I didn’t know quite what to expect when we decided to go out to this HMA. A year or so ago, I was advised (by a BLM employee) that this area was extremely rough and remote and I’d better be very well prepared to spend a night or two in the event of a vehicle breakdown or rain (roads would be impassable) as it wasn’t a well travelled area. Well, that pretty much discouraged us from planning an immediate trip until I heard that these horses were to be rounded up this Fall. I hated the thought that these horses would disappear and few would know that they had even been a beautiful part of the environment since certainly the ruggedness would be a factor in how many people would have actually seen them.

So imagine my surprise when we arrived to find wide, graded roads within a lush, expansive landscape shared by all kinds of animals with abundant water sources and lots of forage. It was incredible and I felt cheated that I wouldn’t know these horses longer and better through what I can only interpret as misinformation designed to keep me from doing just that. Grrr.

Click on the images for larger/sharper views.

Some of the abundant wildlife we saw.

Antelope families were everywhere

We observed many raptors such as this Golden Eagle

Sage Grouse

While I was absolutley elated by the conditions of the range and the animals, there was a disturbing aspect as well. These signs were posted throughout and they made me cringe – they were in several locations where we stopped to photograph horses.

Though the area is rarely visited (sarcasm), we stopped one of the natural gas guys on the road and asked him about the signs. He explained that everything was shut down at the moment since the processing plant didn’t have the capability of separating natural gas from the H2S (hydrogen sulfide). This is also known as “sour gas.” I asked what would happen in the event of a leak and was told that most of the gas would just dissipate into the atmosphere. And if someone or something was standing close by? It’s only a problem if you’re in a direct stream was the response. Though I wanted to continue, I quit asking questions at that point since the answer had created some obvious uneasiness. I decided I’d Google it when I got home. (This HMA is utilized by oil and gas developers as well as livestock interests. It is also checkerboarded with private land.) To break the tension, I mentioned that we were there looking for wild horses. I could tell he was relieved by my new line of questioning and he was more than happy to tell us where we could find some.

In this post, I’m going to highlight just one area of horses that we came across. I call them the big meadow horses (just as a reference to their location).

Following a horse trail along a water source

And there's a lot of water

A little killdeer watches me closely

And then decides I'm too close!

Turning a corner into another large meadow

Horses!

They’re a ways off so I decide to find a place to cross and make my way to them. As I jump a shallow area, I notice something scurry off to my right. I’m a bit uncomfortable now (Tom is back at the Jeep) as I recognize the slinking, wave-like movement – it belongs to the very aggressive badger. I saw at least two. Didn’t like my odds much, but decided to give them a wide berth in hopes they’d let me pass without feeling threatened.

These guys are not to be messed with!

Take a look at those claws!!

Maybe they think I’m just a very strange looking horse. In any case, I’m allowed to go by without incident and I’m grateful. I’ve heard stories about the damage an angry badger can inflict. No personal experience required!

I continue to work my way towards the horses when suddenly the band stallion pushes his mares in my direction. They kind of scatter out in front of me in confusion (which I share).

The band stallion pushes his mares forward

Birds fly everywhere as well

They finally veer off, but I still wonder what prompted the stallion's actions

Slowing down and giving me a look over

Ah - the girls are curious and turn to face me. Hi lovely ladies.

Love this

The horses move off and I start back for the Jeep. I have to trespass on badger turf again, but I’m not as worried. If you just leave things alone, they’ll generally do the same.

The badger resides by this platform. Not a great location – I don’t like its proximity to the water source…

We’re run out of the area by a very nasty storm that closes in on us quickly. Despite the approaching thunder and lightning, I can’t resist taking just a couple more shots as Tom turns the Jeep around.

More horses coming from the west and we’re forced to leave!

The roads are graded, but they’re still made up of clay and that stuff is miserable when it rains. We don’t know the area, but we know we need to head east…and fast. We just barely make it to a paved road when the downpour hits. It rained so hard, we just pulled over onto a side road and took a nap. Hey, we’re not old (well, not too). The hours are long – up early and out late – so some forced shut-eye can be welcome. Of course I couldn’t get the horses that we’d missed out of my mind.

The rain never really let up so we ended up driving back into Rock Springs for a snack and I jotted down notes in my wild horse journal. I still had hopes that we could get back to the HMA later that day – and we did.

It was still overcast, but I like that light and was excited about going back to where we’d seen the big meadow horses. The new horses had been coming from the west. What was over there? I just had to see.

I’m barely out of the vehicle when I take this picture.

