Dear Cloud and Pryor Wild Horse friends;
From top to bottom, the Pryor Mountains are blanketed with snow. Only the deep green junipers and multicolored cliffs break a landscape of white. Erika Liljestrand, our newest member of the Cloud Foundation team, and photographer extraordinaire, friend and lover of all things wild, Deb Little, accompany me into the teeth of winter. For five days we search for wild horses in a forbidding yet wondrous wilderness.
Day 1. Nearly every morning we start out early from the Horseshoe Bend Motel (our home away from home) and drive through the Dryhead on the snow packed, paved road at the very bottom of the horse range. The road follows the route of the historic Bad Pass Trail, used by Native Americans, traders, and trappers traveling from the Bighorn Basin to the Missouri River country along the rugged Bighorn Canyon.
Snow is falling on day one when we spot a small group of mule deer making their way across a rocky hillside.
We backtrack, leaving the pavement behind as we travel to the base of Tillett Ridge, the most likely place (we think) to find Cloud and his family as well as Bolder and Echo and their band. As we load up the UTV, the snow continues to fall. Although the UTV seems able to handle the snow, its driver is having trouble. There are no tracks to follow and I can’t tell the road from the surrounding landscape, which includes steep drop offs. When I veer off the road, not once but twice, I stop. If we can’t get up the road we’re hosed.
Determined to get up the mountain, Deb and Erika get out and begin walking on what they think is the road. I let them get a ways ahead and then drive toward them, hoping they really are on the road. Is the sky a bit brighter or is it wishful thinking? Are we fools? What’s the worst that can happen? After all we have warm clothes, toe and hand warmers, and, most importantly, the will to find wild horses.
Eventually we make it onto a flat stretch of road and stop. The clouds are lifting a bit, allowing us to glass the area below the old uranium mines. Not seeing anything, Deb starts hiking uphill and we follow her. As we crest the ridge, horses come into view on top of the next ridgeline.
Baja! I recognize the stout little dun stallion with the two-toned mane and tail. His three mares are there, including the youngest member of the Pryor herd. Washakie gave birth in the fall—not a good time of the year to have a foal. Despite his ill-timed birth, the little colt looks fine to us. He is stout like his parents, and has a beautiful two-toned mane and tail like his father.
As we turn to look behind us, we identify Casper with his large band including Cloud’s sister, Mariah, as well as Aztec and her daughter, Jasmine. I wonder if Aztec will ever return to Cloud? And, more importantly, where is Cloud? Is he all right and and does he still have his band? As I have for his entire life, I begin to worry.
To the right of the mines, Deb spots horses and we set up our scopes again. We can see Cloud’s mother, so we believe we are looking at Diamond’s band. We assume the dark horse is Diamond as his coat can turn quite dark in winter, like many of the Pryor blue roans.
We drive on, struggling up the long red hill. We lose sight of Phoenix, and hike the road to the west of the mines where we glass out into the Hell ‘n Gone. I had seen Bolder far out in this inaccessible area at the end of December.
This time, we spot only two horses and I recognize the light dun roan bachelor, Knight, from miles away, with a bigger, dark horse, likely Inali or another one of the big Forest Service boys. I’m disappointed not to see Duke’s big band or Gringo’s band or He Who with Cloud’s stunning buckskin daughter, Jewel. Is Chance still dogging Gringo, trying to win back his family? I wonder silently. His loyalty is to be admired.
At the end of day one when the light is failing, we head to the Dryhead for a second time. Crossing over the cattle guard into the range we are rewarded with a look at the “greeters at the gate”—handsome Hickock with his mares, Hightail and Seneca. In a matter of seconds, they disappear into the willows, tall sage and greasewood.
Day 2. Overnight it snows in Lovell and low clouds obscure the Bighorns to the east and the Pryors in front of us. In the Dryhead, near the road, we spot the grullo stallion Fiero with the mare Sacajawea. The two disappear over the hill and we follow, and are lucky to get a few shots off before the pair walk downhill through the dense, snow-covered junipers.
Near the Devil’s Canyon Overlook four Bighorn sheep are foraging on mountain mahogany bushes, a critical winter food for both mule deer and the bighorns.
It is the two ewes and their lambs that I have seen since they were tiny last summer. How will I recognize you two when you are grown? Adult ewes all look so much alike to me. Beyond the ewes and lambs, on a rocky hillside, we spot a young, half curl ram.
I believe he is the son of one of the ewes. As we drive back to the main road, he crosses, dashing effortlessly up a snowy slope as if he had wings.
We head back to the base of Tillett—again. Thank goodness the snow hasn’t completely covered our tracks from yesterday! Close to where we spotted Baja we see them again near Doc and his little family.
Higher up we see Phoenix again with the band. I can see War Bonnet, Half Moon and her striking red son, Missoula. But the dark horse with them looks too dark and too big to be Diamond. Does the dark horse have a back boot? I ask Deb and Erika.
