Finding Nub Ear

August 17, 2013

Proud stallion Nub Ear

Proud stallion Nub Ear

Back in 2008, I started photographing a stallion in the Fifteen Mile HMA near Worland, WY that I called “Nub Ear” due to his mostly missing right ear. I shared photos of my visits with him and his family up until the roundup of 2009. Since that date, I have not seen, or found anyone else, that has seen him. We even met up with a great guy that goes out to Fifteen Mile frequently in hopes of finding Nub Ear, but still nothing. (Jerry Cook – that story here: Jerry had looked for Nub Ear (and one of his offspring, Junior) many times for me with no sightings.

Earlier this year, I was looking at some of Shawn Ivie’s work (WyoMan Photography) on Facebook when I got a wonderful surprise – he had images of Nub Ear that were taken this year! Of course I e-mailed him for the date and location, etc. and Shawn was nice enough to fill me in about the sighting. I quickly e-mailed Jerry and gave him the news. He made plans to go out to Fifteen Mile right away. Below is Jerry’s account of that trip…

“We made an adventure out to the 15 Mile Area on the Good Friday before Easter weekend, and I have to say, it was a very Good Friday.

We had gone past the intersection that goes to Fenton Pass, (where the gentleman from Sheridan found Nub Ear earlier I think). Probably a mile or little more. Delores caught a glimpse of the paint stallion and bay mare out of the corner of her eye as we were passing by. Almost missed them, but anyway we stopped and started glassing to see if they were the ones I’ve seen in that area before. While looking, another head appeared to the left of those two kind of coming up from behind the little hill. And then another one showed up and right away we both said it looked like Nub Ear! I immediately got the spotting scope out and set up. It was him. While setting up my camera, I noticed another horse come into view to the right side of those first two, and it was definitely the one you have showed me and named Junior. After a little time, I started working my way towards them to try to get good photos. They kept posing for me and then Junior started moving in my direction in kind of a challenging mood so I decided to move back towards the pickup. (Funny) We spent quite a while watching them move around and decided to go over to the western side of the range to find some more horses. We located 3 (a stallion, mare and new born foal), but didn’t see any more that day. We did meet the BLM person who oversees this area and talked with him. He had been around some more of the area and hadn’t found any other horses either. Weren’t sure where they were hiding that day. So we returned to the area that Nub Ear was in and located them again. They had moved over to the south side of the main road, kind of toward where that solar powered water hole is located. They again started posing for us, (and grazing too). Like I said, it was a very good day.”

Nub Ear!

Nub Ear!








When I got the news from Jerry, I started jumping up and down! Not only had he found Nub Ear, but Junior as well. And they were together! (You can read about Junior here: Thank you so much Jerry for sharing your story and photos!

I hope I can get out to Fifteen Mile sometime this year to look for Nub Ear and Junior myself, but whether I do or not, it’s just so good to know that they’re still out there and doing well!

DSC02773 copy Handsome, young Junior.

(For more stories/photos of Nub Ear and his family, just type “Nub Ear” in the search box in the right side column of the Blog.)

Photos are for viewing purposes only. Images by Pam Nickoles Photography, along with all site content are copyright protected and owned solely by Pam Nickoles Photography. Photos and/or text may not be used, downloaded or reproduced in any form without express written permission from Pam Nickoles Photography. Feel free to share, but please respect my copyright.

Last weekend, we were back at Piceance Creek/East Douglas for a quick trip to see the horses. While there, we met up with new friend and fellow wild horse lover, Rachel Reeves (she is too much fun – thanks for joining us Rachel!). Not far into the HMA, we came upon some horses and got out to photograph.

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Bachelor stallions

Hi Rachel! 🙂

While we were out, I kept hearing screams – youngster screams. After the bachelors moved off, I tried to determine where the calls were coming from. And then I spotted them. I asked Rachel if she was game for photographing something other than horses for a minute and of course, she was.

This was a good location for these baby red-tailed hawks. I couldn’t safely climb up from any angle.

