Fifteen Mile HMA – August, 2010

October 10, 2010

We made a very quick trip to the Fifteen Mile HMA after taking in the Wyoming State Fair Mustang Challenge (so good to see the Mustangs showcased and to visit/meet some of the participants). We saw some gorgeous horses and great performances there! I hope they’ll decide to feature the Mustang Challenge every year.

We got to Worland late in the afternoon and couldn’t resist going out to see if we could find horses even if we only had a few hours of daylight left. Once inside the HMA, we reached a spot in the road we didn’t want to take a chance on and as we were turning around, we spotted our first horse. He was quite a ways out, so we started down what looked to be a well-worn horse trail that headed in his direction. As we reached the bottom of an arroyo, we found this water source.

This wasn’t a typical Fifteen Mile horse. They are usually very skittish and take off at the sight of people. This horse was watchful, but he wasn’t moving off.

As I got closer and able to zoom in better, I could see that this boy wasn’t doing well. Though this photo only shows one side, he was pretty torn up on both as well as having the knee injury. I backed off and turned around immediately so that he wouldn’t try to use any energy trying to escape a perceived enemy.

I was too late. My heart sank when he took off towards the hillside. I figured he wouldn’t go far, just out of sight range, but when I looked back later, I couldn’t believe what I saw.

What heart this boy had. I silently wished for his recovery and walked back to the Jeep.

We began our drive out of the HMA. Neither one of us was saying much as we thought about the condition of the injured horse, but we kept our eyes open. There off to my right. Horses!

I wondered how close they’d let me get. I got out and started walking.

I didn’t get very far before they made a hasty retreat. They did eventually stop running and stood still to watch me for a while. I worked my way closer.

The pinto is the stallion

Silly horses ran behind a butte and then reappeared after I walked away. I love their curiosity, but I’m also glad they’re wary of folks. And these two looked healthy. That allowed us to leave on a much better note that night.

Beautiful sky as we were leaving…

We were out the next morning before daylight. I was excited to be meeting up with Jerry Cook. He spends a lot of time on the range and I was sure he’d know where to look for the horses. I “met” Jerry through my Blog, but this was going to be our formal introduction to each other. I was grateful he agreed to show us the area he knows so well.

We drove into the HMA and ran into this family of antelope.

We were a little early arriving and decided to go back to the water source to see if there was any sign of horses. We got there just in time to see this pinto leaving the area. He gave us a quick look and then disappeared into the landscape.

As we climbed back out of the arroyo, there was Jerry standing beside his truck waiting for us. Cool! We greeted each other and then began our tour of the HMA with our “guide.”

The bad spot in the road that had prevented us from traveling further west the day before was a bit drier and with Jerry with us, we had the confidence to give it a shot. We made it just fine.

Jerry took us up to the top of a hill where he told us he spent a lot of time with his binoculars looking for horses. Sure enough, to the east (from where we had just come from) and down in the valley below were horses. LOTS of horses. I looked from one side of the valley to the other and spotted several bands in close proximity to each other.

I wondered how long it would take me to walk down to them, but Jerry had a better idea. He knew a road that might get us closer. So we started backtracking.

We followed Jerry as far as we could and then a small wash we needed to cross snagged my little Jeep. What the heck? Even in 4-wheel drive, we were stuck. The pictures don’t really show it, but we only had 3 wheels on the ground (later, we figured out that should have been enough and I still need to get my 4-wheel drive checked out).

Jerry hooks up a rope to pull us out with his truck.

And Tom readies the handy-man jack in case that doesn’t do the trick (a must have on any trip to the ranges, especially if you’re alone).

Throwing dirt everywhere in the effort, Jerry’s truck tugs us free. (It was so nice to have someone there to pull us out! It can get hairy when you’re alone and this kind of thing happens.) Off we go to find the horses!

We hit the end of the road and just as Jerry had predicted, the horses are right in front of us. They’re still 2-3 miles away and as soon as they see our vehicles, they take off!

We realize that we’ve gotten about as close as we were going to get to this huge herd of horses, but even so, it was an incredible sight to see all these horses running free.

And then they were gone. We stood there for a bit and then starting trying to figure out just where they went. As far as we could tell, they didn’t go over the buttes. Maybe they were behind them? (Like the pinto stallion and his mare had done the evening before). After a bit of discussion, I decided to walk down to where they had been. We figured that if they were behind the buttes and they saw me, they’d probably run right past Tom and Jerry (‘member the old cartoon? HA!) and they would have another fantastic view of wild horses, or I’d get skunked and find nothing at all. I loaded up with water and headed down.

I passed several birds on the way and took photos of a couple. In order; a Northern Shrike and a Mountain Bluebird.

Oh and this guy scared me as much as I must’ve scared him when he came leaping out of an arroyo in front of me!

I was a tad bit jumpy since seeing the photo of the large rattlesnake Jerry almost stepped on on one of his hikes out here. I could pass on that.

