What a weekend! I had the great fortune of visiting some of the wild horses of the Little Book Cliffs range near Grand Junction with two women who know them best: Billie Hutchings (see her blog, listed under the blog roll) and Marty Felix, both with Friends of the Mustangs. Part of my inspiration for documenting our Spring Creek Basin herd has come from the meticulous documentation of members of this group (Marty has been doing it in LBC for 30-some years!). At their roundup last September, less than a month after ours, I got to see firsthand how that documentation has played a role in them being able to conduct gathers that are less stressful on the horses but still get the job done of removing excess horses so the ones that remain have better access to forage – the BLM’s goal.
The Little Book Cliffs range is about 36,000 acres (Spring Creek Basin’s is about 22,000), their appropriate management level is 90 to 150 horses, and they have 119 currently on the range. Their horses are fat and shiny and uber-healthy (like ours!). One of the biggest things that struck me was the sheer challenge of finding horses because of the geography of their range. Lots of tree, lots of canyons, lots of rocky country. There’s no place where you can stand and scan a 180-degree arc looking for horses – and in our basin, there are several such places. But if anyone can find horses, it’s these two eagle-eyed women. And even with 119 horses in their charge, they know every single one … but sometimes it takes awhile to find the newborns!
Billie and Marty also get paid a little by the U.S. Geological Survey’s Biological Research Division for their work on the fertility control study in the Little Book Cliffs. The study is in place there, on Pryor Mountain and at the McCullough Peaks Herd Management Area just outside Cody, Wyo. In fact, the main reason I went north and got to see their horses was a talk Marty gave about the immunocontraception drug PZP. She and three other people (including their wild horse specialist) are certified to dart their mares with the PZP each year. I think the study has been going on since 2002. The biggest thing I learned from her talk is that the PZP-22 drug our mares (Alpha, Kiowa, Chipeta, Molly and now-dead Slate) were given – the 22 means 22 months – is basically effective only one year, I think because they were all pregnant when they got the drug. So it will keep them out of the foaling business for just one year, not two.
Interestingly, we were supposed to get three mares from the Little Book Cliffs herd last year after their gather to boost the genetics of our herd (with an AML of just 35-65 horses, it is not a naturally genetically viable herd). But we didn’t get those mares, and the reason I heard was because they got the PZP for just one year – as opposed to our two. Now that I find out our “two-year” drug is good for only one year, I’m a little frustrated. The compromise is that we’d get mares from one of the other herd areas instead. We were told Sand Wash had planned a gather, but it wasn’t funded. This weekend, all news seems to point to Sand Wash’s gather going on as planned.
I had a fantastic time on the Little Book Cliffs range, and it was awesome to “meet” some of their horses and listen to Billie’s and Marty’s stories about them. We were able to get out of Billie’s truck several times and approach quite a few bands. We saw about three others from a distance. Thank you, Billie and Marty, for such a wonderful day! I hope you’ll let me return the favor in the future by going out with me to Spring Creek Basin!
His band was the first we saw. He was out in a little meadow on a hillside, and his mares and 2-year-old colt were napping already under a tree.
This beautiful boy (photo cropped) has two mares and a foal. When we first saw them, his yearling filly had hooked up for a brief time with Ruger, a youngster from Gunsmoke’s band.
Diamond Rio watched Ruger (the colt) with Rocket (the filly) with his other mare, Beauty, and her foal, Choca, for a while, then went to collect her. In the foreground is Rocket, hustling back to Beauty, and at right is Ruger.
Beauty’s dun colt, Choca. I found out from Billie that Beauty is the black mare that evaded capture last fall by going up the far side of the canyon, where she entertained observers. She was to have been taken off the range, Marty said. (I was one of the ones on the other side of the canyon cheering for her!)
Gunsmoke, Kiva and Spook
Gunsmoke, left, is this band’s stallion and Ruger’s daddy. They were right near Diamond Rio’s band while the two youngsters had their little tryst. Check out the country in the background.
They have a “Spook,” too! I knew that when I named Kiowa’s filly Spook, but we also had a pinto stallion a few years ago named Spook. Something must have stuck in my head. As it turns out, we have a couple of same-name horses.
Chrome and Phantom
Like Chrome. In the Little Book Cliffs, she’s the sorrel and white pinto mare above; in Spring Creek Basin, our Chrome is a grey with a blaze and four stockings!
Pinto stallion Phantom has the COOLEST face marking!
I took this photo to show more of that rugged country. We first saw the band from across the way on that far cliff – across Paradise Valley (right?).
This beautiful girl is in Phantom’s band. She’s Billie’s favorite, and now she’s one of mine, too!
Chablis and Illusion
Our last sighting of the day was a band Billie and Marty particularly wanted to see: Cabin Boy’s band. The dun filly was born in early August, and while they thought she was a filly, some other observers thought she was a colt because of a slight umbilical hernia. We were able to determine for sure that she’s a little girl. She’s absolutely as cute as can be!
Another handsome boy! I do love those rich, mahogany-bay-colored horses!
It was a gorgeous day, too. Perfect temperature and sunshine. Thank you again for showing me some of your horses!
I went to Marty’s talk at Stirrup Cup Farm just south of Delta the next day, where I learned some more about the PZP. We also “met” Lonnie Aragon, who is a trainer at the U.S. Air Force Academy, where they have some 19 mustangs. He participated in a past Extreme Mustang Makeover with a horse named Pino, but he was in Delta with a handsome little sorrel named Rico. What a nice guy. We didn’t get to see him ride, but their good relationship was obvious; Lonnie had to keep pushing Rico back, as he wanted to stand right at Lonnie’s shoulder! After the whole thing was over, I went to Lonnie’s “booth” to read more about him and picked up a postcard for the Mustang Heritage Foundation (http://www.mustangheritagefoundation.org
). Wow – they used one of my photos on the card! The really weird and confusing thing is that I have no idea how they got it. I don’t sell photos, and that photo has never been on the Internet (I don’t think). It was taken several years ago (2003 or 2004), so it’s not on this blog. It shows Grey/Traveler and Alpha with their then-2-year-old filly, Flash, and a bay mare. Grey and Alpha were much darker grey then than now! The photo is in one of my “portfolios,” but I really racked my brain for how it might have ended up on the Mustang Heritage Foundation’s postcard. Kinda cool, but kinda weird …?
(Update to the postcard photo: I may have a memory for horses, but I clearly don’t for photos. I had shared that photo with a friend some years ago, who in turn shared it with her sister, with the foundation, which I didn’t know much about at the time (maybe it was new then?). In any case, I had given them permission to use the photo. I think the majority of my confusion stems from losing touch with the friend and not following the photo! In any case, they love the photo, and some of our ponies are rock stars!)
I’m out of time, but I went to the basin after all my other travelings, so I’ll post some pix from Sunday soon.