McCullough Peaks fertility control EA

31 01 2011

McCullough Peaks Herd Management Area, east of Cody, Wyo., has a fertility control EA out for review, similar to the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range Finding of No Significant Impact/Decision Record.

From the McCullough Peaks EA: “Gathers and removals alone will not address the fundamental problem, which is reproduction by horses remaining on the range.

“The purpose of the Proposed Action is to consider a fertility control treatment program in order to maintain a population of 100 adult wild horses which is also within the AML of 70 – 140 wild horses. The purpose is also to stabilize the population in order to reduce the need for larger helicopter gather and removal operations. The Proposed Action in this EA considers the BLM’s need to help maintain wild horse herd numbers to levels consistent with the AML and to make progress towards achieving standards of rangeland health. The need for the Proposed Action is to maintain the population in a thriving natural ecological balance by maintaining the wild horse population within the AML and to analyze the impacts to the wild horses from utilization of fertility control.”

Please also take the time to read photographer Pam Nickoles’ recent blog post:

Pam has made frequent visits to the McCullough Peaks herd, gotten to know the horses intimately and is very invested in the health and well-being of the herd. Visit her website to see stunning photography of wild horses across the West, including McCullough Peaks.

Reviewers of the EA have 30 days to comment. Comments should be addressed to Patricia L. Hatle, BLM-CYFO, 1002 Blackburn Ave., Cody, WY 82414 and postmarked no later than February 22, 2011. Comments can also be e-mailed no later than close of business on February 22, 2011, to:

Please do take the time to comment. Pryor Mountain now has an annual fertility control program (as it has in the past), McCullough Peaks would follow that example (and fertility control also has been used there in the past) … and Spring Creek Basin would follow in their footsteps, using fertility control to slow, not stop herd population growth (I’m not a proponent of sterilization, and I’m not sure I like the intense management as is used at Assateague being applied to Western herds). Soon, I’ll be asking you to comment on our EA. I simply ask that you read the EA and comment.

If it helps, use information from my previous blog post: and/or peruse information found here and here to help form educated opinions about the use of fertility control.

The range is not going to be expanded. Mountain lions do not provide sufficient population-control predation. Roundups will continue to happen … hopefully with a move away from helicopters to more humane bait trapping with fewer horses removed and less often than currently. Am I talking about McCullough Peaks or Spring Creek Basin here? Either. Both. Focus on what we CAN do.

The horses are known – they’re documented extensively in McCullough Peaks, as they are in Little Book Cliffs, on Pryor Mountain and at Spring Creek Basin. Volunteers will be used in McCullough Peaks as in the other areas – a woman from FOAL (Friends Of A Legacy) was in my training class at the Science and Conservation Center, and others are already trained.

We – the public, owners of our American mustangs – are being given opportunities to weigh in on the future management of our horses. People ask all the time: What can I do?

Read this document:

Write herd area manager Patricia L. Hatle, BLM-CYFO, at 1002 Blackburn Ave., Cody, WY 82414 before Feb. 22, 2011. Or  e-mail

She needs positive comments to make this annual fertility control program a success. Please support her, read the EA carefully … and, most importantly, support the mustangs of McCullough Peaks.

(Note: All photos taken during my September 2009 visit to McCullough Peaks.)

Love triangle

30 01 2011

The time has come (it’s past time, really) to go ahead and publish this post, which has been in draft form for a few months now.

The misinformation out there about fertility control – including PZP-22 and native PZP, often used interchangeably (though the base vaccine is the same) – is staggering and, given its potential value as an effective tool in the management of wild horses, horribly disturbing. I read something the other day that said PZP causes stallions to fight all the time over mares that are always in heat. I’ve also heard that because the mares continue to come into heat each month (that, in fact, is true – every 18 to 23 days with some seasonal irregularities), they are “continually raped” by stallions.

***Rape is a wholly human construct. Stallions do not rape mares.***

A mare’s “heat cycle” is her body’s indication that she is fertile and ready to be bred.

Rape is a terrible, terrible thing that is about domination. Please do not confuse the awfulness of a man overpowering a woman against her will with the natural cycle of procreation in a wildlife species.

This year, I witnessed an early-foaling (April) mare being bred in June. That means she missed (conceiving on) her foaling heat and the next month’s heat cycle and was bred (again, I assume) two months after she foaled. She has never been treated with fertility control. The stallion did chase her, and she did stand for him.

Alpha still apparently has not conceived, though she received a dose of PZP-22 in August 2007, and it had no effect on the other three surviving mares that received it then (and no, PZP-22 was NOT responsible for the two mares’ deaths). You might remember that Alpha foaled in late July 2008 – an event not connected to fertility control (neither PZP nor PZP-22 affects the fetus a mare may be carrying when she receives the vaccine). Why so late? Trouble conceiving? She is an older mare, though I’m unsure of her exact age. The fact that Storm was still nursing as of last fall means one of two things: She’s either not pregnant or she’s not enough pregnant to be ready to wean her big boy.

