Brilliant news!! Grey/Traveler has a family again!!
A bachelor since his gather (Aug. 21, 2007) and release (Sept. 19, 2007), as of at least March 9, he has ditched the bachelor boys and regained himself a mare and two foals (almost yearlings). I was in the basin Friday, March 7, and saw him in the evening with the Bachelor 7 (see post below for pictures). Sunday, March 9, I found him in the morning with Seven’s family: Houdini, Two Boots and Twister. (I believe Seven is Grey’s son.)
Don’t worry too much about Seven, though; he stole Kreacher’s mares, Roja (sorrel) and Molly (muley bay). I did not see Kreacher either of the two days I was out there, but I wonder if his loss of mares has anything to do with Slate missing from Bounce’s family (he still has his young grey mare, Alegre).
I thought I saw Seven and Houdini on Friday, but I was watching through binoculars as he trotted over to challenge Steeldust – an altercation that was over almost as soon as it started. I later saw Seven go after what looked like a bay horse, but all I could see was that horse’s back over a ridge. Twister has an odd reddish winter coat, and I assumed it was him. Mystery: If Seven DID have Roja and Molly on Friday, and Grey was with the bachelors, where were Houdini, Two Boots and Twister? And why did Seven give them up for Molly and Roja? Why didn’t he also keep Houdini and the foals?
As much as I liked the family unit of Seven and Houdini, I am ecstatic beyond words that Grey has a family again!
Ah, the secret lives of wild horses!
Grey is a master band stallion, and he let me get fairly close (does he remember me or my voice from when he was in “quarantine”?) – closer than I’ve ever been to Houdini and the foals. I thanked him by not staying that close too long, but I did get close enough to observe that Twister has a “wonky” left knee. Because I haven’t been that close to him previously, I don’t know if it has been that way or if it is a new injury. He doesn’t limp on it exactly, but he does seem to favor it. I know that’s a fairly subtle distinction, but there ya go.
See how his left knee bows to the outside?
Up on “bachelor ridge” (recently named because I’ve seen all or some of the bachelors up there each of my past four visits), I saw three horses, which I identified as Duke, Chrome and Mouse through the binoculars. I didn’t go close to them but figured I’d clarify those identifications when/if I saw the other three. (I’m a little amazed to say that I ID’d them correctly from that distance; I saw Aspen, Hook and Comanche later.)
The next horses I saw were Seven with Molly and Roja. I only wish they could tell me their story! I always come back with more questions. Those mares have been with Kreacher at least since last October (I first saw them Oct. 14). Neither Kreacher nor Roja were gathered, so I have a tentative assumption that they were together pre-gather. Molly was gathered and released. After so long with Kreacher, how do they accept Seven? I should also point out that I’ve seen Seven just in the north area (using an imaginary line east-west across Round Top and Flat Top), and I’ve seen Kreacher and the mares just in the south area. So back to the mares – do they like Seven? Just tolerate him? Wait for the day when Kreacher “rescues” them? Do they even think such thoughts?! Ha ha. I try not to anthropomorphize, but sometimes it’s hard.
They immediately left when they saw me. They came up to the road that runs down to Round Top (before the intersection to go around through the northeastern section of the herd area), then trotted on down the road toward RT. Believing at least Roja to be pregnant, I figured I had no choice but to park where I was and wait for them to get to what they considered a safe distance.
During the 20-30 minutes I waited, I spotted Bounce and Alegre – minus Slate again – farther to the east near the water hole where I had seen Corazon, Cinch, Ty and Mesa on Friday. One of my main reasons for going back to the herd area Sunday was to try to find Slate. Given that I also have not seen Kreacher, it’s possible they’re together … Although they have been geographically separated, too – Kreacher in the south and Slate in the north and northeast since I’ve known her.
I still hadn’t seen Alpha’s group, so I decided to park at Round Top and take the deer trail (those north-facing arroyos are still muddy-slick) to the south ridge trail. On the way, Corazon, Cinch, Ty and Mesa bounced up out of an arroyo and went south ahead of me. I also ended up passing Seven and the girls; they were down in the middle of that “saddle” area between Round Top and Flat Top. They watched me go, then moseyed on, still heading south.
As I approached the water hole, I saw the bachelor boys, drinking and playing in the mud and water. (What is it about little boys and mud?) I stayed above them (there’s a nice, well-used trail) for a while and looked around. I was hoping to see the pintos, maybe, or Kreacher, but instead of seeing them, I saw David and the muley bay, very near where they were Friday, at the south base of Round Top.
Then guess who showed up? Alpha popped up over a ridge east of David and stopped to look at Corazon and Co.
That’s Luna in the lead, followed by the bay mare and Baylee, one of the unnamed rose-grey stallions, Kestrel (you can just see her back), Piedra, Alpha, the other rose-grey stallion, Steeldust and Hollywood. Jif is in there somewhere. They all came down into the open, but a couple of things were in play then: The pinto bachelors and Ty and Mesa were heading toward them from the water hole, David and the muley bay were kind of in their path to the water hole, and I ended up being in such a position that the wind was blowing my scent right to them.
