Wild Horse Medicine

January 3, 2010

I had a wonderful Christmas with my family, made all the more special by my Mom’s current health status (she’s in remission!) and the beautiful new snow that covered the ground. Even as enjoyable as everything was, I felt restless and anxious. It was the wild horses that were on my mind of course. The decision by the Federal Judge not to grant a reprieve of the planned Calico Complex roundup in Nevada just drained the drive and hope right out of me. I knew I needed recharging so I asked my husband if we could visit the horse ranges over the extended holiday weekend and as always, he agreed we could. He knew I was in need of some wild horse medicine.

We never know if we can get very far on the range roads in the winter, but we decided it was worth a try. A new wild horse friend and advocate I’d made in NW Colorado told me she had been able to navigate a few miles of road at the Sand Wash Basin HMA recently, so we were hopeful (thanks Nancy – be sure to check out her Blog as she follows the Sand Wash horses). We decided to attempt Adobe Town first. If we were unsuccessful there, we’d backtrack to Sand Wash.

We left just after 5:00 AM Sunday morning. The drive was absolutely gorgeous with the new snow. Rabbit Ears Pass was truly a “winter wonderland.” The drive alone jump-started my attitude adjustment.

We startled a coyote dining on frozen road kill. At least nothing goes to waste.

Downtown Steamboat Springs, CO

Turning onto the road that leads to the Adobe Town HMA

We didn't have to drive far until we ran into a bunch of mule deer

And this little bunny trying to hide from us - I wondered why he wasn't in his white coat (as we'd seen some that were). Then I learned it was hares, not rabbits that take on the white color in winter.

Everything was wonderfully frosty. It was -9 degrees when we got to the range. The roads have to be frozen to be passable, so at that temperature, we knew we were safe.

Some of the terrain

It would have seemed a lot colder, but amazingly (anyone who’s been to Wyoming knows what I’m talking about), there was NO wind. I couldn’t believe it. Just as calm and peaceful as could be. I actually ended up peeling off a heavier jacket and putting on a lighter one over my many layers. It was just a perfect day.

Horse sign! A lovely sight indeed. A stud pile. These let you know you've entered wild horse territory.

Horse tracks through the snow

We spot our first horse! A handsome black stallion with his nose in the snow.

And he's not alone - there's another stallion with him. Bachelor boys.

He decided he'd like to be closer to his buddy.

They didn't seem overly concerned about me. I worried about stressing the horses in this weather, so I stayed a fair distance from them.

Handsome wild boy

We drove on to the reservoir in a canyon area. We figured we might find horses here as it offered some shelter.

The waterhole in winter

I hiked out to take a peek over a ridge.

Too far away to hike to, but a nice sighting

There was LOTS of horse sign in this area, but we didn’t find any other horses. We got back on the main road and continued west when we came upon another small family band. The grey is the stallion and none of them wanted anything to do with us – they left in a hurry.


It was time to let the puppies out to play. While I normally don’t bring the dogs on our wild horse trips, I couldn’t bear to leave them this time (after just losing our Kaylen girl). We were careful to make sure no horses were in sight and that they weren’t out too long as their feet got cold pretty quickly. Tom and I kept telling each other that Kaylen would have been right in her element – she was a Husky mix.

Sub zero temps and hubby is out there without a jacket, but he's got a hat on! Little Sage is running full speed towards me as Brihten looks on. The dogs had a great time on this trip and were perfect little travelers.

I saw a horse dot up over a ridge so I decided to get out and walk in hopes the vehicle wouldn't scare the horse off. As I topped a hill, I saw this lone grey stallion.

As I slowly walked forward while looking through my lens, he finally looked up at me.

He decided to investigate and came trotting over towards me.

I wish shutters were silent. As soon as he got close enough to hear the click, he stopped.

He retreats

As I follow him through my lens, I see that he's joined another horse that popped up from a valley. Safety in numbers.

And up from that valley, the number of horses grew!

Two stallions

The two stallions kick up a little snow in a brief and half-hearted skirmish

Wild horse family portrait (minus all three stallions)

Two of the three stallions decide to move the family away, so I start to back off. My fingers were freezing at this point and I needed to get back to the Jeep to warm up anyway.

