Thoughts from the intern desk
Before this trip up to the Pryors, I had never seen a wild horse in its natural habitat, and I don’t think I will ever forget my first sightings of one. And it was none other than Admiral’s band with Climbs High himself. We hadn’t even left the comfort of the warm car yet and both Cat and I were awestruck. All my years going out to spot wildlife helped me pick out the horses through my binoculars, but they hadn’t prepared me for their grace and beauty in their woolly coats grazing in that below zero weather.
The road up to Sykes Ridge was impassable, and the road to Tillett Ridge became impassable before long, so we saw the majority of the horse through our binoculars or the spotting scope. In our few days in the mountains the temperature reached a high of 20 degrees with a low of -15, not including the wind chill. I think I’ll be OK with the settling fact of not having frostbite!
On that first day, we traveled as far as the road up Tillett Ridge would let us before we got out of the car and followed the horse tracks through the snow, the best way to get through the drifts without snowshoes! Up on a snow-logged ridge we spotted High Noon and young Koda Wakan. The two were normally with Lakota’s band (who we saw later on our trip) but they were alone pawing at the snow. I really hope there was a reason High Noon left the band and that she can find others to travel with, for both her sake and her grullo colt. Despite my consistent worrying for them (it’s what I do), I was surprised at how close they allowed us to get to them, once we waited at a distance so they could get used to our presence. Both kept pawing through the snow crust while we took our photos.
Even though the horses and the weather were not making it easy for us (I could barely bring myself to leave the car when the wind picked up on Devil’s Canyon Overlook!), we continued to glass the areas near the overlook down to Mustang Flats. Near the overlook we were able to spot bachelors stallions, Fiero and Medicine Bow that first day. They were together and we assumed might be dogging Blizzard who had stolen Fiero’s band the month before. We did we spot Blizzard and his band later in the trip near that same area. We even saw his son, Kokopelli II, with his bright apricot dun coloring that made him look just like dad. That mare and colt had not been with Blizzard the month before.
When we spotted Diamond’s band while glassing the top of a ridge near Tillett, I could not believe their presence up there, given the combination of cold and wind! We could see Cloud’s mother, Phoenix, with her shining palomino coat, next to War Bonnet and her roan filly; a very quintessential portrait with the snowy backdrop.
Somehow, with her divine gift of finding things with the spotting scope, Ginger spotted a band with a few grullos and blue roans. When I took hold of the scope and glassed a little farther to the left, I spotted a pale palomino stallion, and I started to get very excited. I gave the scope back to Ginger who confirmed my thoughts: it was Cloud. What luck, I thought! Even though they were miles away, I felt like I was in the presence of greatness.
On our last day in the Pryors, we went to go visit Seattle again, who had been one of the only constant sightings in our trip. When Ginger told us how he had lost his band in a crippling fight to Blizzard, I was nervous that he might not get his strength back for the spring. But he put my fears to rest as we were taking photos: he pranced about showing only faint signs of lameness before kicking up his heels and cantered off out of sight, as if to tell us he was almost ready to win back his lady friends.
We left the Devil’s Canyon area to journey back down the Tillett Ridge road when we spotted Lakota’s band with Cloud’s palomino sister, Mariah, and the chestnut mare, Quelle Colour, who absolutely took my breath away with her broad white blaze and large white stockings. Later on when we spotted Santa Fe’s band up on a ridge, I noticed the small dark filly, KanDu. I was surprise at how she was holding up, despite her slight lameness which Ginger told me was severe on the day she was born! Back down the road we spotted the black stallion, Two Boots (who has the best name ever, by the way), on a little mesa standing regally, just the way I had imagined an old bachelor stallion should. I couldn’t believe that we are the same age!
At the very end of our trip we went over back to see Admiral with Seneca, Climbs High, and Hightail. I couldn’t believe that Hightail was over twenty; she looked so young for her age! We walked in a bit closer to them; Climbs High was lying down next to mom and didn’t seem to be bothered by us. But I could not believe how absolutely prehistoric Admiral looked, with his solid dark bay coloring and thick black mane that fell on both sides of his neck and steam rising from his nostrils while the sun was setting behind him. Stunning.
When we ventured up to Billings to visit the Freedom Fund horses, I wasn’t sure what to expect, even knowing the exposition of these horses’ tale. But there they were, high on top of their acreage, Shane and Trigger’s bands close together while Bo stood afar with Annie and Diablo. As we entered their pastures, Shane came right up to greet us, and it was good thing we had some treats for him and the rest! We watched as little Pistol warily approached the bucket with the treats, only to tap it with his hoof and scare himself!
Shane spent much of his time ‘directing’ Ginger as she filmed the rest of the herd. It was the first time we had gotten that close and I was able to see how truly thick their coats were. The little ones: Pistol, Annie Oakley, and Diablo all looked like little fuzz balls. Diablo and Annie seemed inseparable from each other while Pistol followed his dad, mirroring his father’s actions.
Doing the interviews for Cat’s school project down in Lovell, on the Crow Reservation, and in Billings really was an eye-opening experience as I got to learn first hand just how passionate and controversial the wild horse “issue” has become. But it also reinforced my own views on how important these horses truly are for so many reasons, and what an uphill battle it is to make sure that their existence continues in their natural habitats. They are a group of tough, rugged horses that have survived a lot more than most people believe. And I just hope that I can do my part to help save them.