bounce was the band stallion, so perhaps the older grey was with them for companionship.

Isn’t it cool to see these photos as evidence of the way things were? Thanks for sharing them, Barb!

Exploring unfamiliar territory – Sunday, March 23, 2008

26 03 2008

Mule deer doe

I am fortunate enough to have friends who have a paradise hideaway in the Disappointment, and I stayed there this weekend. After a long winter with snow up to their eyeballs, the muleys are finding Disappointment Valley and Spring Creek Basin another kind of paradise. On my way to the herd area Sunday morning, this doe stood still long enough – close enough to the road – for me to take her portrait in the softly lit sage of early morning.

From the north, looking south

I drove into the northwestern part of the area early during my project, but I didn’t find any current sign of horses, so I haven’t been up there since, although I’ve been into the northeastern part and haven’t seen any horse sign there, either. I really had forgotten how beautiful it is up in the north, with the hills and the pinon/juniper and red sandstone. The photo is from the road looking south. The hill in the distance rises up just to the west (southwest?) of the road as you drive in, before you get to the water catchment.

I hiked up a small, narrow canyon with pools of milky water, still frozen in the shade. An unmarked doubletrack runs up the other side of the canyon. It may be saying something, but the deer trail I eventually followed, about halfway up the east-side wall, wasn’t much better than the two-track. While there are some small meadow-like areas up there, there didn’t seem to be much water – not enough to support multiple horses, anyway. I did walk back on the doubletrack. It’s a pretty place to explore, but don’t count on seeing horses.

I also drove over into the northeastern side, but when the road turned southish, I didn’t go much farther. Again, not much horse sign. Maybe there’s a stallion hiding away up there, and he came out, swooped down and snatched up Slate and hustled her away into hiding again … but all the hoof prints I saw were cloven.

On my way back to the intersection, I stopped north of the enclosure and hiked south, past it, down and up through a big arroyo and up the north side of the east-west hill – from the south part of the loop road, you see this hill from the southish side. Driving in earlier in the morning, I had seen what looked like Bounce and Alegre and the Bachelor 6 far to the east on the south side of that hill. I thought I might hike up to the hill top and look down on them … and maybe see down into places I can’t see from the road.

Lots of cattle tracks, lots of four-wheeler ruts (how do they get those things where they get those things?!). I have seen horses north of that hill in the past, but I haven’t seen them up there since I began my project last fall. From the top of the hill, the horses were still fairly close together but even way farther east, so I watched through the binoculars for a while, and scanned the area for big, dark bodies, then headed back.

You know, in Texas, we sometimes like to say the mosquitoes are as big as buzzards. Out in the basin, the jack rabbits are practically as big as deer. Especially when they explode out from a sagebrush practically under your nose.

I admit to being a little (OK, a lot) bummed after not finding Slate – again – so I headed out in early afternoon. I saw Steeldust’s band on the north side of Flat Top, and when I was approaching the water catchment, up to the north, guess who? Grey and Houdini and the foals. They were north of where I last saw him with the bachelors – when they were 7 – north of the catchment.

Driving south along the herd area boundary, I spotted a flash of white. Whoooooaaaaa, Nelly. Chipeta … and Shadow … and Bruiser … and possibly the top of Reya. They were way in and behind a hill and trees, so I didn’t see Kiowa. I had lunch with my friends, the owners of the hideway (thanks!), then after they headed home, I headed back into the herd area where I had seen the pintos a couple of hours earlier.

Sometimes, you can’t find horses no matter how hard you look or how hard you beg the powers that be. Other times, they’re right where you want them to be. Ta da, there they were, still where I’d seen them earlier. They look good and still have Shadow. I think she’s probably a permanent member of that family for a while. Question: What happens when she grows up? Will Bruiser kick her out, or will she go from adopted daughter to harem mare? We shall see. 

Kiowa and Bruiser

Kiowa, left, and Bruiser. He IS a big bruiser, but I’ve come to respect him. He’s calm and confident and pretty tolerant. Note that black spot on his left front cannon – it’s his distinguishing mark.

Pinto family

From left: Shadow, Reya, Kiowa and Chipeta. Like Twister with Two Boots, orphan Shadow has gotten attached to Reya, it seems.

It was after seeing these guys that I hiked to the top of the hill south of Round Top and east of the water hole. Just on chance I saw Kreacher and Corazon. I’m fairly sure Cinch, Ty, Mesa, David and the muley bay were on the other side of the hill where I spotted them, but I can’t confirm. Just a couple of minutes after I spotted them through the binocs, they were gone. I hung out on that hill quite a bit longer. Just one of those perfect, slow moments that come so rarely anymore.

In the basin, it really is all about the simplest things in life: air (wind), water, shallow arroyo crossings, light and dark, heat and cold, social interaction. You learn quickly that the fastest way to the other side of the arroyo is by following the deer and hoof prints. It’s a place of elements, simple life, and it’s always hard to leave.