An older mare getting an extended break from the demands of carrying and caring for a foal is not a bad thing.

Mahogany, who lost her foal this spring, also is an older mare. She’s an older mare being courted by three young-ish bachelors, the youngest (I think) of which seems to have the highest “rank” and has claimed her. But that doesn’t stop them all from enjoying quiet moments together.

Mouse at left, Mahogany facing and Sundance behind her. Aspen, the third stallion, is definitely the low-rank stallion; he was just up the hill.

Mahogany is likely pregnant again – not cycling, to be blunt – but that doesn’t stop these bachelors from sticking close to her – watching her and each other for an opening. (Jan. 20 update – these four horses have finally apparently split from Steeldust’s band.) This is likely rank-related because Mahogany is, as I said, likely pregnant. Every now and then, there’s a scrap, quickly resolved, and sometimes, there are moments the stallions share like this:

… from a visit in September. Mouse, left, and Sundance. It’s just as sweet as it looks – no seconds-later sparring after this picture was taken.

So Mahogany, never treated with fertility control, has three boys vying for her “affection.” She lost a foal but was likely bred on her foaling heat and is most likely pregnant now with a foal due this spring – but healthy and doing well without a foal in the last year. Alpha, treated once with PZP-22 – and apparently not yet pregnant, so cycling every month, though she’s doing it so quietly I haven’t witnessed it – has one extremely devoted stallion, is in fantastic condition and has a big, ultra-stout colt who has gotten double the nutrition and attention from his alpha-mare dam.

Late births? Sure, we’ve had a few – treated AND UNtreated mares:

* Chipeta received PZP-22 in August 2007. She did not foal in 2008, likely because she was young and had not been bred or had not conceived in 2007. She has foaled July 26, 2009, and Sept. 1, 2010 (and why that difference?). Her 2009 foal, Joven, died at about 2 weeks.

*Kiowa received PZP-22 in August 2007, has foaled May 1, 2008; July 1, 2009; and June 28, 2010.

* Alpha received PZP-22 in August 2007, foaled July 25, 2008 (again, not influenced by fertility control). No foals since.

* Mona, treated with PZP-22 in October 2008, foaled in mid-September 2010.

* Raven, treated in October 2008 with PZP-22, foaled in April 2009, not in 2010 and looks pregnant for a foal this spring (though only she knows exact timing).

*Kootenai, treated in October 2008 with PZP-22, has not had a foal.

* Jif foaled Sept. 22, 2009 (never treated with fertility control), likely her first foal; she was not rounded up and had no foal with her post-roundup and no foal (or indication of pregnancy) in 2008. Jif lost her foal immediately or soon after birth in 2010, which would have been in August or September, as did three other mares in 2010 never treated with fertility control.

To continue something I can’t explain, three 2-year-olds have foaled (one lost the foal at birth), and two 3-year-olds (they’ll be 4 this year … I haven’t seen Reya for a while now, but Baylee still looks girlish slim) have not yet foaled. I wonder about it, but I can’t explain it. I wonder also about the overall health of the young mares and their foals vs. that of the mares foaling when they’re older, more mature, stronger.

Nature vs. fertility control? Neither PZP nor PZP-22 cause late births, though I do believe the timing of the application has much to do with it, whether caused by timing of roundups or delay because of legal action. Late births do occur naturally. Something I consider a very positive “pro” of native PZP over PZP-22 is that the remote field darting can coincide with the mares’ biology and is not dependent on human-timed roundups.

We have proposed a fertility control program here as is done in Little Book Cliffs, near Grand Junction, Colorado: With trained volunteer darters, using native (annual) PZP.

The benefits to the horses (individually and as a herd) are indisputable: Fewer births = slower herd population growth = less frequent roundups/disruptions of natural bonds. Mares are healthier, and apparently more attention is given to the foals they do have, which results in healthy(ier?) horses with a high(er?) level of herd knowledge.

The benefits to BLM are – true to form – in numbers: Huge cost savings because of fewer roundups. We think a fertility control program can reduce roundups from three per decade (2000, 2005, 2007 in the last decade) to one. Fewer horses in the adoption pipeline … fewer horses in long-term holding = major cost savings (truly, a benefit to American taxpayers). Overall, this savings numbers in the millions of dollars: Numbers I’ve seen (attributed to a BLM spokesman) are $100,000/day cost to care for horses in long-term holding and an average cost of $20,000 per horse over its lifetime in long-term holding.

Benefits to us who love these horses – to the horses themselves: Dare I say it, priceless.

