Wild Horse Weekend

August 1, 2009

The weekend of July 25-26 started early Friday evening with Michael Blake (author and screenplay writer of “Dances With Wolves” and several other books) as the Guest of Honor at the Zuma’s Rescue Ranch fund raising event in Littleton, Colorado. Michael spoke briefly about the importance of protecting our wild horses, saving our natural resources and restoring balance (selfishly, I wish it could’ve been much longer) and then spent the rest of the evening visiting with and signing books for folks. Just a couple of days prior to his Colorado visit, Michael had just completed 8 appearances in 8 days along with television, radio and newspaper interviews, travelling a total of close to three thousand miles. Whew! Where ever he showed his new documentary (“The American West: On the Road with Michael Blake) it was met with a standing ovation (I can’t wait to see it for myself!). He’s a very inspiring speaker. See him if you get the chance! (For those of you who are not aware, I have a rather unique connection with Michael Blake – he cares for my 2 rescued Mustangs at his ranch in southern Arizona. He’s a very generous and kind man. You can read about that story HERE).

Me with Michael Blake

Me with Michael Blake

Joining Tom and I for the evening were Rene and Craig Ferdig from Bennett, CO (they’re great horsey people with their own “herd” of 4) and my friend TJ Holmes from southwestern Colorado (who documents in detail the lives of the Spring Creek wild horses near Dove Creek, CO). TJ was making a quick loop around Colorado. She planned to stay overnight with us after the book signing before heading up to Craig, CO to take in the Sand Wash Basin wild horses. She had asked if we’d like to go with her, but having just weathered the 2nd worst wind and hail storm in Colorado history a few days earlier, (so much damage!), we just didn’t think we could get things cleaned up enough to even consider going. It was Tom that decided on Friday night (at the book signing!) that we should go. Okay then, that was a surprise, but I was good with it! And so the 3 of us set out early Saturday morning for the northwestern section of the state.

Once we arrived in Craig, we met up with Amanda Conner, an intern with the HSUS (Humane Society of the United States) who identifies and documents behavior bands in Sand Wash as part of a PZP (birth control) study. It’s always fun to go with someone who knows the horses and area so well, and Amanda does. We very much appreciated the time she spent with us.

TJ’s Spring Creek Basin herd has had several Sand Wash mares brought in to promote healthier genetic diversity (the Spring Creek herd is small – around 50 horses) so TJ had a special interest in the area and one stallion in particular – Corona (aka, Fabio). Raven, one of the new mares to Spring Creek had been part of his band and had given birth to an unusually colored baby named Corona – in honor of her most likely sire.

Upon entering the HMA, it wasn’t long before we ran into horses. Cosmo’s band initially took off when they saw us, but then unexpectedly turned around and came right up the road towards us. We never figured out why, but it presented an awesome opportunity for some closer photos.

Band stallion Cosmo

Band stallion Cosmo

Cosmo's band

Cosmo's band

Mare and foal

Mare and foal

We also came across this bachelor band.

Bachelor boys

Bachelor boys

One of the bachelors

One of the bachelors

After visiting with the bachelors, we decided to press on in hopes of finding more horses. Shortly into the next leg of our drive, TJ’s Jeep came to a stop, Amanda’s binoculars came out and I could see the 2 girls making all kinds of motions and gestures inside the vehicle. ??? TJ came running back to us and pointed to the left – “it’s Corona!” Aha, TJ would get to see the stallion she’d travelled so far to meet.

The Palomino colored stallion Corona with family

The Palomino colored stallion Corona with family

Corona stands in the middle - there is one other mare and foal in his band. A beautiful pinto mare and her injured foal.

Corona stands in the middle - there is one other mare and foal in his band. A beautiful pinto mare and her injured foal.

Corona's pinto mare and her injured foal. The foal has a pretty severe hock injury. We hope the little guy makes it...

Corona's pinto mare and her injured foal. The foal has a pretty severe hock injury. We hope the little guy makes it...

TJ, on the left, zooms in on Corona's band while Amanda evaluates the injured foal's condition through her scope.

TJ, on the left, zooms in on Corona's band while Amanda evaluates the injured foal's condition through her scope.

A storm was approaching so we made the decision to head out of the basin. Raindrops started pounding the windshields as we picked up the pace (Tom and I were stuck in Sand Wash for almost 2 days in rainy conditions – we didn’t want a repeat of that stay). We barely outran the rain, but when we did, we stopped and pondered going back. The clouds had passed quickly and it was still pretty early in the evening. Ah, now these were my kind of people. Everyone was game. We turned around and headed back to some horses we’d passed on the way out. It was Picasso’s band and as you’ll see, he was worth turning around for. He’s very uniquely marked and at 20+ years, he’s still a band stallion. Impressive.

As we made our way out towards Picasso's band, TJ heard a noise that made us stop and look around. Curled up in a sagebrush bush that Amanda had just walked past was this rattlesnake. As we watched, he started making his way towards us - probably attracted to our body heat since it was a pretty cool day outside. Creepy.