Diamond has a back white boot, but they confirm that the stallion has no leg markings. He does have a big star but it isn’t shaped like Diamond’s. We think it is Hernando, the son of Conquistador and Cavalitta, and the tallest horse in the Pryor Mountains. My heart drops to think that Diamond, at nearly 20 years of age, has lost his family. Is he alive? Or injured? I wonder out loud. During the course of our five-day adventure, we get our answer.
Diamond was the first wild horse foal I ever saw. He was only three days old in March of 1994. He and his family, including his striking father, Raven ran away from me in the red desert county at the base of Tillett Ridge. It was an unforgettable moment and, as I would eventually learn, a life-changing one.
In retrospect, I don’t believe that I would have gone back out to the Pryor Range after an uneventful, one day tour of the Dryhead with local advocate, Reverend Floyd Schweiger. But when the Reverend mentioned that there was a newborn on the range, I knew I had to go look for the foal. Without the desire to see the newborn, I would not have met Raven and his band at dawn the next morning, and, most likely, I would not have chosen the Pryors as a filming location for my Wild America film about mustangs.
But, I did meet charismatic Raven and I did find the newborn that I named Diamond for his big star. As they raced away, I vowed I would come back. Now, nearly 20 years later, I am standing on this stark, white landscape and wondering, Where are you dear Diamond?
The view is exceptional. It has cleared enough to see details and we begin glassing the far ridges below us, near the precipitous edge of Big Coulee. A pale horse! Two pale horses!!! It is Diamond’s little brother, Cloud with Encore and the family. In Deb’s picture, can you see Cloud far out in the center of the frame and to his right is Ingrid then Mato Ska and to the far right, Feldspar with Encore laying in the snow? What a relief to see them!
As the sun is setting we begin driving downhill, but something is wrong with the UTV. It loses power and starts to back fire. Nothing during our trip was as scary for me as this. If we stall out, the walk down will take hours in the dark, and how much of our photography equipment can we realistically carry? I floor the UTV and it picks up speed, only to sputter, lose power and back fire again and again. We are holding our breaths going down, but down we go and make it to the Durango at the base of the mountain. Dodged a bullet!
Day 3. The next morning, after we get the UTV fixed, we head out to the bottom of Sykes Ridge. The road is a series of drifts as a result of high winds the night before. Undaunted, we plunge into one drift after another at full speed. It is a wild ride.
At the Red Buttes we stop to glass, successfully identifying some of the distant dots as Fool’s Crow and Hidalgo’s bands and Jasper, the bachelor son of Flint. Even from afar I can see the lovely mark on his handsome face.There are other dots that will forever remain anonymous because when we try to drive closer we become hopelessly mired in a two-foot deep, 20 foot long drift. After getting lots of exercise shoveling, we retreat back to Tillet.
On our way we stop to glass and identify Jackson’s band in the hills just above Turkey Flat to the right of the mouth of Big Coulee. And we’re excited to see Bolder and his family, including Echo following his mother, traveling uphill on the east side of Big Coulee.
To Bolder’s left and higher we see Bristol, Kitalpha, and little Nova. The filly foal is the only red dun on the Pryors. She inherited her striking color from her grandfather, Lancelot. To their left we can see Cloud again. From this perspective they appear to be in a different place but one that looks equally inaccessible.
We head up Tillett Ridge again, hoping that there might be horses close enough to the road to observe and photograph. Hoping doesn’t make it so. We see no horses although we glass until sunset.
Day 4. We formulate our strategy before starting up Tillett yet again. At the new water catchment on Tillett we find Baja’s band moving quickly up hill.
Then we unpack our key pieces of equipment and set out on a hike to the highest hill above Big Coulee. Walking in the dense snow is not easy and we each fall at least once before reaching our rocky mountaintop perch.
The scenery is breathtaking, and to the east we begin to see bands that had eluded us from other vantage points, like Red Raven and Flint’s families. And near Big Coulee, we see Cloud and his family again. From afar they all look fine.
Over our shoulder and below us is Mescalero with Polaris and Rosarita and beyond them Casper and his band. But Deb was to make the very best discovery of all. To our left and down toward the canyon was Diamond! He is alive! Through our scopes we can see he is thin but has no visible wounds or lameness.
How he will fare alone without Phoenix and the rest of his family remains to be seen. I hope he might pair up with another bachelor, perhaps Sante Fe who is only one year younger. I always worry when a former band stallion isolates himself. “Don’t lose heart my boy”, I whisper.
After sunset we make our way to the Dryhead and spot the bachelors, Issaquah with the striped up grullo, Hidatsa. It is dark as we drive back to the Horseshoe Bend Motel.
Day 5. We travel out to the Dryhead where we spot the bachelors, Kemmerer and Chief Joseph. Knowing that we have little chance to access the Pryor bands, we decide to make a run over to the McCullough Peaks east of Cody, only a 45 minute drive from Lovell.
The colorful Peaks horses are as easy to see as the Pryor mustangs are hard. A multi-band group of 16 mustangs are foraging near a gravel pit and we are able to take those close-up pictures we had hoped for in the Pryors. Within a couple of hours, the horses streamed off their hilltop and we can stand right off the paved highway and take pictures.
