Dapple light

20 05 2010

Had a simply gorgeous time in the basin … despite the forecast that called for – you guessed it – rain/snow – again – right smack dab on my weekend. The forecasters were wrong! (Please forgive my wicked glee!) The sky looked threatening the whole way out, but then it was sunshine and layer upon layer of thick fluffy white clouds from here to the horizon. Ma Nature brewed her dark clouds over the La Sals to the northwest, and assistant Wind dutifully carried them east and south, but Storm’s corridor was just along the northern and eastern ridges and on down to the far southern reaches of Disappointment Valley and beyond, leaving the basin just a paradise on the edge of the world.

An example – this patch of sunlight illuminated the finger hill Bruiser, Twister and Cinch (reunited) were standing on while the ridge behind them stayed in shadow. They were looking down on Hollywood’s band, who eventually went north, while the boys moseyed down off the hill and across the arroyo and up onto the bench that carries the west-side loop road toward Round Top and points east.

Even more is blooming now – late this year. I’ve been keeping track, but – crazy! – I haven’t stopped to photograph the flowers yet. The paintbrush has been trying its best to find the sunshine and warm breath of spring, and more is blooming every week. Prince’s plume started last week … the globe mallow was out just this week – not so much in the basin but very much along the private road leading to the basin. Hardy phlox – white and pink – has been out for weeks and still blooms, some of the petals looking a bit windblown. Loco weed also pops up in places. Some isolated yellow daisies-something-or-other. The cheat grass is still green but starting to flag.  Greasewood is greener than green (it’s possible) and was budding last week. Water holes are dry or very shallow. One pond holds decent water, and a couple of bands are in the vicinity of Wildcat Spring. At least one band is using the catchment, but they have to range far for forage because it’s just not that great in that area. The claret cups are tightly furled within their nests of thorns … not blooming yet. I saw a couple of bunches of lupine (my very favorite wildflower) near Dolores, but that was it. We don’t typically get lupine in the basin (I’m so jealous of the opportunity on Pryor Mountain to photograph babies in fields of blue lupine!)), but there are spots along the Dolores-Norwood Road where they’ve been insane in past years. Given the great snow we had this winter, I’m looking forward to a great show of wildflowers here in Colorado this year.

The horses are mostly shed out now – last year’s youngsters still fuzzy in most cases. Nights still dipping into the 20s (occasionally) and 30s (commonly). The temp reached at least 72 while I was out. Just beautiful.

The first horses I saw were Chrome’s: Jif, Hayden, Two Boots, Cuatro and Chrome, taking his time, bringing up the rear. Can you tell that Jif is slick while Hayden is still fuzzy? Oddly enough, because he was born so late in the year, I’ve never seen Hayden shed out. His face is starting, though, and I think he’s going to stay sorrel – he’s going to be just as handsome a devil as his daddy!

Two Boots is starting to look a little closer … Can you see the little hunks of hair Hayden is trying to shed?

“Wait for me!” They walked on by and down the hill on a horse trail, then Chrome looked up from his lolly-gagging (grazing) and decided he was being left behind, so he went galloping after them.

I saw Seven’s close to Grey/Traveler’s close to Bounce’s, who turned out to be close to Kreacher’s who were close to … Luna’s. (Some stallion weirdness I’ll explain in a minute, so for now, it’s Luna’s band because everyone is following her!)

Didn’t take pix of Seven’s or Grey’s. Seven’s were very close to where I saw them last week. I just sat in the Jeep and watched them. Roja grazed and watched and watched and grazed for about 10 or 15 minutes, then oh-so-casually led her family away. She is so wary and so protective, and because I’ve witnessed them being chased (a couple of summers ago, after which I never saw Molly’s filly Starla again), I just don’t have much heart for even attempting to get too close for her comfort – which isn’t close at all.

Grey’s were moving toward the road on which I had stopped, so I enjoyed my vantage of being able to watch them as they grazed their way closer and eventually crossed to where Seven had had his band.

Who’s who? Doesn’t Whisper, left, look just like daddy Bounce? He’s going grey, though … I love seeing the resemblance.

Gaia and Liberty

And this girl is pulling a Luna on us – two weeks past her “due date,” and she barely looks pregnant at all. Even with her most recent spa treatment in evidence, isn’t she just beautiful?

Raven and Kootenai. You may remember a few posts ago, I referred to their mid-morning nap … here we are smack in the middle of their middle-of-the-afternoon nap!

Corona – no, she is NOT white! – Mona and Kreacher. I know she looks white – she’s blown out, too – but she’s not. She has this very unusual flecking of her palomino color … like Ma Nature couldn’t decide what color to paint her.

All but Mona, who was just off to the left.

