Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Visiting the wild horses of the Pryor Mountains

Last week I headed for Lovell, the jumping off spot to go up to the high meadows of the Pryor Mountain horse range. This is the sixth year that I have headed up the horrible roads to see the horses, and the journey is like visiting old friends. I can't wait to see Flint's mare Feldspar and new foal, see how Bolder is doing with his big band, and also of course and always, Cloud. I head up Burnt Timber Road with dread, knowing the huge boulders and sharp rocks and muddy spots. But I have a friend behind me - Deb Little, a fellow equine photographer from Ohio, and her friend Kim, and at least if one of us has a flat the others can help!
Finally we make our way to the top of the hill and there are horses as far as the eye can see. Most of the horses are up in the meadows near where Burnt Timber and Sykes roads meet. We see Cloud who looks as impressive as ever, running to greet another stallion, then running back to his band, mane and tail billowing in the breeze. He has a little dark colored filly, and Firestorm, his daughter, is notably absent from his band, now with Jackson's band.
One of the most exciting sights that morning was a brand new bright bay colt in Lakota's band - he looks as though he was born the night before, and he is a fiesty little guy, escorted by his mom and protective aunties in his band.

I camped that night in a tent, and late that night I am awakened by a big racket - horses whinnying, grunting, neighing, pawing, running through the trees and close to the tent. It doesn't sound as though they got much sleep that night at all. I wonder what on earth was happening, and which horses might be responsible. The next afternoon I have my answer. Bachelor stallions had been notably absent for the last day and a half, but no more - 7 beautiful bad boys ran together into the meadow, leaving chaos in their wake. Two pale stallions are from Diamond's band, the grullas I think are from Seattles' band. They make an impresseive sight as they wheel and turn as if in formation, then break up to play, grabbing at necks and legs as they rear, paw the air,and strut. This must be the group that kept us up all night!

Our last morning, I got to spend some time with Seattle's band who I had only seen once before up on the mountain - his band usually stays in the dryhead area but 2 years ago I was enchanted by the beautiful compact black stallion and his all grulla band. Now he has 3 black colts and the rest of the band is grulla, including a new filly and a black colt who I first see napping in the lupine together. They run and play for quite a while as their family grazes.

A really bittersweet time for me was on the last evening when I found Shaman. Shaman had lost his band to a much younger Bolder 2 years ago after some bitter battles.
Shaman and his band were the first horses that I spent time with on the Pryor Mountains six years ago,and he has been one of my favorite stallions ever since. Old stallions on the Pryors I have found to be mostly solitary, and this evening, he stood gazing out over the beautiful landscape. He watched several bands interacting, and ran over to Red Raven's band. Red Raven chased him away, and he returned to his solitary state. I wondered how many more summers I would see him up here, and hoped that he wuld not be removed by the BLM, but would be allowed to live out the rest of his days on his beloved mountain.

Soon it is time to go down the hill to town. I think about all the horses I have seen and photographed over 3 days, and wonder who is not going to be there next year, after the BLM roundup shceduled for the end of August that will remove over 60 of these horses from their homes, families and freedom. I wonder how the horses will cope with the proposed reinforced fence that will prevent them from entering their historical and yearly range on the Forest Service lands - the day I leave ALL of the horses are in the Forest Service, and as you observe the horses you realize what an arbitrary boundary that fence is.

I look forward to returning to see them at the end of next month.
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