Slate is MIA – Saturday, March 22, 2008

26 03 2008

Despite everything I said in the previous post about it being a glorious weekend – and it was – I do have to report a puzzling mystery (is there any other kind?) regarding Slate, the grulla mare.

I saw Bounce and Alegre both Saturday and Sunday, and Slate still is not with them. I saw Grey, Houdini and the foals; Steeldust’s band – still with Hollywood and Jif tagging along; the Bachelor 6; Seven, still with Roja and Molly; Roach, Poco and Bones; and Kreacher. And that was all Saturday. Slate was nowhere to be found.

Sunday, I saw all the above-mentioned horses except Roach’s and Seven’s – in addition to Bruiser and family (still with Shadow) and Kreacher tagging along after the “southside boys” – Corazon, etc. Slate was nowhere to be found.

I am assuming the worst, and her loss is really painful to me because she was fairly young (about 10), she was pregnant, and I recently found out she was introduced as a young mare from the Sand Wash Basin herd in 2001 to enhance our herd’s genetics. She also was a nicely built mare, and based on photos from Barb Headley, she threw nice colts. Barb and I think Hollywood may be her son. Until or unless we find her body, we won’t know for sure, but where on Earth is she?? The last time I saw her was Dec. 29, 2007, with Bounce and Alegre.

The first horse I saw Saturday morning was Kreacher, by himself on “bachelor ridge,” which is across the low area southeast of the water catchment. Too far for photos.

Then I saw some of the Bachelor 6. They all came into view when I turned southeast at the first intersection – along with Steeldust’s band, with Hollywood still hanging out nearby. It was late enough that the light was pretty harsh, so I stayed west of them, parked up on the road, and walked out to the edge of the hill – the topography drops down from the road. They were pretty tolerant of me, especially Alpha and Luna. They knew I was there because I was on top of the hill, and my scent should have been blowing right to them. My experience during the past few years is that Alpha is just about the most protective mama I’ve ever seen, so her tolerance may wane considerably in the next month or so (she should go until early May – if she’s pregnant).


She does seem thick in the middle, but she’s nowhere near as huge as I’ve seen her in the past. Doesn’t she have the prettiest face? In this photo, too, finally, you can see the DG brand on her hip. She got it last August before she was released – after the got the PZP-22 immunocontraceptive. Well, I say you can see the brand, but at this size, maybe it’s still a little hard to see.

Kestrel and Baylee

Look at these two cuties! About to celebrate their first birthdays, that’s Kestrel at left and Baylee at right. Baylee is definitely a filly; I think Kestrel also is a filly. Luna is Kestrel’s dam, and the bay mare is Baylee’s dam. Here I was sitting on the edge of the hill; that blur at right is vegetation, in the way as I was shooting down at them. I wish I could identify all the plants out there.


Gorgeous girl Luna. Coupla weeks for her? I found out recently that Luna was introduced in 2001 – with Slate and a dun mare. I guessed her at about 10, and if she was 2 or 3 when she was released, that would make her 8 or 9. Not bad, eh?


Miss Piedra. I’m starting to wonder if she’s pregnant – or just eating well this spring? Like Alpha, she looks a bit thick through the middle … and that got me to wondering about where she came from. I was assuming she’s Steeldust’s daughter, but what if she’s not?

Hollywood and Jif

Hollywood, left, and Jif.


I just love this guy, and I love thinking he’s Slate’s son. He’s been busy this spring, defending Jif, eh?


Kestrel, kicking up her heels as the band went across the road east of my little hill. Spring is in the air!

Bounce, Alegre and the B6

Twenty-two thousand acres, and the ponies think they all have to hang out in the same area. In the bottom corner are Bounce, right, and Alegre, and at the top of the photo are the Bachelor 6. At far left are actually two of them. When I took this, Grey/Traveler, Houdini and the foals were just a tiny bit to the southeast (right, out of the frame), and Steeldust’s big group was back up to the northwest, just east of the first intersection.

Poco and Bones

Just past the fork in the road where you go right to Round Top or left to go up into the northeast and around to the north T intersection, going all the way around, you come pretty quickly to a shallow arroyo. It’s still wet enough that I’m still nervous about driving through it. If I get stuck, I’m pretty well, well, stuck. So I’ve been parking there and walking. A couple of weeks ago, I found Bounce and Alegre and Roach, Poco and Bones on the other side of that ridge. Saturday, Seven, Molly and Roja were south of the ridge near that water hole. The light was pretty harsh from the road looking down on them, so I kept on. I wanted to find Roach and Co. to see if, possibly, Slate was with them. She wasn’t, but they were, predictably, by what seems to be their favorite water hole. There are two, but one is already dry (mud), and the other is kinda stinky, small and shallow. In the photo above, Poco is circling Bones to keep her from leaving. Strange behavior, and I can’t quite explain it other than Roach was standing a bit closer to me and to the right as I took that photo. He’s probably the horse most unconcerned about me in the entire basin, and I don’t know if that’s just his personality or, possibly, because he might have prior experience with we two-leggeds.