And there’s baby Gideon with Mama Luna and Butch, Storm and Alpha at right. Steeldust was nearby but not too close.


Who could resist this gorgeous matriarch? One of the great grand dam(e)s of Spring Creek Basin.

Storm and Alpha watching Kreacher’s band. (And yes, he’s still nursing.)

While I was watching this, I kept one eye on Steeldust, who watched but never moved a hoof. Butch has bred Alpha in the past, but he didn’t now, though she’s clearly in heat.

Butch did a little dance (like a very slow motion passage) over to Steeldust, who didn’t go after him, but neither did he back down. It did provoke him to mark his territory, and Butch went back to Luna, who took the opportunity to walk away …

… followed by Alpha …

… to the very shallow nearby pond. Here’s Steeldust at left – rear – while Butch leaves a territory marker as Luna leads Gideon and Alpha and Storm around the pond – effectively separating Steeldust from the mares.

Luna walked around the pond, but Alpha stopped. Butch continued after Luna, and Steeldust stopped with Alpha.

Think that looks terrible?

How about this?

The good news is that BLM is supposed to have several more ponds – hopefully including this one – dug out because they’re all very shallow (because of the highly erodable soil). The bad news is that neither of the two ponds dug out finally last fall have water right now (I was so optimistic), and the ponds to be dug out aren’t even on the schedule until August or September.

Here’s Butch getting great enjoyment out of his “spa treatment”! Check out how he’s tilted his head and closed his eyes to avoid splashing mud. 😉

He splashed a few times, laid down just so his cheek appeared to touch mud, then got right back up again.

Kreacher, Mona and Raven watch Luna lead the band away from the pond. Butch is looking back at Alpha and the others.

They’re really all quite polite with each other. Whether that’s something conscious – “don’t want to get involved in THEIR drama” or “I think I have enough …” – or bonds keeping them together, who knows? The girls from Sand Wash Basin seem quite content with their boy.

Alegre napping at the base of the hill while the babies (not “babies” anymore!) graze in a bunch. Bounce was down a bit watching the two bands.

He has such a presence, but he’s really not a very big boy in size.

Our very own wild black stallion. He has a heart of gold.

Mahogany, Sundance and Mouse …

Kestrel, Winona and … Comanche, still guarding the girl and the babe!

Notice anybody missing?

There’s Aspen at far right …

Notice anything else, hmm, “odd”? Kestrel and Winona in the background … and in the foreground, Mahogany (front), surrounded by boys, left to right behind her: Mouse, Sundance and Aspen. And not quite ready to present her baby … but close …

Comanche … Hey, who’s that behind him?

Do you see? Recognize? Now do you see who was missing from Mahogany’s band?

Hannah and Sable. When I saw Mahogany – without Sable – I hoped fervently that she had joined her yearmate and big brother Pinon older half-sister Ember with Hook. This kind of thing makes me wonder how “off” our herd dynamic is with massive roundups that take most of the horses every two to four years. Hannah and Sable are yearlings. In a normal environment, I don’t think they’d have left their dams this soon. In both cases, they left before their mothers had even had this year’s foals.

Left to right: Pinon, Hook, Sable, Ember’s head, Hannah


I thought she was going to put on a show like Gideon did last week …

But this wee girl is more reserved than her uncle.

Mama and first-born daughter

Snack time

Love her expression here … *drinker of the wind*! Trying to catch a whiff of this weird two-legged.

Baby girl laid down when Kestrel was grazing with her head hidden from me by a greasewood bush. But then Kestrel grazed her way around her like this, and it looked to me like a little “hug” of the baby – a cocoon of sun-warmed grass and mama’s protective presence.

Comanche grazes by Kestrel as she stands over Winona. The other horses were never far away. I wonder whether Kestrel will continue to follow Mahogany or whether she and Comanche will eventually split off on their own.

Baby napping under guardian legs. Could anything be sweeter?! (Don’t answer that, and if you’ve made it this far, more sweetness is coming …)

With all those boys together, there’s bound to be a little of this. Mouse, left, and Sundance.

And then Hook had the audacity to strut up the hill from his little flock toward Comanche, Kestrel and Winona. Kestrel never looked up, and it didn’t – immediately – interrupt Winona’s nap – but Comanche took immediate notice. And Hook got a little shock:

He took off after him – HARD. I had started to leave them, so I missed the beginning stages of this chase with the camera.

