Snow stomp

17 12 2009

The desert is snow-bound. The ponies are as adapted as you might imagine, very fuzzy and rolling with the seasons. However, despite the water in frozen form all around them, at least some still prefer the liquid form and worked hard to get it from a little hoofprint puddle melted on the edge of the Flat Top pond.

The cattle are in now, of course, and though most don’t seem to have ventured far from their entry point – all across the northwest hills – a handful have made it to the finger hills. It’s easy enough to differentiate them from horses, but my eyes – first seeing dark specks in the distance – want to see horses.

From the top of the switchbacks above Slickrock, I was surprised to see nearly the whole upper portion of Disappointment brown and seemingly devoid of snow. Where the snow line seemed to start was back against the eastern ridge – above the basin – to my mind, at least, the valley’s heart. The snow was less than I expected but still significant – the snow was more than the mud. It made for easier walking but not easy.

The first band I saw was Grey/Traveler’s band – oh what a welcome sight! When I first saw them, they were just dark specks, even through the binoculars. White-faced Iya was the first one recognizable … then Terra and Houdini … then the silver boy, standing a distance away, facing away … no Two Boots and no Cuatro. My hunch – and yours, too, I bet – was later confirmed, but first I walked down the ridge to see whether Grey was looking at them around the end where I couldn’t see. Nope. I did scan the hills for Duke, but all I saw were bovine bodies.

Note the bits of hair missing. Probably from the scuffle that led to Two Boots and Cuatro going “missing.”

He gets this oh-so-blissful look on his face when he eats snow. πŸ™‚

Houdini is weaning Terra from nursing. Terra is not happy about it.

Iya knows just what she’s going through.

Steeldust and his band weren’t very far away – close enough that I considered walking on to visit with them – but I could see that they were all accounted for (Aspen and Hook have gone off on their own again), and I wanted to find our little autumn baby. And from a higher vantage, I did. Lucky for me, going over to visit them didn’t require a farther-interior walk.

Two Boots and Cuatro are quite well … who’s that in the corner?

You’ve already guessed:

Chrome and Two Boots went to the puddle they’ve obviously started, and Jif went around the pond.

Two Boots bravely tried to drink right along with Chrome, which he tolerated for a little bit before he got irritated and started warning her – and Cuatro – away. It was disheartening to see them trying to drink that little bit of muddy water with all the snow around them.

He never actually kicked either of them, but he threatened several times.

The basin’s newest band. Sad to see my Grey-boy lose another mare, but I couldn’t feel too bad about it, watching Cuatro and Hayden race each other on the way to the pond. Naturally, Hayden won. πŸ˜‰

I didn’t have my camera out when they started running. Jif was leading the way to the pond on the north-south road, and I was on the road to Flat Top. Poor Little was lagging behind, and it seemed like he was as tired of walking through the snow as I was. Jif paused once but didn’t wait long. Cuatro trotted up to Hayden, which seemed to infuse him with energy, and they started galloping in circles. Then they hit the straight-away, and Little H really revved the engines, sprinting for the “finish line,” which was mama, of course. He won by a mile, flagged his tufty tail and looked back over his shoulder to make sure mama and his new big brother witnessed his victory! I sure wish I’d been able to get pictures of that, but it was a blast to watch. I didn’t have the opportunity to see them playing again … they spent a good 45 minutes at the pond trying to get water.

Cuatro makes a face after eating a mouthful of snow.

Hayden thought he’d give it a try, too.

Here he’s checking out some mud on the ice. Only Hayden ignored the water – I have seen him nibbling on plants, but he’s still mostly relying on mama’s milk. The little water left at the center of the pondbed is frozen solid.

By the time the little misters interacted again, they were nearly behind Jif, and within seconds, Chrome walked over to block them even further. Sheesh. πŸ™‚ Look how grey Cuatro’s face is already.

Then it was less than an hour to sunset, and I left the ponies, still trying to paw for sips of water. Rippled high clouds in the west lit up like the gates of heaven after the sun dropped below the horizon. To say it was stunning is an understandable understatement.

I was lucky enough to spot Seven, Roja and Ze just at the edge of daylight. Even from a distance, there’s no mistaking Roja’s rotund figure. She reminds me of a pony I grew up with … πŸ™‚ The deer were out, too, and I followed elk tracks through the snow. I imagined, by the size of his tracks, that he was a big, beautiful boy. A fitting end to a day in the wild.


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10 responses

22 12 2009
Nancy Roberts

I love your blog! Your words and pictures are beautiful! I have been going out to Sand Wash. You have cows, we have 2,000 sheep! The 10 year lease comes up for review this summer, I’d like to see them OUT. I wanted to ask you is Spring Creek fenced in? Sand Wash isn’t, I’ve seen numerous hoofprints leading right on to HYWY 318. How do you approach BLM with concerns? I will continue to follow your journey, thank you for giving these horses a voice! I hope to do the same for the Sand Wash bunch, I know about Amanda, but she doesn’t live here and I can’t find any info she has recorded…

22 12 2009
TJ

Nancy,
Have you thought about starting a blog about the Sand Wash horses? It would be incredible to “visit” that herd through your observations, and hopefully the idea will continue to spread to other herds with involved advocates! I hope you’ll get in touch with Amanda when she’s back next summer; because her work is part of a HSUS study, I don’t think she can make it public (yet?).

