Springtime in Colorado. It’s so unpredictable. Our plans to visit Adobe Town seemed doubtful when the latest road report included chain restrictions over the passes just an hour before we were to head west. Of course, I had my studded snow tires swapped out the weekend before, certain that they were no longer needed. HA! Well, we told ourselves, it’s always an adventure. We decided we were going to give it our best shot and off we went.

Our only real issue was over Rabbit Ears Pass, and it wasn’t bad at all. We took it easy and even had a snowplow escort. No worries. And as usual, it was beautiful with the new snow.

When we arrived in Craig, we met up with photographer Carien Schippers from New York. She was presenting the Equine Photographer’s Network Colorado Cowboys and Great American Horse Drive workshop that would be taking place the following week. Until that began, we were going out to see wild horses – weather permitting.

We got an early start on Saturday and again, things looked doubtful with the wet roads and dark clouds. It’s impossible to drive on those clay roads if they’re not frozen or dry. We’ve been stuck a few times on wet roads, so we’re very cautious about weather in the horse ranges. We decided to make the drive and see what the conditions were before scrapping our adventure.

The lighting was incredible with the clouds and new snow. We were in luck as the temperature was well below freezing at the entry point. That was enough to at least get us started.

As we entered the area, we came across this sheepherder’s camp.

And then, our first wild horse sighting! They were very skittish and didn’t hang around long, but exciting to see regardless.

A view of the landscape. It’s vast and rugged country.

We came upon another group of horses and as Carien and I walked out towards them, this stallion came running up to see who the intruders were as the rest of the horses looked on.

We determined that all three of the adult horses were stallions. I’m not sure about the youngsters (with the interesting colors).

Tom and I always check out a large water hole inside a small canyon (we call it “hoo doo canyon”) as we usually spot horses there. Not today though. Just a very full source of water and lots of sign.

Well, this is something you don’t see often – a wild one laying down even after it sees you. Made us wonder for a minute, but he was fine and pretty quickly went to join the rest of his family.

The gray stallion is pretty battered and bruised, but he has a family and that’s what matters most to these guys.

Carien photographing the gray stallion and his family

Tom and I drove out further on the main road than we ever had that day. While the weather pretty much surrounded us, the road was dry and until we felt a downpour was imminent, we were going to stay out as long as possible.

At the end of this road, we ran into these horses. Again, these looked like all stallions, but I couldn’t be absolutely certain. The chestnut boy seemed to take the leadership role. He’d run up to us, retreat, circle around, run up again, retreat…until they finally decided it was best to put a little distance between us.

The whole family watches us

A final parting shot as they move away from us

It was really starting to get dark as the weather closed in. The wind picked up and we could feel rain drops. We decided we’d better head out to a paved road before we get caught in either rain or snow.

Driving back, we found another small family. The stallion was very curious/cooperative (and we probably stayed a little longer than we should have). It’s hard to pass up an opportunity like these guys gave us though.

This boy hung around for quite a while so we were able to take many photographs

I took so many images of this stallion that I decided to play with a couple

The mare and probably last year’s foal.

The family members

Below is a band we had seen earlier, but they had traveled quite a ways and we just had to stop to grab a few more photos.

As we turned south off Powder Rim towards the paved County Road 4, we spotted this last group of horses. YAY! That dapple gray is one of my favorites. I didn’t find him on our winter trip, so I hadn’t seen him since last July. It was wonderful to see him again…and looking so well.

This is probably my favorite stallion I've seen so far at Adobe Town. I've seen him twice now. So impressive.

I had thought this band had at least one mare, but once I studied the images, I don’t think so. I can verify that three of the four are stallions. The light gray (white) boy appears to be an older, more seasoned gent. He didn’t seem too worried about us at all.

Making a statement at the stud pile

All of the horses we saw that Saturday looked fit and fine coming out of winter and into spring (read an interesting discussion regarding forage and the Mustangs on Joe Camp’s blog: http://thesoulofahorse.com/blog/the-absolute-best-film-about-wild-horses-i-ever-hope-to-see/) however, we didn’t find that many horses and approximately 80% of of what we did see were stallions. There were no babies either. In my opinion and based on my observations over my last few visits (and those from several years prior), I can’t imagine this is a herd area in danger of either starvation or overpopulation. (There is a planned roundup of this HMA near the end of the year).

