Love anyway

28 11 2009

Any Martina McBride fans out there? Her song “Anyway” came up on the mp3 player when I was about 20 miles or so (nearly there) from the basin on Thanksgiving Day, and it got me thinking. Despite the supreme frustrations we wild horse lovers endure in the battle to keep our mustangs wild and free, and despite the heartaches and breaks they inevitably bring us along the way – from the magical way they melt into our hearts from first sighting – we must love them anyway. I don’t know about you all, but I’m helpless to do it any other way.

This visit wasn’t without some personal heartbreak – Molly. But it was with so much more: the horses and me and the deer and the wind and the light and the hills and song dogs howling and hope for the future in the shape of little faces and fuzzy coats, winter-ready.

Hunters gone, I had a long-awaited visit with the pinto ponies. Stout Milagro is so fuzzy, he looked like a pony next to daddy Copper.

Oddly, he and Liberty are the same dark muley bay. Maybe a genetic connection on their respective trees.

Here we have Shadow as bonnie mountain goat and David playing it a wee bit safer. I spotted them from the county road, but the pintos were hiding a bit.

The horses – including matriarch Kiowa – were relaxed and grazing, and they paid hardly as much attention to me as to the visitor walking the trail below them …

I’m happy to report that although the vast contingent of hunters finally left the valley, the deer did not. In fact, they are much more visible now, including at least two magnificent “granddaddies” to this young buck.

Mama Kiowa and baby Milagro; Corazon at left and Spook at right.

Mesa is still the outside man, but Ty and Corazon are right in the thick of things, to no great concern of Copper’s.

Corazon; Kiowa in the background.

Reya is the same age as Shadow; they’ll be 3 next spring.

Sisters Reya and Spook (May 1, 2008).

And baby brother Milagro (July 1, 2009). Can you see how fuzzy he is?

In the “front country” of the basin, Steeldust’s band was enjoying the last light of day … and I enjoyed the light creating halos around them …

He does seem to be sticking close to Lady Alpha these days.

Luna and Hannah

Mahogany grazing; Sable seeking attention from almost-3-year-old Kestrel (yearmate of Shadow and Reya).

A little past, a little different angle o’ light. Comanche in the background. (Aspen and Hook are still with the band.)

I took some pictures in passing, but my attention was really farther ahead: Chrome, Jif and little-man Hayden.

This image may be actual size? That’s Hayden’s teeny hoofprint in the soil of his home … Can’t express, really, what this image means to me.

It seems to me (stand by for anthropomorphization) that now-family-man Chrome is a little befuddled by the recent attention showered upon him – former bachelor that he is – well, in his vicinity. I am thankful for his care of his little shadow …

This one just makes me smile. 🙂

Little is fuzzed-up and bearded for winter … so soon … He seems to show the faintest hint of grey high on his cheeks, but right around his eyes is red. What color will the mister be? He’s so much like his daddy, Grey/Traveler.

Now the secret is out: BLM’s next “issue” is the incredible proliferation of over-populating wild ants! No end in sight! How WILL they manage this new “problem”??

Evening with a view …

So thankful …

I took this photo of the moon during my visit with Hayden and Co., song dogs setting up a chorus in the background. Not sure it could have been more perfect.

At that point, I didn’t yet know about Molly.

In the morning, before sunrise, it was 15 degrees in the basin. The morning star was glittering like a droplet of  ice on the eastern horizon while the sky grew steadily lighter. In the dim light, I had a sighting that made my heart leap: Duke. It was hard to see him because it was not yet exactly light and because of the distance, but he looked a little off – still. More on him to come.

Mornings in the basin will make you believe in something other than yourself … and if you already believe … it will reaffirm your faith in something humans will never take away. It is still. It is clear. It is hopeful. It is magic. You can almost hear the collective breath holding, waiting for that first light on the far ridges across Disappointment Valley, waiting for a long column of light to illuminate, first, Filly Peak, then widen and lay down its path across Round Top and Flat Top.

Steeldust and his hangers-on were single-file from the pond to the base of the hill. Far away.

I was looking for horses to put between me and the camera and the hills, surrounded by that sublime light. Did I mention how cold it was?

Hollywood and his girls and his youngster found me, grazing quietly in the pre-dawn light down a line of hills below the road. I hadn’t spent much time with them lately, so I put my down coat on top of my jacket and 14 other layers, wrapped my ear-band around my head, readied my gloves, put extra batteries close to my heart … and waited and watched the creep of light.

Have you ever watched – really watched – sunrise? It can’t be described. Especially, maybe, in the great – intimate – expanse of the basin; there are just too many places to watch the rising sun touch hills and ridges and swells with that sweet golden light. And before I knew it, sunlight had replaced shadow surrounding Holls and the girls and Sage. I zipped up and started walking. Baylee, watching me waddle toward them, thought – apparently – I was the abominable snowwoman – or Michelin Woman? – come to life.

The “Bundle Woman” cometh.

Piedra apparently eventually recognized me, but Baylee’s expression didn’t change much in the other photos I took. Steeldust’s band didn’t know what to think last fall, either, the first time I wore my down coat, until I started singing to them … the only audience that can withstand my “singing.” 😉

Sage still treats auntie Baylee like a playmate … and he still seeks reassurance from mama.


Sage’s winter coat is brown again. He looks like a little Mouse.


I hadn’t seen Grey/Traveler’s band the day before – and I hadn’t seen Bounce’s since the weekend before last – so I decided to head on to look for them and see if the golden light would hold.