Aren’t they amazing? Momma hawk buzzed us a few times, so we didn’t stay long, but finding these guys made me think about some of the other wildlife Tom and I have seen while in search of the wild horses. So, I thought I’d share some of those images with you just for fun. The ranges have so much to offer and the variety of wildlife is part of the appeal. I don’t know exactly what all of these creatures are, so I will give only location if I’m not certain and maybe some of you can fill in the blanks.

In no particular order and certainly not fully representative of what’s out there. 🙂

Close enough to the Piceance Creek HMA to include, a family of bald eagles.

The little eaglet calls out to its parents

Pryor Mountain HMA in Montana

Handheld image taken with a long lens very early morning - so not crystal clear - of a black bear. Pryor Mountains, MT

Lucky dragonfly - Big Horn Canyon - Pryor Mountains, MT

Toad. Not sure what kind. Big Horn Canyon, Pryor Mtns, MT

Turkey vulture - Big Horn Canyon, Pryor Mtns., MT

Horned lark - McCullough Peaks HMA near Cody, WY

Desert cottontail - McCullough Peaks HMA, WY

Pronghorn - Green Mtn HMA, Wyoming

Sage grouse - Green Mtn HMA, WY

Elk - White Mountain HMA near Rock Springs, WY

Meadowlark - White Mountain HMA, WY

Killdeer - Salt Wells HMA, WY

Badger - Salt Wells HMA, WY

Pronghorn - Salt Wells HMA, WY

Mule deer - Adobe Town HMA, WY

I have no idea what these little guys are (Meadow lark?), but they were so well camouflaged that I almost stepped on them! McCullough Peaks HMA, WY

Baby birds - McCullough Peaks HMA, WY

MacGillvray’s warbler - Piceance Creek/East Douglas HMA, CO

Bull snake - McCullough Peaks HMA, WY

Chipmunk - Chippy. They're all chippies to me. 🙂 Red Desert , WY

Bluebird - Fifteen Mile HMA, WY

Grasshopper - Red Desert, WY

Coyote - Fifteen Mile HMA, WY

Dragonfly - Piceance Creek/East Douglas HMA, CO

Duck - Piceance Creek/East Douglas HMA, CO

Shackleford Banks, Outer Banks, NC

A little bird hitchhiking on the back of a Banker pony (which they are sometimes called). Shackleford Banks, Outer Banks, NC

Shackleford Banks, Outer Banks, NC

Shackleford Banks, Outer Banks, NC

Chippy - Piceance Creek/East Douglas HMA, CO

Lizard - Piceance Creek/East Douglas HMA, CO

Horned toad - McCullough Peaks HMA, WY

Corolla, Outer Banks, NC

Corolla - Outer Banks, NC

North Carolina deer - Corolla, Outer Banks, NC

Corolla, Outer Banks, NC

Geese - Corolla, Outer Banks, NC

Carrot Island - Outer Banks, NC

I have no idea what kind of bird, but they sang beautifully and had a mud nest close to the red-tailed hawks. Piceance Creek/East Douglas HMA, CO

At the entrance to the mud nest. Piceance Creek HMA, CO

Proximity of the mud nest to the hawk's nest - Piceance Creek/East Douglas HMA, CO

Location and view of the mud nest. Coyotes were yipping in the valley while I took these pictures. Very eerie since their voices echoed all around me.

Brewer's Blackbird - Fifteen Mile HMA, WY

Some kind of ground squirrel - Piceance Creek/East Douglas HMA, CO

Jerusalem cricket - Salt Wells HMA, WY.

Burrowing owl - Sand Wash Basin HMA, CO

Robins bathing - Pryor Mtn HMA, MT

Golden eagle - Adobe Town HMA, WY

Red-tailed hawk - Adobe Town HMA, WY

Bighorn ram - Little Book Cliffs HMA, CO

Northern Shrike - Fifteen Mile HMA, WY

Rattlesnake - Sand Wash Basin HMA, CO

Prairie falcon - Dishpan Butte HMA, WY

Solitary sandpiper - Great Divide Basin HMA, WY

Marmot - Pryor Mtn HMA, MT

Jackrabbit - McCullough Peaks HMA, WY

Cottontail - Sand Wash Basin HMA, CO

Pronghorn babies - McCullough Peaks HMA, WY

While I love and admire all the wildlife, the only reason I have any of these photos to share with you is because I went out specifically to see the wild horses. They are the main attraction. They are my passion, my inspiration and they are what draws me out to these remote and remarkable locations.