Looking west

I don’t even realize until it’s too late, that there is a ridge and another valley below the one I can see. I startle some horses.

A stallion comes to check me out.

He's not taking any chances and he moves his herd away

Naturally curious, when they think they're at a safe distance, they stop to give me a better look

What a gorgeous line-up of wild horses!

And off they go

The horses stop and watch intently. Stallions coming from different directions are about to “discuss” boundaries.

I wish I was able to handle a still camera and a video camera simultaneously. There was so much activity and so many beautiful horses. It was big meadow magic. I wish I could’ve recorded it. What luck that we were able to make it back to this location.

A beautifully peaceful parting shot…

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I’m a bit behind – these images were taken on a very bright (terrible light for picture taking), sunny day in September before the roundup. Tom and I visited the Green Mountain and Stewart Creek HMAs; part of the Red Desert Complex. We entered from the Bairoil side and came upon horses almost immediately.

A handsome grey boy

These guys seemed completely undisturbed by us. Strange. They're usually very flighty.

And as we continued west on the road out of Bairoil, we found some more horses headed to a creek for a drink.

Coming out of the creek

These are bachelor stallions

This stallion called out to the grey horses so I assumed he must be a member of the small band

And he was followed by another stallion

Together again, they all took off over a hill

This family wanted nothing to do with me even though I hung back because of the youngsters

A lounging antelope buck

As we were driving down a 2-track road, I noticed something in the brush quite a ways from us.

Most likely a cow I thought, but I wanted to be sure so I started hiking

This sage grouse shot up in front of me as I was walking out - they are so well camouflaged!

It was not a cow - it was a beautiful black stallion and he hadn't been gone very long.

We looked around for any signs of trauma or shell casings. We didn’t find anything that would indicate how this boy died. I always document what I find and based on some photos I took of the teeth, I was told he was probably only around eight years old. I’m always amazed at the feet of the wild horses. They’re always in such remarkable condition.

A perfectly designed wild horse hoof

We continued on and came upon another band of bachelors

The markings of the middle horse were so unique - the upside down V on his neck and his gorgeous stockings

Such harsh lighting for such beautiful horses.

This was a large bachelor band

A parting shot of a large band of horses at Stewart Creek

I sent an e-mail to the BLM field office in charge of the Red Desert Complex about the recent roundup. Below are the answers I received (my questions in italics):

Number of horses gathered: 1232
Number of mares PZP’d (what type): 193; all mares received the primer (1 cc liquid vaccine) and the booster (slow time-released pellets).
Number of horses released: 387 (of course this number does not accurately reflect the current populations of the Herd Management Areas as all horses were not gathered)
Number of fatalities: 12, however, 5 of these were not gather-related fatalities. Five horses were humanely euthanized due to serious, pre-existing conditions.
Where were the horses taken? Most of the horses were taken to either the Rock Springs, WY or the Canon City, CO horse facilities. A few horses were taken directly to the Honor Farm in Riverton, Wyoming.

(Photos are for viewing purposes only. Images are copyright protected and owned solely by Pam Nickoles Photography. No reproduction permitted.)

Dishpan Butte Wild Horses

November 1, 2009

Backtracking a bit to September (after the roundup). When we left the Pryor’s, we decided to head towards a herd area we’d never been to before – part of the North Lander Complex in Wyoming. I had heard a roundup was going to be conducted there, so I hoped to see the horses before that occurred.

Upon entering the Dishpan Butte HMA, we came upon this band. The first wild horses I’ve seen with blankets. I was pretty excited…and they were pretty nervous.

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After the spotted band of horses left, Tom and I drove around for quite a while. We didn’t see any more horses, so we went across the highway to another HMA; Conant Creek (or it could’ve possibly been Rock Creek Mountain). Over there, we never saw a single horse (and very little sign), but we did come across many cattle and the usual range wildlife of sage grouse and antelope.

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We hadn’t made it in too far when we were stopped by a very muddy creek that looked like it could swallow up the Jeep, so we turned around and went back to Dishpan Butte. Our luck improved by late afternoon.

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Mare and foal

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They moved so beautifully and effortlessly through the sagebrush

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The stallion in the group

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The entire family

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Again, these horses were nervous and did not hang around

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The grey stallion and his mare

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The mare and foal from a more comfortable distance for them

I walked a ways and finally spotted horses over a hill. They were a little less uneasy with me and as I got closer, I realized why. It was a small group of bachelor stallions. The bachelors are always easier to approach and usually less cautious. Most of the time, they’re very curious. I really enjoy spending time with the bachelor bands.