He ain’t scairt. I may already have written this in a previous post, but when I first saw him, as a brazen youngster in May 2004, his forelock and mane were perfectly roached (hence, his name). Now, call me crazy, but I’ve never found a barber in the basin, if you know what I mean.

Even though Bones would stand for a few minutes, she’d then start to walk away. Poco would lay back his ears and circle her – to keep her close to Roach? It’s also my theory that Roach is a lieutenant stallion to Poco. They were together back in 2004. For some of us, that’s a rather long-term relationship!

Seven, Molly and Roja

Another handsome boy – Seven still has Molly and Roja. I was told recently that Molly was aged at older than 20 at the gather. She got the PZP, but maybe it doesn’t matter for her anymore? She came through the winter thin but otherwise looks fine. Molly looks pregnant and in good condition. The pic was taken from the road, on a ridge.


The sun was dropping as I headed out from the arroyo. Grey and his little family had crossed the big arroyo that runs along the east side of the road there and were heading up the hill toward the road. Thinking they might be sort of making their way toward the water hole by Flat Top, I drove past them, then stopped and waited to see if they’d come up to where I could photograph them. They grazed around then ended up disappearing behind a hill or ridge, so I called it a day.

Sometimes I just watch the horses from the Jeep/road, and sometimes I park and walk. My reasons vary, and sometimes I don’t really have a reason other than not wanting to bother them or wanting to get a closer look. I was thinking about that Saturday. By now, I have most of what I need for identification photos (although I could probably use some better photos of the southside boys), so it’s mostly a matter of good light, photogenic backgrounds, things like that, if I decide to get closer. The new foals will require photos, but we’re starting to get to critical timing, and I don’t plan to or expect to get close enough for good ID photos for at least a couple of months. I can’t wait to see them – even from afar!

Last one:

Red-tail hawk

When I was taking pix of Grey and Houdini, I put my 1.4x extender on my camera with my 100-400 mm lens. With the 1.6x magnification of my digital camera, it gives me effectively an 896 mm lens. The problem is that it makes my auto-focus lens a manual-focus lens. As a relative newcomer to photography, I still count my blessings for auto focus. I have pretty good eyes, but I haven’t had much luck trying to manual focus on wildlife. The hawk flew by while I was photographing Grey, and they must have been about the same distance away, because I just aimed and shot, and the hawk is fairly well in focus! Ha! I’m not sure it would have been as sharp if I had been trying to track it with my auto focus.

We find all kinds of treasures in the basin.

Spiritual renewal – March 24, 2008

25 03 2008

I spent the Easter weekend worshipping in the church of the great outdoors, surrounded by a few dozen of the most spiritual beings I know. And I know I keep saying (writing) this, but it was truly a magnificent weekend.

Saturday, I arrived in the basin around 11:30 a.m. and didn’t head out until about 7:30 p.m. The desert environment of the basin is, at first glance, a fairly uniform taupe color, dotted here and there with the green of pinon and juniper trees, and, of course and most interestingly, grey and bay and sorrel and buckskin and dun and pinto. But at sunrise and sunset, that dull taupe blooms into soft gold. It’s enough to make even the most devout athiest believe in a higher power.

Sunday, after two rewarding trips into the basin (north and south), I ended up on a hilltop in the golden light, surrounded by air and thousands of acres owned by you and me, the American public. How perfect was the world in those moments? In the hour before I arrived on that hill, I found the pintos and Shadow, still in the same area where I had seen them from the county road two and a half hours before I hiked in, and I saw Corazon, just on the edge of a hill, and Kreacher, down below, seeming to petition to be part of the gang.

The world moves on, and I had to get up and leave that perfect moment. Maybe I should be embarrassed by the riches I’ve found in the basin in recent months. I can’t possibly take it for granted. On a holy weekend, I feel blessed beyond belief.

This morning, up early, I found Grey and his family (I still can hardly believe THAT!) close to the first water hole just east of the herd area entrance. My beautiful boy, that golden light? My pot of gold at the end of the rainbow! I walked across a fairly barren flat (given that the cattle were in that particular area from December through February, I attribute the relative lack of vegetation to them) south of Grey, Houdini and the foals to get to a low, long mound east of them to take advantage of the light.

Irony is taking photos of him with the very canyon in the background that was the route to his capture last August.

Grey at canyon

Way down in that canyon was the route to the trap back in August.

Two Boots is growing. She ought to have her first birthday in another couple of weeks. In that light, she looked more tending to bayish, and I wonder if she’s going to fade into that brown-grey color like Piedra, Mouse and Comanche. Twister’s knee is still wonky – a birth defect or an injury that just won’t heal? I’d like to show some photos to a veterinarian friend and hear what she has to say. Houdini is carrying the next generation, and based on how old Two Boots was when I first saw her last spring, I’d say mama has another two to three weeks before she foals.

