Our departure to Arizona didn’t seem certain when we started for the airport. There was a winter storm warning in effect and the early morning ride to the airport was a little tense with the sideways blowing snow. But, we boarded on time and it looked like we were about to go from snow to sun in just a couple of hours. We were delayed at bit while we went through the de-icing procedure (never experienced that before!), but despite the weather, we had a smooth and uneventful flight.

This trip was going to be extra special because we were bringing my niece Ariel along as well as my Mom, who is now in remission.

Upon our arrival, we met up with long-time and dear friends, John and Judy Austin. They winter in Tucson, so they were able to follow us out to the ranch to meet Michael and the horses.

You have to drive your vehicle through the creek to get to Michael's ranch. This was the first time we've seen it with the water running. Arizona has gotten a lot of rain so far this year.

This is the creek that runs through Michael's property.

Our first view of the horses. L-R: Hope, Little Boy and El Mariachi

It was so good to see Little Boy standing with El Mariachi and Hope. When Michael’s mare, and Little Boy’s constant companion Samantha died in December, Little Boy went through a very rough period. He was off his feed, got sick and Michael worried that he might lose both of them. But, he seems to have turned a corner and he’s hanging out with the two wild horses more who seem perfectly happy to have him around.

Hope and El Mariachi

It wasn’t long before Michael came down from Wolf House and joined us all at the barn. Of course, we were equally as happy to see him too! 🙂

Michael with Tomas

L-R: Mom, Judy, John and Michael (with Tomas)

L-R: Me, Michael, Mom, John and Judy

Ariel with Little Boy

Little Boy, Michael and Ariel. Little Boy is so sweet. Here he's using Michael to rub his head on.

L-R: John, Michael, Ariel and Tommy (taking photos).

Ariel and Tomas

Tomas wants just a little taste of Ariel's shirt

Handsome boy

Tired of posing...

We hung around the barn for quite a while and then the horses decided to venture out onto the rest of the property.

Hope hides amongst the cacti

Shy girl Hope

Little Boy

We were a little early for most of the desert flowers, but we did see some blooming already

More signs of Spring. A nest with eggs wonderfully protected in a jumping cholla cactus.

It was so nice to see the horses's creek flowing. I know they must enjoy it too.

Hoof prints!

Tomas next to a Saguaro cactus

Peeking out at me

A horse can really hide in all that vegetation

Hope is such a pretty little mare. Love her sweet face, her big, soft eyes and her cute little white eyelashes.

Playfully biting El Mariachi on the leg

After visiting with the horses for about an hour, John and Judy headed home while the rest of us went up to Wolf House to relax and spend some time with Michael. He’s so interesting and always wants to know how we’re doing as well. It was fun to see how comfortable Ariel was with Michael too. She’s very outgoing and seems to engage people easily. I was happy she was able to come (though we missed her twin sister Tai and fiance Kirk!).

We were all beat, so we left for our motel just before dark after saying goodnight to the horses.

All of us managed to get up early Saturday for morning light photos back at the ranch. Early morning and late afternoon are the best times to photograph and are my favorite times of the day anyway.

I just can't take too many photos of this gorgeous horse

Ariel takes her Grammie down to the arena to see the horses

Tommy decided to take a short hike while we visited with the horses

Tomas is such a character. He just has to touch or taste everything.

What a goofball

After visiting with the horses for a bit, we all headed up to Michael’s studio to see him off. He had been invited to share an “incredible” experience with his long-time friend Kevin Costner who was performing with his band “Kevin Costner and Modern West” in Germany and Slovakia. All you can say is WOW to that, right? I’d be gone too! (Modern West also has a Facebook page – http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/kevincostnerandmodernwest?ref=ts – and guess who signed on as a fan?).

Mom with Michael

L-R: Me, Ariel, Michael and Mom (with Diana and Scout).

Michael and Tommy standing against the truck that Michael drove out to the Black Hills of South Dakota to film his Academy Award winning movie, Dances With Wolves.