Day 6. Deb leaves us to continue her journey, while Erika and I start the long drive back to Colorado. But we just have to have one more wild horse “fix”. Let’s take a run out to the Dryhead, I suggest. We are rewarded with our best views of a large group of mule deer does and fawns.
From the Devil’s Canyon overlook, we spot Corona with his son Norte and mare Waif, but we don’t see his oldest mare, Topper, the most striped up horse on the Pryor Mountains. I like to think she is fine. She is probably just over the hill.
There is plenty of time to think on our nine hour drive home. With Diamond’s fall from the ranks of a band stallion, Cloud becomes the oldest male to lead a band. How can the years have passed so quickly?
Many thanks for your continuing support of our efforts to keep our precious mustangs families in their wild homes where they are the safest and the happiest.
P.S. This may be the most difficult journey I have ever taken into the Pryors. Weather made travel almost impossible. We have encouraged the BLM to open the gate into the Administrative Pastures for the horses during this very difficult winter season. We will let you know if they decide to allow them to access this lowest area of their mountain home. It is where my journey with wild horses began nearly 20 years ago—where my sister, Marian, and I had that brief encounter with little Diamond, his father, Raven, and their family as the sun was cresting the Bighorn Mountains.
In honor of Cloud’s 17th birthday May 29, 2012, filmmaker Ginger Kathrens answers your questions about Cloud and his family, wild horses, and the recent BLM roundups. Here are the answers to some of your questions:
Question: How did you get involved in photographing wild horses, like Cloud? and are there any opportunities for students to help document the horses through a particular organization?
Answer: In late 1993 Marty Stouffer, the host of the popular Wild America series on PBS, asked me to film a show about mustangs. In March of 1994, my location scouting trip took me to the Arrowhead (Pryor is the anglo name) Mountains of southern Montana. At dawn in the red desert country at the bottom of the mountain, I had a chance encounter with the black stallion, Raven, who was eating snow at the base of a red butte. The stallion and his family ran away from me, but in that unforgettable moment, I knew I had found at least one of my future shooting locations. My generic story of wild horses gradually morphed into a very personal account of the life of Raven and his family. Cloud was born the following year while I was still filming for Marty. I formed the Cloud Foundation in 2005 when I realized that wild horses were fast disappearing from their ranges in the West and that Cloud and his herd, though famous by now, were also in danger. We invite interns to apply for unpaid positions with the Foundation. Interns usually have at least one opportunity go on location to search for Cloud and his family and to document what is going on in their lives.
Question: my 5 year old LOVES cloud, we have watched the documentaries SO many times, she wants to know, why you picked cloud to make a movie about? what made him different from all the other colts that were born that year?
Answer: I’m so happy your 5 year-old loves Cloud. Me too! The year before he was born, I met the elegant black stallion, Raven, and his family. Whenever I ventured into their spectacular homeland they appeared. In time they allowed me to trail along with them and I learned what they value most in life – family and freedom. I felt very privileged to record the intimate details of their lives. The parenting of their young was so skillful and was rarely physical but always consistent. Their complex society with the stallion father protecting the family 24 X 7 is unique among all other hooved species in our hemisphere. A year into my journey with Raven’s family they brought their nearly white newborn out of the trees in front of my camera. Four years later it dawned on me that I might be able to create a documentary about the life of one wild horses. I had all this wonderful footage of Cloud and he was such a great photographic subject with his pale coat, expressive, dark eyes, beautiful conformation and athleticism. Add to this his dynamic, flamboyant personality. and it was a formula for success if I could do him justice. Over the years he has become a great ambassador for all the mustangs still living in precious freedom with their families.
Question: Some people say that wild horses are an like an invasive species, non-native and damaging to the ecosystem. How would you respond to the biological arguments against horses on public lands? Are they actually doing damage?
Answer: Wild horses (Equus caballus) are a returned native species, whose roots trace back over 50 million years on the North American continent. Most scientists believe they went extinct here as recently as 7,600 years ago, the blink of an eye in geologic time. The species that died out was remarkably like the horse that returned with the Spanish Conquistadors and explorers in the late 1400s and early 1500s—solid hooved, flop-over mane. Both are considered caballoid type horses—Equus Caballus, the modern horse. Those who call America’s wild horses “invasive” or “feral exotics” often do so for political rather than scientific reasons. Ross MacPhee, PhD, curator of the Division of Vertebrate Zoology at the American Museum of Natural History, states: “The evidence favors the view that this species is “native” to North America, given any rational understanding of the term “native”. By contrast, there are no paleontological or genetic grounds for concluding that it is native to any other continent. . . Reintroduction of horses to North America 500 years ago is, biologically, a non-event: horses were merely returned to part of their former native range, where they have since prospered because ecologically they never left
The few thousand remaining wild horse herds have long been scapegoats for the damage caused by millions of head of privately owned livestock permitted to graze on legally designated wild horse ranges at a huge expense to the American taxpayer.
Question: what exactly is the status of the recent wild horse roundups? Have they stopped?! Is Cloud still protected from being rounded up again like he was many years ago because of his palomino coloring?