It took me quite a while to make my way over to the buttes and as I approached the area, I could smell that horses had been there. I LOVE that smell. I walked into a box canyon (yup, just like in the old time movies). It felt kinda creepy, but I’ll go just about anywhere to see horses. Nothing – there was nothing in there.

I was just about to turn around when I saw a shadow on the ground. I looked up just in time to see a horse run across the ridge above me. Wow! And then he came back with another horse in pursuit. They didn’t see me. I thought for a minute. Maybe that pinto was a bachelor and the sorrel a band stallion. That meant the larger group would be over the hill to my west. Hmmm…how to get there. It was straight up. I’ll go just about anywhere, but that was definitely a roadblock. I decided to go out and around to the front of the neighboring butte to see what I could find.

The ridge runners…

As I came out of the canyon, I saw that Jerry had hiked out and was atop a butte to the east of me. I tried to get his attention to let him know I’d found horses, but he was just too far away to see me.

When I finally made my way to the front of the other butte, I was shocked to see many horses on the ridge and “tiered” in between the two buttes completely hidden. I stood there for quite a while admiring their intelligence and hoping Jerry would notice me so he could see this too. When he didn’t, I decided to go ahead and work my way in front of them. The wind was in my favor so I was able to get some shots before they saw me.

What smart horses! I couldn’t get the angle I needed to show just how many horses were stacked in there.

In the photo below you can see the head of another horse and group of horses (the arrow) that were hidden more to the right between the buttes. They were just packed in there. So many of them. I felt very lucky to have found them in this perfect little hiding place.

And once again, they were gone.

Watching the wild horses always gives me a rush. What an awesome experience. I so wish I could’ve shared it with Jerry though.

I started back. I noticed a well-travelled horse trail and decided to follow it. I knew the horses would know the easiest route to take to the old water hole (since dried up, but near where we parked) and I’d probably get there quicker too.

The arrow shows where I need to go - you can barely see the two tiny vehicles in the distance

Along the trail, I spot two small water holes that the horses had “dug out.” Both were under rock shelfs that kept them from evaporating more quickly. I wondered where they were getting their water! The horses always know just where it is. I found even more pockets of water along the way.

Tom told me I was gone over 3 hours. My walkie-talkie had died and he was worried about me when he couldn’t see or contact me, but relieved that my hike had taken me to horses. He could tell that I was pretty excited about what I’d seen.

Jerry took us to another area in the HMA with a very large water hole. This is where he’d encountered the rattlesnake, so we stepped lightly. Water sources are very important in herd areas so I never tire of seeing them and noting their locations.

The weather was turning. We drove up to another of Jerry’s lookouts to search for horse sign one more time. We knew by the clouds that we needed to leave, but none of us was ready. We stalled and discussed, but eventually concluded it was time to go.

Jerry glasses the landscape for horses

And Tommy looks around for sign as well. When we don’t spot anything, we head for Worland.

As we look back towards the HMA, we know we've made the right decision

Though our day in the herd area ended much too early, our day with Jerry did not. He invited us to “supper” (you just never hear it called that much anymore) and we accepted of course. We met his wife Delores who shared many tales about Jerry with us (obviously quite a character). We laughed a lot (at Jerry’s expense). It was great fun. A wonderful day and new connection made to another friend of the wild horses.

(Click on the image for a larger/sharper view)

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20 Responses to “Fifteen Mile HMA – August, 2010”


  1. WOW! Absolutely amazing. They are so healthy. God did good!

  2. Joanne K. Says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this exceptional story. It gave me a thrill to see these horses too but I can only imagine how it is to see them for real!! Thank you for sharing your brilliant photography and stories. Joanne

  3. Mar Wargo Says:

    Glad you got up there and met Jerry. These horses have an amazing landscape to live in. It is rugged yet they have learned to hide from people and vehicles.
    Horses in San Luis use the landscape the same way to hide when you drive out to find them. They go high on steep hills and disappear into the folds so well they do just vanish. Beautiful horses there… mar

  4. Barbara Says:

    WOW !!! AWESOME photos. Many thanks, Pam. I hope and pray these wild horses are not rounded up.

  5. Deby Zimmerman Says:

    We HAVE to stop BLM!!!! These horses are healthy and doing GREAT, yet BLM continues to use poor health and range overgrazing as their basis for removing these icons of our Western heritage!! Your photos prove they are fit and healthy and there is nothing showing in the landscape to indicate over graze by ANY animal…. Thank you so much for your time and photos so that the truth can be seen here. I truly hope these beauties will be left to live out their lives here, but sadly don’t see anyone in this government stepping up to stop it. Your photos are fabulous, and your obviously guided by God to show others…..let’s hope voices from other countries will see your pictures and add their dislike for this abuse to our Mustangs!!

  6. Margaret Says:

    Pam thanks for showing how you got stuck. I guess I really do need someone to go with me with a second car to help out just in case. Another lesson learned.