(Upon his return, I asked Michael about his trip and he shared this with me: “Kevin Costner’s Modern West is a unique blend of great star power from Kevin and magnificent, inspiring music from a band that plays as if there is no tomorrow. Although they have drawn large crowds in America their recent tour of Europe has never been equaled according to foreign promoters. Modern West played almost thirty shows in six weeks in virtually every country. Each performance drew between 1,500 and 2,000 viewers. Many came to see Kevin Costner but all the young and the old were blown away by the thrilling music and singing Kevin and Modern West bestowed on them. I was given the opportunity to see the last five shows of the tour…four in Germany and one in Slovakia. Each one was remarkable in many different ways but at the end, what they played and sang on stage made memories that will last. Kevin is currently involved in several different films but Modern West will play a few shows in America and Canada through the rest of 2010. Music has been this writer’s greatest inspiration and Modern West is deeply connected with all the rest that have filled my heart and soul with belief in life.”)

This photo hangs in Michael's barn. It was taken at the Academy Awards in 1991. It took a tumble and is a little bruised, but a memory like this one looks good in any condition. L-R: Jim Wilson, Kevin Costner and Michael Blake with their Oscars from Dances With Wolves.

Before Michael left for the airport, he suggested that Tom, Ariel and I check out the “grotto” which was just outside his property in the national park. Michael said it was a very unique and beautiful area along the creek. The three of us grabbed some drinks and our cameras and with Diana as our guide, we started following a path that would lead us to the fence line.

Ariel and Tom - Tom was attacked by a Jumping Cholla cactus on the way. He said it really did seem to jump out at him and then it just stuck to him. Michael's friend Rick (who was taking care of the critters) helped Tom rid himself of the prickly aggressor. Of course Ariel and I taunted him about the ambush afterwards.

Our guide, Diana

Looking back at the ranch - the arrow points to a tiny El Mariachi walking along the creek

El Mariachi and Tomas

Looking back towards the ranch from the national park trail

After we hiked way past the grotto, we finally turned around and eventually found it. Diana is looking at the grotto area, but it's still pretty hard to make out.

Ariel and Diana at the grotto. What a wonderful reprieve for a black dog in the desert - even though the temps were perfect during our stay (in the 70's and low 80's).

Me and Ariel at the grotto

Me, Diana and Tom

Diana in the lower left corner looking towards the ranch

The hike to the grotto was a wonderful way to enjoy the surroundings when it wasn’t blazing hot outside. It was nice of Michael to share his little treasure with us.

On our way back to the motel, we took a scenic drive through Saguaro National Park. I’d hoped to see both a Gila monster and a desert tortoise, but I was told it was still a little early for the Gila monster to be out and about. Maybe next time. It’s a beautiful drive if you’re ever in the area.

John and Judy shared a very good Mexican restaurant with us Saturday evening. Family, good friends, good beer, margaritas and food. Perfect way to end the day.

Sunday morning, we left Mom to enjoy a leisurely breakfast with John and Judy while Ariel, Tom and I drove out to see the horses. We were meeting a new friend and her daughter at the gate house to the ranch.

I had “met” Cindy Cartwright through this blog. She’d made a comment on a post about the horses (she lives in Arizona) and we corresponded back and forth (we’re Facebook friends as well where Cindy is a very active animal welfare advocate). Cindy told me about her beautiful Mustang mare Sierra that she had rescued along with another horse. I had hoped to photograph her mare while we were visiting. Tragically, Cindy lost her Sierra just two days before we arrived. I didn’t even know what to say when she shared her heartbreaking news. I knew the loss was devastating. Despite the circumstances, Cindy still wanted to get together, so I asked her if she’d like to come out to the ranch to meet the horses.

Read Cindy’s touching story of Sierra with many photos here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stillintime/sets/72157623766338432/

Good morning boy

Ariel and Little Boy

Cindy's daughter Jacky, Little Boy and Ariel

Jacky with Tomas. Jacky is a real horse and animal lover.

