We returned last week from a brutally cold Pryor Wild Horse Range. Driving out on the morning of the 10th of January the temperature read -15. It was difficult and sometime impossible to access the roads into the range due to drifted snow blown into concrete-like slabs—just right for getting stuck in (been there, done that!).
For three days, Cloud Foundation interns Lauryn Wachs and Catherine Stokes joined me in our search for wild horses. A few were spotted close-up but most were miles off, so much of our time was spent scanning through binoculars and spotting scopes, attempting to identify the dots we saw on the mountain sides and in the desert valleys. Lauryn and Catherine wrote their impressions of being in the Pryors for the first time and then visiting our Freedom Fund horses outside Billings.This is my 16th winter searching for wild horses in the Pryors, and although I’ve been here when the snow was deeper (like the winter of 2008-09 when Cloud’s daughter, Shadow was a tiny late-born foal trying to survive her first winter), this winter is much colder with higher winds then any I’ve experienced in the past. Most certainly horse lives will be lost.
We were relieved and elated to get a distant view of Cloud and his family on the side of Sykes Ridge near the mouth of Cougar Canyon. I could see Aztec and Cloud’s little daughter, Breeze. So far, so good, I thought, but this is just the beginning of what promises to be a long, cold, snowy winter.
Band stability is one key to survival and Breeze’s band is one of the most stable. The fabric of wild horse society began to fray late last summer. Is it continuing into winter? Only part of Jackson’s band was seen. Where are the others? And Trace’s little sister, a chestnut roan three-year old with her foal, Koda Wakan, were spotted all alone. Where was their band? Why were the filly and her grullo colt not with Lakota, their strong and experienced stallion, and his wise old mare, Quelle Colour, and Cloud’s sister, Mariah? It will be harder for them to survive without the guidance and support of their family. Now, more than ever, family stability is essential. It is up to the older mares and the stallions to lead their families to appropriate shelter and places where they can paw through the snow to find food. That senior wisdom is critical, especially in this kind of winter.
I was relieved to see Sante Fe and his entire family of four on lower Tillett Ridge. Even his once-crippled daughter, KanDu, looked fine through our binoculars and scope. Other horses were seen but many were too far away to tell body condition. Even trying to identify them was impossible.
On three occasions we sat and watched Admiral, his mare, Seneca, her foal, Climbs High, and Admiral’s mother, Hightail, a lovely dun mare who is over 20 but looks remarkably youthful. Climbs High is a big, strapping colt. I predict he and his family will see Spring. I hope they all will.
Perhaps the most outstanding job of spotting was accomplished by Lauryn as we drove out of Mustang Flats after sundown. Don’t ask me now she saw a Bighorn Sheep ram a ½ mile out in the dark juniper-studded low country, but she did. The magnificent near full-curl ram seemed frightened when we stopped the car to admire him with our binoculars. Within minutes he slipped away into the shadows and out of sight. One joy of the Pryors is witnessing the variety of wildlife and how beautifully the horses fit into their spectacular wilderness.
Next, we journeyed to near Billings to check on our Freedom Fund bands. All are looking great! Look at Grumpy Grulla—fantastic at nearly 23! The foals are fuzz balls and Catherine and Lauryn loved the attention they got from a very friendly Shane, the dominant stallion in the herd but the one most determined to solicit treats. He developed a special relationship with Laura Pivonka, advocate extraordinaire, who taught the striking Dun that horse candy is yummy!
Even Trigger and his look-alike son, little Pistol, were fascinated by the red treat bucket. But, when both father and son hit it with their front hooves, they rushed backward. Most of the mares wanted nothing to do with us, which is fine, as we want the horses to be free to make their own decisions. Annie and Diablo bonded when they went off being weaned, and now hang out with Bo, who lost his mares to Shane. It’s great that Bo has company now and he certainly acts the proud defender of “his kids.”
Happy Trails and Happy New Year!
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