A Cloud Update from Catherine

To all of The Cloud Foundation supporters,

I’m sure that all of you were touched by the story of Cloud the same way I was, falling in love with not only the beautiful stallion, but the story of the way these Wild Pryor Mustangs live their lives. Untouched and untamed, unlike the domestic horses in America, we can certainly see how significant these little mustangs are. The way they have lived wild and free for an estimated 500 years, how they adapt to their rough terrain, and fight for their lives, has inspire many of us to fight for them as well. They not only portray the freedom of the country they live in, they are a part of America’s history, and are a strong symbol of our western culture. I would like to personally thank all of you who support these amazing animals. Without your support the wild hoof beats of the Pryor Mustangs might have become non-existent in their range.

Being a student at Bennington College in Vermont entails a winter Field Work Term in which students find an internship that relates to their major. In October, I sat at my desk, reading the “Field Work Term Reminders” email. I thought to myself; “What can I apply to do this winter? What opportunity might be available?” It did not take long for me to decide as I looked up at my bookshelf filled with my school and horse books and spotted “Cloud: Wild Stallion of the Rockies”, the book I’ve owned since I was 11 years old. “That’s it!” I exclaimed. Before I knew it, I was making my second trip out West, to intern with Ginger Kathrens and The Cloud Foundation.

Within a week of being in Colorado, Ginger planned a trip to go up to the Pryor’s and  Lauryn, my fellow intern, and myself were on our way to see the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Herd and the Freedom Fund Horses in Montana. As we drove off, little did we know, that this trip would be a life changing experience for us both.

We left on the 8th of January for our 9-hour car drive to Lovell, Wyoming. The whole time I stared out the window in amazement at the beauty of the western landscape while Ginger pointed out all different types of animals I have never seen before (mostly birds). On Sunday, we woke up at 7 am and headed out to the Pryor Mountains. Within a few minutes of crossing into the Pryor wild horse boundary I saw my first band of wild horses standing on a small hillside, trying to stay warm by keeping out of the wind. Ginger immediately pulled to the side of the road as she looked at Lauryn and me. We both had our mouths gaped at our first sighting, we were speechless. Ginger had to snap us back into reality as she said; “Well come on! Get your binoculars out!” We sat for a good 10 minutes as Ginger told us about Admirals band and the heart warming story of how Climbs High got his name.

We drove up farther; each of us had binoculars that we looked through most of the time, scanning the land for any signs of horses. Even though, the elevation really got to me that first day, an adrenalin rush kept me going. When one of us would spot a horse we would get out of the car in the cold and windy weather, to look through a spotting scope in order to determine which band of horses we were viewing and if they looked healthy. After the first day, Lauryn and I agreed, we were hooked, and couldn’t wait to go back out to find more of the Pryor Mustangs.

Ginger made each day and each sighting feel so personal, just as she does in her films and books. She would not only tell us the horse’s names that we spotted but also, their life stories. A favorite of mine was Seattle, a stallion who we spotted every day, alone in a great field of grass. Ginger told us how he was badly injured he was in a fight the year before as his band was stolen from him. Despite this, Seattle seemed to know to put himself out on the best piece of grazing land in order heal his leg. On one of our last days up in the Pryor’s we got out of the car, camera’s in hand to take some photographs of him. As we approached, he started to canter around his field, as if nothing had happened to him. We all silently rejoiced as we changed our shutter speed to capture his swift and elegant gate. When we got back in the car, Lauryn said; “Looks like he can win a mare this spring!” We all agreed.

On our third trip up into the mountains, we had yet to see Cloud down low in the desert. Ginger had a hunch though; we drove as close as we could to glass up on Sykes Ridge. As Ginger looked through the spotting scope she said that she was able to make out three horses out through the clouds that surrounded Sykes. Lauryn, our best set of spotting eyes on the trip took a look through the spotting scope. She exclaimed, “I think I see Cloud!” Sure enough, as Ginger confirmed, it was the great light coated palomino stallion of the Rockies. We all took turns viewing him through the spotting scope as each of us stood in awe while the goose bumps remained raised on our skin. Even though it was hard to see, we all agreed that, Cloud and his family looked great! We headed to our next destination with an elated feeling of accomplishment.

As we were driving up on the north side of the Pryors, now well into Montana, we stopped at the Native American Crow museum named after the last Crow chief  “Plenty Coups”. Inside, my eyes immediately led me to the a beautiful mural that captured two male Crow Indians sitting upon their horses atop a ridge that looked like the Pryor Mountains. The two walls surrounding it were dedicated to the Crow’s mustangs. One plaque read; “Horses (IICHIILE) Come To Us, The Best Change of All.” We learned how sacred the Pryor Mountain Mustangs were to the Crows. In fact,  the tribe considered them so sacred they did not capture them. Rather, they bred their horses with them, creating the well-known and strong hardy mustangs of the Crow tribe. Even their well armed rivals, the Blackfoot Indians, feared them. At this point, Lauryn and I were ecstatic, for we had just spent days witnessing the same amazing horses as the Crows had.

We arrived at the Freedom Fund Horses land the next day, a beautiful 1,000 acre piece of land dedicated to preserving some of the Wild Pryor Mustangs that had been rounded up. This land has allowed these unfortunately captured wild horses the chance to remain as wild and free as possible on a territory very similar to their home in the Pryors. As you can see from the pictures, we were able to get close to these wild horses and really get a good view of some of their beautiful coats, their perfect hooves, and their charming personalities. It’s amazing how comfortable these wild horses can become around you, as long as you spend the time and open yourself up to them. It becomes quite easy to feel that one can become part of their lives, even for one  striking moment.

After my 15 years of surrounding myself with horses I can confidently say that I have never witnessed a horse quite like the Pryor Mustangs. The way they have survived all of these years, adapting to the harsh terrain and fighting for their lives, shows how brilliant they are. Along with their behavior, and the way the family members truly care for one another, it’s easy to say that they have become one of my favorite types of horses. Unfortunately, the fight for their lives is not over. With you’re help however, we can still maintain the sound of their hooves on the rocky trails of the Pryor Mountain hillsides, and valleys. I know, in the years to come, I will frequently visit the Pryors, helping preserve them and hoping to find them in their sacred mountain home.

-Catherine Stokes

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6 Responses to “A Cloud Update from Catherine”

  1. Roxy Says:

    Thank yo so much for the report – best wishes to you – you are the future hope for our wild ones!

  2. Linda H Says:

    What an eloquent description of your first trip to the Pryors! We were there with you Catherine!

  3. Louie Cocroft Says:

    Thank you Catherine. Welcome to ANNIE’S ARMY. Mustang Annie would be so proud to see the next generation coming in to protect her beloved Wild Mustangs.

  4. Louie Cocroft Says:

    WILD HORSE ANNIE, I should have said.

  5. Louie Cocroft Says:

    MUSTANG SALLY–these horses are not really Wild Mustangs, but the bond between these horses and their “person” is pure magic. For ALL who love horses—- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2erlljh0cg

  6. audrey c Says:

    Your post, along with Ginger’s most recent article, and Lauryn’s post – were all beautiful, poignant, and breathtaking. They filled my heart with a combination of longing, happiness, and sadness (because of the round up issue and the war against the horses & burros). Thank you to all, for these. I hope so very much, and pray, that all will survive, and thrive, through this bitter winter.

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