Tom gently rubs Little Boy's eyes for him. He likes it!

Watching the horses enjoy the morning together

Ariel gave her cameras a real workout. I was proud of her!

Our new friend Cindy.

Cindy, Jacky and Little Boy

Jacky with Little Boy

Little Boy

You can barely see his hooves in the air, but the arrow points to a rolling El Mariachi

All together grazing

Using Little Boy as a scratching post

Sharing a drink at the creek

Back at the arena

Michael was very generous (as usual) with Ariel and gave her several of his books. She finished this one, Like A Running Dog, and started on Dances With Wolves while we were there. She's an avid reader and writer. And, Michael has a new fan.

Jacky with Timid

How can such a pretty girl...

Make such a face!

We crammed alot of activities into the limited time we had, so after visiting with Cindy, Jacky and the horses for a couple of hours, it was time to pick up Mom and drive over to the Santa Rita mountains to share lunch with Marianne Blake and the kids (delicious home-made bread and chicken – yumm!).

Lozen with her brother Quanah and Lucky. Look how big Lucky is getting!

Marianne and Rosebud

Rick shoes the famous Breeze as Cowboy (the bassett hound) supervises.

Having been shod, it's time for a bath!

Lozen and Ariel love on and admire Breeze

Monahsetah riding Burito who is AKA Don Rito or just The Don. He's a Quarterhorse, trained for roping and cattle. He's about 12 years old.

Rick surprised Ariel when he told her to climb aboard Breeze and go for a ride with everyone. Ariel has two horses of her own so she wasn’t afraid to take him up on his offer.

Monahsetah, Lozen and Ariel take off for a ride around the property

Marianne (on Rosebud) and Quanah (on Cookie)

From Marianne: “Cookie is about 8 or 9. She’s Quanah’s horse now and he likes to call her Massive Mama. His fear of riding Massive Mama vanished after a couple of minutes on my back pasture and they are now a terror. Although she is trained, has been ridden a fair amount (Rick rode her a couple of months before Quanah started on her) she has never enjoyed being a riding horse until now. It just breaks my heart (in a good way) to see the love my boy and Cookie share. He can’t keep his hands off her and she just can’t get enough. Just goes to prove that horses react to patience, love and true happiness.”

Lozen on FrostBite. Frostbite is about 4 years old. Marianne told me Frostbite's sire was Blue Dot, of the Valentine Quarterhorse line and her mama a great draft horse. Frostbite is really starting to enjoy riding, outings and human love.

Mom and Tom watching all the horsey activity

Ariel and Breeze

Breeze is around 15 or 16 years old. He’s a Paint/QH, famous (in most of Tucson) for his speed and heart. He’s a sought-after cow horse and, in his younger days, received a 2nd place in the Women’s National Barrel Competition. Breeze was also the co-star in Michael’s documentary, “The American West – On The Road With Michael Blake.” Check out the film photos featuring Michael and Breeze at the link below: http://michaelblakesamericanwest.com/The_Program.html

Doesn't it look like she's having a great time on that horse?

Ariel said that Breeze was the best trained horse she’s ever ridden. What a treat. (Thanks Rick!) She also commented how sweet the girls were to her; asking Ariel if she was okay, did she want to trot, etc. and how cool it was to see the whole family riding their horses together – how much fun that must be to enjoy on a regular basis like these guys do.

Another full day, but we still wanted to go back to the ranch to say goodnight to the horses. We arrived in late afternoon and of course, the horses thought it must be dinner time so they started towards the barn in a hurry.

El Mariachi and Tomas

Hope and Tomas

All four feet off the ground! He's flying!

Such a pretty mover

Hope rubbing her itchies away on El Mariachi

Hope sportin' a new doo

It was Monday already – the time had gone by so quickly. We made one last trip out to the ranch to see the horses.