And Grey. The old man doesn’t seem to have lost any of his swagger, just to have gained some calm. He’s so worried about me he takes it as an excuse to snooze. Usually I delete pix when the horses’ eyes are closed (blinking), but I had so many of him with his eyes closed – literally snoozing – I had to keep one.

Grey snoozin’

But the ears … the ears are always working. That’s Twister at right; you can see his wonky knee even from this angle.

After I took the pix of the horses with the cliff behind them, I was walking back across the flat (about as flat as any area I’ve come across out there) when Houdini and the foals walked into position behind Grey, creating a neat little “family” portrait.

Grey’s family portrait

From right, Grey/Traveler, Twister, Two Boots and Houdini.

And then, something amazing happened, something I’m still running through my mind: He started walking toward me. What to do? He wasn’t puffed up or blowing or snorting or acting alarmed. He wasn’t giving any sign he was spooked or that he was going to suddenly charge. We think we know what to do if approached by a predator such as a bear or a mountain lion, but – and I chuckle as I type this – what do we do if a wild horse approaches us? I stood my ground, and I kept my finger on the shutter button, one eye on the viewfinder, the other on him.

He did stop, of course. Seconds? An eternity? Then Houdini walked on to the east, and he turned and followed them. I kept walking back toward the Jeep, and before I was even out of sight, they were grazing again.


My favorite photo from the day, the weekend … one of my favorites ever.

What could he have been thinking? Simple curiosity?

Oddly enough, the photos from this morning were among the most difficult to edit from any of my trips.

University of Missouri students are in the herd area this week slashing and spraying tamarisk, scourge of the West’s waterways, and repairing fences. I got to meet some of them today, and their story will be on Page 1 of my little paper this week. It’s a great way to keep the horses in front of the public. Here’s the short version: These kids, rather than partying at Fort Lauderdale or South Padre Island, decided to do something worthwhile during their spring break, dubbed “alternative spring break.” Two of the 10 kids here this year were here last year. Half a continent away, our horses inspire people to do what they can to make the basin a better place in which to live! How cool is that? Thanks, guys and gals, and I hope you have a terrific week!

And with that tease of an update, while it has been a glorious weekend, it also has been long. So I’ll update the blog as I have time this week. I won’t be making the journey to the basin next weekend because I’m going on another journey, first stop, home of two former Spring Creek Basin residents: Breeze and Sage.

Finally pintos – March 16, 2008

17 03 2008

As the saying goes, I have good news, and I have bad news. The bad news isn’t so bad in the overall scheme of things.

The good news is that I found the pintos today. More good news: Shadow was with them.

That brings us to the bad news: Ceal was NOT with them.

Which brings us back to more good news: The pintos did adopt Ceal’s 2007 black filly, Shadow – as I hoped they would. And, if Ceal did die this winter, it means she lived her entire life in the wild; a beautiful life for any wild horse.

Ceal and Shadow

Ceal and Shadow on Nov. 11, 2007.

Ceal with the pintos

I saw Ceal with the pintos in the very south of the herd area on April 22, 2007. Here she’s with a pinto yearling. The horse second from left is Chipeta.

Ceal and sorrel yearling

This has always been one of my favorite photos, just because of the way Ceal’s yearling is trying to hide behind mama but is just too curious to resist peeking out to look. When I took this photo, May 15, 2004, Ceal was with Roach (sorrel stallion) and Poco (solid bay) up in the northeast section of the herd area. Roach and Poco are still together, and still in the northeast.

The pintos all look healthy and in good condition. The wind was strong today, and it helped with some long-term observation of the group as they grazed on a high meadow south of Round Top. The first time I saw them last fall, they were in a meadow just east of where I found them today. I was able to get behind a little juniper, which not only helped with horse observation but also as a slight (very slight) wind break.

They wandered around in the same area for quite a while. Shadow has some spunk. Once, when she walked past Bruiser, she stopped to nibble on his forelock. He didn’t seem to mind.

Shadow teasing Bruiser

Now that I have completed the original documentation of the horses, I feel like I really have time to pay attention to their behavior! It’s the coolest!


That’s Bruiser at left, Shadow walking and Kiowa grazing at right.

While I was watching the pintos from behind the tree, I saw Corazon farther north toward Round Top. It was when I was paying attention to him, trying to determine if he was with Cinch and the others that Chipeta, watchful girl, saw me. Bruiser saw her alert to me, and the jig was up.

Once they see me, I always figure the best thing to do is stand in full view so they can see me and hopefully decide there’s nothing to fear. At that point, I usually take some photos of them milling around and then leave. I don’t want them to lose their wariness, and I do want to give them plenty of space.

Chipeta and Reya

This one is for Rachelle, who has a little sister in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. 🙂 Chipeta, right, is 3 now, I think, and Reya is Kiowa’s 2007 foal. All three were gathered and released (along with stallion Bruiser) last August. Chipeta and Reya aren’t sisters (that I know of), but because of that, I thought this picture showed the strong bond wild horses share with their band mates. Chipeta was closer to Reya when the “alarm” went up, so Reya chose to go to her “big sister” for protection.

