Piceance Creek HMA, 3-2011 (Day 1)

April 9, 2011

I couldn’t stand it anymore, I needed a wild horse fix, but traveling to the horse ranges in March is still a bit early in the season, especially this season. It’s been a very snowy winter in the high country. Snowpack across the state is 115 percent above average as of this week. In the past, we’ve arrived at our destination only to have to turn right back around when roads were completely impassable. We ventured out to Adobe Town one winter, started down the road from the highway and came upon drifts that were higher than the Jeep. Our journey ended. I was hoping for better luck on this trip.

We figured our best chance was to take a paved road on the southern side of the HMA and work our way up. We’ve seen horses off this road before, but I had no idea where they wintered. Pretty quickly we realized that most of the dirt roads were going to be too muddy to travel. Oh well. We were out enjoying the drive and scenery (along with our dogs) and we had the full weekend to look for horses along access we did have.

We drove the full length of the road without seeing a single horse. Then on the way back, I saw a herd off to the right (they hide so darn well), but they were behind a fence. I wasn’t sure if they were on BLM land or not, but luckily for us, there was an natural gas employee parked at a pad that I could ask.

He looked at me rather suspiciously when we first approached his truck, but when I told him we were there looking for wild horses, he became quite friendly and informative. He told me the horses stayed in this particular area year round and that the horses I’d spotted were indeed on BLM land. I just needed to hop over the fence. Cool. When I’ve asked an oil or gas employee about the wild horses, they’ve been friendly and helpful 100% of the time. They seem to enjoy having the horses out there to view while they go about their work.

Tom helped me across the fence and I started hiking out to the horses. I was back in my element. That magical, peaceful feeling was beginning to take hold. It was quite chilly, overcast and windy, but it just didn’t matter. I was in beautiful country and there were wild horses in front of me.

(Click on the images for clearer/sharper views)

I wasn’t sure how close the band stallion would let me get. He was pretty uneasy, so I just waited and watched for a bit. I don’t like to stress horses in any season, but it’s particularly important not to in the winter or just coming out of winter when they need to be conserving their energy. After such a tough season, I was anxious to get a look at their condition, but I still needed to get a little closer.

This group looks to be in pretty good shape.

Even taking my time working my way up to them, they decide to take off. Hopefully, they won’t go far if I just stay where I’m at.

This is a large band

They just disappear into their surroundings. I walked parallel to where they had gone hoping they wouldn’t feel pursued, allowing me another glimpse.

The band stallion is on the far left

My tactic worked. It often does. The band stallion never took his eyes off me, but he didn’t move his family and he actually allowed me to move towards them.

Before they felt pressured to leave, I thanked the horses for allowing my visit and headed for the Jeep.

We decided to try the eastern boundary road next. As we were driving along, I noticed something that I wanted to look at more closely and had Tom pull the Jeep over. Just as I suspected. It looked like a new life was about to enter the world and we were here to see it. Not a wild horse, but pretty amazing regardless.

(Warning – somewhat graphic photos to follow)

Once she laid down, we didn't want to move the vehicle for fear of spooking her, so apologies for the brush in the foreground.

The poor girl bellowed in discomfort as another cow came over to check on her.

She rolled around quite a few times and then started to get up.

I can see the little one!

Mama immediately starts to eat the afterbirth. It's instinct. The afterbirth could attract predators. I'm getting a little nervous. Baby still isn't moving.

Finally - a little head pops up.


Mama is trying to stimulate as well as clean. The little one needs to be mobile as quickly as possible.

Trying to get those legs underneath him.

This particular stance gets the attention of another cow.

Trying so hard.


Just as the little one stood up for the first time, the rancher who owns the cows drove up and stopped to speak with us. I was hoping he didn’t mind that we were parked and photographing. Nope. He told us that he could get us much closer if we liked. These cows were used to him being around checking on them and their newborns. It wouldn’t be a problem at all. We just needed to follow him down into the pasture. Off we went.

He's about 15 minutes old here.

Still a bit wobbly

The vital first drink

Hey there little guy

Wait up Mama

We left Mama and her little one and tried to find the kind rancher who had allowed us to photograph them. We couldn’t find him anywhere. He must have gone over a hill checking on new mothers. In case he could see us somehow, we waved good-bye and headed down the road.

We didn’t get too far when I noticed horses in a pasture. They looked like wild ones to me, so again, I had Tom pull over. We have seen horse sign all up and down this highway (which has a constant flow of semis on it – scary). It wasn’t totally improbable for these to be wild horses outside of the HMA. I got out and took a few pictures.

A little stud colt

And a cute little filly

We hadn’t been there very long when the same rancher drove up beside us. Great – now we could thank him in person. We chatted for a while about the cows and calves and then I asked him about the horses in the field. “Those are wild horses” he told me. He had contacted the BLM about them. (They are young and off the range). He wanted to know what they’d do with them and was told that they’d be taken to Canon City for possible adoption.