Spring Creek Basin is fenced in places; in other places, natural barriers are in place. It’s also much, much smaller than Sand Wash Basin: 22, 000 acres compared with the 200,000+ acres there? SCB may be even more isolated. A Colorado highway does run through the northern part of the Disappointment, a few miles away from the herd area boundary. As far as I know, horses that have gotten outside the HMA in the past have gone more southerly – away from the highway.

Contact Kathy McKinstry (herd area manager) at the Little Snake Field Office in Craig. Amanda has said she’s been great to work with.

Hope to see you start a blog soon! πŸ™‚
TJ

22 12 2009
Lynn Bauer

Hello Nancy!
We’ve been hugely lucky to have found TJ through her blog! Now, we’re among Spring Creek Basin’s most ardent advocates! PLEASE do think about starting your own blog on the Sand Wash horses!! We haven’t yet been up there to see them, but would love to do it this coming year! It takes folks like you and TJ to help the rest of us understand who these beautiful creatures and their families really are – it’ll be worth it, I guarantee! They need ALL of us! Thanks for getting involved!
Good Luck!!
Lynn and Kathy
New Mexico

25 12 2009
Pat

TJ, The pictures and the words are a great reminder that the horses are living beings with needs. I find it amazing they survive without a fluid water source.

Cuartro looks great and good confirmation!
Keep up the good work and enjoyment for all of us! Wish we lived closer!

25 12 2009
Marilyn Wargo

Nancy, The horses need you and you have mentioned concerns for them as well as the grazing lease. Who ever can become involved with recording horses, following activity on their range and speaking up for them and even rallying others to them if needed, is a valued advocate and friend they will benefit from.

TJ has been a great observer of the Spring Creek herd and in these difficult times a wonderful example of what the wild ones are asking of us.

I am glad you are strong and willful, TJ. You do cover ground for the horses. What you return with is always a treat. Mar

27 12 2009
TJ

Thanks for all your great comments! The horses ARE living beings with needs – and being fenced in, and being dependent on some human management, is their reality. I have learned so much about my new “family” in these past years, and there is so much more to learn. For BLM to fence them in and consider that natural and so neglect their responsibility to provide for the horses what they would have if they were actually living naturally and free to roam for their needs is insane. The horses are not numbers – they are living beings! So well-said, Pat. They ask so little of us (very well-said, Mar!) and give us so much in return.

It is the frustration of my life that the agency in charge – which looks at the horses only as an expense when compared with grazing and oil/gas/etc. extraction revenues – won’t listen to the “owners” of these horses, those who care the most about them … those of us who see the true value of these horses, in both a historical context and for the joy and peace they bring to our present lives.

Thanks to all of you who advocate for the horses in spite of the sometimes seemingly insurmountable greed, ignorance and hatred. It is because of you that we still have horses in the wild, in their wonderfully simple-complex families, and it will be because of you that we keep them so in spite of those who would remove them to sterile zoos as a last lip-service bid against total annihilation.

Even with BLM bent on their extinction, look how they thrive! Even BLM acknowledges that, eh? πŸ™‚

Thank YOU for all being involved in the horses’ future!!
TJ

30 12 2009
Rochlia

I was wondering- not all members of the BLM are against free-roaming mustangs are they? I’ve heard it was only some. How can a teen [like me] help the wild horses when I live nowhere near them and cannot own one?

30 12 2009
TJ

What a great question about how you can help the horses! Photographer Pam Nickoles has amassed a collection of sites specific to kids and teens.

http://nickolesphotography.wordpress.com/2009/12/12/children-and-our-wild-horses/

Check out those links to get some ideas. She also had a post about a girl who lent her artistic talent to the cause, but I can’t find that post right now. You can contact Pam from her blog and/or read through all her posts, which is a good idea in and of itself. πŸ™‚

As for your first question … it’s hard to say. Don’t forget that the Forest Service and National Park Service also manage some wild horse herds (Assateague Island off Virginia and the Carson National Forest in New Mexico are examples). The national agencies – especially BLM – are concerned about “multiple use,” and wild horses are not the only consideration or even the priority on public lands, even on lands designated as herd management areas. The “issue” is not black and white. I have met a few BLM people who genuinely care about the mustangs in their care, and I hold them in highest regard. Also, “free-roaming” is a little misleading because some (many?) herd areas are fenced, including Spring Creek Basin. In many cases, including ours, that limits the horses’ access to grazing and, perhaps most important, water, which, in most cases, is a huge consideration because of the poor quality ranges most wild horses call home. That they – again, in most cases! – thrive is to their enduring credit!

You’re on the right track reading as much as you can to educate yourself about mustangs! The horses are better for every single person who expresses interest! πŸ™‚
TJ

7 01 2010
Karen Keene Day

For TJ,
I just looked at your photos and your despcriptions of being out there with all the kids, moms and dads. So wonderful. Poor Traveler. He has been through a lot since the Roundup of 2007. I hope he makes another comeback in the Spring. Does he have any lady friend all his?

7 01 2010
TJ

Karen,
Traveler HAS been through a lot … and he is still wild. πŸ™‚ He still has Houdini and their coming-yearling, Terra. At the time these pictures were taken, he also had Houdini’s coming-2-year-old, Iya.
TJ

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