Mapping weeds and counting horses

21 05 2012

For 13 years now, members of the Durango-based Four Corners Back Country Horsemen have been visiting Spring Creek Basin every spring to help BLM monitor the mustangs. Members often set up work projects during the count weekends, and this year was no different, with help from Mike Jensen, the Tres Rios Field Office’s weed guru (I don’t know his actual title? he also was a former manager of SCB), and Kathe Hayes with San Juan Mountains Association. Mike gave a great talk Friday evening about the particulars of knapweed, in particular. Kathe readied maps and record sheets for the groups and led the horseback riders Saturday.

Special thanks to Pat and Frank Amthor, long-time 4CBCH members and organizers for most of the last 13 years of the count. Their knowledge and experience is invaluable! (And I have to give a special nod not only to the food in general but specifically to Frank’s awesome homemade strawberry ice cream!)

We had one group of horseback riders and one of vehicle drivers (horseless but not clueless – ha!). Between our groups, we mapped 14 sites for weeds – knapweed, musk thistle and tamarisk – so BLM can cut, dig, spray and/or “de-weed.”

One highlight of the weekend – besides the food (oh, the food!) – was the Irick family of Denver (area), who came with their Spring Creek Basin mustangs, Breeze (adopted in 2005) and Sage (adopted in 2007). Brother Luke stayed home, but Teresa and Steve rode with the group, and daughter Sara rode with our vehicle group and helped with recording the weeds.

Teresa and Steve riding out on Breeze, pinto, and Sage.

It was an emotional ride, Teresa said afterward, seeing the boys remember their home. They’re not the first who have brought their adopted mustangs home to the basin, and I hope they won’t be the last! These boys are so loved and cared for – part of their family.

I didn’t take any pix of the horseless few, but here are the rest of horse folks who rode their horses to inventory weeds:

Kathe giving the safety talk at the beginning of the ride. Crow has obviously heard it all before!

Todd and Judy and their horses, Red and Dandy.

Nancy and Aspen, who came all the way from Corrales, N.M., where Aspen holds the distinction of “pet mayor”!

4CBCH president Bob and his lovely horse – whose name I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t ask, though I was very taken with this handsome fellow (regular readers may know my fascination with dark bay horses!). Just a young guy – 5 – but he did very well.

Riders heading out in the morning.

Riding into the sunrise.

Thank you to the Four Corners Back Country Horsemen, BLM and SJMA – and to Mother Nature for the truly excellent weather. After Friday night’s wind and chill, Saturday and Sunday were simply spectacular! Weed inventorying and eradication is part of our partnership objective with BLM under the Director’s Challenge grant we recently received. What a great start!

Breeze and Sage and the Iricks – March 28, 2008

2 04 2008

Steve Irick and Sage

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

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

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

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

Gathering Sage

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

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

Breeze and Sage

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

Breeze and Sara

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

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

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

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

Steve longes Sage

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

Teresa and Breeze

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


This guy has long legs and a lot of suspension!

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

Steve and Sage

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

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