Kiowa and Chipeta

That’s Kiowa at left with Chipeta.

Bruiser and Reya

Bruiser in the foreground with Reya visible at left and Shadow barely visible between his legs. Tough guy!

After they saw me, I didn’t hang around too long. I hope it was just the right amount of time because although they milled around some, they didn’t go anywhere; they just watched me as I left.

I had seen another horse with Corazon, so I headed north to figure out who else was with him. The last time I saw Corazon was last Sunday. He was with Cinch, Ty and Mesa, and they picked up David and his muley bay sidekick (who still needs a name!) near the water hole south of Round Top when the other bands came together. Mesa ditched his pals that day to see what excitement he could find with Steeldust’s band and Aspen, Hook and Comanche. After I saw Corazon today, I eventually picked out Cinch and David … then, through the binoculars, the muley boy picking on Ty.

 Bachelors play

At upper left is David (with the blaze) and Cinch, and in the bottom right corner are Ty (black, rearing) and the muley bay. I saw Corazon … and then, off by himself, Mesa. The muley bay and Ty played and played, both of them getting the other to go to their knees by biting, and ended up chasing each other around and around David and Cinch and finally getting those two to join in the fun. The above photo is very cropped. They disappeared over that ridge in the near background, and I kept heading southwest. The wind would have been blowing my scent right to them at that point – if they were paying attention.

They ended up running back toward me, between me and the water hole. Mister Ty thought he would show off his courage by trotting up a little hill toward me. But he just shook his head and took off toward his pals.

Courageous Ty

It looks like there could be something wrong with his right eye, but it’s mud. Close up, he doesn’t look very true black, does he? He has more of a “sunburned” look than either Bounce or Shadow, the only other black horses in the basin.

I love these boys – the bachelors. They’re so much fun to watch! They don’t give you much time to shoot, and even when they’re trying out their “muscle,” they quickly revert to being little boys.

While I was watching them, I was also scanning the area around the water hole with my binoculars. On this trip, I wanted to find the pintos and, if possible, Ceal and Shadow. I also wanted to look for Kreacher and Slate. Because of the shake-up I found last weekend, I thought Slate might be with Kreacher. It would be weird because she’s a north horse, and he’s a south horse, but Seven did steal Kreacher’s mares. I have seen Seven (with Houdini and the foals) mainly north of Round Top but also over in the northeast and to the west, north of Flat Top. That doesn’t mean the horses don’t go places where I haven’t seen them, but I do think about where I’ve seen them before when I’m out looking for them.

So while I was scanning the area, I saw a grey horse with a blaze west of the water hole. He was down in a shallow arroyo, and he was some distance away, but I knew it was him. I couldn’t see another horse. I walked around the north side so I wouldn’t spook him.


He was alone. That’s a bank of snow clouds behind him, oddly enough. It was WINDY in the basin today, but I had pretty good weather – mostly cloudy skies. It did snow as I hiked out, but I could almost have counted each flake as they fell. 

So, another mystery solved – Kreacher is alone – but it leaves a mystery: Where in the heck is Slate?

I didn’t drive into the basin today. I parked off the county road and hiked in, so I didn’t see any other horses. I should have more time next weekend. None of the mares I’ve seen look terribly close to foaling, but of course, I’m anticipating!

Family man – March 9, 2008

11 03 2008

Grey with Houdini, Two Boots and Twister

Brilliant news!! Grey/Traveler has a family again!!

A bachelor since his gather (Aug. 21, 2007) and release (Sept. 19, 2007), as of at least March 9, he has ditched the bachelor boys and regained himself a mare and two foals (almost yearlings). I was in the basin Friday, March 7, and saw him in the evening with the Bachelor 7 (see post below for pictures). Sunday, March 9, I found him in the morning with Seven’s family: Houdini, Two Boots and Twister. (I believe Seven is Grey’s son.)

Don’t worry too much about Seven, though; he stole Kreacher’s mares, Roja (sorrel) and Molly (muley bay). I did not see Kreacher either of the two days I was out there, but I wonder if his loss of mares has anything to do with Slate missing from Bounce’s family (he still has his young grey mare, Alegre).

I thought I saw Seven and Houdini on Friday, but I was watching through binoculars as he trotted over to challenge Steeldust – an altercation that was over almost as soon as it started. I later saw Seven go after what looked like a bay horse, but all I could see was that horse’s back over a ridge. Twister has an odd reddish winter coat, and I assumed it was him. Mystery: If Seven DID have Roja and Molly on Friday, and Grey was with the bachelors, where were Houdini, Two Boots and Twister? And why did Seven give them up for Molly and Roja? Why didn’t he also keep Houdini and the foals?

As much as I liked the family unit of Seven and Houdini, I am ecstatic beyond words that Grey has a family again!

Ah, the secret lives of wild horses!