Several factors make Spring Creek Basin perfect for this type of annual fertility control darting by volunteers: The herd is small (AML=35-65 horses). The herd management area is small (~22,000 acres). The horses are documented by yours truly, the benefits of which I realized shortly after our roundup when I witnessed the Little Book Cliffs roundup and soon after that met the director of the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center (documentation in both herds has been ongoing for years). Our mares are approachable. Contrary to what some (BLM) folks say, visitors do not particularly enjoy the sight of mustangs running away in a cloud of dust a quarter of a mile away. We like to SEE our horses, being horses, grazing, napping, playing, sparring, grooming. This does not make them any less wild?! I don’t understand that argument. But to address it, another benefit to remote darting is that it eliminates the need to round up horses or trap horses or handle horses in order to treat them – hands-off management, which BLM espouses.

Do the horses start to realize what you – the darter – are up to? Of course they do – they’re wily wild! But here’s another misconception debunked: Annual darting of mares on Assateague Island (National Seashore, National Park Service) has been ongoing for 24 years now. Is it hard to dart those mares? They come right up to the tourists, right? In fact, only about 5 percent of the horses are in tourist areas; those horses are the second hardest to dart – second to Little Book Cliffs horses (I have these facts from someone personally involved in the programs of both places). Thought those mustangs were “tame,” too, did you?

Do they become impossible to dart? Twenty-four years (this year) of successful annual darting on Assateague and close to a decade at Little Book Cliffs would seem to prove otherwise, eh?

I am not in any way advocating sterilization. In fact, I am absolutely against sterilization – gelding or otherwise. And I’ll note here that – according to the more than two decades of research on this issue – six or seven consecutive years of PZP application has been found to render mares permanently infertile. Look at that in practical terms. I do not advocate sterility of healthy, mature mares in the prime of life … But neither would I have minded mares like Ceal and Molly NOT leaving orphans because they had foals right up to the years they died. And I would not have minded seeing a mare like Bones, with her healed fractured pelvis, not able to have foals (which killed her – and her foal) but quite able to enjoy wild life with her stallions as long as possible.

What I am FOR is mustangs, wild, on their home ranges, without disruption, longer. I hate roundups – I had a very physical reaction at our roundup in 2007, and to say I am not looking forward to the roundup this fall is the understatement of the eon. BUT – I would rather see healthy horses, able to withstand the helicopter’s assault, brought in than horses in lesser condition. Our horses in 2007 were not quite skinny … but where’s the line? They were definitely lean, on the edge. The population was way over AML, probably between 110 and 120. The basin is fenced or cut off by insurmountable natural boundaries. The amount of forage is limited; the amount of water, even more so. The quality of water is terrible – alkaline with a higher salt content than is considered acceptable for livestock. Cattle graze on the area only from December through February – only when there’s snow – fresh water in frozen form. Coincidence? I doubt it.

I would rather healthy horses be rounded up than horses in less-than-good condition – because I know the future. I will never advocate that “nature take its course” within the confines of human management: fences. “Free-roaming” isn’t, quite.

Here, our group(s) – Colorado chapter of the National Mustang Association, and as representatives to Disappointment Wild Bunch Partners, which also includes representatives of Four Corners Back Country Horsemen, Mesa Verde Back Country Horsemen and San Juan Mountains Association (though SJMA is not an advocate organization) – advocates for BLM’s spoken goals – protecting and managing wild horses in balance with their range – and we are working to provide local BLM with the information to achieve those goals.

This is a big, complex issue, and I can’t possibly cover it all in this post. I hope I’ve given it a broad enough brush to spur thought. We don’t want people protesting our roundup. This year – every year – we want smart management choices to be made on behalf of our mustangs. Sixty of 90 horses to be rounded up are slated for removal. If not next year, 90 of 120 to be removed? Healthy horses or not-so-healthy horses?

I am speaking strictly for Spring Creek Basin, where I know the horses and I know the range. Horses on other ranges – their numbers, conditions, range and water conditions – are not my expertise.

One thing readers should know about me if you haven’t learned it by now: The mustangs of Spring Creek Basin are my No. 1 priority. Period. I will do all I can, as long as I can, for their continued well-being and natural, long, wild lives – and I expect that to be a very long time indeed. And I hope what we do here, following precedent set in a handful of other herd areas, will become, in turn, part of that model for more herd areas to follow. Time, data, experience, success. BLM cannot continue on its current unsustainable course.

Another post I read recently has it right: These horses belong to US, not to BLM. But BLM is charged with management of wild horse herds on BLM lands, in addition to other charges regarding other resources. We have the opportunity to advise BLM in the horses’ best management (another benefit of this herd management area, where I know the horses best), but it has to be smart. BLM must be willing to take responsibility and completely overhaul its management practices. I believe that includes fertility control – not starvation – and not continued reaction to “excess” horses instead of managing from the front end – mares get pregnant, have foals, population grows, population outgrows finite resources.

