The black and white pinto stallion Benson with his mare Zephyr. Sand Wash Basin, CO (4/2012).

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Wild Horse Medicine

January 3, 2010

I had a wonderful Christmas with my family, made all the more special by my Mom’s current health status (she’s in remission!) and the beautiful new snow that covered the ground. Even as enjoyable as everything was, I felt restless and anxious. It was the wild horses that were on my mind of course. The decision by the Federal Judge not to grant a reprieve of the planned Calico Complex roundup in Nevada just drained the drive and hope right out of me. I knew I needed recharging so I asked my husband if we could visit the horse ranges over the extended holiday weekend and as always, he agreed we could. He knew I was in need of some wild horse medicine.

We never know if we can get very far on the range roads in the winter, but we decided it was worth a try. A new wild horse friend and advocate I’d made in NW Colorado told me she had been able to navigate a few miles of road at the Sand Wash Basin HMA recently, so we were hopeful (thanks Nancy – be sure to check out her Blog as she follows the Sand Wash horses). We decided to attempt Adobe Town first. If we were unsuccessful there, we’d backtrack to Sand Wash.

We left just after 5:00 AM Sunday morning. The drive was absolutely gorgeous with the new snow. Rabbit Ears Pass was truly a “winter wonderland.” The drive alone jump-started my attitude adjustment.

We startled a coyote dining on frozen road kill. At least nothing goes to waste.

Downtown Steamboat Springs, CO

Turning onto the road that leads to the Adobe Town HMA

We didn't have to drive far until we ran into a bunch of mule deer

And this little bunny trying to hide from us - I wondered why he wasn't in his white coat (as we'd seen some that were). Then I learned it was hares, not rabbits that take on the white color in winter.

Everything was wonderfully frosty. It was -9 degrees when we got to the range. The roads have to be frozen to be passable, so at that temperature, we knew we were safe.

Some of the terrain

It would have seemed a lot colder, but amazingly (anyone who’s been to Wyoming knows what I’m talking about), there was NO wind. I couldn’t believe it. Just as calm and peaceful as could be. I actually ended up peeling off a heavier jacket and putting on a lighter one over my many layers. It was just a perfect day.

Horse sign! A lovely sight indeed. A stud pile. These let you know you've entered wild horse territory.

Horse tracks through the snow

We spot our first horse! A handsome black stallion with his nose in the snow.

And he's not alone - there's another stallion with him. Bachelor boys.

He decided he'd like to be closer to his buddy.

They didn't seem overly concerned about me. I worried about stressing the horses in this weather, so I stayed a fair distance from them.

Handsome wild boy

We drove on to the reservoir in a canyon area. We figured we might find horses here as it offered some shelter.

The waterhole in winter

I hiked out to take a peek over a ridge.

Too far away to hike to, but a nice sighting

There was LOTS of horse sign in this area, but we didn’t find any other horses. We got back on the main road and continued west when we came upon another small family band. The grey is the stallion and none of them wanted anything to do with us – they left in a hurry.

It was time to let the puppies out to play. While I normally don’t bring the dogs on our wild horse trips, I couldn’t bear to leave them this time (after just losing our Kaylen girl). We were careful to make sure no horses were in sight and that they weren’t out too long as their feet got cold pretty quickly. Tom and I kept telling each other that Kaylen would have been right in her element – she was a Husky mix.

Sub zero temps and hubby is out there without a jacket, but he's got a hat on! Little Sage is running full speed towards me as Brihten looks on. The dogs had a great time on this trip and were perfect little travelers.

I saw a horse dot up over a ridge so I decided to get out and walk in hopes the vehicle wouldn't scare the horse off. As I topped a hill, I saw this lone grey stallion.

As I slowly walked forward while looking through my lens, he finally looked up at me.

He decided to investigate and came trotting over towards me.

I wish shutters were silent. As soon as he got close enough to hear the click, he stopped.

He retreats

As I follow him through my lens, I see that he's joined another horse that popped up from a valley. Safety in numbers.

And up from that valley, the number of horses grew!

Two stallions

The two stallions kick up a little snow in a brief and half-hearted skirmish

Wild horse family portrait (minus all three stallions)

Two of the three stallions decide to move the family away, so I start to back off. My fingers were freezing at this point and I needed to get back to the Jeep to warm up anyway.