I hope this wise old boy gets to live out his life in freedom, but unfortunately, it doesn’t look likely at this point.

Please continue to write, call, fax and e-mail asking for an immediate moratorium on all of the planned roundups. The warehousing of these incredible wild horses in government long term holding facilities must end. The continued overuse of PZP (birth control) on the mares in these HMA’s will effectively wipe out future populations. We are losing both our horses and their ranges at an alarming rate. For the sake of our wild ones, please educate yourself about their plight and then become involved on their behalf. Share information with everyone you know. Only through knowledge about the situation can people get on board and help. The wild horses belong to us. Only we can save them. Thank you for caring.

Informative links:
American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign
The Cloud Foundation
American Herds
Humane Observer: Elyse Gardner’s Blog

More information on the planned roundup: http://trib.com/news/state-and-regional/article_9b09aec0-68a9-5261-a23b-79e6545c8d35.html

Related stories:

https://nickolesphotography.wordpress.com/2009/08/01/wild-horse-weekend-july-25-26/

https://nickolesphotography.wordpress.com/2010/01/03/wild-horse-medicine/

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I’ve mentioned my Aunt Peggie a few times before in my posts. She and my Uncle Wil live in Wheatland, Wyoming and a trip to the Wyoming/Montana horse ranges just wouldn’t be complete without a visit with these two. Aunt Peggie has extensive knowledge of horses – Spanish breeds in particular (they raised Spanish Barbs), so of course she appreciates and loves the Pryor Mountain horses. (A couple of her favorites are Duke and Hildalgo). If she could still travel, I know she’d be joining me on some of my wild horse adventures to the mountain.

Hildalgo as a foal

Hildalgo as a foal

Band stallion Duke - 2008

Band stallion Duke - 2008

Duke (far left) and his band at the Britton Springs holding facility - September 8, 2009

Duke (far left) and his band at the Britton Springs holding facility - September 8, 2009

Several weeks ago, Aunt Peggie told me that she’d met a young cowboy who was into photography and owned a Pryor Mountain Mustang mare. Of course, that got me into the conversation (Aunt Peggie is one of my biggest fans/supporters) and before I knew anything about this new friendship of theirs, I’d gotten a nice e-mail from that Wyoming cowboy, Donnie Norvell. We corresponded back and forth and when it came time for Tom and I to head north, we made arrangements to not only stop off at my aunt and uncle’s, but to make an additional stop in Douglas, WY to meet Donnie and his mare.

Donnie Norvell and his Pryor Mountain mare Maggie

Donnie Norvell and his Pryor Mountain mare Maggie

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Donnie explained to us that he got Maggie when she was six (she’s nine now) from a friend who’d been diagnosed with cancer. Donnie’s friend Jeff wanted Maggie to go to a good home and had Donnie start riding her when he no longer could. After Jeff passed, Donnie made arrangements to buy Maggie.

Maggie (who’s registered name is Encantata Morena De Oro) is the offspring of a wild PMMBA stallion, El Morro and mare, La Estrella de Oro. She is a first generation domesticated Pryor Mountain horse. She was raised on the Carnahan ranch near Ft. Laramie, WY. Both of Maggie’s parents were captured in the wild from the Pryor Mountains.

Donnie says that despite the fact that Maggie is small and stocky, she’s fast and loves to run in the NPEA Re-Rides she and Donnie participate in each year. She’s great on the trails (has the smoothest trot in the world – that special Pryor Mountain gait), works cattle and even jumps a little. Maggie is an easy keeper, possesses those amazingly solid Mustang feet and a lovely temperament. Donnie really seems to appreciate her special qualities – and, she’s pretty as well. I look forward to photographing these two during next year’s 150th Anniversary of the Pony Express Re-ride.

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PEx

After leaving Douglas, we continued northwest through Wyoming in hopes of getting to the Fifteen Mile HMA before nightfall. By the time we got close, we knew we’d have less than 2 hours in the herd area, but I just had to see if I could find Nub Ear. There is a round up scheduled for his area next month and I longed to see the magnificent boy in all his wildness at least one more time. Of course I’m hopeful that when/if he’s rounded up, the Range Specialist will see that his torn ear will not make him a likely candidate for adoption and leave him out on the range for the rest of his days. Judging by the size of his band, I would think Nub Ear may be an older stallion as well and that would automatically place him into long-term holding/sale authority status. It’s hard to even think about.