El Mariachi finds a tree to take care of an itch

It was so interesting to watch the following interaction between El Mariachi and Tomas. It tells me that El Mariachi must truly be in a good place in his head if he’s playing, and comfortable enough to do so while we observe. Mutual grooming and playtime. A joy to watch.

Tomas came over to see what Ariel was up to. He's always curious and interested in people.

The horses wandered out of the arena and down to the creek area as we were getting ready to leave. I followed them down the road a bit and took the last two shots of El Mariachi before we said goodbye and headed to the airport. He posed beautifully for me.

I left the ranch feeling very grateful to Michael (again) for giving the horses such a peaceful existence. I spent enough time with them to see that they’ve adjusted well and seem very content in their new home. El Mariachi appeared to be much more relaxed, he’s carrying a better weight and seems to have willingly taken on both Little Boy and Tomas as his herdmates. Although El Mariachi has lost his freedom out on the range, thanks to Michael’s generosity, he’s still able to have what he probably values almost as much – a family.

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(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.)

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Michael Blake’s books are available through Hrymfaxe LLC (Marianne’s publishing company) and there’s the added bonus that Hrymfaxe will donate 25% off the retail prices of all titles by Michael to charities listed on the site (if you’re a rescue or an organization of any humantarian cause, be sure to apply for this very generous opportunity!

El Mariachi

A little teaser image of El Mariachi from our trip to Arizona last week. We had a wonderful visit with Michael Blake, El Mariachi, Hope and the rest of the “herd” made even more special by having Mom along (now in remission) and my niece Ariel who had never “met” El Mariachi before our trip. What a great time and the horses looked fabulous. I was fortunate to witness more of their interactions that I will share in a detailed post that I hope to have up by sometime next weekend.

Reminder: Due by April 2nd – Please submit your comments regarding the impending Adobe Town and Salt Wells roundups. Read about it here: http://www.trib.com/news/state-and-regional/article_9b09aec0-68a9-5261-a23b-79e6545c8d35.html Comments may be mailed or hand delivered to: 280 Hwy 191 North, Rock Springs, WY, 82901 or emailed to Rock_Springs_WYMail@blm.gov. Include “Adobe Town & Salt Wells Creek HMAs Scoping Comments” in the subject line.

(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.)

I was perusing a Wild Horse Yahoo group digest last week, when I came across the heading to a post entitled “Awaken Your Spirit.” I recognized the name of the author – she had recently purchased my DVD set and we had e-mailed back and forth a few times – so I went down the page to view her post. I wasn’t expecting what I read, but found it inspiring and thought others might too. I asked Jennifer if she would like to share her article as a “Guest.” She agreed – so in her own words…

“Awaken Your Spirit” by Jennifer Gage

In my dreams thundering across the plains, race immense herds of mustangs, running like the wind-free in every sense of the word in all their glory. “In riding a horse, we borrow freedom.” –Helen Thompson.

We will never see this magic again and like the buffalo, the mustang too will be gone before we know what happened if we don’t act now. Please vote now on Change.org to save the mustangs: http://www.change.org/ideas/view/stop_cruel_blm_round_up_of_wild_horses

Every single day mustangs (wild horses) are being rounded up and put in holding pens like discarded waste. Families are torn apart, mothers and babies put in separate pens. Their fate is uncertain; to be slaughtered for Europe’s elite diners (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-gAX5snG7-4 **Warning – Contains Graphic Material**) or to live in some holding pen the rest of their lives is not what most Americans believe they deserve. These horses have been grazing these lands for over 200 years, and in fact, horses are an integral part of American heritage and culture as even Congress declared in 1971 with the passage of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act.