If this post starts the wheels turning, it has accomplished my goal. I cannot recommend highly enough or often enough that you read this series, put together by Matt Dillon, director of the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center:

I didn’t intend to get so heavy with this post, thinking “love triangle” was a cute way to illustrate the picture of Mahogany with her boys and bring up – and debunk –  misconceptions about PZP at the same time. But we’re all locked in a love-hate triangle: wild horses, advocates, BLM. Wild life is messy, not all advocates agree with all other advocates, BLM itself is a dysfunctional agency, I believe, but I also believe there are some good people within its ranks. One cannot paint all herd areas with the same broad strokes, nor all herds, nor all advocates, nor all BLM employees.

In principle, I can agree with this, from the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign:

The AWHPC Coalition is calling on Congress to reform the government’s wild horse management program and organizing a grassroots campaign in support of:

  • A suspension of roundups in all but verifiable emergency situations while the entire BLM wild horse program undergoes objective and scientific review;
  • Higher Appropriate Management Levels (AML) for wild horses on those rangelands designated for them;
  • Implementation of in-the-wild management, which would keep wild horses on the range and save taxpayers millions annually by avoiding the mass removal and stockpiling wild horses in government holding facilities.

In actual practice, however, stopping or postponing a roundup here could hasten a likely emergency situation in the future. No roundup now, when horses are healthy and not overburdening their food and water resources, also would have the effect of delaying the “legalities” of implementing a fertility control program in Spring Creek Basin as soon as possible (completing a five-year environmental assessment in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act).

Also, I would substitute “accurate” appropriate management levels where it says “higher” appropriate management levels, using best science and giving wild horses priority on their designated ranges, herd areas and herd management areas, hoping that, in many of these very large areas, higher AMLs would, indeed, be accurate and appropriate.

I wholly support the third premise.


Education may not be part of BLM’s mission. It is part of mine. As someone who spends part of almost every week of the year with these horses, I feel pretty strongly that my opinion and long-term, on-the-ground, in-the-wild observations count for something that can and should be of benefit to the eternal preservation of our wild horses. “In wildness is the preservation of the world” … and our mustangs.

Some PZP resources:

* Excellent series about fertility control: (click through “Older Entries” to get to the beginning)

* Q&A:

Video with Dr. Jay Kirkpatrick, director of the Science and Conservation Center: (it’s long but well worth the information)

I want to leave you with some things to consider:

People hate roundups because they cause such trauma and social upheaval, yet when it comes to fertility control, they seem to completely forget and/or overlook roundups/removals as a cause of any “social unrest” or that fertility control can provide a much better alternative. WHY?? (Predation is a major “if” that has a lot to do with culture and politics, and starvation makes me sick.)

When you ask for facts about PZP/PZP-22 – as well you should! – don’t forget to ask the same questions of the alternative! The alternative to fertility control is, of course, roundups and removals. Consider these factors:

Genetic: Removals are more damaging to the genetic pool of a herd than anything else. The horses most likely to be removed are the younger horses, those considered most “adoptable.” Those horses will NEVER have the opportunity to contribute their genetics. PZP/PZP-22 is reversible. Every horse gets the chance to contribute to the genetic resources of the herd. Now, I expect that rounds and removals will continue to happen, though hopefully the interval will be greater. Unless BLM takes the intense approach Assateague has (and I don’t really see that), some roundups (though we hope bait trapping rather than helicopters will become the norm) and removals will need to happen. Fertility control is not a perfect panacea … but in a fenced pasture – no matter how large – allowing constant breeding makes BLM the most irresponsible horse breeder in the country, even as it is the country’s largest landowner.

Social: Removals, it should go without saying, also are devastating to this intensely familial-bonded species. Slower population growth, effected by fertility control, prevents frequent widespread removals and severing of social/familial bonds. Is witnessed “social unrest” after roundups due to PZP/PZP-22??? Or is it due to removals of sires, dams, siblings, band stallions, mares …???

Economic: I just heard that 40 percent of BLM’s budget goes to the Wild Horse & Burro Program. I’ve read that 75 percent of the Wild Horse & Burro Program’s budget is for roundups and holding. Someone help me with an actual dollar figure per year? Millions. The cost of native PZP is $25 per dose, $1 per dose of adjuvant, $2.15 for the dart = less than $30 per mare per year. Volunteer darters provide intimate knowledge of their horses and free labor. If we can dart 10 mares per year here, that’s $300. ‘Nuff said?

Doing this post has worried me more because of what I’m afraid I’ve inadvertently left out in my explanation or details I’ve been obliged to leave out because of length rather than what I’ve included. Please do ask questions! Please do consult experts! My constant disclaimer is that I am NOT an expert, though I feel beyond fortunate to have mentors such as Dr. Jay Kirkpatrick who IS probably the world’s foremost expert on PZP.

Again, much information is here:

More is coming in this vein …

Corona reunited

27 01 2011

Corona is back with her mama Raven, auntie Kootenai and stepdaddy Kreacher.