Answer: Unfortunately, the dangerous and costly helicopter round ups continue with thousands of horses each year losing what they value most, their freedom and their families. Many more are rounded up than can be adopted out and so the “excess” are warehoused in short and long term holding facilities at taxpayer expense. Currently, these facilities are nearly full and we fear that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the major government agency charged with protecting wild horses on public lands, may exercise their legal authority and begin killing these healthy animals.
The former Director of the BLM recently retired, but before doing so, he told us that the Agency had no plans to remove Cloud. That promise did not extend to his offspring, many of whom were removed in 2009 shortly after we completed “Cloud: Challenge of the Stallions”. This month, bait trapping of young Pryor mustangs is scheduled to begin, and we encourage people to write to the Billings BLM Field Office, managers of the Pryor Wild Horse Herd. Ask them not to remove Echo, Cloud’s lookalike grandson or other young mustangs with unusual genetics and colors that are listed on Tier 3-those whose removal would most jeopardize the future survival of the herd.
Question: Do you think Cloud will be left alone to live out his life in freedom???
Answer: Cloud is probably safe from removal and will live out his life in freedom. We have real concerns that his offspring may not receive the same consideration. The Cloud Foundation is actively involved in forcing the Custer National Forest managers to recognize the right of the herd to use this area which is adjacent to the designated wild horse range so that a larger, truly genetically viable herd might live on. A 2 mile long wooden fence, built in late 2010, now prevents the herd from accessing this area, vital late summer and fall grazing which the horses have used for centuries, long before there was a U.S. Forest Service.
We continue to lose wild horse herds in the West, but since 2009 when BLM conducted the largest roundup in the history of Cloud’s Pryor Mustang Herd, many more people are aware of the presence of wild horses and the threats to them from the very agencies (BLM and Forest Service) charged with protecting them. We encourage more people to speaking out on behalf of our native equid species. Recent lawsuits brought by the Cloud Foundation and others have been successful in blocking radical efforts by BLM to permanently sterilize horses and turn them back out where healthy wild horses families once roamed. We need every American to speak out and help in any way they can. Go towww.thecloudfoundation.org and click on Resources to read about the issue. Then go to Take Action and communicate your views with your Congressional Representatives and U.S. Senators.
Question: what is the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT action both the average American citizen and the committed wild horse advocate can take to protect the mustangs and create LASTING policy change to benefit the wild horses?
Answer: The average American needs to learn more about the issues and policies that threaten the survival of America’s wild horses and burros. Go to www.thecloudfoundation.org. Click on Resources and read about the issues before you contact your elected Congressional Reps or U.S. Senators. By understanding the facts, you will be better prepared to detect the fiction. BLM (and also the Forest Service) never wanted the job of managing wild horses and burros on our public lands. BLM was in the business of killing these animals, or assisting in the killing of them prior to the creation of the Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971. Suddenly their job was to protect them. The Agency has consistently portrayed the few remaining wild horse and burro herds on their legally designated ranges as over populated, damaging the range, starving, in need of “rescue”, non-native, feral exotics, etc. These false statements are frequently all that your elected officials have been exposed to and they may parrot them back to you. If they do, you will be prepared to counter that millions of head of privately owned livestock graze these same lands at taxpayer expense. Additionally water guzzling mining projects and oil and gas extraction are degrading public lands. Once you are armed with the facts, go to Take Action to learn how to contact your elected officials. Express your opinions politely. You want YOUR wild horses and burros preserved and protected on YOUR public lands as intended by the unanimously passed Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971.
Watch a video update from Ginger Kathrens on Cloud and his family. Watch full episodes of all the PBS Nature Cloud films: Cloud: Wild Stallion of the Rockies, Cloud’s Legacy: The Wild Stallion Returns, Cloud: Challenge of the Stallions.
Photos by Ginger Kathrens
Cloud filmmaker Ginger Kathrens gives us an update on Cloud and his family, the wild horses of the Pryor, and the recent BLM roundups. Watch the video update:(View full post to see video)
On July 27, Lauryn, Erin (our summer intern) and I drove from Colorado Springs to Lovell, WY, to visit Cloud and the wild horses of the Pryor Mountains. Aside from the terrible sadness we felt at losing two of our very special friends, Admiral and Climbs High (aka Kapitan), we had a wonderful trip, full of amazing moments and, as always, new discoveries. For most of our trip, advocates Carla Bowers and Jim Grass were our enthusiastic companions. Together we journeyed into the Pryors.
Atop the mountain, one of our first discoveries surprised us. Lakota was dogging his own band. A large, dark bay stallion was keeping Lakota away from his mares and yearlings. It took a few minutes to recognize the tall, dark stranger. It was Grijala, the 5 year-old bachelor son of Conquistador and Cavelitta (Freedom Fund Bands). Young, but mighty looking, Grijala was a bachelor no more, not for the moment at least. He had traveled from the Forest Service and stolen the remainder of Lakota’s band. But, Grijala had paid a price. His once flawless, dark coat was a mass of scars and he had suffered an injury to his back leg that caused him to limp.
