I have some friends battling cancer. One of those friends is helping her mom fight this dreadful disease, but they’re all fighting. Two of these friends are advocates for our wild horses – one has adopted several and currently has three at her house; one photographs them all over the country. One has an artist husband who expressed interest in painting wild horses from my images.
Out in the basin Saturday, in the middle of sunshine and wild, magic wild-horse medicine, I sent out a little prayer for them. Later, I realized I had just met someone who watches over the basin and the horses just as fiercely as I do – but he’s a whole lot closer and there even more. A guardian angel. A month or so ago, he gave some guys hell for four-wheeling out there, and he picked up the trash they left behind at Wildcat Spring – just as I did last hunting season. You can imagine how glad I was to meet him and know he’s a watchful pair of eyes and with the “oomph” to back up his words. (Thank you!!) I hope each of my friends battling cancer also has a guardian angel watching over them … and a little bit of wild-horse medicine to help them along the way.
Now on to the horses.
The first band I saw was Steeldust’s, north of Flat Top, but from the road by the water catchment, I spotted Grey/Traveler’s band almost exactly in the same little area where I had first seen them two weeks ago, tucked away on the southeast side of that little valley below the catchment. They went on the move again, but this time out into the valley and toward me. Two Boots, Houdini’s coming-2-year-old daughter, is behind Jif, so you can’t see her, but that’s the whole family. Jif on the other side of Grey, Iya with the big blaze (look how dark she is! I realized I still think of her as reddish from when she was a bright copper penny!), Twister and mama Houdini at far left.
Grey/Traveler went right on by me, after a pause behind a rather bare greasewood bush, and crossed a shallow ditch that later becomes a deep arroyo, but the band seemed to realize I was standing farther up along the ditch and stopped to have a look. You can see Two Boots now, between Jif and Twister. Aren’t they beautiful?!
They eventually caught up to “daddy” and moved out into the open “valley” where they settled down to graze in that gorgeous golden sunlight. I headed back to the Jeep to decide on a course of action to get out to see Steeldust’s group.
They were out northeast of the pond north of Flat Top, but when I drove up on the road that goes along the ridge to Flat Top, they were out of sight. As I was driving, though, Comanche popped up into view. I watched him through the binoculars, wondering if he was with Aspen’s group or with the band and thinking other horses might come into view. He was walking toward-ish Flat Top (not reaaalll close to the hill), so I figured at least the band was nearby. I parked at the intersection of the FT road and the “north-south” road and started loading my backpack with camera, Gatorade, etc. Guess who surprised me? Aspen, Piedra and Baylee, with Hollywood bringing up the rear, heading up the trail away (east) from the pond. You can’t see the pond from that intersection, even though it’s very close. So I thought, wow, maybe it has water after that last snowstorm. Got my gear together and headed out – the ponies were at the next ridge by then. I walked down to the pond to pick up the trail … pond still dry. It was still early, maybe 8:30 (OK, that’s early to me!), so I wondered if they were counting on water there. Piedra, for all her youth (3 or 4 – I hope 4 but maybe only 3), is lead mare now. Baylee’s still a baby at almost 2. Aspen is older, so he’ll know some of the grazing and water sources, but Piedra is relying on what she has learned in her short life to lead her band to water. Just something to think about. That pond is scheduled to be dug out later this year, but I’m not sure why it’s not holding water right now.
When I got to the next ridge, Aspen and Co. were farther along to the south, but bachelors Duke, Hook and Chrome were visible over the other side. I got to the ridge just in time to see all of them cross over and below another ridge … where I found the family.
And that’s exactly what I thought when I found them – “family.” But look at their collective body language. That’s Steeldust at the rear, with his family bunched together in front of him. Look at his ears – he’s focused on the horses that just appeared from over the ridge: Aspen, Piedra, Baylee, Hollywood, Duke, Hook, Chrome, Comanche from nearby. Mouse isn’t in the picture, but as I’ve written previously, he has slid into Hollywood’s old lieutenant stallion position, and he sticks close to the band now - and Steeldust accepts him (maybe Mouse is hoping to be “rewarded” with Kestrel, like Hollywood got Piedra?!). After the horses “reunited,” they started to relax and spread out to graze.
An aside: Right before I went to the basin Friday night, I covered a high school basketball game. This is neither a compliment nor an insult, just an observation: Wild horses are a lot like teenagers. They tend to travel in groups, they have their own body language, and they know what’s being “communicated” even if no casual observer could ever understand what’s going on. The girls are watching the guys – and vice versa – even if they’re too cool to act like they are. Yeah?
At right is baby girl Baylee. She’ll be 2 this spring. She didn’t get kicked out of her family band – I don’t think – she went of her own free will to hang out with Hollywood and Piedra. I THINK because Piedra is her big sister. Baylee is paying attention to me, but look at Piedra. She’s playing it cool with new stallion Aspen – and she’s about to be a new mama, after all. But check out her ears. She’s trying to act like she’s looking at me, but her attention is all on the boy behind her.