A captive Bolder from the Pryor Mountains of Montana

What the opposition and people like Sue Cattoor, Bob Abbey, Ken Salazar can’t see or feel is the true beauty these precious, magnificent creatures exude-their spirit is one with Mother Earth and all that She has to offer the mustang. Those that cannot see the treasure that is the mustang with all its beautiful colors, spirit, freedom, joy, fierce loyalty and love of family have grown dull toward this world in which we live; they have forgotten that it is not normal or scientific in any sense of the word. “Every once in a while something will come along and shock us right out of our dullness and resignation.” That’s what the mustangs and watching “The Stallion and the Foal” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4JKKWF0ZUGk)
have done for me.

Thanks to photographers like Pam Nickoles, Carol Walker, and cinematographer Ginger Kathrens, I got to experience the mustang like I never have before. I didn’t even know they existed wild on the plains of 10 states. There used to be 2 million mustangs in 1900 throughout 16 states. They are now extinct in 6 states. If YOU do not act and do not let the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), President Obama, senators and congressmen know of the value these animals have, they too will go the way of the buffalo and the wolf. We cannot let that happen to them – to the horses that took us to battle when our nation was young and brought the pioneers to the west. I cannot let that happen.

“Just as we have lost our wonder at the world around us, we have forgotten what a treasure the human heart is. All of the happiness we have ever known and all of the happiness we hope to find is unreachable without a heart.”—John Eldredge.

My human heart is telling me the mustang is capable of bringing me this happiness-this borrowed freedom. To know this happiness yourself, go to YouTube and watch the videos about Cloud and his herd by Ginger or “Stampede to Oblivion”
(http://rtfitch.wordpress.com/2009/10/12/news-update-the-stampede-to-oblivion-is-now-online/) or Calico, Nevada-Where the Wild Horses Roam (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-0OK3i1YFI) or countless other wild horse videos found on YouTube.

Cloud - Pryor Mountains Montana

The wild horses are protected by The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 (Public Law 92-195), which states that Congress finds and declares that wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West; that they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people; and that these horses and burros are fast disappearing from the American scene. It is the policy of Congress that wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death; and to accomplish this they are to be considered in the area where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands.

“Less than one percent of humans who live in America have ever seen wild horses running free. I have spoken with many of the few who have and each has said the view they made will never be forgotten. As remarkable as a distant sight of wild horses can be it remains the tip of a glorious iceberg. The actual lives of wild horses reveal to humanity the privilege having a life on the planet earth and how vital it is to respect the privilege.” Twelve the King, -Michael Blake

Michael Blake with his gelding Tomas

“Before I purchased El Mariachi, that beautiful horse belonged to each and every one of you. All of the BLM managed Mustangs belong to you. Many people don’t even realize this, but the wild horses belong to the PUBLIC. You. Their futures are in your hands as well. If you ever have an opportunity to view a wild horse in its natural surroundings, I guarantee that you’ll be changed forever, and maybe you’ll begin to understand why many people work so hard to preserve them. Hopefully, you’ll become involved in the wild horse protection efforts yourself. There are so few wild herds remaining, it’s imperative that people act NOW. The wild horses are magical, spiritual creatures and they absolutely deserve their place on our Earth.” -Pam Nickoles

El Mariachi

Some facts:
• The half-million acre Calico Complex herd management area is the last stronghold of the American mustang and was designated by Congress principally for the wild horses and burros. Millions of head of livestock graze at a cost of $1.35/cow-calf pair/month.
• Overall welfare livestock constitute a net loss of $123 million annually to the American tax payer.
• The scapegoating of wild horses and burros for range deterioration must stop—they comprise only a tiny fraction of animals and wildlife grazing on our public lands.
• Cows graze within a mile of water. In comparison wild horses are highly mobile, moving 5-10 miles from water and grazing on more rugged terrain.
• BLM does not adequately control cattle on the public’s land and has not sustainably balanced use of the “forage”, water and space.
• A 1000-lb cow not only eats 26 lbs. of forage daily, but they consume as much as 30 gallons of water a day and defecate in it as well.
• Private and corporate livestock outnumber wild horses at least 100 to 1 on public lands.

