A group of Fifteen Mile HMA wild horses along the ridge of a butte they had hidden behind. Amazing how they can disappear from view when they feel threatened. I just visited this herd area last weekend. A blog update will follow soon with more images and details.

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The very sweet face of a Pryor Mountain foal (Montana).

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Wild Horse Journal Entry

August 17, 2010

I belong to Equine Photographer’s Network, a membership of equine photographers from all over the world. For the last couple of years, EPNet has featured a very worthy (and difficult) project entitled, “Horses in Need.” Last year I contributed “Rescuing An American Icon,” the story of El Mariachi and Hope and the horrific ordeal they managed to survive at the 3-Strikes Ranch. This year, I’ve been so wrapped up in getting out to the ranges to see our wild horses before all the roundups, I just didn’t think I had any time for this project. However, with a little nudging from one of the founders of the group, I realized that I needed to make time. The wild horses need as much attention as we can possibly give them.

So, this little piece is what I managed to put together in a few hours to meet an important deadline. It’s brief, but heartfelt.

These are just some thoughts I wonder/ponder about when I’m out with the wild horses…

Click on the link below to view the story:
Wild Horse Journal Entry

I didn’t know quite what to expect when we decided to go out to this HMA. A year or so ago, I was advised (by a BLM employee) that this area was extremely rough and remote and I’d better be very well prepared to spend a night or two in the event of a vehicle breakdown or rain (roads would be impassable) as it wasn’t a well travelled area. Well, that pretty much discouraged us from planning an immediate trip until I heard that these horses were to be rounded up this Fall. I hated the thought that these horses would disappear and few would know that they had even been a beautiful part of the environment since certainly the ruggedness would be a factor in how many people would have actually seen them.

So imagine my surprise when we arrived to find wide, graded roads within a lush, expansive landscape shared by all kinds of animals with abundant water sources and lots of forage. It was incredible and I felt cheated that I wouldn’t know these horses longer and better through what I can only interpret as misinformation designed to keep me from doing just that. Grrr.

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Some of the abundant wildlife we saw.

Antelope families were everywhere

We observed many raptors such as this Golden Eagle

Sage Grouse

While I was absolutley elated by the conditions of the range and the animals, there was a disturbing aspect as well. These signs were posted throughout and they made me cringe – they were in several locations where we stopped to photograph horses.

Though the area is rarely visited (sarcasm), we stopped one of the natural gas guys on the road and asked him about the signs. He explained that everything was shut down at the moment since the processing plant didn’t have the capability of separating natural gas from the H2S (hydrogen sulfide). This is also known as “sour gas.” I asked what would happen in the event of a leak and was told that most of the gas would just dissipate into the atmosphere. And if someone or something was standing close by? It’s only a problem if you’re in a direct stream was the response. Though I wanted to continue, I quit asking questions at that point since the answer had created some obvious uneasiness. I decided I’d Google it when I got home. (This HMA is utilized by oil and gas developers as well as livestock interests. It is also checkerboarded with private land.) To break the tension, I mentioned that we were there looking for wild horses. I could tell he was relieved by my new line of questioning and he was more than happy to tell us where we could find some.

In this post, I’m going to highlight just one area of horses that we came across. I call them the big meadow horses (just as a reference to their location).

Following a horse trail along a water source

And there's a lot of water

A little killdeer watches me closely

And then decides I'm too close!

Turning a corner into another large meadow

Horses!

They’re a ways off so I decide to find a place to cross and make my way to them. As I jump a shallow area, I notice something scurry off to my right. I’m a bit uncomfortable now (Tom is back at the Jeep) as I recognize the slinking, wave-like movement – it belongs to the very aggressive badger. I saw at least two. Didn’t like my odds much, but decided to give them a wide berth in hopes they’d let me pass without feeling threatened.

These guys are not to be messed with!

Take a look at those claws!!

Maybe they think I’m just a very strange looking horse. In any case, I’m allowed to go by without incident and I’m grateful. I’ve heard stories about the damage an angry badger can inflict. No personal experience required!

I continue to work my way towards the horses when suddenly the band stallion pushes his mares in my direction. They kind of scatter out in front of me in confusion (which I share).

The band stallion pushes his mares forward

Birds fly everywhere as well

They finally veer off, but I still wonder what prompted the stallion's actions

Slowing down and giving me a look over

Ah - the girls are curious and turn to face me. Hi lovely ladies.

Love this

The horses move off and I start back for the Jeep. I have to trespass on badger turf again, but I’m not as worried. If you just leave things alone, they’ll generally do the same.

The badger resides by this platform. Not a great location – I don’t like its proximity to the water source…

We’re run out of the area by a very nasty storm that closes in on us quickly. Despite the approaching thunder and lightning, I can’t resist taking just a couple more shots as Tom turns the Jeep around.