Well, this rancher has owned Mustangs before. He knows there are too many horses in holding and not enough homes for them. He asked the BLM if he could adopt them. Since he was already an approved adopter, the BLM agreed. Of course, this brought up a whole new topic of conversation and we stood around for quite a while talking about wild horses, ranching, the BLM, etc. We weren’t completely on the same page, but we weren’t really that far off either. Here was a guy that could see both sides and was rational when discussing them. He also spoke about the importance of going slowly and gently when working with a wild horse. I liked him right away.

It was time to head to town, but we kept an eye on the hillside just in case. You know, somehow that always seems to pan out for us.

A group of bachelor stallions

Not even able to get into the interior of the HMA and look how many horses we managed to see. And a birth as well. What a great day.

Almost into town when I get my final shot of the evening.

Wild turkeys - the first white one I've ever seen on the far left.

Day two to follow…

Update – Day two post: https://nickolesphotography.wordpress.com/2011/04/17/piceance-creek-hma-3-2011-day-2/

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(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 story/link, not the images.

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18 Responses to “Piceance Creek HMA, 3-2011 (Day 1)”

  1. John Stoj Says:

    Great set… Love the young horses and the new little calf… How cool is that… Cheers!!!

  2. deborah hurley Says:

    i love your adventures! thanks for taking us along. those bachelors at the end were such icing on the cake too!! cows and turkeys and three bands of horses and a cool rancher. perfect day πŸ™‚

  3. Katrine Pett Says:

    “What a good experience Pam-new life is precious and your pictures of new birth of calf are lovely! The horses all looked in good shape which is always nice to see-thankyou for being there!”

  4. Maggie Frazier Says:

    wonderful pictures – the horses really look so good – coming out of winter – sort of tells you they are doing well. The mama & calf were just icing on the cake.
    Never saw a white turkey before – ours are all much darker than the rest of them back here.
    Thank you Pam for bringing us with you

  5. pnickoles Says:

    Thanks John! Lucky timing on the birth. πŸ™‚

    Thanks Deborah – it was a pretty perfect day. Lots of variety for sure!

    I agree Katrine. Life is precious and it was pretty amazing to watch that little guy come into the world.

    Hi Maggie – there was only one group of horses that looked a little rough to me while we were there (they’ll be in the Day 2 post). But really, considering the weather we’d had, all looked better than I thought they might. My first white turkey too. He was pretty cool.

  6. Sheri Slessler Says:

    Hi Pam, I just wanted to thank you for sharing this. What a wonderful day!

  7. TJ Says:

    The horses look great, indeed. How awesome to see the birth of the calf! Great pix – great mama – and how cool of the rancher to talk with you and get you closer. Hope all goes well with his adoption of those horses off the range. They’re good-looking mustangs!

  8. WOW Pam!!!! Beautiful!!!! Really amazing!!! Thanks as allways for sharing:)Marie

  9. patricia field Says:

    Thanks Pam! Wonderful animals and beautiful landscapes always make for a better day! Great that we can share your travels!

  10. Greer Says:

    Your photos are amazing! I really look forward to each and every one you post. Thank you so much!
    Greer, horse lover stuck in the city πŸ™‚

  11. Karen McLain Says:

    Great set of shots Pam! That band stallion really looks good too. Also a cool sequence of birth shots. I’m glad you got a chance to visit with the rancher and that he gets his mustangs. Is Adobe Town near SWB?

  12. Puller Says:

    Beautiful photos! Glad you got your ‘fix’. Love the little bay colt, grey filly and buckskin bachelor. A friend and I stopped to (we hoped) watch a calf be born a few years ago…alas in the 2 hours we watched (and finally sent other concerned motorists off to the farm to look for the owner), no baby was born…but it was alive. I wonder why cows have their babies so close to water. We watched the cow lay down in a stream and were petrified the calf would drown…the farmer came and drove her to higher ground, but she sure wanted back to the water hole. 😦

  13. darcy Says:

    Wow Pam, what a wonderful experience you got to have, how exciting. I can’t wait for day 2.

  14. Mar Wargo Says:

    Glad you saw so many horses and got to talk to the worker and the rancher. It is always worth it to meet the people who live and work out there near the horses. What a super day! mar

  15. celeste Says:

    Wow! What an amazing day you had when you decided you just needed to get out and see some horses. Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful photography and story with the rest of us. They are wonderful.

  16. What a lovely day… and great pictures, too!

    Petra Christensen
    Parelli 2Star Junior Instructor
    Parelli Central

  17. Barara Joseph Says:

    What a sweet day for you all. Love all the pictures. Love the calf also.
    I’m glad there’s still some rannchers who care. I believe there’s alot of them out there that do care but don’t know what’s going on.
    Thank you so much for sharing this

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