They were watching a giant group of deer climbing Filly Peak, and between the deer on Filly Peak …

… and the deer with them (see two of them?) …

and another band of horses …

… and the cattle … I didn’t have quite the quiet visit I had hoped. But I was glad to see Corona back with her family! 🙂

Linda asked how far I had to walk to get to the horses last week. That was 15-20 minutes. Today, I was out for five hours, and most of it was hiking. I thought it would be fun to show you where I came from … and where I went. It’s hard to give you a good idea of the distance because I had just my long lens and it cut out half the foreground distance!

From close to my farthest distance (coming back from checking Kreacher’s with the cattle). The rightmost arrow is a rough approximation of where I came up the hill. (Edit: The leftmost arrow is about where Chrome’s band was last week when I visited with them.) The Disappointment Road isn’t far below. Chrome’s are actually out there – see ’em? 🙂 We apparently passed each other, and I didn’t see them until I got to this vantage.

A little later … the other horses on the hill. They’re definitely missing a member. Do you know who they are?

Then, from there (the arrows above) … looking back to where I am in the above two pix:

The leftmost arrow is where I first saw Kreacher’s – with Corona! – earlier in the day. I walked on down the hill (to the right as I take the above photo) and just sat in the snow for a while, surveying the basin, enjoying how much warmer 2 degrees (and no wind) felt from last week. I saw Grey/Traveler’s family for the first time this year. I saw Bounce’s family WAY up to the northeast. The rightmost arrow is close to the farthest away I went. At the very right – right of the rightmost arrow – is the western base of Filly Peak. Between here and there are a lot of arroyos – narrow but deep and very steep-walled – in other words, difficult to get from here to there – and back. I went to see Corona with her family … seeing ??? was a bonus!

More to come, as always.

All together

26 01 2011

When I crested the hill, I saw a light grey horse down the hill … then a dun back … and my first thought was Seven’s.

But then I saw Rio and shifted my identification – to Chrome’s. The hill they were on is cut by tree-lined drainages that run down to a valley, cut by a bigger arroyo fed by drainages from the base of Filly Peak. Chrome, Jif and Hayden were in one drainage. Up across the hill, across another drainage and on the next “hill” were Two Boots and Rio. It’s not unusual for the horses to separate while they graze, and they certainly weren’t worried.

I couldn’t seem to capture on digital memory the 3D look the scene had in reality, with the backlit shine and country stretching out behind them.

Sweet ponies.

Chrome striking a handsome pose while he watches Two Boots and Rio come across to the hill he’s on.

Mr. Handsome

Chrome got a little miffed when Hayden tried to share his grazing. Hayden’s feelings weren’t hurt, but he did finally leave stepdaddy to his treat.

Jif watching Two Boots and Rio.

Down the hill …

Hi, sweet mama!

I liked their faces …

Rio in the foreground … Seven, Roja, Mona and Shane are in the background.

I just like this one, peace, light, a little breeze, mountains, calm … beautiful.


25 01 2011

Mustangs are subject to many hardships, from which they have evolved and for which they have adapted, but they seem to universally share one pure delight: Eating snow.

Jif, Hayden and Chrome grazed, napped, blissed out on the divineness of snow … Yonder, about the region behind Hayden’s forehead and ears, is where Seven’s band later appeared. Kreacher, Raven and Kootenai were down in the valley to the right. Two Boots and Rio were independently grazing a drainage away to the left. (And I’m not sure why they were so distant … not a one of them seemed at all worried. Two Boots did eventually lead Rio across the drainage and at least onto the hill below where Chrome, Jif and Hayden were, but they took their time moseying on to the next. I’ll have pix of them in a future post.)

Ignore for a moment his rather goofy pose … Long-time readers may recognize it as something fairly peculiar to him, which he has been doing all his life.

This young man does enjoy the sunshine on his flame-colored face!

Awake and looking for mama.

With stepdaddy Chrome …

With mama Jif.

How handsome is he, this son of Grey/Traveler?

Lovely Jif. Pretty, delicate face, stout, feathery legs.

Blissed out on snow …

Sleepy in the sunshine …

The best place for her icy treat was apparently just down the hill from where I was reclining (I did my best to leave an angel for them, but the snow was too crusty!), above the deeper little cut through the drainage.

Beautifully wild

Hayden made some great faces!

I just adore him. 🙂

Even normally stoic Chrome got in on the fun!

Their reputations as wild, fierce stallions of the West would be ruined if people knew how languorously giddy they are about eating snow – such a simple pleasure … err … oops. 😉

Jif up the hill.


23 01 2011

The seasonal shuffling has begun. I’m a little surprised at the timing and two of the horses involved, but it’s one of those things that keep me guessing and wondering – and learning.

Though it is seemingly easier to spot horses against snow, I find it more difficult to make long-distance identifications against the glare. In the dry (non-snow) months, I look for our grey horses as clues to “there they are!” In the snow months, I look for the dark horses … but because of the glare, sometimes even the greys look dark against the snow – or sometimes are nearly invisible, depending on their shade! And though the basin is fairly “flat” compared with some herd areas I’ve visited, the horses can “hide” in plain sight depending on your vantage point.