Luck was on our side that afternoon as we noticed a large band of horses way off to our left and then found a 2-track road that took us pretty close to them.

As soon as I saw his head peek over the ridge, I knew we'd found Nub Ear!

As soon as I saw his head peek over the ridge, I knew we'd found Nub Ear!

Part of Nub Ear's band which included about 12 horses

Part of Nub Ear's band which included about 12 horses

And here he came to check me out - Hi boy!

And here he came to check me out - Hi boy!

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I just stood there quietly and didn't move much in hopes Nub Ear would, as he always had, allow me to observe his family for a while

I just stood there quietly and didn't move much in hopes Nub Ear would, as he always had, allow me to observe his family for a while

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They went back and forth a bit but never moved off. They actually worked their way a bit closer to me. What a privilege.

They went back and forth a bit but never moved off. They actually worked their way a bit closer to me. What a privilege.

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Coming right towards me - I stayed very still

Coming right towards me - I stayed very still

He's not quite sure what to think of me - I tried to project peaceful thoughts to him

He's not quite sure what to think of me - I tried to project peaceful thoughts to him

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I was never able to get his whole band in a photo, but this is pretty close to all of them

I was never able to get his whole band in a photo, but this is pretty close to all of them

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It was hard to leave that night wondering if this was hello and goodbye all in one visit. Nub Ear is a proud, handsome stallion and I hope that he will be allowed to continue to live out his days as the wild boy I’ve come to love and appreciate. He has given me several glimpses into his life to share with others and I will always be grateful for that gift.

Nub Ear amongst his family

Nub Ear amongst his family

One of the most remote Herd Management Areas Tom and I have been to (so far) is located between Meeteetse and Worland, WY. Both times we’ve visited the horses there, we never saw another person. No tire tracks, no structures, no sounds – no indication of people in any way. It was so far out in the “boonies,” it felt like we were in a movie playing the parts of the only two people left on earth. But at least there’s an upside to our script – some wild horses are left too.

The Fifteen Mile horses were VERY hard to approach and photograph. They were cautious and kept their distance. We didn’t see many bands, but the roads were in bad shape so we really couldn’t explore much either. I walked quite a bit, but it was pretty spooky to tell you the truth. Both Tom and I felt like we were being “watched.” We were extra careful and walked out together when we saw horses (we did have a mishap at this location, but that’s another story for a later date). A couple of times, I was lucky and had a stallion come up for a closer look, but they were gone as soon as they heard my camera. Except for a stallion I call “Nub Ear.”

Nub Ear is a muscular, bay boy who is missing most of his right ear. I envisioned him losing it in a fight with another stallion since Nub Ear has a pretty good sized band that I’m sure he must have to defend regularly. Although skittish and protective of his group, he allowed me time to observe. One of his mares and two younger studs came running up to me to see what I was. I found their curiosity very amusing. They didn’t seem particularly bothered by the fact that I stood on two legs rather than four and hung around quite a while before Nub Ear gathered them up and moved them just a little further away from me.

My first sighting of Nub Ear - April, 2008

My first sighting of Nub Ear - April, 2008

One of Nub Ear's mares and 2 younger studs come in closer to investigate me

One of Nub Ear's mares and 2 younger studs come in closer to investigate me

Nub Ear on the left with some of his band

Nub Ear on the left with some of his band

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Nub Ear

Nub Ear

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The sun was going down and we really didn’t want to chance getting lost in this particular area, so we decided to head out. I thanked Nub Ear for sharing his family with me and told him I’d be back to check on him soon. In July, 2008, that’s exactly what we did. And, Nub Ear was pretty much in the same location as we’d found him in April. There was a new addition to the family – what a little cutie. It was good to see them and just as before, Nub Ear was tolerant of my presence. His band was the only one we saw on that trip. Most of the roads were washed out, but we were lucky and managed to get on one that took us to where we’d remembered seeing Nub Ear in April.

Nub Ear and his band - July, 2008

Nub Ear and his band - July, 2008

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Nub Ear moves his family in my direction

Nub Ear moves his family in my direction

The fact that this stallion is missing most of his ear certainly doesn’t take away from him in the least. I say it just adds character. I hope that when we make it back to the Fifteen Mile range, we’ll be able to find and photograph this beautifully unique boy and his family again.

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