Welcome, Iya – Tuesday, April 29, 2008

29 04 2008

Houdini, Iya and Two Boots

Finally the wait is over! Houdini foaled Sunday morning. Take a look at that big girl, and you’ll see why it took Houdini a little extra time to grow her baby!

David Glynn visits the wild horses from his home near Telluride with his ground-covering horse, Buck (a Tennessee Walker, if I remember right?). He was in the basin this past weekend, and found Houdini on Sunday with her foal, which he named Iya, which means “a fabulous creature” in Lakota, he said. When he saw them, Iya was just a few hours old!

Houdini is Grey/Traveler’s mare now, but last spring she was with another grey stallion I called Junior because he looked so much like Grey. Junior and his band (minus Houdini and Two Boots) were gathered in August. Iya is sorrel now, but she’ll definitely turn grey; her legs are grey, and you can see grey already on her head. She has a bald face that extends over her eyes and over both nostrils and onto her chin. She also has a little spot at the top center of her forehead. She has a right hind stocking and a curious little “strip” of grey on the front of her left gaskin. She inherited her mother’s head, but she has the cutest little curly-tipped ears I’ve ever seen! You can see them pretty well in the top photo.

Houdini and Iya with band

The basin is so green now! OK, so it’s not, say, Kentucky, with its blue-grass hills. But it’s green! I do love spring.

Our Dolores Bears baseball team traveled to Nucla today for double-header varsity games (which I covered as sports photog for my paper). It just so happens that the herd area is right on the way to Nucla, so I stopped for about an hour and a half to visit. And by the way, our boys won both games (9-3, 16-0) to secure their spot as league champs! Go Bears!





Surprises! – Sunday, April 27, 2008

27 04 2008

The wild ponies have been up to something out there in the wild basin, and I’m thrilled! Maybe it’s the season (yes), maybe there’s something in the water (?!), but the surprises are good ones. I’ll give one away before I get to the photos: There’s a new foal, but it’s not Houdini’s!

Grey and Jif

Who’s da man?! That’s right – Grey/Traveler! Sometime between last weekend and this weekend, he managed to steal the young dun mare, Jif, out from under the noses of Steeldust AND Hollywood!

When I first saw them, it was from a distance, and I was confused by the number of horses because none of them were small enough to be a foal. I found them by the arroyo on the northeast side of the south loop road. I have to confess that after I realized the identity of the fifth horse, I dropped out of their sight and did a crazy little happy dance (so I wouldn’t freak them out!). So much for my early prediction that with all the young bachelors in the basin Grey might never have a family again! The old man’s still got it! Woo hoo!!

Jif, Houdini, Twister and Two Boots

This photo was taken right after the first one; after Jif walked past Grey, she walked in front of Houdini, Twister and Two Boots. Houdini seems to tolerate her, but there’s no question about her “alpha mare” status in this band.

Good news for Grey … not so much for Hollywood, eh? Here’s the question burning a hole in my mind: How on Earth did Grey steal Jif away not only from Hollywood but Steeldust, too??

Surprise No. 2: Guess who had her foal?

Alegre and sorrel filly

Points to you if you recognize Alegre, Bounce’s young mare!

Bounce, Alegre and filly

That’s the family, with Bounce at left. I wish I knew if Bounce is the filly’s (I think it’s a filly) sire. From photos and video of the horses before the gather, I know Bounce and Slate (the missing grulla mare) were together pre-gather, but Alegre isn’t visible.

Alegre and filly

Look at that big blaze on baby! I’m going to guesstimate her birthday at April 22, which was Earth Day, and so I named her Gaia. I might have to reconsider that if I learn that she is, in fact, a he! She may also turn grey eventually.

These photos were taken Saturday morning. Grey and his band were nearby, and I walked out very slowly like I was going toward them and, again, in full sight. I think Alegre is young (about 4?), and I think this is her first foal. She is rightfully very protective, and all the photos of her above are heavily cropped. I didn’t want her to get worried enough to take off running, so I took bursts of photos in a pretty short period as she moved around, then walked back to the Jeep. An interesting sidenote is that I like to think Alegre is a daughter of Alpha and Grey (because she looks so much like a known daughter of theirs that I saw a few years ago), so this filly would be Grey’s grandbaby. 🙂

Spring is more and more evident in the basin. The north hills, especially, are green, and more and more wildflowers are popping up. The wind is still pretty relentless, and the temperature is still getting down to freezing at night. We need moisture to keep the growing trend going strong! It’s so amazing to watch the progression of green, especially when I remember how much snow fell this winter. The horses all look good – even Molly looks like she’s gaining back some weight she lost over the winter. Some of the horses are starting to look shiny and sleek (Piedra comes to mind), but some are still pretty shaggy (little Twister must have hair 2 inches long!).

Another little surprise is where I found Steeldust’s band – up in the northwest! With Duke tagging along! The Bachelor 7 have been wide-ranging this spring – and so have the other bachelors – and they’re all split up these days. I’ll get to them later. Steeldust has his hooves full now: Hollywood doesn’t have his own mare to protect, and Duke clearly has one thing on his mind.

Duke with Steeldust\'s band

That’s Duke in the foreground. Steeldust is behind him, with his head down. Don’t miss the mule deer behind Steeldust’s hip!