Saw the silver boy and his band … and as I approached the Round Top intersection, I saw horses nearly straight ahead. It took a second to identify them against the light … and it took a second after that to pick out Liberty, grazing close to Gaia. I didn’t have to look for Molly; I knew she wouldn’t be there. Even expecting to see what I saw, I couldn’t stop the tears from coming. There’d be no heartbreak if there wasn’t first love.

Gaia and Liberty


Whisper and Alegre

Maybe a little surrogate-mothering going on …

Liberty is our third orphan since I started the documentation of the Spring Creek Basin herd. My introduction to Twister was when he was already orphaned, possibly during the roundup. Shadow’s dam, Ceal, died sometime over the winter of 2007-08. Liberty is 6 months old, and she’s a tough little thing. I think she’ll be OK.

I walked from them back over to Grey/Traveler’s band.

He is my healing magic.

Cuatro was hanging out, napping on his feet, a short distance from the band. Then he decided to put on a show:

Such a big trot for a little boy!


He must have learned this move from his muley pals. 🙂

He hit the brakes, and Terra came up out of the arroyo. Two Boots never looked up from her grazing. She’s a veteran mama at the ripe young age of 2. Watching Cuatro, it suddenly became apparent to me that his sire has to be Twister; he looks just like him.

Grey and Houdini

Terra and Cuatro

Iya (April 27, 2008) and Terra (May 1, 2009); La Sal Mountains in the background. They were born the same color; look how dark Iya is now!

Fuzzy, furry silver boy!

Thus emotionally armed, I went back to find Duke.

He looks all right … but he is thinner than when he had Raven and Corona – and, briefly, Kootenai.

He’s still limping, but he’s completely mobile, and he’s putting weight on his injured leg (right hind). See all that sky behind him? This is Spring Creek Basin’s version of “top of the world.” The difference between here and the Pryors is that here, if you step off that edge … well, let’s just say it really is an edge, and I really would recommend NOT stepping off!

Love his handsome face.

He’s a crazy horse to be walking up and down mountains (to and from water) on his healing leg, but he’s a tough boy!

Love, always. 🙂

Thankful days don’t wait for calendar dates. No matter what’s going on, I – and you, I bet – have things in your life for which to be thankful anyway. I think the ponies don’t know how much they give of themselves to all of us who admire them so; it’s the least we can do to ensure their continued protection – any way we can.



20 responses

29 11 2009


There was something about this post that really touched me. Thanks for writing it. Your horses are looking great and I am sure Liberty will be fine too. Your horses are so lucky to have someone like you to look after them.

29 11 2009

Thanks, Billie. You know you’re one of my inspirations, watching over the Little Book Cliffs horses like you do … We’re the lucky ones, hey? 🙂

29 11 2009

Fabulous writing that made me cry with joy that you love these horses so much and care to go and let all of us know them. Your writing and pictures are exceptional this time. Thanks

29 11 2009
Elizabeth Testa

Lovely photographs, T.J. Thanks for them and your wonderful prose accompaniment!

29 11 2009

Such gorgeous pics of these magnificent creatures. I so love to see the “baby” pics! You have such a wonderful powerful way with your words and describing the beauty of your surroundings. I’m in CO and can identify with the magnificent mountains and the majesty they unveil to us who find them breathtaking! Keep up the great works in doing everything you and the others are doing to protect our wild mustangs and burros.

29 11 2009

I’m glad ya’ll love “visiting” the horses, even virtually!

30 11 2009

Gorgeous photos TJ! And I agree with everyone else – you have a wonderful way of expressing your thoughts and observations. 🙂

30 11 2009

Those horses … they bring out the best in me. 🙂 Thanks.

30 11 2009

I liked it too.
Thanks for everything.

1 12 2009

Thanks, Uncle T! 🙂

1 12 2009
Lynn Bauer

TJ -This post is truly very, very special! What you say and the way you say it makes ‘our’ horses even more beautiful, more life-affirming, if that’s possible! Great job – thanks, as always for being there!! These guys could find no better guardian, no one better to tell their stories! Well done.

A special thanks for the photos of the babies and Duke!

Lynn and Kathy

2 12 2009

Thank you for sharing these intimate experiences in such a heartfelt way with all of us. I appreciate your watchful eyes on the Spring Creek herd.

3 12 2009

L&K – 🙂 We know what we know …

Margie – I appreciate your comments – thanks!


3 12 2009

Hi TJ.
my name is alex and i have been following your blog from your first post and i cant stop reading it!!!!!!!!great job!

3 12 2009

Alex – On behalf of our wild horses, I appreciate knowing that so much! Maybe one day you will visit and see the horses in person. 🙂

4 12 2009
Joe Z

Cool moon photo TJ. And of course you have some wonderful shots of the horses! It’s nice to keep in touch with the horses through your blog. It’s so filled with lessons on the cycle of life. Kim and I plan on another visit in the spring – hopefully with better weather! Happy holidays to everyone!

4 12 2009
Nancy, aka, Mom


Wonderful pictures, and glad you had a good Thanksgiving. We are all thankful for ‘our’ animals, at home or in the wild.

Luv ya’

4 12 2009

Joe – It will be great to see you and Kim again in the spring, and, with a couple of double-whammy winter storms about to blow in, I do hope we have better weather for your next visit!

Thanks, Mom. 🙂 And so true!!


10 12 2009
Marilyn Wargo

TJ, You have done such a wonderful post and the photos are beautiful. It is good to know the horses have you. Take care, Mar

10 12 2009

Well, I like to think of it as me having the horses … They are vital to MY well-being at least. 🙂

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