So Hook, former lowest man on the bachelor totem pole, has a band of four now, and Comanche, former first sergeant for Steeldust’s band and then low on the bachelor pole that developed when SD’s band split, seems to have acquired a mare and her foal … and former Lt. Mouse seems to be still in that position – to Sundance, who seems to have been born into and at least grew up in the band? – with Aspen at the low end of THAT heirarchy. Following in the footsteps of low-man Kreacher and low-man Copper … Smarts, not necessarily brawn, with this group?! Or is the bottom of the heap the place to be when it comes to “acquiring” those that lag behind (whether youngsters or a mare that goes off to foal)? Always a myriad to ponder …

Hollywood’s band was almost the last I saw (I saw Cinch, Bruiser and Twister again, far off). Not too far from the road, and I was able to get a nice look at Piedra’s newest son.

No lupine … and greasewood doesn’t quite have the same luminous quality, but baby in a sea of green appeals just as well to my heart.

Piedra and her little boy – see how his star makes a heart at the top – like Hayden’s? Or another upside-down aspen leaf …

Baylee and Sage

After a bit, he got up to nurse, but I loved this look he’s throwing back over his shoulder.

Then Piedra decided that was enough exposure to a two-legged, and she walked down to Hollywood. Iya in the foreground. She turned to follow them, and I wish I’d been about five steps to the left or right because Holls bent his neck around to greet his son for a few seconds before Piedra turned and walked a bit farther before settling back to grazing. The whole moment was blocked because I was behind Iya in a direct path. Oy. As much as I love to capture the interactions between the mamas and their babies, I love to capture that between the stallions and babies – just more rare to see. They like to portray this stoic tough-guy front, but they’re big softies when it comes to babies! Just like all of us!

The Four Corners Back Country Horsemen’s annual wild horse count is this weekend – I hope you folks see all the horses and new babies and have weather as great as mid-week!



10 responses

21 05 2010

Great update!!The horses look great !
when is the next gather going to be in the basin???Is the BLM planing to zeroout this heard?

21 05 2010

They do look pretty fabulous. 🙂

The next roundup will likely be in September 2011. BLM has no plans to zero out this herd that I’m aware of. In fact, one of our BLM representatives told us recently that they’re looking at “Treasured Herd” status – which Spring Creek Basin apparently doesn’t qualify for because it’s so small – but that tells me they want to preserve this herd. We certainly feel that’s the right direction!

21 05 2010
Rochlia [Tracy]

Some of the best photos you have ever taken- Seriously!! How do you do it? :]
The babies look wonderful.

22 05 2010

You answered your own question. 🙂 They’re wonderful! They make it pretty hard to take anything less than lovely photos!

23 05 2010
Lynn Bauer

“Treasured Herd”
EXACTLY!! That’s what they should be! Hope the BLM will consider that seriously. Thanks for these photos – We KNOW Hollywood is a great “father” and will continue to welcome his second son, the same as his first!!
Everyone looks GREAT!
Good job, very good job!! This work that you do is incredibly important, more than you know… The word, “Thanks” doesn’t quite do it but, you know how all of us feel!
L & K
M & M

23 05 2010

I loved this group of photos! I’ve lost count, what is the foal count up to now? I think Winona might be my favourite. She looks like a doll, and so much like her mother!

24 05 2010
Nancy Roberts

I think all Colorado herds should be considered “treasured” If they zero out Piceance Creek there will be only three HMA’s left in the state. Sand Wash did not get treasured status either, but the BLM lady seems to like them and wants to preserve the herd. That would be nuts to have a round up out at Spring Creek. It seems too many people are keeping track of them and there are not enough horses. Couldn’t they humanely pull out a few adoptable ones? We might have to keep enriching the herds with new genes. The transferred Sand Wash mares seems to have worked out well! Who organized that?

I am really thinking positive about Spring Creek. It would be such a great herd to demonstrate how we can manage humanely. I think you are well on your way TJ. Keep documenting and showing the world how special these horses are! I think your herd is on the cutting edge of how we will humanely manage our last remaining wild horse. Keep up the good work! Always love your blog and learn new things….no wonder Sand Wash has those yearlings that leave their families so young! (-: PS Sand Wash is behind, we are lacking public friends, the HSUS does not like to share their info on the PZP study, and the BLM does not have the time to moniter the horses. But I would say 99% of people I talk to like the horses and want to see them “preserved”. Thanks for the inspiration.

24 05 2010

I was thinking the same thing – all the herds should be treasured. At least it’s good to know that our BLM folks in Colorado treasure most of our herds. It’s frustrating that because they want to (still) zero out West Douglas they don’t seem to consider its existence (I think you meant West Douglas? Or have you heard something about Piceance Creek??).

