After much anticipation we started our nine week wild horse photography trip. After last year's bad weather we have high hopes that this year will be better.
It took two days to get to our destination. Though we could hardly wait to get out to the horses, we made ourselves wait until the next morning when we were not only fresher but had more time to spend.
We woke up to rain on the trailer roof! Oh no! Shades of 2011. We were tired enough that we went back to sleep for a couple of hours. Though it was still cloudy, we decided about 9:00 a.m. to "just go take a look." Off we went.
Well...no horses in the places we found them last year. Now what? Well, lets take that road. Maybe...
The first thing we saw was a Pronghorn Antelope, which are common to just about all the areas where horses live. They actually coexist very well and even hang out together.
Cows and sheep share much of the BLM range land in this area. However, we have not seen any other range animals in the same area as the horses. Both the cattle and several thousand sheep are separated by a fence. The sheep are closely watched by sheepherders. For now, they are in separate areas.
Later in the day, we stumbled across what appeared to be the very first lamb on the range. He still had the umbilical attached and his mom had not yet passed the afterbirth. Now, that is new! And about the cutest thing you could possibly hope to see on the range- excepting baby horses, of course!
So, how exactly do you find wild horses? Well, it's a little bit experience, and a little bit luck. Of course, you never go completely blind. Well, usually you don't anyway. You do your homework- internet, reading, phone calls, asking questions and if you're lucky you either know someone or meet someone who has been there and is willing to share information.
Of course, we've been here before, having spent over a week here last year. But horses move around. They can change favorite spots on a daily basis, let alone in a whole year.
Now, this is where the time comes in; driving the roads, using the binoculars, stopping and asking any people in the area. It is amazing to me how many people who see the horses on a regular basis don't see them anymore. They just aren't sure if they saw any today or yes they did and wave their arm in a general direction.
We watch for sign. Sign? What is horse sign? Stud piles, to be exact.
See, stallions mark their territory by pooping on manure piles. Every stallion that comes by will add to these piles. I guess you're supposed to be the last one to add to it. LOL
These things can get absolutely huge sometimes! We joke sometimes not to get high centered if we see one of those big ones in the road.
What you want to see is a fresh stud pile. Now you know the horses have been there recently. OK. We're getting warm now.
Do you see now why we say that we like horse poop? ;-)
Suddenly right in front of us, a large herd of horses. We fight over the binoculars. Darn, Marty won! By the time I finally get the binoculars, I know it's the same herd we were with last spring. I recognize some of the horses, even from a distance. Yeah!
These horses were gathered a couple of months ago. The gather was mostly to administer PZP (Porcine Zona Pellucida Vaccine- a form of injectable birth control). But I also know some of the horses were removed and put up for adoption, mostly weanlings (under one year old). I need to know who is still there!
We spend a long time with the binoculars and to my relief, I see most of the mature stallions and a couple of yearlings that I was hoping to see.
The white (gray) stallion that roamed the edges of the herd is still here. He is now accompanied by another white stallion. However, by the third day we are here, the second stallion has disappeared. He has apparently gone off by himself somewhere. Maybe he'll show up again and maybe not...
One of the family bands that I was most anxious about, my favorite one from this herd, appeared to be intact. This band is headed by the large and dominant grullo stallion that you have seen plenty of this past year. I thought at first that maybe he'd been able to take his family band somewhere to hide and they hadn't been gathered. That isn't the fact though- all of the mares in his band had freeze brands on them from the gather. The freeze brand indicates they had been gathered this year and given PZP. I am amazed that he was able to collect his family again.
I suspect the mares had something to do with this too- they will often search out stallions they are bonded to and resist the advances of another stallion, even running away and back to their favored stallion. Mares will also tend to seek each other out. Mares have strong bonds to each other too. What are you going to do if your whole harem takes off to be with someone else?
Whatever the reason, I am very pleased they are still together.
Last year, I was particularly intrigued by the two cremello or champagne foals in this family band. They were just a shade off in color from each other and both had blue eyes. Many of you probably remember how obsessed I was, following them around trying to get shots of them. (They have proven just as hard to get together this year as last.) Yes, they are still there!