    Those horses are bbeeaaauuutttiiifffuuuullllllllllll. I think I had to go through Worland to get to the Pryors from Western WY. So I guess my next question is–is this HMA also on the chopping block? Heavens they don’t look thin or starving. But then I don’t think the BLM really thinks before acting. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

  7. TJ Says:

    Fantastic visit! Glad to see all the pockets of water there – big and small. What a beautiful setting for such beautiful horses. Glad you trekked out and found them in their secret spot! You have that knack!

  8. Jim Westin Says:

    Pretty amazing adventure…..no place for a Buick….if I’d gone with you I would be literally “over the hill”…..you probably would have only had to carry me 1/2 way back. Wonderful story….awesome pictures…..those horses don’t belong in a petting zoo….or, God forbid, the midnight truck to Mexico/Canada.


  9. WOW Pam. You weren’t kidding when you told me these horses were hard to get to. What an awesome thing to do and see.

    I continue to be amazed at you and the treks you are willing to go on to see the horses. Bless you for doing so and sharing with us.

  10. Maggie Frazier Says:

    Wonderful pictures! Sure does look like plenty of water & grazing – hope they can hide that well if theres a roundup in that area.
    Love seeing the horses and the beautiful scenery.
    Wish I was there
    Maggie

  11. Roxy Says:

    One of the most exciting reports – my heart was beating reading your report. And the pictures – What can I say?

    Thank you so much!

    Prayers these magnificent horses do not have to endure a roundup or lose their beautiful home.

  12. Jerry Says:

    Pam, those photos turned out very good and the report on the adventure is quite interesting to read. I can say that meeting you and Tom that day was an enjoyable day to say the least and something I will always remember.
    I am still working on trying to find Nub Ear and maybe Junior. I’ll let you know how things go when I have more info for you.

  13. suzanne o'meara Says:

    thank-you – wish the horses could be free there always !

  14. KELLY MILITELLO Says:

    I agree with Roxy!! What an adventure!! Such beauty..thanks as always for sharing!! Made my day!! Losing my job in a couple of weeks & the west and the horses keep calling!!

  15. pnickoles Says:

    Thanks Vancellen and Joanne – I appreciate your comments. 🙂

    Hi Mar – Jerry was fun. We really enjoyed meeting him and I know Tom thought it was great to have a guy around for a change. HA! Rugged terrain for sure and I saw more of it than I thought I would. It’s always interesting to me to go hiking in those areas. There’s really so much to see/explore even though it looks so barren.

    Barbara – these horses were rounded up last Fall. Hopefully, it won’t be done again for several years, but you just never know with the BLM.

    Thanks for writing Deby – I know you love those wild horses and are very passionate about the issue. Hopefully, even more people will be the more they learn about it.

  16. pnickoles Says:

    Hey Margaret – that is certainly NOT the first time Tom and I have gotten stuck, stranded, broken down whatever you want to call it. Those ranges can be tough on a vehicle and sometimes it’s the weather that gets you. Always have to be overprepared when you’re out there to be safe. Like I told Barbara, Fifteen Mile had a roundup last fall. These are some of the horses that are left. They’re the spookiest of any HMA I’ve been to.

    Hi TJ – sure wish you could’ve been along. It was really such a fun experience. What a lucky break to see those “ridge runners” before walking away! 🙂

    Jim – absolutely no place for a Buick! 🙂 We need to get you out to see the horses somewhere soon.

    Hi Barbara – I was just trying to be honest with you. These horses are spooky. They’re hard to approach, but for some reason, I like this HMA really well. It’s so isolated (too much sometimes) and wild. It was nice to have Jerry along though let me tell you! 🙂

    Maggie – I wish you could get out there. It really is beautiful. I hope the horses manage to master they art of disappearing from a helicopter too.

  17. pnickoles Says:

    Roxy – Wow, so glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for your comments and ditto on the prayers for our horses.

    Hi Jerry – again, thanks so much for the time you spent with us. We had a great/fun/exciting time and I hope we get to do it again soon (after I get my 4-wheel drive fixed!). I look forward to hearing news on Nub Ear and Junior. I so hope they’re out there and doing well. Tell Delores we said “HI!” 🙂

    Thank you Suzanne and that’s my wish as well.

    Oh Kelly, I’m so sorry to hear about your job. Well, if the west is calling, maybe you should think about it? Be sure to give a holler when you go through Colorado! Really though, I hope something wonderful works out for you and that your transition is somehow a blessing in disguise.

  18. Karen Says:

    What a wonderful adventure Pam! I appreciate your insight, wisdom and energy seeking out and these herds and your generosity in sharing them with us!

  19. Tammy Wyke Says:

    Beautiful work! Very informative, getting me just one step closer to being able to monitor wild horse round-ups. Thanks!

  20. Tracie McVay Says:

    Beautiful photos! I have a mustang from Fifteen Mile HMA and would love to chat with anyone who has been there and might have seen her.


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