Sunday, August 23, 2009

Wild Horses - McCullough Peaks Herd soon to be rounded up

Last month I was feeling a sense of urgency about visiting two of my favorite wild horse herds as impending round ups loom large for both herds.
When I drove out to McCullough Peaks, the first morning I was able to get a little closer to the elusive horses of the Coon Creek area, and have a better look at a gorgeous grey stallion. Unlike the Adobe Town Herd, greys are not very common in this area - pintos, cremellos, buckskins, palominos and other extremely colorful variations yes, but not greys. This stallion was extraordinary, and he was sparring with another stallion.

In the past, I have found that certain bands stay in roughly the same area, but this trip the horses were moving around alot. The first afternoon I was out I realized that there might be a good reason. I had my binoculars out, and at a far distance spotted a huge group of horses running. This was curious because the horses don't usually run unless they are headed to water and thirsty, and there was no waterhole nearby. I drove over to the area I had seen them go, and the horses were grazing, but seemed a little jumpy. Suddenly a white private plane came very close overhead, buzzing them, and the entire large group, including a couple of very young foals, set off at a run, kicking up dust as they went. I was reminded of how terrifying the wild horses find the helicopters that are used to drive them into traps during round ups, and that soon this would be happening to them - in October in fact. Many of these horses have experienced this in the past, so a small plane or helicopter flying over them is very frightening.

The next day when I went out I watched a cremello colt that I have been following since the year he was born,in Indigo's band, playing with a bay filly the same age. I am always amused by the play when two colts or bachelor stallions grab for each other's legs, but this is the very first time I have ever seen a filly play this way! Maybe growing up with two brothers the same age she has become a bit of a tomboy. I got a close up of them playing with my very long 500 lens.

The last evening I was out the little palomino foal that I saw playing on my last trip got very frisky at the waterhole just as it was getting dark, and zoomed around his friend and the rest of his band for over 10 minutes.

I am planning to visit this herd again when I am up in the area for the Pryor Mountain roundup. There is a petition you can sign to prevent the round up of Cloud's Herd:

Please pass this link along
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Friday, August 7, 2009

Wild Horses of the Pryor Mountains

A week and a half ago I travelled once again up to the Pryor Mountains. A sense of urgency gripped me this year with the threat of the impending round up at the end of August looming large. How many of these horses would I never see again, how many would never see their families again?
So I headed up Crooked Creek Road, my favorite route to the top of the mountain, at 3:30 am so that I would reach the top of the mountain where the horses are just before dawn. I am one of those morning people, and for me the "magic hour" of photography with the most beautiful light is not the hour before sunset, but the half hour before to the half hour after dawn. Luckily I know the road well as I am driving in the dark. Just before I reach the top of the mountain, I see eyes flash in my headlights, and I brake suddenly, realizing this is a mountain lion, standing in the middle of the road. I am struck immediately by the sheer size of this beautiful animal. He (or she) saunters off slowly, unalarmed by my presence, and now I have first hand evidence of the reason many of the foals I was captivated by on my last trip are no longer on the mountain.

I continue on and see my first band of wild horses just as the sun is coloring the sky. It is Lakota's band, and I am sad to see that the little newborn red colt Jethro I had seen on my last trip was missing from the band.
I continue on the road to the horse range, and am delighted to see that many of the horses are in one area. I walk down the hill and watch the foals play. I am happy to see that Madonna has a beautiful new filly this year who looks just hours old. She spends quite a bit of time napping in the flowers.

It's summer, and the grass is lush, the temperature is mild, and it is a great day to be free in the Pryor Mountains.

I am always delighted when people ask me how Cloud is - delighted to tell them that he is doing great, at 14 years old in the prime of his life, and always a wonderful photography subject.

Soon I realize that Bolder's band is starting to move downhill with a purpose. Since one of the main waterholes near Penn's Cabin is just over the hill, this means that they are probably headed to water. I get in my car and head down the hill so I can set up my camera at a good spot for watching the bands come down to water.

Bolder's band come first, and I get to watch a very good example of heirarchy among the bands. The more senior, dominant band stallions have priority and get to stay as long at the waterhole as they like. Then, the next dominant, then on down usually with the bachelor stallions drinking last. Morningstar came down too soon for Bolder, however, and Bolder chased Morningstar and his entire band away from the water.

I did enjoy watching bands interact peacefully a little later when Diamond's band came down to water. Diamond's two year old colt came over to Morningstar and they played together for a little while, while Diamond's yearling colt played with Bolder!
Soon all the bands had finished drinking and moved down into this deep canyon, which would be hard to follow, so I pack up my gear. As I drive back down the mountain, I think about the coming round up, and how nothing here will ever be the same. How much better to allow the mountain lions to naturally keep the population in check, than to put the horses at incredible stress to them through a roundup, over 70 horses to lose their freedom and their families forever.
You can make comments on the EA for the roundup of the Pryor Mountain Herd by August 17. Here is a link to the Cloud Foundation information for commenting and also for contacting Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar's office.
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