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A curious bachelor band

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The grey boy is trying to catch my scent, but the breeze is not in his favor

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They're distracted by something off in the distance

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They start to move off

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What is it that they see?

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Aha, it's the grey band stallion. Apparently, he thinks these bachelors are a bit too close to his family and is on a mission to chase them away

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They start to leave and the grey band stallion calls off the chase

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But, like I mentioned, the bachelors are curious and as soon as the grey stallion was out of sight, they stopped and started towards me again. Love these guys.

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My Halloween photo from a previous post - the grey stallion is spooked by something in the sagebrush

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We finally say our good-byes to each other

I am always grateful that the horses allow me these glimpses into their lives. It’s such a privilege.

On our way back, on the same 2-track we’d come in on, we came upon a scene that had unfolded while I’d been off taking pictures. Wildlife drama. A prairie falcon had just killed a sage grouse.

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We decided to call it a night and find a place to camp. We headed down the highway until we found a forest service road. We took a little 2-track road off the main dirt road until it dead-ended at a fenceline. We were shocked to find a perfect little parking pad at the end of the road in the middle of no where. No where. Well Tom, he was pretty happy about the find as it meant it would be a lot easier to level the Jeep (for sleeping without a head rush) and unload the gear onto a cleaner surface. It felt like “cheating” to me. We were supposed to be roughing it, but I suppose we’d been directed to this slab of concrete for a purpose. So there we were, somewhere in rugged, remote Wyoming, watching the day come to a colorful close…on a parking lot.

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The next morning, we loaded up (Tom was right – with the exception of some moths that moved in overnight, our gear stayed really clean) and drove back to Dishpan Butte.

The spotted band had moved back to the area where we had first found them. I felt bad that they appeared so troubled by my presence. I stayed way back and stood very still hoping they’d relax a little.

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Running to regroup with the rest of the band

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They trot off to find a place devoid of humans

The next family of horses I spotted made me work for their photos. They were a long ways off, but it was early, I was still fresh and willing to make the effort.

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They grey on the left is the band stallion

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The band stallion

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This was a very nervous bunch too

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This mare had quite a mane

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I didn’t want to push these guys, so I hiked back to the Jeep and we continued to drive through the herd area in search of more horses.

Out of the corner of my eye (I’m blessed with wonderful peripheral vision) I caught a glimpse of something white in the distance between hills. Tom saw nothing, but I convinced him to try to find a 2-track that went west where I think I’ve seen something. He locates a road and we’re on it for a while before I start to doubt that I saw anything. We both decide to go over “one more hill” before turning around. And there they were, just over that next hill. A large group of mostly white (grey) horses. Even I wondered how I managed to see these guys. Cool!

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They must have felt threatened in the valley where we spotted them and they head towards more open ground

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Some colored horses in the group too

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They have to pass by me to get to open ground - I leave them plenty of room in hopes they won't just keep running

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All the pretty horses - never seen so many greys in one band together

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They settle briefly to look at me

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But they're taking no chances and off they go

Tom and I were at Dishpan Butte for almost 2 full days. We counted just over 30 horses. I began to wonder about the timing of the roundup. Had it already taken place? It would sure explain the low count and just how uneasy the horses were. When we got home, I e-mailed the Lander BLM office and got my answer. The gather had taken place in July.

“We gathered 1053 horses and removed 804 from the 4 (four) different HMA’s. We returned 245 horses to the various HMA’s in which they were rounded up. We returned 50 horses to the Dishpan Butte HMA and missed 10-20 horses in the roundup..so there is probably 60 – 70 horses in the Dishpan Butte HMA.”

The North Lander Complex is approximately 375,000 acres for the small number of wild horses that are left. Heartbreaking. What I failed to ask, and what the BLM range specialist failed to mention when I e-mailed was the number of fatalities that occurred during this roundup. I was extremely saddened by the staggering number of horses taken off the ranges, but devastated to learn that 17 horses died and 7 of those were foals (the full story can be read HERE). I just can’t understand the continued annihilation of the herds. When will it stop? When will people become so enraged that they come together to do something to save our wonderous herds of wild horses? I choose to think that most people are just unaware – if they fully understood what the mustangs were going through, surely they’d be much more proactive.

Through these posts and photographs, that is the story I’m trying to tell, along with so many other wild horse advocates. Please, share, share and share our information with whoever will listen…before it’s too late.

(Wild Horse News, Information and Links)

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