Grey is a master band stallion, and he let me get fairly close (does he remember me or my voice from when he was in “quarantine”?) – closer than I’ve ever been to Houdini and the foals. I thanked him by not staying that close too long, but I did get close enough to observe that Twister has a “wonky” left knee. Because I haven’t been that close to him previously, I don’t know if it has been that way or if it is a new injury. He doesn’t limp on it exactly, but he does seem to favor it. I know that’s a fairly subtle distinction, but there ya go.

Two Boots and Twister

See how his left knee bows to the outside? 

Up on “bachelor ridge” (recently named because I’ve seen all or some of the bachelors up there each of my past four visits), I saw three horses, which I identified as Duke, Chrome and Mouse through the binoculars. I didn’t go close to them but figured I’d clarify those identifications when/if I saw the other three. (I’m a little amazed to say that I ID’d them correctly from that distance; I saw Aspen, Hook and Comanche later.)

The next horses I saw were Seven with Molly and Roja.  I only wish they could tell me their story! I always come back with more questions. Those mares have been with Kreacher at least since last October (I first saw them Oct. 14). Neither Kreacher nor Roja were gathered, so I have a tentative assumption that they were together pre-gather. Molly was gathered and released. After so long with Kreacher, how do they accept Seven? I should also point out that I’ve seen Seven just in the north area (using an imaginary line east-west across Round Top and Flat Top), and I’ve seen Kreacher and the mares just in the south area. So back to the mares – do they like Seven? Just tolerate him? Wait for the day when Kreacher “rescues” them? Do they even think such thoughts?! Ha ha. I try not to anthropomorphize, but sometimes it’s hard.

They immediately left when they saw me. They came up to the road that runs down to Round Top (before the intersection to go around through the northeastern section of the herd area), then trotted on down the road toward RT. Believing at least Roja to be pregnant, I figured I had no choice but to park where I was and wait for them to get to what they considered a safe distance.

Seven, Molly and Roja

During the 20-30 minutes I waited, I spotted Bounce and Alegre – minus Slate again – farther to the east near the water hole where I had seen Corazon, Cinch, Ty and Mesa on Friday. One of my main reasons for going back to the herd area Sunday was to try to find Slate. Given that I also have not seen Kreacher, it’s possible they’re together … Although they have been geographically separated, too – Kreacher in the south and Slate in the north and northeast since I’ve known her.

I still hadn’t seen Alpha’s group, so I decided to park at Round Top and take the deer trail (those north-facing arroyos are still muddy-slick) to the south ridge trail. On the way, Corazon, Cinch, Ty and Mesa bounced up out of an arroyo and went south ahead of me. I also ended up passing Seven and the girls; they were down in the middle of that “saddle” area between Round Top and Flat Top. They watched me go, then moseyed on, still heading south.

As I approached the water hole, I saw the bachelor boys, drinking and playing in the mud and water. (What is it about little boys and mud?) I stayed above them (there’s a nice, well-used trail) for a while and looked around. I was hoping to see the pintos, maybe, or Kreacher, but instead of seeing them, I saw David and the muley bay, very near where they were Friday, at the south base of Round Top.

Then guess who showed up? Alpha popped up over a ridge east of David and stopped to look at Corazon and Co.

Alpha’s group

That’s Luna in the lead, followed by the bay mare and Baylee, one of the unnamed rose-grey stallions, Kestrel (you can just see her back), Piedra, Alpha, the other rose-grey stallion, Steeldust and Hollywood. Jif is in there somewhere. They all came down into the open, but a couple of things were in play then: The pinto bachelors and Ty and Mesa were heading toward them from the water hole, David and the muley bay were kind of in their path to the water hole, and I ended up being in such a position that the wind was blowing my scent right to them.

But that’s not all. Behind Alpha’s group was yet another group: the missing boys of the Bachelor 7. In the photo below, the three horses in the foreground are, from right: Hook, Comanche and Aspen. In the background, David’s pal, the muley bay, was gnawing on Mesa. Mesa was patient for a little while, then had enough.

Mesa, muley bay, Aspen, Comanche and Hook

To stick with the bachelor theme for a minute, David and the muley bay hooked up with Corazon, Cinch and Ty, and they headed off farther southeast. But Mesa, who has been hanging out with Ty (at least) for the past few months, must have thought there was action to be had at the water hole because he ditched Ty and the others and attached himself to the Steeldust-Hollywood-Aspen caravan – 15 horses strong! Aspen, Hook and Comanche mostly stuck together and tried to stay out of Steeldust’s way, but Mesa continuously baited Hollywood.


The key component in this photo is Jif, at left. Hollywood and Mesa were just doing a lot of sniffing and squealing – even posturing, but not even any striking – until Jif moseyed up and aggravated the situation. Then Hollywood lunged at Mesa in a full-on body slam! Mesa got the message and backed off – for a while.

On the lines of “better the enemy you know,” Hollywood seems to have attached himself to Steeldust’s band to protect Jif from marauding bands of bachelors. Down at the water hole, I saw Steeldust break off an attack on Aspen and Hook when he was about to run over Hollywood, who had his hands – err, hooves? – full with Mesa. Mutual benefit: Hollywood protects his girl (Friday, I saw Steeldust try to run Jif back to Hollywood), and Steeldust gets help protecting his own mares. The two rose-grey stallions seem still sexually immature.