Steeldust licks Piedra

I was up on a hillside away from Steeldust’s band when I caught this little moment. Piedra was distracted when Steeldust started licking her shoulder. She apparently is not ready for even such a subtle advance because she walked away.

I stayed on the hillside, in full view, so the horses wouldn’t feel like I was too close to them. I probably wouldn’t have gone above them like that if it was a cliff, but although they watched me, they didn’t seem worried about me, even when I sat down to watch them for a few minutes.

Luna with her babies

Luna and her babies. I decided this weekend to call the filly “Ember.” She’s a darker red, and she may go grey, but even then – embers to ashes – the name will still kinda fit. Luna’s yearling filly, Kestrel, is at right.

Nap time

Little Ember was a sleepy girl. She’d stand by Luna’s hip … then Luna would get a few steps away from her as she grazed, and Ember would open her eyes and hurry to her side again. Finally they got out to this little open area with no prickly bushes or cactus, and baby promptly laid down.

Duke

Meanwhile, Duke was hanging out at the base of my hill. While I was taking pictures of Ember lying down, I heard this whinney and looked over to see Duke. Steeldust galloped over, and I wondered how excited they were going to get.

Duke and Steeldust

Yep. That’s it. That’s about as excited as they got. See Duke’s cocked hind leg? I was just waiting for him to let loose into Steeldust’s chest, but he never did. Check out how long-bodied Duke is. His conformation is definitely an exception among the horses out there; they’re all pretty compact.

Steeldust

Uh oh! Who’s watching the band?!

Steeldust and Hollywood

Can’t turn your back on that youngster for a minute! While Steeldust was checking out Duke, young Mr. Hollywood must have been making advances. So Steeldust galloped back to his girls to scold Hollywood.  After all, they both just lost a mare (Jif) to another stallion! (I’d LOVE to know how Grey managed that!)

Nap time

And then, minutes later, Hollywood stood guard while Steeldust took a nap with Luna, Ember and Butch.

Ty, Corazon and Mesa

From left, Ty, Corazon and Mesa.

I saw all the bachelors this weekend – but not all together. These boys were right by the dugout intersection! They’re really roaming from their traditional territory in the east and south. I saw them throughout the weekend, and I saw Cinch, David and the muley bay once each day from a distance. Last weekend, we saw all of them – together – from horseback just east-southeast of Round Top.

The Bachelor 7 are fragmented, too. Duke, of course, is with Steeldust’s band right now. Chrome and Comanche are back together and were wandering around over the east-west hill from the open area northeast of the south loop road up into the north by the northeastern-most part of the loop. Aspen, Mouse, Hook and Kreacher were up in the northwest, then on the north side of Flat Top. I am glad that Kreacher is still with the boys. I don’t like him as a band stallion, but I do want him to have companionship!

Seven\'s band

Also saw Seven with his girls (Roja, left, and Molly, center) a couple of times this weekend. Both times, they were on the north side of the “roller coaster ridge” road. I don’t have the foggiest idea on the pregnancy status of either mare. Maybe so, maybe no?

I did drive all the way around the loop (both directions) this weekend for the first time this spring. From the Round Top intersection going counter-clockwise, the first and second arroyo crossings are OK; the third is gushy (make sure you’re in 4-WD and go) and the fourth is just a little tire-grabber ditch; the rest are no problem. I haven’t seen Poco, Bones and Roach for a few weeks now, and although I don’t think Bones is in any condition to conceive, I do want to see them at least every few weeks or so. All kinds of stud piles back there, but no sign of the three musketeers.

I didn’t go looking for the pinto family this time. I don’t think Kiowa is particularly close to foaling, so I’ll wait until next weekend to check on her again. (She may surprise me?!)

These next are some pix of Grey/Traveler and family. They were really close to the road in the evening, and all the photos were taken from either the road or just off to one side. Grey’s keeping a pretty close eye on his new acquisition, and for her part, she seems to be pretty calm about this turn of events.

Grey and Houdini

Grey/Traveler and Houdini grazing.

Two Boots and Jif

Two Boots and Jif (Houdini in the background).

Twister and Two Boots

Twister and Two Boots. Look at that shaggy boy! You can see on his face how grey he’s going to be when he sheds out. Two Boots is shedding out really dark grey, like Alegre.

Grey courting

This photo may explain why Grey’s so interested in Jif! She may be coming into season – or just out – but she wasn’t quite ready for his advances just then.

Houdini

Pregnant girl Houdini. She’s not overly huge. I’m officially giving up on trying to predict her due date! She was grazing, then started walking right toward me. All of a sudden she stopped and looked right at me, like she didn’t quite realize I was standing there? I stayed totally still so she wouldn’t bolt, but she stood there for at least a long minute, just looking. When I got home, the current issue of High Country News was waiting for me. The “Uncommon Westerners” section is about a man named Les Bighorn from Poplar, Montana. The article is about his work to return swift foxes to the Fort Peck Sioux and Assiniboine Reservation as a wildlife technician and game warden. Off on the side, there’s a quote: “An elder once told me that when an animal comes to you instead of running or flying away as you approach it, they are telling you that your heart is filled with goodness and your life is in harmony with the Creator.” Well, didn’t that bring tears to my eyes, thinking of all the times the horses have allowed me to approach or even, in some cases, walked right toward me. I don’t know how harmonic my life is, but every moment with the wild horses is a gift, and I sure thank my Creator for every day I’m able to visit the wild horses in their basin home!