Yet, it was Lakota who looked like he got the worst of the fight. He had a huge, nasty-looking gash on his neck that appeared life threatening to me. I first met Lakota in 1994 when he was a young bachelor and I was an inexperienced wild horse filmmaker. While watching one band after another trail over a hill and out of sight I decided to follow and stumbled upon the large, sparkling, spring-fed waterhole. I remember the day as clearly as if it was yesterday. I standing all alone above the spring-fed waterhole, watching and filming a big band coming down to water, lost in the beauty of it all. Suddenly, I had the feeling someone was standing right behind me and I turned quickly—too quickly. The grullo bachelor was only inches away and when I spun around, so did he, kicking dirt all over my camera and me. He charged away up the hill and out of sight. This was my dramatic introduction to handsome Lakota.
Each day we tried to find Grijala and the band, and Lakota. Unless Lakota gave up dogging his family, we feared Grijala would finish him off. One more bite on that neck wound would surely be the end of Lakota. Each day, we noticed his wound was just a little less open. And each day, Grijala seemed a little less lame. Neither stallion made a move to fight. Still, I fear that day will come—if it hasn’t already.
Nearly every day, we were entertained by the bachelor bands. For a good time, I recommend hanging with the bachelors, for they are bound to stir things up. There are three factions on the mountain—the Forest Service gang of tough looking young males (Garay, Hernando and Inali) and the horse range gang, led by Cloud’s 6 year-old brother, Fiddle (Fiesta). The Fiddle gang features Jasper (Flint and Feldspar’s two year-old son), the Indigo Kid (three year-old son of Electra and Prince), and four year-old He Who (son of Felina and Morning Star). The third group contains the lurking twosome of Galaxy and his pal, Gringo. Among all of these wonderful, beautiful males, my favorite is the youngest—fun loving Jasper. If he were a human boy, I feel like he would be wearing a perpetual, ear-to-ear grin. Colorful Jasper is having the time of his life as a carefree bachelor.
Each evening it seemed the bachelor boys showed up near the giant fence and when they did, they put the band stallions on high alert. One gorgeous evening we watched the dun band stallion, Baja, play with the forest service boys for a half hour or more before returning to his family. Fiddle, on the other hand, spends a lot of time playing with his own band and treats these young bachelor buddies more like mares than male companions. He snakes them away from the approaching band stallions and defends them from the other bachelors. It’s interesting, familiar behavior and is generally a precursor to serious quests to steal mares. Before he won a mare, Cloud’s brother, Diamond, treated Cloud the way Fiddle is now treating Jasper, Indigo and He Who.
Nearly every day, we saw Morning Star’s band with the newest foal on the mountain, little Lenape, a Shaman and Cedar granddaughter. When I say she is “little”, I mean little— a delicate dun, the color of her mother. Lenape is the great granddaughter of Raven and Grumpy Grulla (of the Freedom Fund) and, like her great grandma, does she ever have attitude! Case in point: we parked the Durango one evening near the hideous fence and while Erin, Lauryn, and I hiked to take pictures of Electra and her family, we turned when we heard hammering. It sounded like someone hammering on a piece of tin. Morning Star’s family (including lovely Shadow) had surrounded my car. We watched the older horses sniff the windows and doors and eat mineral filled dirt off my running boards. Then I saw the source of the noise. “Fragile” Lenape was raising her spoon-sized hoof and striking my license plate and front bumper with all her might. The photo below makes her look oh so innocent, but beware the “destructo” filly. Only when I hustled back to the car did the band move off, except for “destructo” who gave the Durango a couple of extra thumps before trotting off to her mother! Erin and Lauryn, meanwhile, were laughing their heads off, doing absolutely nothing to defend my poor Durango.
That same eventful evening, we watched Hera, the four-year mare in Prince’s band, walk up to the huge wooden fence, stick her head under a rail, and begin scratching the back of her neck. Not ten seconds into her vigorous rubbing and the rail came loose, clattered toward her feet as she backpedaled at top speed. I think she was shocked that the seemingly sturdy fence was not as stable as she thought. Again we all had a good laugh, and put Hera right up there on our list of Pryor horse heroes!
On our last full day, I spent 6 hours sitting at the spring-fed waterhole waiting for horses to come and drink. Erin and Lauryn had gone off in separate directions, trying to locate Cloud, or Bolder, or Flint’s families. . . or any of the horses. It’s strange how you can see 80 horses at nearly one time and then not a single horse for the better part of a day. Anyway, I decided to quit staring at the water—I’d already filmed innumerable shots of birds bathing. So I turned around to look into the forest instead. Maybe, I thought, I could get a shot of that red squirrel I had seen collecting cones in the Douglas firs. That’s when I saw something moving in the trees. A small, cinnamon colored bear ambled into a clearing near the base of the dam where I sat. Ever so slowly, I reached up and grabbed the handle of my tripod and panned the camera toward the bear. He smelled me and stopped. I looked through the lens and focused as he turned to leave. He stopped and I rolled. I got him glancing back and loping off into the trees. Gotcha! I thought. I sat very still and waited, but he didn’t come back. I regretted that I had blocked his route to water and that I hadn’t set up my camera farther away so I might have seen him get his drink. It was the same little bear Ann Evans and I saw the month before.