But that’s not all. Behind Alpha’s group was yet another group: the missing boys of the Bachelor 7. In the photo below, the three horses in the foreground are, from right: Hook, Comanche and Aspen. In the background, David’s pal, the muley bay, was gnawing on Mesa. Mesa was patient for a little while, then had enough.
To stick with the bachelor theme for a minute, David and the muley bay hooked up with Corazon, Cinch and Ty, and they headed off farther southeast. But Mesa, who has been hanging out with Ty (at least) for the past few months, must have thought there was action to be had at the water hole because he ditched Ty and the others and attached himself to the Steeldust-Hollywood-Aspen caravan – 15 horses strong! Aspen, Hook and Comanche mostly stuck together and tried to stay out of Steeldust’s way, but Mesa continuously baited Hollywood.
The key component in this photo is Jif, at left. Hollywood and Mesa were just doing a lot of sniffing and squealing – even posturing, but not even any striking – until Jif moseyed up and aggravated the situation. Then Hollywood lunged at Mesa in a full-on body slam! Mesa got the message and backed off – for a while.
On the lines of “better the enemy you know,” Hollywood seems to have attached himself to Steeldust’s band to protect Jif from marauding bands of bachelors. Down at the water hole, I saw Steeldust break off an attack on Aspen and Hook when he was about to run over Hollywood, who had his hands – err, hooves? – full with Mesa. Mutual benefit: Hollywood protects his girl (Friday, I saw Steeldust try to run Jif back to Hollywood), and Steeldust gets help protecting his own mares. The two rose-grey stallions seem still sexually immature.
I hunkered down on the far side of the water hole from where I had seen the pinto bachelors, Ty and Mesa drinking earlier, hoping the wind would blow past me and they wouldn’t be worried because of the perceived barrier of the water. Last fall, I took photos of Alpha’s group from fairly close because I was on one of their trails and they were on an outcropping above me with a ravine between us. My assessment: Because they saw the ravine as a safety barrier, they weren’t concerned by our close proximity.
It worked. Jif was first to water, followed by Hollywood, then the horses in Alpha’s band and finally the bachelors. I once observed Alpha drink first at a water hole while her band mates waited. That was when she was still with Grey, a few years ago. No such protocol in her current band.
Here are some pix from the water hole. It reminded me of watching several groups of Pryor horses come to the water hole when I visited last fall. I hoped it would be a good opportunity to observe their behavior, and I was right!
I included this photo, from them walking to the water, to show how similar are the two rose-grey stallions in Steeldust’s band. The one following is the one I previously thought was a mare. Look closely and you’ll see some subtle differences.
Jif, left, and Hollywood at the water hole.
I was lying on my belly across the pond so I wouldn’t be a distraction to the horses while they drank, but they still heard my shutter clicking! That’s pretty girl Luna at left, Kestrel is her 2007 foal (I think a filly), and Piedra – another pretty girl! - is at left.
Alpha was drinking on the other side of Piedra. She looks so pristine, eh? She loved to splash in the water as much as the rest of them!
I took a lot of photos at the water hole – both while they were drinking and immediately afterward – but I would have been happy just watching. I felt like I had hit the jackpot of horse watching! In our herd area, with so few horses, it is extremely rare (in my experience) to come upon even two groups that have merged, let alone four-ish like happened Sunday (I’m counting Steeldust’s group, Hollywood/Jif, the three bachelors and Mesa from the other bachelor group). I’ve taken photos at a water hole just one other time (previously mentioned). Although traditional hunters know water holes to be good places to stalk their game, it’s a particularly sensitive area. With our horses so wild and shy, I don’t want to take many chances that they would NOT come to water because they smelled or saw me there.
But I absolutely cherished the opportunity they provided me by totally ignoring me!
After they drank, they just hung out: the stallions played, the mares and foals rolled in the dust. (Even after she rolled, Alpha remained pristine!) It was just a big social gathering.
When they decided it was time to leave, they went up the way I had come, leaving me with the same dilemma as earlier: I was going that way, too, so I had no choice but to be patient while they moseyed along up the trail. Of course, patience is the biggest virtue when observing wild horses! Like the day last December when I got the photos of the pintos crossing the snowy ridge against the backdrop of the La Sal Mountains, patience Sunday rewarded me with some more cool photos.
Hollywood paused on his way up this hill following Jif. The bachelors had already disappeared over the crest, but while Steeldust’s group waited below, they kept popping back over as if to ask, “Hey, what’s taking you guys so long?”
Do you like this photo better with clouds …
… or with blue sky?
Last one: the bay mare in Steeldust’s band.
And last question, which is really an observation: Equine photographers have a multitude of ways to “get the ears” in their domestic subjects. I never seem to have that problem! Wild horses are always alert, whether it’s me they’re focused on or other horses or a lone coyote making his way across the basin on an intersecting course (and yes, that happened Sunday!).
One of the things I hope these photos best convey is wild horses being wild. My appreciation at being allowed to share moments of their lives is huge.