Grey snaking

Grey snaking his family back to the other side of the road. I had been standing right on the road taking pix of them, and then they started moving toward the road, so I backed away off the road, thinking they wanted to cross and go down to the other arroyo. But nope. Grey had other ideas! He looks pretty mean there, but like most stallions, the mean-guy routine doesn’t last long. They go where he wants them to go, and all is calm. It makes me wonder, though, just who’s leading? I guess Houdini could go in a certain direction, and Grey might go along … but he might not?!

Dusty sunset hills

You’d think fires were burning locally, but that’s “just” dust from the wind (I’m telling you, it’s WINDY). There’s all kinds of news about Colorado River water being used by downstream consumers in Arizona, California, etc., but we never hear anything about Colorado stealing Arizona, eh? I’m not exactly sure where it’s all coming from, but the dust does make for some moody sunsets.

Basin sunset

When it got too dark to photograph Grey and his family, I turned around, and that’s what I saw. Another beautiful day in the basin.





Baby pictures – Sunday, April 20, 2008

22 04 2008

Luna with filly

Luna and her baby.

Steeldust had his band way up on the north hills Sunday. I hadn’t seen horses in that area since I started the project last fall, but I talked to a rancher who was trying to gather a few errant cattle, and he said he had been seeing horses in that area all spring. Grey/Traveler had his family on the north side of what I call the “finger hills,” just northeast of the dugout intersection. He moved them there while I was talking to a couple named Roy and Sue, who were out looking at the horses. Roy said he grew up in the Disappointment, and when they were kids, he and his brother used to ride out with the wild horses. Now he and Sue go out every spring to see the horses.

Pregnant Houdini

Houdini is still pregnant as of Sunday, but I fully expect her to have her foal this week!

Grey

Grey looking back at his band. He is traditionally a good daddy; he’s been good with Two Boots and Twister, and I have no doubt he’ll take care of Houdini’s foal like it’s his own. I hope he’ll be a sire again in the future.

Luna\'s filly nursing

Filmmaker James Kleinert came out to the basin Sunday – good timing. I took him across the hill close to where Steeldust’s band was grazing. I wanted us to be in full view of the horses so they could determine the distance between us. There were still some trees between us in places, but the light was gorgeous, and the horses gave us the gift of allowing us to stand and watch them for several long minutes.

We ended up fairly close but a couple of gullies away, and the horses gave us the remarkable gift of quietly browsing up the hill. They moseyed on, and we moseyed away.





The stork arrives in the basin!

21 04 2008

Luna\'s filly

Luna had the first foal of the 2008 season – a beautiful, long-legged sorrel filly with a star and strip!

She was born Friday night or sometime Saturday. I saw the horses Friday, and Luna was as big as ever. I camped with horse folk Friday and Saturday nights, and I didn’t see Steeldust’s band again until Sunday afternoon – voila!

Nothing yet from Houdini – any day now! I expect Alpha to foal sometime in May, but the due dates of the other mares – and exactly which ones are pregnant – is anybody’s guess!

Wonderful weekend – green sprang up on the hillsides practically overnight! That crazy wind did its best to leach the moisture out of every single everything! I saw the first paintbrush of the season this weekend, too.

Special thanks to Tif for bringing her wonderful pinto Bashkir Curly horse Apache for me to ride, and to Sue, Ted and Kelly (and Tif, too) for the delicious food, the laughs and companionship at camp, and for showing me the basin through new, taller eyes! How cool was it to RIDE the trails in the actual hoof steps of wild horses!?

I’ll have more photos later, but it’s been a long, dry, windy, surprising weekend, and I’m ready for bed!





Not yet!

14 04 2008

It’s spring in the wild places, and that means babies. The title of this post says it all for Spring Creek Basin, but I encourage you to visit the Pryor Mountains and Little Book Cliffs blogs to read about the new arrivals there. We’re close – really close, I think. If I was a gambler, I’d put money on Houdini and Luna to have the first foals in the basin this spring, and I’d guesstimate due dates at sometime this week?!

Pregnant girls

Look at big-belly girl Luna!

It was late afternoon Friday before I got out there, and the snow we got in Dolores and Mancos earlier in the week was evident in the basin. The first arroyo looked pretty soft, so I parked above it and did a big loop hike.

Four of the Bachelor 7 were way up above Spring Creek Canyon. Four gentlemen in a couple of pickup trucks were watching them when I got there. I was glad to meet them; I’d have missed the horses up there, where I’ve never seen horses before. Two of the B7 were tagging along after Steeldust’s band, so one was AWOL or with the four and we just didn’t see him.

Hiking on the south loop road (going southeast from the first intersection), I passed Steeldust’s family – still with Hollywood and Jif – and almost cut across to head back to the Jeep toward them. But thank goodness for binoculars. I saw Grey/Traveler, still with his little family, Molly and Roja up on the northwest flank of Round Top (didn’t see Seven at first, but he was there somewhere), and Bounce and Alegre, all farther east. So I walked the road almost to Round Top to get a closer look at the mares.