I hunkered down on the far side of the water hole from where I had seen the pinto bachelors, Ty and Mesa drinking earlier, hoping the wind would blow past me and they wouldn’t be worried because of the perceived barrier of the water. Last fall, I took photos of Alpha’s group from fairly close because I was on one of their trails and they were on an outcropping above me with a ravine between us. My assessment: Because they saw the ravine as a safety barrier, they weren’t concerned by our close proximity.

It worked. Jif was first to water, followed by Hollywood, then the horses in Alpha’s band and finally the bachelors. I once observed Alpha drink first at a water hole while her band mates waited. That was when she was still with Grey, a few years ago. No such protocol in her current band.

Here are some pix from the water hole. It reminded me of watching several groups of Pryor horses come to the water hole when I visited last fall. I hoped it would be a good opportunity to observe their behavior, and I was right!

Rose greys

I included this photo, from them walking to the water, to show how similar are the two rose-grey stallions in Steeldust’s band. The one following is the one I previously thought was a mare. Look closely and you’ll see some subtle differences.

Hollywood and Jif

Jif, left, and Hollywood at the water hole.

Luna, Kestrel and Piedra

I was lying on my belly across the pond so I wouldn’t be a distraction to the horses while they drank, but they still heard my shutter clicking! That’s pretty girl Luna at left, Kestrel is her 2007 foal (I think a filly), and Piedra – another pretty girl! – is at left.

Alpha and Piedra

Alpha was drinking on the other side of Piedra. She looks so pristine, eh? She loved to splash in the water as much as the rest of them!

I took a lot of photos at the water hole – both while they were drinking and immediately afterward – but I would have been happy just watching. I felt like I had hit the jackpot of horse watching! In our herd area, with so few horses, it is extremely rare (in my experience) to come upon even two groups that have merged, let alone four-ish like happened Sunday (I’m counting Steeldust’s group, Hollywood/Jif, the three bachelors and Mesa from the other bachelor group). I’ve taken photos at a water hole just one other time (previously mentioned). Although traditional hunters know water holes to be good places to stalk their game, it’s a particularly sensitive area. With our horses so wild and shy, I don’t want to take many chances that they would NOT come to water because they smelled or saw me there.

But I absolutely cherished the opportunity they provided me by totally ignoring me!

After they drank, they just hung out: the stallions played, the mares and foals rolled in the dust. (Even after she rolled, Alpha remained pristine!) It was just a big social gathering.

When they decided it was time to leave, they went up the way I had come, leaving me with the same dilemma as earlier: I was going that way, too, so I had no choice but to be patient while they moseyed along up the trail. Of course, patience is the biggest virtue when observing wild horses! Like the day last December when I got the photos of the pintos crossing the snowy ridge against the backdrop of the La Sal Mountains, patience Sunday rewarded me with some more cool photos.

Hollywood against the sky

Hollywood paused on his way up this hill following Jif. The bachelors had already disappeared over the crest, but while Steeldust’s group waited below, they kept popping back over as if to ask, “Hey, what’s taking you guys so long?”


Do you like this photo better with clouds …

 Blue sky

… or with blue sky?

Bay mare

Last one: the bay mare in Steeldust’s band.

And last question, which is really an observation: Equine photographers have a multitude of ways to “get the ears” in their domestic subjects. I never seem to have that problem! Wild horses are always alert, whether it’s me they’re focused on or other horses or a lone coyote making his way across the basin on an intersecting course (and yes, that happened Sunday!).

One of the things I hope these photos best convey is wild horses being wild. My appreciation at being allowed to share moments of their lives is huge.

Bones lives – March 7, 2008

8 03 2008


Bones, the little grey mare with Roach and Poco who was so skinny last fall, has made it through the winter! And maybe it’s just her winter coat, but she looks like she may have gained some weight. She’s still thin, but I don’t think she’s quite as skinny.

Today was a gorgeous day in Spring Creek Basin: sunny and, well, not as cold as last Sunday! I had the good fortune to confirm sightings of everyone but Kreacher, Molly and Roja, the pinto family Bruiser, Chipeta, Kiowa and Reya, and the grulla mare Slate.

I saw the Bachelor 7 napping on a ridge as I drove in – minus Grey (Traveler). Then I found him, grazing by himself just down from the ridge in a little valley. The roads are in pretty good shape after last weekend’s snowfall, and I made it through the two arroyos before the first road split and, a little later, through the two heading down the south loop road.

From a distance, I saw Hollywood and Jif with Steeldust’s band. Seven, Houdini, Two Boots and Twister were a little farther away. I saw Hollywood, Jif and Steeldust again throughout the day, but I saw only Seven again later.