What a wondrous place—not just because of the wild horses, but because of moments like this. It’s a place of quiet reflection and great discovery. First-time visitors have often told me that coming here was the best day of their lives. Let me share Erin’s experiences as well as Carla’s & Grass’, for it was the first visit to the mountaintop for all three.
We named the newborn foal that Erin writes about in her story, “Leo,” (it is the BLM’s “L” year. The “A” foals were born in 2000 and so on). Leo was only a few hours old when we found him and I share her sense of wonder and excitement at experiencing a foal’s first day. Leo is the third foal for Felicity. Her first is Ingrid, mother of little Lynx. They lives in Cloud’s band. Leo’s father is one of my personal favorites, 16 year-old Custer, the bay roan son of Shaman and Sitka. Little Leo is his only living offspring. I pray Leo will survive and roam free for the rest of his life in this spectacular place.
On our last evening on the mountain we found Bolder and Cloud and their families on a high hill beyond the snow-fed waterhole. Sykes Ridge was bathed in orange light as I hiked closer. That’s when Bolder quite unexpectedly attacked Cloud and they fought briefly. I was unprepared for this kind of ferocity from Bolder and I wondered what was up with this. In a few minutes, I figured out the reason for the ruckus. Bolder had stolen lovely Adelina from Flint and he was warning other stallions to stay away—including his imposing father, Cloud. In my opinion, Adelina (named for Congressman Raul Grijalva’s granddaughter) was the reason the 2009 roundup was halted. The filly had been born several weeks before the roundup started. Many people knew of her late birth and quite a few people, myself included, had photographed her tottering around in the trees atop the mountain. We cringed at the thought of the helicopter driving she and her mother down the treacherous trails to the desert 5,000 feet below. I think the BLM knew it was dangerous and opted to stop the roundup rather than risk her death.
I look forward to returning to the mountain, to see if Bolder can hang on to his young mare. Something tells me he can. He is an amazing stallion—gentle and calm with his family, but quick to defend them against any threat. I can tell his father respects him, and that speaks volumes to me.
Lauryn, our Cloud Foundation whiz kid, and Erin, our college intern from Michigan, traveled with me from Colorado to the Pryor Mountains on July 27, 2011. It was a bittersweet journey. In the early evening we drove to the low desert country in the Pryors, knowing that two of our “greeters” at the horse range gate, Admiral and his yearling son, Climbs High (Kapitan), had been struck and killed by a drunk driver just three days before.
With a sick feeling, I drove over the cattle guard and into the horse range. I have done this at least a hundred times. But, this time was different and horribly sad. Foolishly, I hoped Admiral and his son were still alive. Maybe I’d spot them in their usual places around the little lake that leads into the Bighorn River or near Crooked Creek and the cottonwood groves where I first saw the colt I named Climbs High.
It was late in the afternoon in May of last year. I drove over the cattle guard and saw a flash of bright red in the trees to my left. I could just make out a horse getting up. The red that caught my eye, backlit in the late afternoon light, was afterbirth. A mare had just given birth! I grabbed my camera and silently slipped closer. The foal at the feet of the dun mare, Seneca, was just minutes old and still covered in the birth sack. His mother was licking the sack away. I noticed the older dun mare, Hightail, watching the new foal. She stood with Admiral and Seneca’s yearling son, Jesse James. Admiral, their band stallion, casually grazed a 100 feet or so away, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. But, for me, something very special had happened.
I watched the mare lick the newborn, defend him from a curious Hightail, and then gesture and “talk” to him, telling him to get up. She nipped him gently on his back and he responded as if by magic. The wet lump jerked and then struggled to get his wobbly legs under him. He fell a few times, before rising, legs trembling. I could see he was a boy. Minutes later, when he was barely dry, Seneca surprisingly started walking up the steep hill behind the trees. The colt dutifully followed her, with the rest of the family trailing behind. I marveled at the strength of the dark bay newborn. He had not even nursed, but he was climbing a mountain!
I walked around the base of the tall hill, hoping to see them emerge on top. The wind picked up as I struggled to walk higher on the rocky slope. Then I saw them—mother and son. The colt was finally nursing.
In the Indian tradition of naming a child for a deed or trait, I began calling the colt Climbs High. I watched him that summer, growing ever stronger, rough housing with his precocious brother only to run back to Seneca when the play got too rowdy.
Climbs High survived the exceptionally rugged winter, and became a sturdy yearling. He loved to graze and travel with Admiral, perhaps pretending he was a big stallion like his powerful father. Sadly, he would never grow up, for his life was taken, as was Admiral’s in one careless, senseless act. I miss them both and hope we can adequately repay the joy they brought so many visitors by encouraging the park service to erect bigger and better signage, warning drivers that there are wild horses here and they may travel near the roadsides.
It was 2am on Sunday morning when the drunk driver struck Admiral as he stood near a stud pile just a few feet off the right-hand side of the paved road. Then the speeding truck went on to plow into Climbs High, some 100 feet beyond.