Seven\'s band

I ADORE this scene. Not the *photo* exactly, but exactly what’s going on inside the four sides of the frame. Molly was gathered last August and released, and after the roundup, when I started my documentation project, I found her with Roja – the sorrel mare there – and Kreacher – now a bachelor – neither of which were gathered. I found out recently that Molly was aged at “older than 20.” I’ve noticed in the past that she seems protective of Roja, always standing between me and her. I wonder what horses she was with before the gather. In this scene, in my opinion, she’s showing her vulnerability. It was a moment that didn’t last long, but it seals even more the beauty of these social wild horses.

The snow was still in patches, but the bare ground was pretty gooey. We needed the moisture; I think it had been close to a month since we’d had snow. There’s just the barest hint of green in places, and some more close-to-the-ground flowers are starting to open.

I cut off the road southwestish between Bounce and Alegre and Seven’s family. Roja looks only a little thicker in the middle than Piedra, but she also is developing an udder, and Alegre looks pregnant. I went south of Grey and Houdini, close enough to see through the binoculars that she’s still pregnant, and hit the old “road” on the north side of Flat Top. It isn’t a “road” I’d recommend actually driving on past a certain point (as you’re going east), but it used to be some kind of driving surface. From my walking direction – east to west – it curves around the west side of Flat Top and gets better just before it goes past a faint intersection. At that intersection, if you go north, there’s a little water hole just down to the east real quick after the split. From the intersection, either way you go will take you to the main road through the herd area. I’m really describing this all backward, but that’s just the way I was walking. 

Just east of that intersection is where I found Steeldust, with Hollywood and Jif still tagging along, and new that day, Chrome and Comanche. On Saturday, I’d get a lesson in just how far those bachelors travel and how disloyal (ha!) they are to each other, when the four I’d seen above the canyon ended up northwest of Flat Top – with Chrome – and Comanche was still tagging after Steeldust’s band, but with Mouse this time!

Wide open spaces

The taggers-on. From left, Hollywood, Jif, Comanche and Chrome. You can see the road between Chrome and Comanche. In the near background is Spring Creek Canyon, and in the far background, the La Sal Mountains in Utah. At the top of the cliff and to the east a bit are where the four bachelors were Friday afternoon. There’s a boundary fence up there – the northwestish boundary.

The horses were moving toward me as I walked west on the road, and my shoes were already muddy, so I tried to give them a lot of room by staying toward where the “edge” of the road drops off toward the southwest. I finally stopped and watched them and took pictures as they passed by to the northeast, heading east.

Horses and mountains

A slightly different angle of Steeldust’s band, taken as I was walking around Flat Top.

Luna is definitely heavy-pregnant. Alpha usually foals late (May), and she’s starting to actually look pregnant. I’m pretty sure the bay mare, Mahogany, is pregnant, but neither she nor Piedra are very obvious about it.

I caught a pic of the two young rose-grey stallions together. I decided to name them Butch and Sundance, after two notorious outlaws whose names you might recognize, who were rumored to have hidden out in the Disappointment from time to time.

Butch and Sundance

Butch, left, and Sundance. I think this photo shows both their similarities and their differences – if I can be any more cryptic!

The snow was coming in waves over the line of ridges and hills to the north and northeast while I was there late in the afternoon, but the sun did peek through the clouds a little toward the very end of the day. The wind was whipping, and it had a mighty bite to it, but by Sunday, temperatures were in the mid-60s with nary a cloud in the sky!

Chrome and Comanche

Chrome, left, and Comanche. Another sweet little moment, but by the next day, Chrome had ditched Comanche for the other bachelors, and Mouse had ditched them for Comanche’s company. Mouse and Comanche have a bit of the twin thing going on like Butch and Sundance; I’ll have a photo farther down of them.

Hollywood running off bachelors

That’s Hollywood in the center, earning his keep by chasing Chrome and Comanche, right, away from Steeldust’s band. In this frame, Chrome is getting ready to buck and kick, and in the next frame, he flashed Hollywood his heels! That’s Luna at left, and following her, out of the frame, are most of the rest of the band.

Curious Kestrel

Curious George – I mean Kestrel! I wish Jif was more visible in the background. Hollywood is a most-attentive suitor.

Saturday, I hiked in first from the county road down south, looking for the pintos; it had been about three weeks since I had seen them last. More snow in the south (in the wilderness study area), which meant more mud. Impossible to avoid. I hiked two hours and looked in all the places in which I’d previously found them – nada. I was pretty disappointed because that’s the first time I’ve gone looking for them and have NOT found them.

On my way (driving) up to the main entrance then, I stopped at the corrals and met some folks – Tom and Amanda – camped there with their mustangs, Sunny and Albert (correct me if I heard those names wrong!), and three dogs. They couldn’t have picked a better weekend, weather-wise. After the snow blew itself out Friday, the weekend was absolutely glorious. It was great to hear about their experiences in the basin with the horses, and I can’t wait to hear more.

In the basin from the main entrance, I parked again and did another hike – four hours this time and opposite loop direction – in the same basic area as Friday evening.

Saw Duke, Aspen, Chrome, Hook and Kreacher of the B7, then Grey/Traveler, Houdini and the foals (Two Boots is about to “celebrate” her first birthday!), and Steeldust’s band with Hollywood and Jif and Comanche and Mouse. Farther to the east, still near Round Top, were Seven, Molly and Roja. I got some nice photos of the horses with Steeldust with the La Sals in the background.