We have talked to BLM about conducting roundups via bait trapping, which is a humane method of gathering horses and removing select horses, and we even had the folks who do it on New Mexico’s Carson National Forest and elsewhere come visit … but it’s more expensive (than helicopters) and takes more time (very humane), and BLM likes things fast and cheap and “easy.” And it won’t say helicopter roundups are inhumane because that’s how it conducts the majority of its roundups. Unfortunately, although it is extremely unfortunate and will rip my heart out, it is not unnecessary to have a roundup here. This small herd area simply cannot support a large, ever-growing population of horses. It’s desert – much like Sand Wash Basin – but on a much smaller scale. In 2007, more than 100 horses were in Spring Creek Basin, and they were lean. Some of the horses had gone outside the herd area looking for more food, more water. That’s pressure. I don’t want to ever see horses skinny – in a roundup year or any other time. We already – again – have very few water sources (where the horses can actually get water) – already in May! We don’t get the grass here that some other herd areas do – cheat grass in the spring, rice grass, galleta grass … and then the horses are subsisting on whatever they can find. They are amazingly adapted – you’ve seen the pictures – and they look fantastic – now. I asked the same question on my first visit as most people ask: What the heck do they EAT?! The better question, I’ve realized, is where do they drink? Range ecology has become a huge interest for me because it affects the horses. I even studied it briefly in college. But I am no expert, on either the types of forage out there nor really what condition it’s in. The eastern part of the basin looks – to me – in worse condition than last year. Last year, that’s where the grass and water were best, longest, and it was heavily used by the horses. Are we seeing the results of that this year? I’d also like to see more water sources, more widely dispersed, so the horses graze in areas that have good forage but where they rarely go because there’s little or no water.

No, it’s not a viable herd, but it’s there, carrying on – with help – genetics that have been in the larger Disappointment Valley area a very long time. It is *treasured,* and no BLM-bestowed “status” can really add meaning to that. Not having that status does NOT take that away or lessen how we cherish those horses. Introducing horses started several years ago with a former BLM herd area manager, as I understand it. He brought in stallions (one was shot here, two were removed: one was later shot at Little Book Cliffs where he had been taken, and the other was gelded and bled to death). Since then, mares have been introduced, with so far happier results, though I don’t know the fate of one of Luna’s mates (she was introduced, also from SWB, in 2001 with two other mares; one died the winter after the 2007 roundup). We were supposed to get mares from Little Book Cliffs (tested and shown to be genetically most similar to SCB horses) – from their roundup a month after ours in 2007. But apparently because they got “just” the one-year PZP and our mares had just been given PZP-22 (oh, if I knew then what I know now?), our BLM and Forest Service supervisors held out for other horses if a roundup was going to be held in Colorado the following year – welcome Sand Wash Basin mares. I’m happy (very happy!) with Mona, Raven and Kootenai, but it was a weird excuse.

We also think it’s a perfect herd to manage with all the tools available – and its size is one of those things that makes it perfect, I think. We can slow the population growth with carefully administered PZP, and, hopefully with the tremendous cost savings, BLM will consider bait trapping here in the future.

Perhaps because the HSUS study is in progress is why they’re not sharing information yet? Because it’s a study, once it’s completed, I’m sure the information will be made available (the same study also is ongoing in Cedar Mountains, Utah). I know it’s hard waiting … I’m not patient … the horses are teaching me. 🙂 You keep doing what you’re doing monitoring and documenting the horses.

Is there a Back Country Horsemen group near Craig? Two local groups here are partners with us in advocating for the horses. It might be worth checking out if there’s a group near you that would be interested in the same for the Sand Wash Basin mustangs. Or find some of those people you talk to and maybe set up a meeting with BLM to discuss their goals and concerns and how you/a volunteer advocacy group can help. BLM – like all government agencies – is strapped, for both cash and manpower. BLM offices are being encouraged to utilize volunteer groups as much as possible. You won’t always see eye to eye, but the thing to do is keep offering solutions based on sound understanding of the herd and herd area. Criticism alone won’t help the horses.

Speaking of Back Country Horsemen, our Durango-based group just had their annual count (been doing it 12 years now, I think?!). They’ve been involved a long time! And I know from experience, it’s never too late to start. They may have a report of more foals since I was out last week, but last I knew, we have six foals. I love Winona, too. 😉

24 05 2010
Nicole Vinson

YAY i graduate friday. I was just checking up on these guys and i think that the Sable and Hannah thing is so interesting. Its cool that they stayed together though. I did not make it for the count because of school and we just lost one of our best horses on friday. so its quiet sad. But all of the wild ones look so good. it would just be great if they had good water.

24 05 2010

Congratulations, Nicole!! The most interesting part of your life is just over the horizon. Make the best of it! 🙂

Well, I just found out the count was blown away – literally. We had more insane wind and dust Friday and Saturday, and the count was basically canceled. People did drive around the herd area, though (at least it didn’t snow?!), and saw 32 horses! That’s about half, so that’s a pretty good sighting.

I am so sorry about your horse. We can never stand to lose any of them … remember what they taught you, and they’ll live on. My very sincere sympathies.

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