Aspen between Baylee, top, and Piedra. The big band is just over that hill, as you can see by Steeldust’s heiny in the background. Piedra’s trying to nap, but her ears are active.
Right now, Hollywood doesn’t seem to be pressing his luck. I kinda expect that to change as spring springs.
There should be a baby in that belly, and it should be Hollywood’s foal. He bred her (at least) last May 24, so we should be looking for a late April baby from Piedra.
Meanwhile, Duke, Chrome and Hook were just below the end of the ridge I was on … and not too worried.
This is one of my favorite photos of the day. I had been taking pictures of Aspen’s group, then realized Chrome and Hook were napping just below the ridge where I was sitting. I took some pix of their backsides – which showed Chrome with his eyes closed! – then I think he heard the shutter and looked back to see me looking at him! And that’s how I got this pic. Like a cool teenager, though, he went right back to ignoring me.
Another favorite pic. Duke was browsing even closer than the other boys, and every now and then he’d look up, then go back to grazing where I couldn’t see his face. Notice he has kind of a goofy twist to his muzzle; that’s because he kept chewing while he looked up at me. I love this grand boy dearly. I think he’s a few years older than the other bachelors, and he was one of the first to leave at the sight of a human a year ago, especially a vehicle. Now, he’s pretty calm.
Because I hadn’t seen Poco, Bones and Roach at all yet this year, I was feeling pulled to the east. The day was young and beautiful, and I have two legs. So one last view … and I headed east.
What, you thought I’d leave without getting my ponies with the La Sals in the background? Hook, left, and Chrome, eyes closed.
I picked up the loop road – cattle on the east end of the east-west hill. I thought I saw Bounce, Alegre and Gaia slightly south and downhill of the cattle, but Kreacher and the mares were on the finger hills end of the hill, and I saw just Bounce later, so now I can’t remember whether I really did see all of them or not. It was just over the east side of the roller-coaster ridge road that the basin’s “guardian” drove by in a “mule” or a “gator” – one of those ATV-type buggies. He waved; I waved. I was trying to decide how far back in the back I was going to walk, and how disappointed I’d be if I walked all that way and didn’t find the boys and the girl, when he drove back. I thought he was out checking the cattle and had gotten to impassable mud (have I mentioned how incredibly dry the roads were again?) or just reached his turn-around point and was heading back toward the entrance. But he came back to ask if I wanted a ride! So I climbed aboard, he turned around, and off again we went. I told him who I was looking for by description, and he said he had seen them, but over by Flat Top, so I think he had seen Seven’s band – grey, bay and sorrel. Poco’s band: also grey, bay and sorrel but exact opposite genders!
Darned if we didn’t spot them, in the little “meadow” area right by the double ponds – and would you believe both those ponds have water?! He let me off so I could go take pix while he went on up the road to check for cattle.
Ponies first. Poco in front, Bones at left and Roach at right. Poco was looking so handsome in the sunlight, with his thick winter coat looking very reddish. Look at HIS belly! They’re doing well.
This is the pond closest to the road. You can see that it’s really shallow by the mud in the foreground. The “skim” you see on the water in the background is ice. The morning started out fairly cold – 18 degrees at 7:30 a.m. The “back” pond seemed to have more water (it went dry first last year), and it also had quite a bit more snow around the edges; it sits close to a bend in the arroyo (is that Spring Creek?) with a tall “cliff wall” behind it, but it was all in the sunshine when I was there mid-morning.
Does she just look really good … or could she be pregnant? I have to admit my first thought is to be a little scared. If she’s pregnant, will she be able to deliver the foal? Will it survive delivery … will she?? She seemed uncomfortable and kept shifting her weight.
The compression factor of a long lens can make even a stallion look “pregnant,” but at least she’s no longer “bones” thin!
I headed back to the road, and a minute or two later, there was the guardian with the mule again. Hey, I could get used to such service! We had a really great conversation, and I rode with him back around the loop where he pointed out Bounce, on top of the east end of the east-west hill, seemingly alone. But based on his body language, I’m pretty sure Alegre and Gaia were just out of sight on the other side of the hill. We also passed Kreacher, Raven, Mona and Kootenai up on the finger hills end. Went up north and east around the loop, and we talked about the guys he had to pick up after at Wildcat Spring after they were out four-wheeling. See what I mean about being glad he’s out there? He drove me all the way back to my Jeep – thank you! (Did I mention how dry the road was …)
It was only around 1 p.m. by then, so I decided to drive to the base of Round Top so I could hike out to the saddle and have a look. Thought I might get lucky and see Seven’s or Cinch and Bruiser and/or David and Shadow … maybe even the pintos way off to the south. Driving over, I spotted a horse on the far end of the saddle between the Tops and thought it might have been Molly or Roja, so I took off hiking – and encountered the only real mud I had to deal with all day on the northwest side of Round Top - of course. I should say that even though there was more snow in the basin than two weeks ago, the ground was still mostly dry, and I couldn’t believe how dry the road was.