Steeldust\'s band

One big happy family! That’s Steeldust’s band – try getting 22 ears up all at the same time! Ha! From left: Luna, Mahogany (behind Luna), Baylee, Piedra, Kestrel (barely), Butch, Jif and Hollywood (background), Alpha, Sundance and Steeldust. 

Mouse

Mouse with the sweet face. I was walking away from the band on the other side of a low hill, and Mouse and Comanche were curious enough to come for a closer look. Half a second after I took this picture, he’d had his look and whirled around and was gone.

Mouse and Comanche and Steeldust\'s band

When he spun around, that started the band moving. Who’s who? This photo was taken just a few minutes after the above photo of Mouse. That’s Mouse at left and Comanche at right.

On my way back west, I followed a big arroyo and passed by the bachelors again.

Duke and Hook

Duke, left, and Hook. I named Hook for a perceived upswing of his little snip, but it’s not very clear in this photo, is it?

Chrome, Kreacher, Aspen and Hook

This is getting fun. Can you tell the greys apart in this group of four of the Bachelor 7? Duke is slightly apart from these boys to the right, out of the picture. From right this time: Hook, Aspen and …? Kreacher and Chrome! Chrome is slightly lighter, and he’s shedding in a rather raggedy way (is that a word? Raggedy Andy, anyone?). They both have wide blazes, but Chrome has four stockings, and Kreacher has right front and left hind socks.

I took just a few photos of the boys and moved on. The first time I looked back – I always like to look back – they had already gone back to grazing.

Hiking in the north was quite a bit more dry than the south, and it had dried out more even from Friday. The arroyo was pretty soft in the bottom, but it was easier to walk through it than having to cross it multiple times, so I mainly did that until I came to Grey/Traveler and his family. I walked up out of the arroyo on the side away from them. I’ve been amazed lately at the strange places in which I’ve found ATV tracks. The most disturbing I’ve seen was there: tracks in the bottom of the arroyo … and straight up a straight-up arroyo wall?! Or down? I really don’t want to rant, but why on Earth do some people feel the need to test gravity – and destroy part of the Earth in the process?!

The little family grazed their way up away from the arroyo, moving slowly along, and I decided to try to hang out with them for a little while. So I crossed the arroyo and went up the hill west of them, taking care to stay far enough away that I was confident I wasn’t making them move. I even found a dry spot to sit for a while and watch them. I had been thinking earlier how lucky I was to be out hiking in this wonderful wild place, mostly moving, not staying too long near any one group, long enough to take pix but not long enough to cause them stress. Sitting there for 10 or 15 minutes, unmoving, just watching and taking photos, was something just a little different. Wonderfully satisfying.

Houdini

Houdini was the most watchful; she kept popping up from behind a little “hill” to check on me as I sat or stood a little west of them. The foals tagged along, relaxed. They kept an eye on me, too, but I think they took their cue from the adults. For his part, Grey barely spared me a glance.

Grey

Handsome boy looking hale and hearty.

They grazed their way toward the loop road, and I moved along with them until we got to that point. 

Two Boots

Two Boots, daughter of Houdini and, I think, the grey stallion I called Junior. Junior’s band was gathered; Houdini escaped. I first saw the grey mare with the black baby with a star and two socks on April 22. She was a week or less old then! So go ahead, have some cake, blow out a candle, wish Two Boots a happy first birthday, even if it is a little early!

Two Boots and Twister

My dad would call these youngsters compadres. Twister is rarely very far from his adopted big sister. While I watched them, I wondered about his wonky knee. Will he grow out of it? Is it something that will hinder him all his life? If he’s gathered in the future, he would not be a good candidate for release, but would he be a good candidate for adoption? I can’t help but wonder what the future holds for this brave, tough little guy.

When they reached the road, I left them to continue west and back around to where I’d left the Jeep. Looking back through the binoculars, I saw Seven, Molly and Roja again near Round Top, and, WAY out to the east and north of Round Top, Corazon and Cinch – the pinto bachelors – with a dark horse. They could be with Ty (black), Mesa (solid bay), David (mahogany bay) and the muley bay – or any combination thereof – and they were so far away, I could see their pinto patterns enough to identify them, but I couldn’t identify that dark horse. From the road as I walked, I kept looking back to see where Grey and Houdini were going, and I saw Bounce and Alegre out in that big open area northeast of the road.

Sunday morning, I parked at the southern point of the herd area and hiked in, following the fenceline north. It was still soft, and there were still patches of snow all around, but it dries so quickly out there. The herd area is about 22,000 acres, smallish as herd areas go, but it’s an amazingly diverse place. The south would be more commonly called pretty, with hills and dense little islands of pinon and juniper trees. Central in the herd area might be called “the big wide open,” riven with arroyos and hidey places – amazing topography in what at first glance looks featureless. The land slopes up again in the north, to Klondike Ridge and the impressive ridgeline of Spring Creek Canyon.