Early in my visit this week, I spotted some horses in an area where I’ve been seeing horses each visit (also, interestingly, where I rarely see horses in the non-snow months, which makes me think they take advantage of the snow – moisture – to graze the area, which doesn’t have a close water source otherwise). But because of distance and glare and a tree-filled drainage and curve of a hill, I couldn’t see colors or even be sure I saw all the horses. One of the horses was a distance from the others, and it looked like Kootenai – but seemingly alone. Though I watched for several minutes, and the horse turned and grazed and walked a few steps and stood still, no other horses came into view nearby.

To set up the scene for what I saw next, let me retreat to my entrance into the basin, very soon after which, I saw most of Steeldust’s band in the area of a small pond. I couldn’t see them all because of hills (they were close enough to ID without the aid of binoculars) – in fact, in passing, I first thought it was Raven and Corona who caught my eye before I stopped and backed down the snowy hill. But it was dark-coated Storm and Alpha and Steeldust … and Butch … and Luna and Gideon … Mahogany … Aspen … and I didn’t see the others (Sundance and Mouse). I’ve seen them on all my recent visits, and the day was warm (33F), so I decided to drive a littlefarther in for a look before making a decision to stay or go on the soft and melting snow.

Fast forward past the sighting of the horses I mentioned above to the hill past the catchment, where I always stop for a good vantage to glass a wide portion of the basin. And down in the flats, running from west (where I’d originally seen them) to east, Steeldust’s band – mostly – led by … what’s this?! Corona!

Although I’d initially thought I saw Corona out of the corner of my eye, after I stopped the Jeep, I ID’d Alpha with certainty … but I can’t tell you that I didn’t see Corona because I just don’t know – but I didn’t see her after I stopped to look.

Storm followed Corona closely, and they were followed closely by mama Alpha and Steeldust … then, a few “lengths” back, Butch, Gideon and mama Luna trotting up the rear. I scanned behind them for Mahogany and Co. … but the scenery was clear of horses, all the way back to the area of the pond from which they’d come. I didn’t know it then, but later, right before I left, I spotted Mahogany and Sundance, Aspen and Mouse far to the northeast! And there’s the second split of the day for you. This split is not too surprising; they’ve been hanging out not far – but not close – to the main band (Luna’s band, truth be told) – for a while now.

Storm’s interest in Corona was seemingly friendly and polite – and clearly fresh. But how fresh … especially if I had, indeed, seen Kootenai where I did, quite a distance to the south – and invisible from the horses now with Corona? And my impression was that the band didn’t follow Corona as much as they followed one of their own – Storm – who followed Corona.

They stopped before a line of low hills below part of the road … and Corona angled off and started heading toward the road below the hill I was on. She stopped … resumed walking … stopped … resumed walking … The other horses – including Storm, stayed in a group where they had stopped and after a few minutes started grazing.

I walked out to get a better look at Corona, who eventually stopped on the road at a manure pile that she sniffed with apparently some interest. Then she cocked a hind leg and stood. I didn’t see any injuries – hadn’t seen any indication of a limp. When I was in a position that put semi-dark hills behind her, I could see by her puffs of breath that she was still breathing more rapidly than I’d have expected – not heaving but not the recovered breathing I thought she’d show … although the snow was not nearly as light and flaky as previous visits. It had a crust to the top that made walking a chore, though it was only about fetlock deep or so.

She seemed to see the horses out on the hill that I hadn’t yet identified, but I knew she couldn’t see the horse I thought was Kootenai – with her mother Raven in Kreacher’s band – from her position. I couldn’t see them from where I was, either. For whatever reason, she seemed content to stand on the road, and I eventually became concerned that I was blocking the direction she wanted to go – and that the softening snow might present difficulty to drive back out (it didn’t) – so I decided to leave her to her journey, whatever it might be.

She’s on the road there, though it’s hard to tell.

On the road standing next to the manure pile she found. It did look fairly fresh, though which horse dropped it, I don’t know – though perhaps she did?!

Still on the road …

What a view she has!

This was about the point when I left her. She had moved just off the road and was grazing here and there. I couldn’t see her puffs of breath anymore, she seemed very relaxed, and I want to emphasize that she never did look stressed, it was just something I noticed and couldn’t explain. She couldn’t have been running with Steeldust’s long given the short time interval between when I’d first seen them (whether she was with them then or not) and drive to where I’d stopped and seen the other horses, then out to where I saw her, but the snow was rather “grabby,” for lack of a better descriptor (!). It made me huff and puff, but I’m not nearly in the shape of the mustangs!