Lauryn, Erin and I traveled back to the paved highway at the tail end of our trip to the Pryors to search for the bodies of Climbs High and Admiral. We spotted Hightail and Seneca on a high hill with two bay horses. If I had not known better, I would have thought the little family was miraculously reunited. But, through our binoculars and spotting scope, we could see the young bays were Seneca and Admiral’s two-year old bachelor son, Jesse James, and his four-year old bachelor friend, Hickok.
We searched near the scene of the crime and found the remains of Climbs High first and then, some distance away, Admiral. The Park Service had drug their bodies out of sight into a gully behind tall bushes. Although difficult, actually seeing their dead bodies brought some closure for me. Now I can imagine father and son wandering in peace in some special place where they will always be together.
*If you would like to encourage the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area to erect better signage to help prevent this kind of tragedy, click here.
For more photos of Admiral, Climbs High, and the rest of their family, click here.
From the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign on July 19, 2011:
Federal Appeals Court Denies Emergency Request to Halt Triple B Roundup
BLM Cleared to Begin Massive Mustang Capture Operation in Northeast Nevada Tomorrow
We’re sorry to deliver the disappointing news that, earlier this afternoon, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied an emergency request to halt the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) Triple B roundup in Nevada.
The BLM reports that it will begin the roundup tomorrow near the Utah border. The helicopter stampede and capture operation will last six weeks, removing an estimated 1,700 mustangs from their homes on public lands.
Many thanks and praise go to Rachel Fazio, lead attorney, and local counsel Julie Cavanaugh-Bill for their tireless efforts on behalf of plaintiffs The Cloud Foundation, ecologist Craig Downer and wild horse advocate Lorna Moffat.
For more information on the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, please see the Associated Press story here.
Planning to visit wild horse country? Here are some tips from Ginger…
Dear Wild Horse and Burro fans,
Happy Summer! I know many of you will be traveling to wild horse and burro country to get a glimpse of our treasured icons of freedom. At least, I hope so.
Below are the rules I abide by in wild horse country.
It is a wondrous experience to be in the presence of such majestic creatures. I try not to abuse this rare privilege.
Have fun! Hope to see you on the trail.
Part 2: A Trip to the Pryors
Dear Friends of Cloud, his family and herd, and the wild horses of the West;
I am asked time and again, what keeps me going in the face of powers that seem unmoved by the rule of law, the principles of kindness toward all creatures, and the wishes of a caring American and worldwide public?
The answer is contained in these few lines to you.
I visited Cloud and his herd a few weeks ago. New foals were being born. The horses were shedding their winter rags. The grass had turned brilliant green. The bluebirds had returned to the mountain and their songs filled the air.
Standing on windy Sykes Ridge, I looked across Big Coulee to Tillett Ridge and I saw a horse reflecting the late afternoon light. It was Cloud’s golden mother—20 years young this year, and looking grand. She was shining as if lit from within.
Not a quarter of a mile away, a bit higher on the ridge, I saw her son, the most famous wild horse on earth, and an inspiration for so many around the world—the embodiment of a spirit unbroken. Cloud grazed peacefully with his family.
Who could fail to be renewed, rejuvenated, and recommitted when in the presence of something so beautiful?!
I believe that the Cloud Foundation is, in many cases, the only thing that stands between these vulnerable, inspiring souls and a life of potential imprisonment, isolation and even death.
We man the front lines and we stand ready to protect them, using whatever means are available in our democratic society. We cherish what they cherish… freedom and family. And so, we keep fighting. And we will never, ever give up.
From where I stood on Sykes I saw movement on the slope to my right. It was Cloud’s brother Red Raven, Blue Sioux and the rest of the family, which includes a newborn—a tiny, but sturdy little filly I named La Brava (the brave one). This newest offspring of Blue Sioux and her long-time stallion, Red Raven, was born despite infertility drugs, a lethal roundup in 2009, and a winter that was the worst in 50 years. La Brava played with Kicks-A lot, sweetly nibbling and grooming. What darling fillies.
Bolder’s young mare, Autumn (Shaman and Texas’ daughter), joined Red Raven over the winter. Like many of the bands, there have been exchanges far beyond the norm. I believe this lack of fidelity between stallions and their mares may be the unintended result of the indiscriminant use of infertility drugs given to all captured mares in the 2009 roundup. The jury is still out on my theory, but it was postulated in a peer-reviewed paper by Dr. Cassandra Nunez, regarding wild horse mares on the Shackleford Banks who are also on infertility drugs.
In a surprising turn of events, Cloud has lost Velvet to Bolder. My take on this is that Velvet became annoyed at Cloud when he brought home a three-year old filly (who is pregnant, by the way). I hope Velvet might eventually forgive Cloud’s “indiscretion” once the bands are closer together on the mountaintop. Right now, Bolder is on Sykes Ridge and Cloud is on Tillett—so they are miles apart.
I think that Feldspar was quite annoyed when Flint brought the mare, Sequoyah, and her son, Uno, into the family. That’s when she and Agate left to join first Bolder, then Cloud. Jasper became a bachelor during this time. I don’t think Cloud wanted a young stallion in his family. Perhaps he learned his lesson with Flint (see Challenge of the Stallions). Whether Flint will win Feldspar back remains to be seen.