I highly recommend experiencing it all for yourself. 🙂

It smelled like Christmas, following the fence up from the south, walking through the trees, over the snow. Lots of deer and elk track, lots of OLD manure piles. That got me to thinking about the spread of horses in the area. No horses – that I’ve identified – in the far north, three in the northeast, five horses in the whole of the south, none in the west, and all the rest – 30ish horses? – in the big wide open. I was surprised but glad to see the bachelors up above Spring Creek Canyon on Friday, and I was surprised but glad to see Traveler and family slightly east of the trap site a few weeks ago, but most of the horses are fairly heavily concentrated in one main area. It makes them easy to find, but I’m hoping to see them spread out this spring as more browse becomes available for them to graze. Bruiser’s like the mob boss; he rules the south!

The fence is in pretty good shape, but I did stop in a few places and lift strands where they were sagging. There’s a big hill that the fence goes up and over – I don’t envy those fence-builders! I wasn’t going to follow it up and over, hoping instead to just wander around the hill, but then I hit pay dirt – a deer trail. I’m sure it was a deer trail because I’ve never seen mountain goats in the area!

I wrote earlier that I’ve been amazed at some of the places in which I’ve seen ATV tracks. Now’s the time to follow that up with appropriate amazement at some of the places in which I’ve seen pony tracks! I huffed and puffed my way up to the top of a teaser hill and discovered several old manure piles and tracks. It was from there that I spotted the faint trail the rest of the way to the top. Up I went, actually thinking, “No way a horse is going to use this trail,” when what to my wondering eyes should appear but a couple of dessicated little road apples! Right in the middle of the trail, halfway up the hill! My amazement grows.

From the top of that hill, Lone Cone stood out like a beacon way off to the east, and I took advantage of the altitude to scan the lowlands for horses.

Lone Cone

Not too far down that hill along the fenceline – north – I found a spot that needs more help than I had tools to fix – note to any BLM readers. The top and bottom strands are both snapped. If you’ve ever fixed fence and NOT dropped a fence staple, my hat’s off to you. A huge pet peeve of mine is random strings of wire lying around waiting for an equine leg to come along, and just when I could have used a random string of wire lying around with which to splice the strands together, I was extraordinarily happy not to find any (although of course it means the strands are still disconnected). But I did find a staple! A make-shift rock-hammer, and at least I could get the top strand off the ground. No fresh horse tracks near there, but at least it’s a kinda sorta semi-barrier again.

The fence goes on up – and down – and eventually right into a cliff – a natural barrier. I’ve seen the horses before up on some little “finger hills” close to that cliff (in fact, the photo of them in the snow was taken there). I wandered around up there, looking out trying to spot them … and eventually, ta da, I was looking straight down on them. Well, not exactly straight. I stayed high and followed an even more faint deer/elk trail across the top part of the hill/cliff. Got to a nice little shale bench out of the wind and settled in for some lunch and pinto watching.

When I first saw them, it was Chipeta and Shadow I saw. When I got to my perch, I saw only Chipeta and Bruiser as they wandered away from the cliff from behind a hill that hid the rest of the horses. Maybe it’s the season, but Chipeta has gotten a little possessive of her man. Later, I watched her actually lay back her ears at Kiowa to move her away from him. Kiowa is the mature mare there!

They all eventually came out into the open, and I watched them through the binoculars. Kiowa is definitely pregnant; Chipeta? I won’t rule it out, but she still has her girlish figure (kinda like Piedra, go figure).

Pintos

From bottom right, Kiowa, Reya, Shadow and Chipeta up to the left. Bruiser is out of sight beyond (actually below) Chipeta.

They were peaceful and quiet, and after I spent about 30-45 minutes watching them from afar, I decided to head back out to the road. With the binoculars, I saw the pinto bachelors again, again way up to the north, east-northeast of Round Top. Again, I saw just a glimpse of them, with at least another horse before they disappeared behind a hill or ridge. I also saw a grey horse I think was probably Seven; it looked like he had gone away from Molly and Roja toward some other horses – likely some of the Bachelor 7.

Round Top and La Sals

Ahh. This is a shot from my perch looking northwest. That’s Round Top in the middle distance and the La Sals again in the background. What wonderful, gloriously wild country!

On the way back, I looked up and saw the moon rising over that prominent peak that you can see from just about anywhere in the basin. Does it have a name?

Moonrise

If you’ve read this far, thanks for sticking with me through two and a half days and about 12-13 hours of hiking. We’ve seen at least 35 of the 41 wild and beautiful horses of Spring Creek Basin and bestowed some new names on familiar faces. Our appreciation of a wild and simple life has expanded even more. Our shoes are muddy, and our faces are a darker shade of tan. We’ve smelled Christmas and touched the moon. And I don’t know about you, but I’m not really ready for the constant drumbeat of civilization.

So I’ll see you again in a week!





April flowers

6 04 2008

The first sign of spring has come to the basin in the form of these tiny flowers, a kind of phlox, I think. It’s not quite green yet, but these flowers are a hopeful sign of a fresh season. Babies can’t be far behind.

There aren’t any new foals yet, but it’s only a matter of weeks now. The first horses I saw were those in Steeldust’s band, just on the north side of the hill called Flat Top. Driving on the little road toward that hill, I thought I saw Grey/Traveler or Houdini and the foals – just their backs over a hill. But just before I parked to walk toward Steeldust’s band, I got a bad scare: Grey – definitely – and alone. But not to fear; before I could freak out too much, there popped up Two Boots … then Houdini … then Twister. Whew!