As we made our way out towards Picasso's band, TJ heard a noise that made us stop and look around. Curled up in a sagebrush bush that Amanda had just walked past was this rattlesnake. As we watched, he started making his way towards us - probably attracted to our body heat since it was a pretty cool day outside. Creepy.

Seeking out the heat source - US!

Seeking out the heat source - US!

Now we all had the “willies” as we walked out towards the band carefully listening for warning rattles and checking out the many holes in the ground. Picasso soon had us preoccupied with other thoughts however. He’s a majestic animal – we did our best to capture his essence through our lenses to share with folks, many who will unfortunately never be privileged enough to see this horse for themselves in his wild world.

The majestic stallion Picasso

The majestic stallion Picasso

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Picasso with one his mares and her foal

Picasso with one his mares and her foal

Picasso's band moving off

Picasso's band moving off

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Then Picasso turned his band in the other direction...

Then Picasso turned his band in the other direction...

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We bid Picasso’s band goodbye and headed back out of the basin stopping to grab some parting photos of the stallion Cyclone.

Cyclone

Cyclone

One last treat – burrowing owls. They were quick and small. I needed a much longer lens to get a closer photo, but maybe you can pick out the little guy on the right.

Burrowing owl

Burrowing owl

Thanks for sharing this wild horse adventure with us TJ and Amanda. It was a great day!

As TJ referred to us - The Three Amigos. TJ on the left, Amanda in the center and me.

As TJ referred to us - The Three Amigos. TJ on the left, Amanda in the center and me.

Leaving Sand Wash Basin

Leaving Sand Wash Basin

TJ and Amanda went back to Sand Wash Basin on Sunday, but Tom and I hadn’t made it to Wyoming’s Adobe Town HMA in a while, so we decided to spend the morning there before heading home. We left Craig just after 5:00 AM and arrived at the herd area just before 8:00 AM. I’m always distracted enroute to anywhere, so we had to make a few stops for photos along the way. We watched a Bald eagle fishing (and he successfully wrangled a trout from the river for breakfast – so cool to watch) and on the entrance road, we came across this Golden eagle who posed very patiently for me.

Golden Eagle

Golden Eagle

We spotted horses a ways off near an oil rig and though I hiked around for quite some time, I never found them. Getting out that time of morning with no one around was a great way to start the day regardless.

Just a little bit up the road, I spotted a huge congregation of horses. They were a LONG ways off, but that many horses was well worth the walk. I headed out towards them. I took my time hoping they wouldn’t move off before I could get close enough to observe them. Off to my left was a solitary stallion that I worried would sound the alarm, but he was pretty tolerant of me. I didn’t make eye contact with him much and just casually walked by like I belonged. I was AMAZED when I came upon 2 antelope (we call them “guard-a-lopes” as they are the sentries for wild horse herds) and they too let me pass without making any fuss. That was just weird, but I was grateful.

A lone stallion watches my approach

A lone stallion watches my approach

This is just a portion of the horses gathered together. As I got closer, I watched foals pop up all over. It was like a wild horse nursery.

This is just a portion of the horses gathered together. As I got closer, I watched foals pop up all over. It was like a wild horse nursery.

Even though I had come up to them carefully, with youngsters around, many mares are just too cautious to hang around. Many small bands of horses moved off, but a few stayed to let me watch and photograph them.

Even though I had come up to them carefully, with youngsters around, many mares are just too cautious to hang around. Many small bands of horses moved off, but a few stayed to let me watch and photograph them.

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This big grey stallion seemed more seasoned and calm than most of the others. He and his band never left.

This big grey stallion seemed more seasoned and calm than most of the others. He and his band never left.

Another grey stallion moves his band off a bit from me.

Another grey stallion moves his band off a bit from me.

The big grey stallion decided to get a closer look at me.

The big grey stallion decided to get a closer look at me.

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He wasn't sure at all about the sound of my camera clicking.

He wasn't sure at all about the sound of my camera clicking.

Before all of the horses became uncomfortable with my presence, I decided to leave and as I was headed back, Tom was on his way to meet me with a water bottle. I'd been gone for a while and hadn't taken any water with me. I get so wrapped up in the horses, that Tom says I'd forget to drink or eat if he wasn't there to make sure I did.

Before all of the horses became uncomfortable with my presence, I decided to leave and as I was headed back, Tom was on his way to meet me with a water bottle. I'd been gone for a while and hadn't taken any water with me. I get so wrapped up in the horses, that Tom says I'd forget to drink or eat if he wasn't there to make sure I did.

We drove over to another area where we usually see horses by a large water hole. Though we didn’t see any horses, we did see this awesome little hawk.

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And these grouse…

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It was getting close to noon and we decided we’d better start back. On our way out, we came across this family band. The dark, dapple grey is a stallion (a younger stud), but the white boy is the band stallion. I wondered how long the band stallion would allow the handsome grey to remain part of the family before kicking him out to begin his life as a bachelor in search of his own band. I hope to get back soon to find out.

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A weekend in the wild horse ranges is just what Tom and I needed. It was easier to get back to reality after having spent 2 peaceful days amongst the wild ones. I pray there never comes a time when these magnificent creatures aren’t there for those of us who rely on their “wild horse magic” to enrich our lives.

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