Corona will be 2 on April 29, so she’s very much a youngster. How did she get separated? And for how long? I doubt she got kicked out (yet) … maybe the bands were close … she and Storm got to playing … the bands went their separate ways, and Corona got left behind … decided to dally behind? Maybe it wasn’t Storm at all – or another band. Maybe she just wandered around behind a hill or down in an arroyo … It’s impossible to say how she came to be alone – other than for her. Maybe we’ll yet see her back with her family.

The other separation is one I don’t have a picture of because although I saw the band, I didn’t see Spring with them … and I can’t say she was NOT with them … just that I didn’t SEE her with them, though I watched for quite a long while during the time I spent with Chrome’s – which was the band on the hill I saw originally – above Kreacher’s band, with Raven and Kootenai.

I left the interior basin and drove around to hike in to the horses on the hill – and happily found them to be Chrome’s. I saw that it was, indeed, Kreacher’s band below them, and I had been hanging out with Chrome’s in the snow for a little while before I spotted another horse farther north – in Corona’s direction (I never did see Corona from this vantage, though if she’d been on the road, I should have).

Sizing this for the blog has made him even more difficult to see than in the original image file, but there’s the dark back of a horse about dead-center in the frame. Hook’s band had been hanging out in this general area, and I first thought it might be Pinon’s back.

But this was the first horse to come into full view, and again it’s hard to tell from this compressed file, but Roja made the band’s identification a snap!

There’s Seven, Mona and Shane almost hidden.

Seven closest, Ze behind the woody shrub, Roja in front of him, and Mona and Shane at left. I did positively ID Shane by her face markings and hind socks.

Roja at right, Ze in the middle, Mona and Shane at left. The other horses grazed around, but Shane napped standing up where she’s pictured there for quite a while. I wondered whether Spring was possibly down to the left. I wasn’t yet sure when I took this picture that the dark horse was Ze. He was born bay and is going grey but very subtly. Spring is dark bay (like Liberty), and I think she is, in fact, bay. I never saw two dark horses at the same time … though I can’t with conviction say that the dark horse I saw at any particular time was always Ze. The image compression makes him just look like a solid dark blob, but I was pretty sure it was Ze … and then he finally peed, and his identity was confirmed. 🙂 Do you see the line of dirt in front of the horses? That’s the top edge of a little arroyo that they started crossing to the right (coming to the near side or toward the camera). Do you also see the edge of the little “hill” in front of Shane, who was also standing in a little arroyo or drainage? That was a little lower area, choked with (probably) greasewood, and it was hard to see into it. The horse I later ID’d as Ze went in – disappeared – reappeared as he grazed his way out …

You can be sure I’ll be looking specifically for Spring in future visits.

One more:

Jif in the foreground (and yikes – I should have shifted to hide the manure pile visible “under” her chin!), Kootenai looking at us in the background, and you can just see Raven’s back. They likely would have been out of sight of Seven’s band.

Always a surprise around the bend …


22 01 2011

We seek meaning in things around us … how long has mankind been seeking the meaning of life?

Does meaning have to exist to cause emotion?

Does language always demand a literal translation?

Human beings like to communicate – you, reader, are proof. 🙂

Does language require words?

What do you understand …?

What if all the inhabitants of this planet could understand?

Would we love more and hate less?

And we call them “dumb” animals … Oh, how words fail us.

The art of self-entertainment

17 01 2011

I’ve been keeping a secret that I know will shock the most steadfast readers of this blog.

I am lost to the filly Winona.

Wait, you’re NOT shocked about that?! 🙂

With her outside genetics making her valuable to the Spring Creek Basin herd, I allow myself to dream she will stay wild.

Now and then, I’ve seen the foals entertain themselves with tumbleweeds, prickly big beach balls they seem to me. They entertain themselves with each other and all manner of  exciting toys, such as sticks and stakes, branches of saltbush shrub … When I saw C/G’s photos from her New Year’s Day visit, her photo of Winona playing with a tumbleweed delighted me (with permission, I’ll post a link?), and I admit I hoped to get as lucky during a future visit.

Sure enough, toward the end of my visit with Comanche’s and Hollywood’s bands, after mama Kestrel had given young Tenaz a rather forceful “nudge” toward his own family – and after which, he (apparently) waited (?) in vain just a few feet away for Winona to rejoin him – ‘Nona found a small tumbleweed (Russian thistle, and it is the prickliest thing in the basin after the cacti and saltbush and woody parts of the greasewood) and started playing with it – completely ignoring and/or oblivious to the little guy.

The find

She has an audience

Starting to play ...

(Can you see the prickles?)

Play invitation

Sorry, lovely little, too prickly for me!

Undeterred, she continues to mouth it – against a stunning backdrop of McKenna Peak and the unnamed promontory!

Clearly enjoying … something! She was mouthing it, but she didn’t seem to have been chewing it yet.

This was my favorite – when she flipped it in the air!

Picked it up again (check out her now-snowy schnoz!)  and started walking toward me.

Sure you don't want to play?

Psych - keep-away!