The mystery horses turned out to be Seven, Molly and Roja. That’s not the first time I’ve made that mistake from afar and looking at just their backs.

But then I worried again because Grey was moving his family right toward Steeldust’s. I followed the road around until I was actually on the side of Flat Top, where I could watch without interfering – although goodness knows I wanted to run out there between them!

Grey watching Steeldust\'s band

That’s Houdini in the foreground, watching me as I walked the road, and Grey/Traveler watching the other horses. At left (in front of Grey) from front to back are Baylee, one of the rose grey stallions and Steeldust; in the center are Alpha and Piedra; the dun in the back is Hollywood, still tagging along with Steeldust but now causing some stress; and the bay mare, Baylee’s dam and, I believe, that rose-grey stud’s dam.

Grey, Two Boots and Twister

Houdini wanted no part of the gathering and stood apart the whole time, but the foals were curious, and they crowded behind Grey as he watched the other horses. Here, he had turned around with this sweet expression. A moment later, he was striking at them, and immediately after they backed off, he rubbed his face on Two Boots’ side as if to apologize.

Steeldust was much more interested in what Hollywood was doing than he was in Grey’s open challenge. I had observed Hollywood with Steeldust as a mutually beneficial arrangement, but the two seem to be harrying each other now – another sign of the season, I suppose.

Grey challenges

Grey finally had enough of waiting, I guess, and he lunged right into the group of horses in Steeldust’s band. Calmly watching in the background is Alpha, who until sometime last spring was Grey’s favorite mare. (She was gathered with a different stallion and was one of the lucky ones released.)

That broke the spell, and the bands split. Two Boots made a rebellious dash toward the other band, but Grey chased after her and turned her back. Based on about how old I think Two Boots was last spring when I first saw her, I think Houdini is two weeks or less away from foaling.

The Bachelor 6 are 7 again; Kreacher has joined them. I saw them to the west as I approached the first intersection. The last time I saw Kreacher, he was south of Round Top with, at least, Corazon, who has been with Cinch, David, the muley bay, Ty and Mesa. Dunno how he ended up in the north with the B7, but I’m glad he has company.

Seven, Molly and Roja

It was deja vu with this merry band again. They were just west of the south loop road (which angles toward the southeast), and this was as close as I got to them before they trotted down the road toward Round Top. Roja was in the lead, looking pretty sprightly for a mare I thought was pregnant. I happened to see her later from straight on … She doesn’t look very pregnant. It wouldn’t be the only pregnancy-related surprise of the day.

I spotted Roach, Poco and Bones northeast of that road, on the other side of the ridge that it follows before it swings north. They were grazing in the company of some mule deer. I hadn’t seen Bounce yet, and I admit that I still hope to find Slate, so I parked by the second arroyo after the split to Round Top and walked up the road. I saw Roach and Co. from the east again, but I never saw Bounce and Alegre – until I drove back toward the dugout intersection. They were northeast of the road just on the east side of the arroyo – Spring Creek, I think that is? I missed them on my drive out. Bounce has been hanging out in that area for quite awhile now, and I’ve wondered, if Slate is dead, if she died somewhere around there. So I parked and walked out.

Bounce and Alegre

They saw me from the moment I saw them, from the Jeep from the road. And I walked out across the hill and down to a bench of land just above the west side of the arroyo in plain view. I kept expecting them to walk away, so I took my time looking for anything that might have been Slate. I took the pictures of the phlox during that little walk. But Bounce just stood where he was. Except for turning once when he saw something behind him (not Alegre), then turning back to face me, he never moved except to eventually cock a hip and settle into trying to ignore me.

Maybe the arroyo, which is wide but shallow there, was enough of a barrier that he thought he was quite safe. I didn’t betray his confidence; I stayed on my side. I did move back and forth to get a composition with Alegre in the background, then I walked back up the hill.

Where on Earth is Slate? I wish I knew. I want her to show up with a phantom stallion, one I haven’t yet documented. Walking, I went far into the northeast, but I didn’t see signs that couldn’t have been made by Bounce and Alegre or Roach, Bones and Poco. The longer it goes without seeing Slate, the more sure I am that something happened.

On my way out, I came over a little rise and ta-da, there was Steeldust’s band again. I parked and got out, stood at the back of the Jeep and hit the shutter button. They were moving in the direction I had just come from, grazing as they went. They were so close! And totally ignored me. They crossed the road behind me, and I thought I was the cause of them moving, so I almost left. Then I realized, even more than earlier, that it was the stallions, Steeldust and Hollywood. Hollywood was chasing Jif, and Steeldust was chasing Hollywood. After they crossed the road, they came back toward me, making sort of a U around me. The stallions chased and danced, and always Jif seemed to be in the middle of things. I stood right by the Jeep and just tried to find nice compositions through the lens.

Steeldust, Hollywood and Jif

Steeldust trying to stay between his band and Hollywood with little Jif right by Hollywood. Notice the scars on both stallions. They’ve been playing hard.

Piedra

I think our little Piedra is going to be a mama! She doesn’t look very pregnant, does she? But look at that udder.

Luna

This is one of my favorite photos of the day, taken during that last encounter. That’s Luna in the lead, with Kestrel beside her followed by one of the rose-grey studs. The bay mare is on the other side of Luna.

