Dear Friends of Cloud and the mustangs;
On March 15, Connor, my Irish Terrier, and I drove north to Montana from Colorado to visit our Freedom Fund horses on the beautiful ranch where they live only a few miles away from their wild home on Commissary Ridge in the Pryor Mountains.
Cavelitta, Conquistador’s black mare, and Chalupa, Bo’s bay mare, are very pregnant and we expect babies this month! The manager of the ranch is going out daily with her camera to try to locate all four bands, but she’s spotted no far foals so far. Stay tuned.
Then, the next afternoon Connor and I visited the horse range, driving out at sunset on the paved road to see if we spotted wild horses. I was so sad to find the Sam’s body lying under the junipers near the road. He and his dun mare Hightail were the “official greeters” of the horse range, often the first horses to be spotted. They were seen by thousands of excited wild horse watchers and casual visitors to the Bighorn Canyon Recreation Area in the low, desert country. This 19 year-old black stallion and his 20 year-old dun mare were often seen just as you cross the cattle guard into the horse range. Perhaps Sam was not known by name like Cloud, but thousands of people over the years knew this lovely horse. Sam is featured in the BBC production “Spirit of the Mustang” that I worked on in 1997. The film documents Sam winning his first band, defeating the older sorrel band stallion, Hercules, in battle. Sam will be greatly missed by all of us and we hope that he and Hightail’s dark bay son, Admiral and his family, might take up residence in this highly visible location.
The last time I saw Hightail she was gazing into the sunset near the cattle guard. She milled around as if looking for her longtime mate. “Eat,” I whispered to her. “Eat.” I have had experiences with band stallions who lost their mare and just gave up on life. Even though these stallions looked fine, they died. I hope that Hightail can regain her love of life in time.
The next morning Connor and I were creeping up rocky Burnt Timber Ridge Road hoping to spot wild horses. Once we broke onto the open ridges of Tillett we saw Cloud’s palomino mother, Phoenix, with her stallion, Diamond, and Trace’s mother, War Bonnet. The palomino celebrates her 19th birthday this year but she looked much like when I first saw her as a three-year-old in March of 1994. Her soft yellow coat was pristine, as if she had just been brushed. War Bonnet looked wonderful too, and very pregnant. All the 40 or so horses we saw up close looked fantastic—young and old alike. So much for what BLM would like to portray as starving mustangs.
I was joined by Patty Hooker and Jody Klessens that day. We spent hours just glassing from Tillett Ridge across Big Coulee canyon to Sykes Ridge where it was likely we could see Cloud, Bolder, Flint, and their families. There was no way to get up on Sykes because of snow, so looking through binoculars and a spotting scope was our only hope of seeing them. We spotted Flint that afternoon, but no Feldspar, Jasper, or his new filly, Heather. When I thought I saw Feldspar with another stallion, my heart dropped. There was no foal with her either. But two hours later, as we glassed the area, we saw Flint and then movement in the trees behind him. Feldspar and Heather emerged along with little Jasper. I know I jumped for joy. Flint is such a dutiful father and he and Jasper are such buddies. For him to lose his precious family would have been a real heartbreaker, but all is well!
Days later I spotted Bolder and his band, and his beautiful pale buckskin daughter, Jewel. She just shone in the afternoon light as they grazed and sunbathed. So peaceful, I thought. For those of you who have never been to this magical place, it is hard to describe the feeling of being on a mountain with these gentle spirits.
The last day I was on the mountain, I got up extra early. It was my last chance to try to get any kind of look at Cloud and his band. Patty, who adopted Summer–the daughter of Shaman and the granddaughter of Bolder’s Texas filly–came back up to help me try to find the elusive pale stallion. In the afternoon, we dropped down the mountain and hiked out on an old trail past Raven’s secret water hole. In 1995, I had seen Raven, baby Cloud and the rest of the family walk down the mountain and disappear into a small canyon. I followed them on a sandy trail in the shallow canyon. They approached a large rock that jutted out over the canyon wall. In the shadow of the rock overhang, water had collected in a pool. One or two members of the band drank as there wasn’t enough room for the whole family to drink at one time. It was such a wonderful discovery.
Patty, her dog Duke, Connor and I kept walking to the edge of Big Coulee Canyon. Through binoculars we saw a pale horse walking out of a grove of trees. It was Cloud!
Around him was his family—Velvet and the rest of the band which includes Aztec, Shadow and little Jasmine, Cloud’s dark roan daughter born last year. They all looked great, but from such a distance, it’s hard to tell for sure. One thing is for sure. They made it through the winter.
On the next ridge over, we spotted Prince, Electra (Cloud’s red roan sister), and Pococeno, the black mare who is Bolder’s mother. The mare was back with Prince and Electra after spending a few months with Cloud last year. I was happy to see her with Electra again. Mares so often value the friendship of another female.
Even though it snowed on my visit to the range, I could see the first green sprigs of grass coming up. Soon there will be new life on the mountain—my 16th year in this wondrous place, and my 15th year tracking the pale stallion, Cloud.
With my batteries charged from spending time with the wild horses we are all fighting so hard to preserve, I flew to DC and our March for the Mustangs. Hundreds of people came to support the mustangs in Lafayette Park. As I mounted the small podium and looked out at all the signs and the faces of those in the crowd, I thought of Cloud and his family and all the mustangs still roaming free with their families in the land of their birth. We will never stop fighting for them. Never.