More horses coming from the west and we’re forced to leave!

The roads are graded, but they’re still made up of clay and that stuff is miserable when it rains. We don’t know the area, but we know we need to head east…and fast. We just barely make it to a paved road when the downpour hits. It rained so hard, we just pulled over onto a side road and took a nap. Hey, we’re not old (well, not too). The hours are long – up early and out late – so some forced shut-eye can be welcome. Of course I couldn’t get the horses that we’d missed out of my mind.

The rain never really let up so we ended up driving back into Rock Springs for a snack and I jotted down notes in my wild horse journal. I still had hopes that we could get back to the HMA later that day – and we did.

It was still overcast, but I like that light and was excited about going back to where we’d seen the big meadow horses. The new horses had been coming from the west. What was over there? I just had to see.

I’m barely out of the vehicle when I take this picture.

Looking west

I don’t even realize until it’s too late, that there is a ridge and another valley below the one I can see. I startle some horses.

A stallion comes to check me out.

He's not taking any chances and he moves his herd away

Naturally curious, when they think they're at a safe distance, they stop to give me a better look

What a gorgeous line-up of wild horses!

And off they go

The horses stop and watch intently. Stallions coming from different directions are about to “discuss” boundaries.

I wish I was able to handle a still camera and a video camera simultaneously. There was so much activity and so many beautiful horses. It was big meadow magic. I wish I could’ve recorded it. What luck that we were able to make it back to this location.

A beautifully peaceful parting shot…

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This was our first visit to the West Douglas HMA. I heard there were around 90 horses left there and the plan was to zero them out entirely in October. I wanted to see them before they were gone. Seems our wild horse trips were becoming more and more about missions to document and then say goodbye to the beautiful animals we observed due to impending roundups.

I’d contacted the BLM Range Specialist in Meeker about how to find this group of horses. Had she not given me directions and a general location (we still got turned around and ended up on a narrow and somewhat cliffy road somehow-UGH), I am certain we would never have found them. Even after having finally discovered an area with some horse sign, we only managed to find two groups of horses – just nine in total (one I didn’t manage to get a picture of).

As we approached the top of Texas Mountain without a single sighting, finally, there on the corner of a turn was a group of three horses. Our first West Douglas horses. Two mares and a stallion and I think they were pretty surprised to see us. I can’t imagine that they see many people – not where we found them.

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West Douglas mare and stallion

At first I thought the stallion was missing his left eye, but once I was able to blow up his images, I saw that it was there, just kind of set back. It looked like he may have been kicked or something on that side of his face. Obviously, a tough fella.

And the little mare was so cute – so small (probably young) and curious.

Such a inquisitive, sweet face

The other mare was definitely not as curious. She was a nervous horse. Not interested at all in hanging around while I took pictures. She was agitated and went back and forth before taking off for good, taking the other two horses with her.

We continued up the road and came upon more horse sign. Stud piles mean there are wild horses in the vicinity!

We drove some more and I got out and hiked. Nothing. We didn’t see or hear any horses.

Almost at the top of Texas Mountain

There were good sized horse trails, just no horses.

Stud pile and horse trail

I followed the horse trail out to this burn area

I could see a lot of area and it was pretty up there, but still no horses

We hit the end of any road we could follow (there was a tiny trail, but we decided against it), so we turned around and started to backtrack. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash. A horse, but you could barely see her. Had she not had the bright white blaze, we might have driven right by. And there was a little one beside her too.

I got out to see if I could get any closer, but none of these horses were particulary interested in us either. I watched them follow a path that ran right along the edge of the mountain. I grabbed these really quick shots as they passed by.

The band stallion

Look closely at this boy’s chest. That was quite a wound he had there and yet, he appears to be fine and healthy and strong enough to maintain a family band. The Mustangs are miraculous healers.

Pretty mare

Hi little one

I didn't figure out the gender on this one, but to me, he looks kinda studly. Maybe he's a younger stud still hanging with the band until the big guy decides to kick him out

After these guys disappeared over the side, we never saw another horse even though we continued to drive around the mountain and look for quite a while. It wasn’t what I’d hoped for, but at least I knew that these few would always be remembered in my photos. They’re not just numbers or “excess horses.” They’re individuals with families and histories. I just wish I could follow one through its lifetime without losing it to a roundup.

There is a lot more pressure of late for the BLM to end the roundups until a more humane and scientifically based management plan can be studied and implemented. I hope everyone’s efforts will bring about a moratorium in time to save these horses and all the others slated for removal this year. Thanks to all of you that continue to fight for our wild ones.

(Photos are for viewing purposes only. Images are copyright protected and owned solely by Pam Nickoles Photography. No reproduction or downloading permitted. Feel free to share the link, not the images. To share, click on the blog entry title. The permanent link will be displayed in your browser’s address bar. Copy this address to share.)

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