As I walk back towards the Jeep, I notice that somebody else has been watching the horses too.

Our day was going by quickly and we knew we’d have to start heading back shortly, but we both decided to drive just a little further west since we were running into more and more horses. We spotted a herd in another valley and as I walked out to get a better look, I could see more horses in both directions. We felt like we had hit the “mother lode.”

The lead mare keeps a close eye on me.

They move off, but they don't run far. They are smart enough to conserve their energy for a real threat.

We were over 2 hours west of the nearest “real” road. We told each other we’d be out of the range before dark, but we weren’t going to make it. It was so hard to leave, and just when we had figured out where the horses were. At least we’d know where to come back to. Our high temperature for the day ended up being 9 degrees.

Heading out...

We stayed in Craig overnight and decided to venture out to Sand Wash Basin before leaving around noon for home. Man, was it COLD when we started loading our gear that morning. I couldn’t believe it when I read the thermometer at -27 degrees!! Tom was nervous about the anti-freeze in the Jeep holding up, but again, there was no wind and Sand Wash is not quite as remote as where we’d just been. And surely it would warm up once the sun came through. (Nope, it never got out of the negative teens!) We decided to brave a trip out. We could always turn around if we had to.

We are always over prepared for trips to the wild horse ranges (well, we’ve learned the hard way that we have to be). I was so bundled up, I felt almost claustrophobic! Lots of layers (top and bottom), scarf, headband, gloves and the most amazing boots – Sorel Glaciers. If my feet get cold, I’m pretty much done but in all the years I’ve had these boots, I’ve never even had a chilled toe. I was ready.

There was fog most of the way out to the range and for much of the time we were there. We spotted our first horses shortly after entering and as I opened the door to get out, I was met with a chorus of yipping and howling coyotes. I wondered what had gone down to get these guys so excited. They went on for quite a while as I took some pictures of the horses in the fog.

I couldn’t be absolutely sure, but I assumed both groups of horses were bachelor stallions.

At the top of a hill scanning for horses. A good time to let the dogs out to play.

Making little Sagey angels in the snow.

Sage is so darn cute!

After the fog cleared for a bit, I hiked down to the two bachelors I’d seen earlier in hopes they’d let me visit for a while.

I was able to get closer and that's when I noticed all the marks on this boy.

Here's a close up. You can see blood and tears in his hide. My mind went back to the yipping coyotes. Had they gone after this guy?

This handsome pinto stallion was with the injured horse.

Once I looked closely at his photos, I noticed that he too had fresh blood on his leg. These two may have had an encounter with that pack of coyotes as we were coming into the range.

I left the boys in peace and hoped they'd have no ill effects from their injuries.

And on our way home, we hoped the same for the Calico Complex horses (though we knew better) as they go through the terror and trauma of a brutal roundup in the dead of winter…

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Band stallion from the Green Mountain HMA near Baroil, WY

Since the roundup of the Red Desert Complex in Wyoming is supposed to take place in November, I thought I’d show off one of the many beautiful horses from that area.

My Mom loves this stallion. He’s from the Green Mountain HMA which is part of the large Red Desert Complex. I took this picture in April of 2007 as he was slowly working his way towards me for a better look. He had a beautiful pinto mare with him and a uniquely colored brown and grey yearling stud. I didn’t see this guy the last time we were out (this past September), but I saw a bachelor who looked very similiar right down to the stockings and distinctive white marking across the hindquarters.

It’s hard to comprehend that these gorgeous animals are about to be so cruelly displaced. Maybe this stallion will be one of the lucky ones that gets released or better yet, never captured. I so wish that for all of our wild horses…

There is a list of the herd areas, by state, that have pending roundups posted on my website:

Folks should be outraged by the sheer numbers to be taken, the wasted money spent to conduct these roundups and the incredibly sad fate of the horses losing their homes only to languish in long term holding or worse. Please speak up for the horses – we must inform the public and educate others about what is happening to these icons of the west (and the west is where they should stay – not removed, sterilized and relocated to private, unmonitored “sanctuaries” in the midwest per Ken Salazar’s proposal. There has to be a better solution that can be implemented).

Lots of wild horse information:

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