Photos are for viewing purposes only. Images by Pam Nickoles Photography, along with all site content are copyright protected and owned solely by Pam Nickoles Photography. Photos and/or text may not be used, downloaded or reproduced in any form without express written permission from Pam Nickoles Photography. Feel free to share, but please respect my copyright.

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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.

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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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Backtracking to June, we spent the first day of our vacation at the Fifteen Mile HMA outside of Worland, WY. It was my hope that I’d be able to find my favorite stallion there – a handsome boy I call “Nub Ear.” There’s been no word about him since the roundup last Fall.

(Click on the images for larger/sharper views.)

We entered what we call the main entrance and noticed several water sources were relatively full. That is always a welcome sight in a horse range.

Especially when the horses have other animals they share the resources with.

The cactus was blooming and we watched a brightly colored bird doing his best to be noticed by a potential mate.

Male Brewer's Blackbird

Despite driving across most of that main road (until we hit a wash out we couldn’t navigate), we didn’t see a single horse. It’s unbelievably sad to be in a wild horse range without seeing any horses at all. How many were left and where were they?

We decided to go back to the spot where we had always found Nub Ear. There we spotted a lone horse running with determination towards something I couldn’t yet see. I got out of the Jeep and started walking and that’s when I figured out what had his attention. It was an antelope and for as far as I could see, the only other animal in the area. I watched the stallion continue towards the antelope until it finally decided to take off.

Running towards the only other animal in the vicinity - an antelope.

The stallion just stood there and watched the antelope run off and then he turned around and looked at me. Guess that’s when he decided to give me a try.

Without a lot of hesitation, the stallion came closer and closer. As his image got larger in my lens, I watched a beautiful young stallion coming into view. Though I’ve said this a few times before, this horse was somehow familiar. He looked very much like a younger, lighter colored version of the stallion that once roamed the same area – Nub Ear. Of course this boy had both of his ears intact, but still, his movements, his build – all similar to Nub Ear. I wondered if this boy was one of his offspring.

Trying to catch my scent

There is a little trick I use when I visit any wild horse range. I wear the same perfume spritzed in my hair (it’s a musk) so that I smell a bit different than most humans the horses may encounter. It is also my hope that most of the horses I see more than once remember that smell and that their experience with me was not one to fear. Maybe this young stallion recognized something familiar about me as well.

What a solid, healthy young boy

I was even more convinced that this boy had to be related to Nub Ear when I was able to see his face up close.

What a sweet, sweet face on this stallion. It appeared that all he wanted was for me to stick around a while. So I did. I talked to him and he just listened. It was such a wonderful, yet bittersweet experience. I wondered if he’d come to this spot looking for his family the same way I had. My heart ached thinking about it.

What a gorgeous horse

He allowed me to get very close for this last portrait. What a privilege.

I stayed as long as we had light. I hated to leave him and as I did, his eyes followed me. Even as we drove away, he continued to watch. Tears fell for him. Be careful handsome boy and may you find the family you so desperately search for.

Fast forward to the end of our trip. I was going through the images on my laptop on the drive home. My poor husband. I was looking at the computer and crying. It occurred to me that I had some old files from this HMA still stored on my laptop and when I decided to do a little research, I found out right away that this young stallion had indeed been part of Nub Ear’s band and I had several images of him from over the years.

As a yearling.

Appx 6 months later with Nub Ear and the rest of his family.

Now I had a full blown heartache. He had been back looking for his missing family…and they weren’t there.

There is no way that these horses lives are not affected by the roundups and the removal of their families. There must be a more effective way of managing these very social and family-oriented animals. To witness this devastation over and over makes me even more committed to do my part to see those changes made.

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If Nub Ear no longer roams free on this range, at least his legacy lives on…

(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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