Steeldust’s band

Finding Bones alive was the biggest news of the day, but guess what else I found out? “Rosa,” in Steeldust’s band, is a boy. At first I thought I must have confused her with the rose-grey stallion – they look very similar – but nope. They’re both young stallions! In the photo above, they’re second and third from left. Steeldust is very tolerant, I guess.

Luna, the buckskin mare, still looks very pregnant, but the bay mare doesn’t look as pregnant as I thought last fall, and I just can’t tell about Alpha. We’ll see!

I had a rare sighting of the pinto bachelors Corazon and Cinch with Ty and Mesa. Mesa and Cinch were play fighting when I first saw them, but once they saw me, they were perfectly behaved. Just like little boys in the presence of an adult! They were hanging out by a water hole north of Round Top.

 Bachelor boys

From left: Mesa, Ty, Cinch and Corazon.

Bachelor pintos, Ty and Mesa

The boys trotted away across an arroyo, but they returned to the water hole.

I went from watching them to the top of Round Top, my first time to the top! On the way up (the east side), I saw David and the muley bay bachelor napping under a tree just on the very south side. Three elk were heading up to the top. They disappeared, and I never saw them again. On the north side of the top of Round Top, I spied on the four bachelors … and was ecstatic to spy Bounce and one of his mares … and Roach, Bones and Poco! The horse with Bounce looked like Alegre from one spot but like Slate from another spot. I couldn’t spot a third horse. Bones and Poco were lying down with Roach on guard when I first saw them, so I was unsure of her status – until they stood up! Wow! As skinny as she was in November, I really wasn’t expecting to see her this spring. The five horses were fairly close to each other, on the northeast side of a ridge blocking them from the view of the bachelors.

Over on the south side of Round Top, I saw four horses that I thought at the time were Grey, Chrome and two of the other Bachelor 7. But I saw just their heads and the tops of their backs, and they disappeared behind a ridge before I could get my backpack off and my camera out.

I went down the same way I went up and drove around to the arroyo past the intersection with the loop road. It was wide and muddy, and water was running, so I decided to park and walk. When I found Bounce, etc., I walked down to a hill across a wide, shallow arroyo from them and sat down to watch. The horse with Bounce turned out to be Alegre, and I thought some patience might produce Slate.

But it didn’t.

Bounce and Alegre

Alegre, left, and Bounce.

I hope she was off having her foal. I didn’t see her with any other bands.

Roach, Bones, Poco

Roach, Bones and Poco.

 I headed out after I saw those five horses. I saw Steeldust’s band again – with Hollywood and Jif still tagging along.

Almost out, I saw three more elk … and the Bachelor 7. But they were north of the water catchment. They could have gotten from south of Round Top to north of the catchment in the time I was hanging out watching Bounce and the others, but it just doesn’t jive.

However, I saw my beloved boy Grey. Couldn’t have asked for a better end to the day.

Grey and Aspen

Grey and Aspen

Grey and Mouse

Grey and Mouse


Grey with the La Sal Mountains in the background, near sunset.

Till next time!

It’s still winter – March 2, 2008

3 03 2008

Kreacher, Molly and Roja

Kreacher (grey) and his mares, Molly (muley bay) and Roja (sorrel) shelter against crazy-strong wind March 2, 2008, in the basin. Two days ago – Friday – there was NO snow.

What did I do to Mother Nature?! All week, it’s gorgeous. It’s sunny. It’s warm (almost 60 degrees Saturday). It’s fantastic. I had the chance to go out to the basin Friday just long enough to check out the road – dry! I saw the Bachelor 7 again – again from a far distance – and I was beside myself to get back out there Sunday, after I watched James Kleinert’s film “Saving the American Wild Horse” Saturday afternoon at the Durango Independent Film Festival. I was in complete denial of the forecast.

I was up at 6 a.m. to snow, terrible wind and temperatures in the 20s. I didn’t leave until 10:30, and the upshot of the day is that I hiked for three hours and almost didn’t see a single horse. I was well on the way to being horribly depressed when, on the way back to the Jeep, after I had (not) come to terms with the idea that I wasn’t going to see a single horse, there was Kreacher and his girls, sheltering from the wind on the southeast side of a juniper tree. They didn’t see me until I was west of them, and that awful wind carried my scent right to them. I was headed down from a ridge to the end of the doubletrack road that follows the ridge above the corral. I took some photos as I went – and waved when they saw me – but I was happy that they weren’t bothered enough to leave the shelter of their tree.

Molly looked pretty thin, though not as skinny as Ceal and Bones, so I’m hopeful she’ll bounce back this spring. With all this moisture, I have to assume it will be a great spring for the horses! I couldn’t see Roja well enough to determine her pregnancy status any better. Molly seems particularly protective of her, standing always between her and perceived danger.

I hope to be back to the basin soon, and I hope to see more horses – and I hope the weather is better!

I attended the National Wild Horse & Burro Program’s advisory board meeting last Monday in Tucson, and I have been trying to get my thoughts in order about all that happened. Lots going on; I just need time to put happenings into words!

Tomorrow’s forecast, of course, is for sunshine.