As I walk back towards the Jeep, I notice that somebody else has been watching the horses too.

Our day was going by quickly and we knew we’d have to start heading back shortly, but we both decided to drive just a little further west since we were running into more and more horses. We spotted a herd in another valley and as I walked out to get a better look, I could see more horses in both directions. We felt like we had hit the “mother lode.”

The lead mare keeps a close eye on me.

They move off, but they don't run far. They are smart enough to conserve their energy for a real threat.

We were over 2 hours west of the nearest “real” road. We told each other we’d be out of the range before dark, but we weren’t going to make it. It was so hard to leave, and just when we had figured out where the horses were. At least we’d know where to come back to. Our high temperature for the day ended up being 9 degrees.

Heading out...

We stayed in Craig overnight and decided to venture out to Sand Wash Basin before leaving around noon for home. Man, was it COLD when we started loading our gear that morning. I couldn’t believe it when I read the thermometer at -27 degrees!! Tom was nervous about the anti-freeze in the Jeep holding up, but again, there was no wind and Sand Wash is not quite as remote as where we’d just been. And surely it would warm up once the sun came through. (Nope, it never got out of the negative teens!) We decided to brave a trip out. We could always turn around if we had to.

We are always over prepared for trips to the wild horse ranges (well, we’ve learned the hard way that we have to be). I was so bundled up, I felt almost claustrophobic! Lots of layers (top and bottom), scarf, headband, gloves and the most amazing boots – Sorel Glaciers. If my feet get cold, I’m pretty much done but in all the years I’ve had these boots, I’ve never even had a chilled toe. I was ready.

There was fog most of the way out to the range and for much of the time we were there. We spotted our first horses shortly after entering and as I opened the door to get out, I was met with a chorus of yipping and howling coyotes. I wondered what had gone down to get these guys so excited. They went on for quite a while as I took some pictures of the horses in the fog.

I couldn’t be absolutely sure, but I assumed both groups of horses were bachelor stallions.

At the top of a hill scanning for horses. A good time to let the dogs out to play.

Making little Sagey angels in the snow.

Sage is so darn cute!

After the fog cleared for a bit, I hiked down to the two bachelors I’d seen earlier in hopes they’d let me visit for a while.

I was able to get closer and that's when I noticed all the marks on this boy.

Here's a close up. You can see blood and tears in his hide. My mind went back to the yipping coyotes. Had they gone after this guy?

This handsome pinto stallion was with the injured horse.

Once I looked closely at his photos, I noticed that he too had fresh blood on his leg. These two may have had an encounter with that pack of coyotes as we were coming into the range.

I left the boys in peace and hoped they'd have no ill effects from their injuries.

And on our way home, we hoped the same for the Calico Complex horses (though we knew better) as they go through the terror and trauma of a brutal roundup in the dead of winter…

Stay updated with wild horse news: http://www.nickolesphotography.com/HTML/wildhorseinformation.htm

(Photos are for viewing purposes only. Images are copyright protected and owned solely by Pam Nickoles Photography. No reproduction permitted. Feel free to share the link, not the images.)

24 Responses to “Wild Horse Medicine”

  1. Lori Schmidt Says:

    Food for the soul, thanks for sharing this, I wish I was closer and able to do this too. Hope those two boys will be okay too, the Coyotes probably realised that the rabbits and deer would be easier prey than the two sturdy healthy horses!

    A good start to my day thanks again!

  2. Dave Huss Says:

    Hi Pam! Great news about your Mom! Hopefully in afew more days justice willl be served out here. Hope the new year is a good one for you all.

  3. Billie Says:

    Beautiful photos as always. Thanks for sharing your trip. I would love to make it to some other horse ranges some day. Good news about your Mom! Have a great new year.

  4. Gabriele Moritz Says:

    How wonderful, Pam, that you take us on these journeys to the WildHorseRanges with you. At least two of my friends and myself have resolved to visit with the horses more often and fulfill our promise of keeping them safe by looking and cherishing them in their natural state in the Wild.
    No better way to spend a meaningful day.
    Gabriele

  5. Chris Cash Says:

    Very nice pictures, Pam. Looks like a great roadtrip – glad you didn’t have any trouble with the Jeep! Makes me want to pack up the truck and get out of town.

