Dear Friends of Cloud’s Herd & the Freedom Fund horses;
As many of you know, a devastating 2009 roundup of Cloud’s Herd in the Pryor Mountains included the permanent removal of an entire sub-population of Pryor Mustangs living outside the designated boundaries of the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range on Commissary Ridge in the Custer National Forest.
Those horses included then 21 year-old Grumpy Grulla, Raven’s mare for many years, and 19 year-old,Conquistador, the striking dun who Cloud fought with in my first PBS documentary about the Pryor wild horses. In all, we ended up with four little bands, which included a blaze-faced, 13 year-old chestnut mare named Sierra. I have known her all her life, and I knew the three foals I can confirm she gave birth to. The first two foals were likely killed by mountain lions, but the third—the light sorrel with the blazed-face lived to adulthood.
Fortunatus was his name, an August 2005 baby born out in the Forest Service—the son of the “super-sized” black stallion, Zeppelin. Makendra and I saw “Fortunatus” when he was a week or so old. It was her first visit to the Pryor Mountains and I will always remember her reaction to the beautiful sight of Zeppelin, Sierra, and their little son walking toward us through a clearing in the forest, backlit in the afternoon light.
As a five year-old, Fortunatus decided it was time to start his own family. He spent the summer and fall of 2010 dogging the band stallion, Cabaret, trying to steal his little band. Then winter came and we lost track of them.
In late June, Ann Evans and I walked below the huge, new Forest Service fence that now prevents the wild horses of the Pryors from freely traveling where they have for centuries (Removing this fence is one of the outcomes if we can win our lawsuit against both the BLM and the Custer National Forest).
Dead bodies were about the last thing Ann and I expected to discover on our hike. The first body o four was a mare, partially exposed in the small, still snowy gully below the fence. They all died less than a hundred yards below the new fence.
With the help of Sandy Elmore, we now know the bodies we found were those of Cabaret’s band. The small and flashy grullo stallion with the unusual facial marking died with his mare, Duchess, their yearling, Jericho, and their foal, Kalika. I believe Cabaret and his family were trying to go home, to the place where they had always wintered in the Forest Service lands around the Big Ice Cave. But, they were stopped by the fence and died in the deep snows of last winter. Fortunatus has not been seen this year, and I fear he died as well.
So Sierra, like others of the unique Pryor mustangs from Commissary Ridge, is the last of her line. We call our wild horse families the Freedom Fund horses. It was only because of the outpouring of donations that we were able to acquire them and keep them together in their family groups in a free setting. We first found a ranch for them near the little town of Pryor, and since last year, a 1,200-acre property outside Billings which we lease.
This spring, Laura and Carl Pivonka of Billings were visiting the horses and noticed a quarter-sized wound just above Sierra’s left front hoof. It looked anything but serious. In time, however, she began limping on that leg. When she grew worse, she had to be removed from her family. For the past 6 months she has been under a vet’s care, enduring multiple operations and a long rehabilitation. I believe her calm, sweet demeanor and the loving care of Lisa Jacobson DVM, allowed her to heal.
We’ve have edited a five-minute program entitled “Sierra’s Return” and invite you to watch this saga of a brave little mare. Thanks to those of you who contributed to offsetting some fairly staggering vet bills. But, in the end, I think you will agree, it was worth every dime!
We hope you’ll smile along with us when you watch our tribute to Sierra. By the way, her handsome dun band stallion you will meet in the video – he is the full brother of Cabaret.