And here you can see she’s mostly devoured it! She really did eat the whole thing. It brought to mind the Assateague Island ponies eating poison ivy and greenbrier. (Southern/southeastern folks probably know greenbrier? We have it in Texas – green vines that can grow and drape so thick as to be impassable – with thorns, of course!) She walked past me and then came toward my back, decided, apparently, that I was no entertainment of any good kind and continued on her way …

… joined eventually by mama Kestrel. I’ve turned around now in my seat in the snow, so this is taken in the opposite direction of the above photos – gorgeous scenery in every direction!

Babies are growing in the mamas’ bellies … This year will bring Kestrel’s second and Comanche’s first (as far as I know)! It has been warm (30s F) since my last visit to the basin, snow melting. More in the forecast. It’s only January! March is typically our snowiest month. This has been a fairly odd La Nina year … but we’re apparently right in the middle (geographically) of the “streams” that bring whichever weather, so we’ve had warm and dry AND cold and snow!

Either way, the horses are doing just fine!

(winter) March

15 01 2011

From the colder of the two days last week:

The sun was very near the horizon, and it was getting noticeably colder. Especially with dark Mahogany (back left) and Aspen (to her left), you could see the steam of their breath against their bodies and against the shadowed ridge behind them. Sundance is just out of the frame behind Mahogany, his usual position. Mouse was marching them back to the rest of Steeldust’s band, grazing in the opposite direction, in glittering silver sunlight.


Kootenai standing sentinel, watching Corona and Kreacher graze.

When C and I first stopped on the road, Raven seemed nervous and kept looking behind us (the direction we had come from). I thought she must be looking at cattle, though the only ones we had seen were down by the trapsite pond. But as we started walking the road, I realized what must have happened when we passed what looked to me like a narrow, shallow arroyo – and what was causing her nervousness: Corona, Kootenai and Kreacher were on the other side of the arroyo, and I think instead of crossing it, Raven had grazed her way along it up to the road and around the head of it and down the other side. It was juuust wide enough maybe she didn’t feel comfortable crossing it? Although they know that area well enough I’d have thought she’d know a place … but maybe the road was the crossing. I usually like to stop well ahead of the horses and walk out around them, but in this case, we went back to the Jeep and drove slowly out around them – past the arroyo and Corona, Kootenai and Kreach – and although those horses never seemed worried, Raven was immediately and noticeably still, though she made no attempt to cross the arroyo to be with the other horses. And they didn’t move except to graze. We watched from the road. Raven apparently never came back across the arroyo. When we saw them again, on our way out, they were all together up at the base of Filly Peak – across the road.

Raven, still watching something we couldn’t see. Never were sure what she was looking at or for. Also farther left was the road and Filly Peak. We’re around the curve here, toward the catchment.

Kootenai, Corona and Kreacher. Raven was not too far behind and to the left.

C wanted to look through my camera and lens – and took some pix! Here’s Corona rolling practically under Kootenai’s hooves – she wasn’t impressed and took a few steps away.

C commented on Kreacher’s dapples and shades of grey – and that he grazed with his eyes closed!

Like Corona. 🙂

Don’t you love the warmth of her color in the snow-white landscape?

Marching toward spring. I do love the turn of seasons here. More than any other place I’ve lived, the seasons are spectacular, defined, all beautiful, like the wild creatures who live here.

Basin wonderland

11 01 2011

The day I took these pictures, it was a little warmer in the basin than it had been the day before – 17 to 20 degrees vs. 15-17 degrees. And you thought I meant a lot warmer!

Steeldust, Butch, Luna and Storm

Steeldust’s band was closest this day, and I broke trail on a little-used road to get to within fairly close walking distance.

Winter is just a magical time. It’s soooooo quiet. Can you see the flakes reflecting the sunlight in the photo above? The ponies go about the business of living like any other time of the year. There were a lot of tracks around the Flat Top pond, but the center was untracked – frozen solid. How much snow do they have to eat to satisfy their moisture requirements? Whatever it is, they seem satisfied.


In the dry months, I look for light spots – the greys – against the khaki desert. In the snow months, I look for the dark spots – then look closer to determine equine from bovine.

Alpha is in her element here.


She’s always watchful … curious, though she rarely acts on that curiosity, content just to see what I do, it seems.

I was watching and photographing bachelor Mouse, grazing nearby. I hadn’t yet seen Hollywood’s and Comanche’s bands, but I was watching Mouse graze intently enough that when I saw Piedra and other members of her band pawing through the snow during their grazing, I realized Mouse hadn’t been.


Isn’t he a handsome boy?

And then I realized someone was watching, and closer than I had seen her approach.


Isn’t she just divine? With her beautiful dark eyes and glowing wisdom, she’s the queen of her environment.

Storm came around for a look, too.

Look at that amazing scenery!

Look at that snow-covered schnoz! How this boy has grown.

Beauty all around.