However, no drugs or circumstances have rattled the bond between Blue Sioux and her younger stallion, Red Raven. For those of you who do not know their story, check it out in the 2nd of the Cloud docs, Cloud’s Legacy: The Wild Stallion Returns. It is a remarkable example of the lifelong bond that develops between a stallion and his mare. La Brava is the latest example of their enduring relationship.
Other foals now grace the mountain. Cloud and Velvet’s daughter, Firestorm, and her stallion, Jackson, have a new son, LeDoux. And Bolder and Cedar have a new son, Lobo. He is a darling little dun. Also in Bolder’s family, Cloud’s grandson, Echo, is growing like a weed and is beyond precocious (remind you of another pale colt years ago?). His buddy and half-brother, Absarokee (Bolder x Cedar) are troublemakers of the first order and fun to watch!
We will be traveling north late next week to visit the Freedom Fund horses and to release Conquistador, Cavelitta and little Augustina onto the big pasture! And we will be visiting Cloud, Bolder, Flint and the rest of the Pryor herd. So, we will let you know what we find. It is always an adventure.
The official Cloud Foundation website.
Part 1: A Trip to Montana & the Freedom Fund Horses
Despite a not so rosy weather picture, Lauryn and I started out from Colorado to Montana, encountering sleet, snow and rain on our way to Billings. Luckily, the rain stopped overnight, allowing us to access the road to the Freedom Fund horses. It was a windy, but lovely, day to visit. Because of all the moisture, the huge 1,000 plus acre pasture is beginning to explode with new growth, the cottonwoods have all leafed out, and the creek is running high. I could see where it had flooded during the past few weeks of near constant rain.
This was my first chance to see the two new foals that had been born weeks before, both in Shane’s band. We spotted Moshi’s husky dun daughter, and Chalupa’s little black colt, a near carbon copy of his father, Bo. As if this wasn’t wonderful enough, we also discovered that Trigger’s mare, Mae West, had foaled just a few days before we arrived. The colt is a cracker jack—so like Pistol in looks and in temperament. Both the new foal and the almost yearling are the image of their father, Trigger. Check out our new YouTube video of footage taken during our visit with these stunning horses!
Pistol was born last August, and he is just that—a pistol. He loves to fool around, in between nursing his mother, Evita. At one point, he picked up a dead branch from under a cottonwood tree and appeared to be using it as a tool. Alexa Guttenburg, our student intern from Carroll College, is working on a behavioral study of the horses, so it will be interesting to see if Pistol really is a tool user. It would be the first observation of this type of behavior that we are aware of—Pistol, our very own Albert Einstein colt? Stay tuned! As a result of her summer-long study, Alexa’s paper will be a scholarly addition to our visual record of wild horse behavior.
The meadowlarks were singing, and the cowbirds were following the horses around, snatching insects kicked up by their hooves. What a peaceful kingdom. I sat on the ground and watched the two bands move together. The stallions, Trigger and Shane, are so respectful of each other and both families seem to find some comfort in traveling and resting fairly close together. The dun filly and black colt are cute together, playing, nursing and then sacking out in the sun. Even Grumpy Grulla is a wonder at 23 years young. She looks great and doesn’t even seem to mind the colt and filly too much… I wonder if she is mellowing in her old age.
Not everything was so calm a month ago. Shane ran Bo through the barbed wire fence—it’s the second time he did has done this. Bo was just trying to win back his mares that Shane stole nearly almost a year ago. I felt like Bo could be badly injured or killed, so we took him to Livingston to be with Sierra when she improves. It is our plan for Bo and Sierra to be together from now on. Sierra seems to be improving so we’re hopeful. Thanks to those of you who made a donation to help us defray the costs of her treatment, which included two operations.
Big News Flash!!!! Conquistador and Cavelitta will be coming to the pasture in a few weeks. They have a new daughter, a beautiful dun just like her dad. Our friends, Robert and Effie, who have been their caretakers during Cavelitta’s pregnancy, suggested the name Augustina for the little filly. Augustina de Aragon was a real life heroine known as the Spanish Joan of Arc. I like the name. It seems fitting for the daughter of a conquistador.
Diego, Cavelitta and Conquistador’s yearling son, will continue to live with Robert and Effie and their three daughters on their ranch outside Emigrant—a stunningly beautiful mountain location just north of Yellowstone National Park. Diego is growing like a weed and appears ready to eclipse both his parents in height.
Diablo, Bo and Chalupa’s son, and Annie Oakley, Trigger and Mae West’s daughter, are in halter training class together and will be adopted soon. Since we have offspring this year of the same bloodlines, these two are going to make some lucky horse lovers very happy! They are both just beautiful, even though they haven’t shed out. Who can blame them after the winter they’ve gone through?!
Without you this story of family, and freedom, and new beginnings would not have happened. To all of you out there who continue to so generously support these horses, thank you. It’s hard to say where these older adult horses would have ended up without you. One thing for sure—they would not have been together!
Visit the official Cloud Foundation website.
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