    -Chris


  6. As usual Pam, your work is STUNNING !
    thank you for sharing their world with us,once again

    Happy New Year to all,
    Mary Ann Kennedy
    (singer and writer of songs that celebrate our love of animals)

  7. TJ Says:

    Hooray for your mom!! That’s such great news!

    And what a great couple of days of “wild horse medicine” – they always come through for us, don’t they? The horses look just fantastic! Hope the two Sand Wash stallions recover quickly.

    Great photos! Thank you for sharing your adventures!

    TJ

  8. Sandy Elmore Says:

    Thank you Pam! How does your camera hold up in those cold temps?

    Beautiful photos…

    Happy New Year to you and Tom!

    Sandy

  9. Deb Williams Says:

    Can’t get over your beautiful photography, Pam!! The horses are beyond description with words, but so wonderfully portrayed by you!
    Thanks and Happy New Year!

  10. Lynn Bauer Says:

    Great stuff, as always! Winter photos are especially difficult, but so worth it!! Thanks for posting these and great news about your Mom!
    All our best,
    Lynn and Kathy

  11. elissa kline Says:

    thanks for sharing your story & photos – beautiful, touching and it helps me to know others are struggling with the decision by the judge about the Calico Complex. Not sure what to do except to keep on protesting…

  12. pnickoles Says:

    Thank you everyone for your kind comments and thoughts (about Mom too – thanks!). This was a fun adventure for Tom and I and it was certainly what I needed in light of the current roundup taking place in Nevada that I wish we could put a stop to. Thanks to all of you that call, write and protest on behalf of the wild horses.

  13. pnickoles Says:

    Sandy – I forgot to answer your question. Unbelievably, neither of my cameras had any difficulties. I never even had to change a battery out! I was amazed. Not even a fogging issue. Just one of those trips when everything went right. 🙂

  14. pnickoles Says:

    TJ – there really is nothing like that “wild horse medicine.” 🙂 Nancy (Sand Wash Basin blog) told me that both of those stallions are healing nicely. Good news!


  15. You have given me hope after a traumatic day in Nevada and the loss of a foal, I hope that the escaped stallion remains free. Thank you for all the magic these wild ones give. Mar

  16. Cindy Says:

    Pam,
    What wonderful news about your mom. Glad to hear it! Happy New Year to you all!

    Your trip to see the horses was medicine for the soul I am sure. My fave photo is of the white horse and the medicine hat paint touching noses. Perhaps comforting each other after whatever encounter they had that caused those wounds?

    I would love to see the wild mustang one day and get to take photos of my own. What an amazing experience it must be!

    We are lucky indeed to live the adventure through your eyes!

    Thanks for following your dreams….

    Cindy


  17. WOW Pam….Great post!! You really do an awesome job, and those pictures always are just majestic!! I am so glad you found some herds! Thanks for all you do!


  18. What an incredible journey! Thanks for sharing all those great pics!

  19. Puller Lanigan Says:

    I am in awe of your photos! They are spectacular! Thank you so much for sharing them with us. Have you put any of the photos into calendars??

    Many thanks for all you do for the wild horses.

  20. Win Duke Says:

    PaM, We are Mary D.’s parents,live in Ma. and are very impressed with your pics. Glad she has found another to share her/Dusty’s interest in mustangs. We don’t have many in our N.E. mountains.
    Win

  21. pnickoles Says:

    Hi Win – thanks for stopping by and for your kind comments about my photos. I still have yet to make it up to Mary and Dusty’s place to meet them (and their horses) in person, but I hope I can do that this Spring. Thanks for writing.

  22. John Newell Says:

    It’s refreshing to finally see shots of wild horses taken by someone who knows how to aim a camera and frame a photograph. Every shot – even the intown shots could be a great painting. Since I’m an artist I look for these things but am genrally disappointed. I know how difficult it can be to shoot (with a camera) wild animals even whent they cooperate. So congratulatons on beatiful work and especially on those close ups showing the wounds. They look like they were done by something much larger than coyotes to me. Most likely a mountain lion. The damage seems too sustained and high up for anything else, unless it was another stallion.

  23. jessica joan bauer melendez Says:

    beautiful picture.


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