Search your deep heart and investigate what I have just told you if this has motivated or awakened you to the dullness of your life. Pass this on and awaken your family, friends, coworker, children and grandchildren. Let’s not leave a legacy of dust to our children and grandchildren where the mustang once roamed like the buffalo…YOUR HELP IS DESPERATELY NEEDED TO SAVE THE WILD HORSES OF THE WEST! YOU ALONE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN THEIR LIVES!

I leave you with this piece of beauty…All the Little Ponies. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rXl8GwrBkxM

May you be blessed,
Jennifer

Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.

Resources:
http://www.thecloudfoundation.org/
http://www.wildhorsepreservation.com/resources/calico.html
http://www.wildhorsepreservation.com/
http://www.theamericanwildhorse.com/
http://www.madeleinepickens.com/
http://www.idablog.org/category/horse-campaign/

Jennifer has been involved in the wild horse protection efforts for only about 3 months. She is obviously passionate about the cause and she has done some research to back up her beliefs. I hope that others will be inspired by her words, follow her lead and decide they too can make a difference in the lives of our wild horses. Thanks Jennifer. I’m honored to have been a small part of your journey of discovery into the beauty of, and the issues facing our wild ones.

Adobe Town HMA wild horses

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Mustang Compassion

March 5, 2010

I received an e-mail from Michael Blake today that updated me a bit on a situation he’s been dealing with at the ranch. I’ve hesitated saying anything, but in order to share what he wrote, (which he gave permission to do) it’s necessary to mention that Michael lost his wonderful Mustang mare Samantha in December. She was in her mid-late twenties and passed peacefully, but losing a loved one is never easy on any of the family members left behind.

Samantha shared an extraordinary bond with Michael’s retired riding horse Little Boy and her loss has affected him deeply. As Michael explained to me, “he has no idea where to move with his life.” I’m sure it’s been heartbreaking to watch him suffer without his long-time companion.

Little Boy got sick and Michael began to wonder if he was going to lose him too, but today’s note gives reason to hope that Little Boy may be okay.

A testament to Mustang compassion:

“I have to tell you what happened this morning. Little Boy has survived and is eating well but he still stands alone wishing Samantha could somehow show herself. This morning before I went down to feed, I was watching them from the studio. As usual Little Boy was standing alone while Mariachi and Hope were standing together fifteen or twenty yards away. Mariachi turned around and walked over to where Little Boy was standing. Your herd stallion began to rub Little Boy’s face with his own. For about ten minutes they rubbed each other then Mariachi turned away once more and returned to Hope. Like all herd stallions, he knows when others need help and he gives it. This morning he gave a good feeling to a twenty-year old, castrated domestic. Mariachi is a marvelous individual. MB”

Of course I cried like a baby when I read this. There really is something so very special about that horse. His presence, his wisdom, his kindness…

El Mariachi

Related story:Rescuing An American Icon

It seems appropriate that since the trial has concluded (see link below), the Photo Of The Week should belong to my 3-Strikes Ranch survivors, El Mariachi and Hope. They are a couple of the lucky ones and have since found a safe and peaceful home with the very generous, animal-loving, wild horse advocate (and the list goes on) Michael Blake – and I’m so grateful for this outcome.

I also appreciate the efforts of every person that had a part in exposing the situation, rescuing, treating, adopting…saving the horses that survived. I’m grateful to the County Attorney and Law Enforcement folks who worked tirelessly to gather the facts for trial. And to the jury who had to sit through a week of testimony to bring about a conviction (justice for the horses). To my family, friends and people I didn’t even know who helped me through this ordeal with their support and kind words of encouragement. Many thanks to all of you.

I’m hoping for a sense of closure with the sentencing phase…

“Jury Finds Jason Meduna 3-Strikes Rancher Guilty on Most Counts”

Related Blog stories:

“Rescuing An American Icon”

“El Mariachi’s Thunder Road”

“El Mariachi and Hope Update”

(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.)

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