Dear Friends of Cloud and his herd, and all our wild horses;
Cloud Foundation board members, Ann Evans (Denver) and Anni Williams (S. CA) and I traveled north for a quick, two-day trip to the Pryor Mountains. Despite less snow so far this winter, this is still the toughest season to spot horses. The most valuable pieces of equipment we carried with us were our spotting scopes. The most valuable trait in using them is patience.
On both days, we drove up on Tillett Ridge and spent hours panning over snow-covered canyons, ridges, forests and cliff faces on Sykes. It’s amazing how many rocks, trees, bushes, and logs turn into horses. But it’s pretty exciting when you can confirm that the dot in your scope is really a horse. Identifying the family group is doubly exciting. Of course, we desperately wanted to find Cloud and Bolder’s families and to see Echo, but that was not to be. We did spot two families – Red Raven and Blue Sioux and the band, as well as Custer with the amazing 24 year-old mare, Winnemucca, and the rest of the family, and one solitary, unidentified black stallion.
Just before sundown on our first day, we drove down from scoping to see Flint ambling up to check out a stud pile 100 feet or so from the road. His beautiful grullo-roan coat had a reddish tinge and we knew he’d been rolling in the red dirt, probably around the old uranium mine. He looked fit as usual. His family was farther down the hillside – Sequoyah; her curious yearling son, Uno; Texas; lovely Adelina and her mother Halcyon. They foraged under and around the base of snowy junipers. We were elated to actually see some horses up close and, especially for it to be Flint and his band.
On day two, before the sun had crested the Bighorn Mountains, we started motoring up lower Sykes. We stopped to glass back down into the desert. Horses! A big band was making their way through a little canyon, no doubt coming from Cottonwood Spring where they had watered. We quickly turned around, backtracking down the hills in an attempt to intercept the band at a point where their trail came near the road. When we got down and stopped, we caught a glimpse of the beautiful, blue roan, Fool’s Crow, with the older bay mare, Belle Star (Raven’s full sister).
Then Corona and his mare Waif, appeared over a little rise and to their right, emerging from the canyon, the big band led by Merlin. Ignoring us, they walked and trotted past within a hundred feet or so. First Merlin, then Waif, and finally Corona stopped to roll in the exact same spot, a sandy rock-free hill. Everyone looked in great shape and we wondered if Merlin’s lovely grulla mare, Fresia, might be pregnant. As a coming 7 year-old she has never had a baby, so we’ll be hoping she might have a foal this spring.
We traveled on, climbing up then down, and up again on Sykes. A dark horse stood napping in a snowy meadow and, as we drove above him, we spotted his bachelor companion. The dark horse was 3 year-old, Chief Joseph, with his apricot dun friend, Jemez. They napped in the sun, enjoying the calm, relatively warm morning. Near the mouth of Cougar Canyon, Jemez’s brother, 5-year Hidalgo, grazed with his new family (for the moment). The young apricot dun stallion had apparently stolen two grulla mares from his 11 year-old brother, Blizzard, who had stolen the mares in 2010 from the band stallion, Seattle. It’s hard to guess how this ongoing drama will play out. Will Blizzard win them back? Will he even try? Has he already stolen some other stallion’s mares? The flashy, apricot dun son of Durango and Waif reminds me of a glamorous playboy – attracted to the girls that belong to someone else. Blizzard is not known as the steady band stallion type.
In the afternoon we went down Sykes and back up on Tillett, still hoping for a glimpse of Bolder, Cloud, and even Mescalero with his young son, Longshot. Disappointed at seeing only the same horses we’d seen the day before, we traveled back down Tillett as it was getting dark. In a little valley below the mines we saw a pale horse and assumed it was Cloud’s mother with her family, since we’d seen them in this area on our December visit. But when we got closer we could see it was Cloud! We hiked a bit closer and, in the fading light, we could see that everyone was present and accounted for and looking wonderful. We left them in their peaceful valley and I wished them a silent good luck as I always do. And, as I have promised so many of you, I silently told Cloud how much he is loved.
After a few days visiting friends and traveling through the northern part of fabulous Yellowstone National Park, we were off to visit our Freedom Families. We spent a late afternoon and early evening with them and came out again the next morning. Because our friends, Laura and Carl Pivonka, feed the horses hay twice a week in the winter, the bands are accustomed to coming to our big round corral. So, the next morning when Shane and his family saw us drive into the ranch from at least a mile away, they started moving in our direction. How lovely it was seeing them in unison, trotting across the hilltop, wild and free, yet so trusting.
The Pryor herd has become trusting also, viewing us humans as innocent, respectful bystanders who do not interfere at all in their natural lives. It is a sacred trust that is so quickly broken when they are stampeded off their mountain, or trapped in bait-laced corrals; when they are separated from their families, and robbed of the thing they cherish most—their freedom. Half the young horses of the Pryors face this fate in 2012, including Cloud’s look-alike grandson, Echo.
Thanks to all of you who wrote a special message to BLM on behalf of Echo. A just completed painting of Cloud and Echo by artist and wild horse advocate, Melody Perez is now available on her website. A portion of the proceeds from sales of the painting will be given to TCF to help us continue our work to preserve Cloud and Echo and all wild horses still roaming free in the West.
Keep on fighting with us to preserve their precious freedom. Trust we will never give up. Support us in anyway you can.