I wanted to add a little bit about the rose-grey studs. Based on conformation and behavior, I think the rose-grey stud in this photo is the bay mare’s 2-year-old colt. I’ve started to think the other rose-grey is Luna’s 2-year-old colt. Now, I could be totally wrong, of course; I will admit that it’s weird that a bay mare and a buckskin mare both threw rose-grey colts (they may have been born sorrel) in the same year. And last year, they threw fillies the same color as themselves. The rose-grey in this photo – with the darker shading around his muzzle and the coarser head – looks a lot like the bay mare, and I’ve seen them frequently grazing together. The other colt is a bit more independent, but when I saw him grazing that day with Luna, their similarities struck me. That colt has a bit more refinement (I thought he was a mare at first!) and nicer conformation.

It has been busy these past weeks, and going out to the basin has become my refuge. Wild horses, outside, are indeed very good for the inside of this woman.





Breeze and Sage and the Iricks – March 28, 2008

2 04 2008

Steve Irick and Sage

Steve Irick, his wife, Teresa, and their kids Luke, 15, and Sara, 11, live near Denver, a long way away from Spring Creek Basin. Teresa grew up with horses, but Steve had no experience with horses until, in 2005, the family adopted a 3-year-old bay pinto colt they named Hot Breeze of Spring Creek.

Now, at first thought, some of you experienced horse folks are thinking, “Whoa. A mustang and a rookie? No way that’s gonna work.”

I consider myself a pretty experienced horse person, with a lifetime of horse experience under my belt. And my experience with this family and their two mustangs – that’s right, two – is that they must be going through the experience of a lifetime, an experience that benefits the Iricks at least as much as it benefits their two boys.

Teresa, Steve, Luke and Sara attended the roundup last August – even brought T-shirts they had made up for the National Mustang Association to sell – to pick out the next member of their band, err, family. Last Friday at the place where they keep their horses, they talked about watching Sage come to the trap site with his small group of bachelor stallions. That got me curious, so I looked back through my photos from the day.

Gathering Sage

That’s Sage, third in line, with the offset star, Aug. 21, 2007.

I talked to the Iricks at the gather site back in August, and I was impressed then about how they talked about Breeze, adopting him, training him, learning from him. Steve used the word “humility,” and in turn, I used it in the story about the roundup that I wrote for the Dolores Star (disclaimer: I’m the editor). The same word applies to their interaction with their horses, which they call “the mustang brothers.”

Breeze and Sage

Steve and Teresa said they worried about how the horses would take to each other. Breeze was boarded at a larger stable down the road from their current location – larger, with more horses. But Breeze didn’t connect with any of those horses. Then they moved him to his current home, a small farm owned by a 72-year-old gentleman who was excited about having mustangs at his place. See, he has this Arabian stallion, which he bred to a mustang mare – twice. He has two offspring of those horses, but Breeze didn’t really bond with them, either. But when Sage arrived, they “bonded instantly – like glue.”

Breeze and Sara

Breeze is a love bug. That’s him and Sara above, taking a mid-morning nap while Steve was telling me about Sage.

When I showed up to talk to the Iricks and meet their mustangs, I got a big, inquisitive muzzle in my face – hey, how’ya doin’? Maybe he thought I brought him treats (I’ll remember next time); Teresa said he has a “deep, deep passion for food.” They’ve been able to use that as a training tool with Breeze, but she said Sage won’t eat if he’s nervous.

The two have completely different personalities: Breeze is confident and outgoing, and Sage is still watchful, not quite sure about things. It has taken longer to gain his trust, they said, but they just keep asking, never demanding. I didn’t realize I talk like an Italian (with my hands) until I started waving my reporter’s notebook around and Sage went on the alert. He did the same thing when I reached up to move hair out of my face or adjust my camera on my shoulder. Have to be calm with this one.

They’re alert and so alive, Teresa said; they notice everything. But at the same time, Steve called them incredibly forgiving. He even said inexperienced people can do well with mustangs if they have good intent. He should know.

Steve longes Sage

Sage learned to walk and trot on the long line in less than 30 minutes, Teresa said – “he’s sharp as a tack.” Here, he’s trotting over some poles they have set up in the arena.

Teresa and Breeze

While Steve and Sage were working in one area of the arena, Teresa rode Breeze in the other end.

Sage

This guy has long legs and a lot of suspension!

He had even more than usual going on the day I was there. Steve was asking him to show off his education, and I was there, pointing a big white lens at him and making shutter noises that made him as curious as me waving around my notebook. To his eternal credit, he was calm, he paid attention to Steve, and he looked brilliant.

Steve and Sage

On Dec. 21 last year, there was snow on the ground, Steve remembers. He started leaning against Sage, hanging over his back. Then he jumped up so he was on his belly on Sage’s back. Then he swung a leg over. The day I was there, Steve showed me how he did it until he ended up like you see him in the photo, head to head, arms wrapped around Sage’s neck. Look at those ears. Relaxed but attentive. Sage didn’t so much as move a hoof.

I was delighted to spend part of the morning with the Irick family and their horses. Kind and humble, and they interact with their horses the same way. They have to be among the poster children of adopters. Breeze and Sage? Among the lucky ones.