When I came out to the trail that runs along that far ridge and eventually down to the pond (still dry), I spotted Seven and Molly down in a drainage on the southwest side (west-southwest) but didn’t see Roja. I took the trail south to where I could see down to the pond and farther down into the WSA but didn’t see any other horses. I also scanned up to the northwest – the hill that runs up behind the corral – but didn’t spot anybody up there, either. So I hiked down so I was a ridge over from Molly and Seven’s drainage. Molly was grazing just enough below the far ridge that I could see her back, but she didn’t look up. Seven was farther down the hill, behind some trees. So when I got to the top of my ridge, I finally spotted Roja, napping under a tree up the drainage like Molly likes to do, and I sat down to watch them. It was really nice by then, but a light breeze had picked up. The above pic is when Molly finally saw me. She went back to grazing but started moving down toward Seven – very calm for her.
Here they both see me – still sitting on my ridge, wide out in the open. Seven’s looking back up the drainage for Roja.
They went down a little farther …
… and finally Roja burst up over the ridge and went flying down to join them. Roja is not subtle.
All calm on the western front, not far from where they started. I do expect Roja to foal this spring; Molly got the PZP so she should NOT foal.
Back around Round Top to the Jeep, where I promptly shed my clothes that had gotten too warm – and my boots, which had gotten muddy – and changed into jeans and my muddy (at least they were dry) hiking shoes. Ahh. By then, I was comfortable in just a long-sleeve T-shirt – gorgeous!! Although, to appease the weather gods … seriously unnatural for February! Please snow more!
When I got back up to the finger hills, a group of cattle were down by the creek, but I didn’t see Kreacher and the girls, who had earlier been very visible higher up. So I went across Spring Creek (dry crossing) and north at the intersection so I could look back down the arroyo “valley.” Sure enough, Kreacher and the girls were on the “flats” on the road side of the creek, close enough to the hill that I couldn’t see them from the road above. Because they were so close to the road, I decided to go back and see them. There are a bunch of “deadwood” pinon/juniper trunks down there along with debris from a flood at some point in the past. No growing trees – where did they come from? But they make good viewing benches. The cattle were more worried about me walking down the hills than the horses (sorry about that), and they all started to bunch up and move up the hill (but only 2-3 of the 21 actually walked on up to the very top of the hill); the girls weren’t concerned at all, and Kreacher barely gave me a glance (cool kid).
Kootenai, left, Raven, Mona and Kreacher behind.
Kootenai and Kreacher with the cattle in the background on the finger hills. We were very close to the dugout intersection.
Kreacher and Mona were sticking close to each other, but they all seem very comfortable with each other.
There’s the “tail” end of what I call Lizard Mesa in the background. It really doesn’t end there; it goes down to a ridge or saddle, then up to another hill, then down to another ridge/saddle and another hill before tapering off to that valley southwest of the northeastern part of the loop road.
I mentioned that Kreacher and Mona were staying close to each other while I watched them, and I wanted to mention a little more about the dynamics in this band. Raven is still protective of Mona and will pin her ears at Kootenai if she gets too close. BUT Kootenai can make Mona scramble away if Raven’s not close enough. So Raven outranks Kootenai, but Kootenai outranks Mona?
Cute girl found this branch (one of the dead trunks lying around) irresistable to scratch an itch she may not have had until she passed it and found it at perfect cheek height (you can see her checking it out in the photo above this one).
Getting late in the day then. The ponies ambled upstream while I sat on my log and thought about my friends battling terrible cancer. When the horses had disappeared from sight, I followed one of their trails to the top of the hill and back to the road. On my way out, I spotted a mini van (??) turning around, possibly on the road to Flat Top. It’s dry out there, but a mini van? By the time I got through the “V” arroyo and up where I could see again, the van was heading out on the far side of the basin. It always makes me a little suspicious of what people are doing out there if they don’t stop to talk and share their experiences, so if you’re out there and you see my red Jeep, please talk to me! I’d love to hear you talk about the horses you saw!
Spotted Grey and his band – actually spotted his band first; took a little while to see him follow them out – farther down the valley below the catchment. I pulled over to watch … then wanting to see my boy got the best of me, and I hiked out. The gorgeous sunshine had disappeared into a haze of low clouds just between visiting with Kreacher and the girls and getting to the valley, and I could feel the temperature of the air cooling. But it was still in that beautiful space of perfection, so I took one last hike of the day to see my favorite boy.
Houdini, Iya and Two Boots were farther up (down?) the valley, but these two were lagging behind, and daddy Grey was there to supervise. I loved the soft light on their shoulders – the clouded sun was not even a hand’s width above the far ridge by this time – and loved their closeness. The hill in the near background is the hill above the corral. The dark (trees) hill in the far background with the snow is beyond the county road (and beyond the herd area).
He’ll always be my favorite. I was interviewed last week by a beautiful little girl named Erin for a school project about mustangs. Her last question was if I had a favorite wild horse. Well, of course I do. And this is why you see me call him Grey, even though his official name is Traveler (and I try to call him that, too). I’ve called him Grey since early on (2003?), and he is my beautiful silver boy.
All the horses belong to all of us, of course. And, I think, a little bit of us belongs to all of them. In that way, we’re surely surrounded by angels.