Whether they share the same sire is unknown. They are both in the grullo stallion's family band. I can tell you he is a very dominant stallion, so I suspect they are both his. Only DNA testing would tell for sure.
One has a buckskin dam (mother), the other a buckskin pinto dam. They certainly did turn out alike!
With their new brother. He is a similar color to his two older brothers but has a dark mane and tail. One of the yearling's dam is the buckskin mare on the left. The other one's dam, a buckskin pinto mare is heavily in foal.
I can't tell these two apart anymore!
Last year there were five bay roan stallions in the larger herd, varying in age from old and gray (but still with mares), to younger with mares, but obviously very insecure. This year we count four. I thought we had seen the older boy but so far, we haven't seen him. We have seen six horses, likely bachelor stallions from a distance. Perhaps, he is with them but we can't tell for sure until we get closer.
The oldest remaining bay roan is now with a very large bachelor band. In fact, its one of the largest bachelor bands we've seen- 14 in all! He is without a doubt, the oldest horse in the group and clearly in charge, though he does spend a significant amount of time standing on the edges of the group. Do you remember from our wild horse DVD that the stronger the leader, the more space they need? Well, he needs space!
One of the dominant bay roan stallions who had a large harem, now has one mare and foal. He has fallen a long way!
Of the other two bay roans, one has a large family band and the other a modest sized family band.
The one eared palomino stallion who was 'in charge' of the almost all black bachelor band last year, now has a mare (below).
Going to the water hole
Even horses that know you well and are very habituated to people are nervous around the water hole. It is probably when they feel most vulnerable.
It's also when all those stallions are within an arm's reach of each other. That definitely adds to the tension!
Did you know that the bands take turns at the water hole? The dominant stallions and their bands go first, with the bachelor stallions waiting on the outskirts to go last? Even if they arrive first, they wait. Sometimes they do have manners, after all! LOL
One of the oddities we saw involves three of those black bachelor stallions. This year, they are with a sorrel mare and her foal. Perhaps, she was friends or sibling to one of them and she feels safe with them.
Hanging out with the boys
We've seen this a couple of other times- in the South Steens.
A couple of years ago there was a mare and her foal with three somewhat older bachelor stallions. They fought over her unmercifully. The next year she was with an older, mature stallion. I suspect, but don't know of course, he stole her away while those three were fighting.
The same thing is happening here- lots of fighting. The mare seems content to be with them for the moment, though it would be hard to break away from three stallions.
Interestingly, the big gray stallion with the black points dashed in at one point and bred this mare. The bachelors stood there watching but were unwilling to fight him. No contest!
Also in the South Steens, a mare and her foal have taken up with a well known bachelor band. That band consists of five stallions. She and her foal seem quite content to be with them and I haven't see any sign of fighting over her. Of course, in a stallion band, there is always squabbling...
Safety seems the most logical explanation, but so does being a friend, sibling or from the same natal band (the band she was born into). It IS an odd family band!
There were plenty of new faces to be seen in the herd. Many of them, as you would expect, were foals- but not all.
There are a couple of new pinto stallions, and lovely ones at that. One has a family band and the other is with the bachelor band.
The buckskin stallion was not sure about us. He mostly stayed on the fringes of the bachelor band when we were anywhere near (even several hundred yards away). I wonder if he maybe came from the other herd that was gathered near the same time as this one. Or maybe he was a backcountry horse that found himself with the very desensitized herd and didn't embrace their politics.
We love the foals and there are some real cuties this year. Many mares are still pregnant, so there will be more additions to the herd in the next few weeks.
This little pinto filly (I think) is going to be one handsome mare! Somehow, it seems so shocking to see a pinto with a gray horse! LOL
The youngest addition to the herd is this little sorrel colt. This same rugged and beautiful chestnut stallion with the flaxen mane and tail (left) was with several sorrel mares last year. Maybe he regained his mares and *maybe* he is the sire. You can never know in the wild! Anything is possible out there!
A very pretty gray colt. I can't quite decide, but I don't think he's a grullo. He is adorable! Mom looks a bit skeptical here, don't you think?
There ARE several grullo foals this year. It's not surprising, given there are two dominant grullo stallions in the herd. One of the foals has very significant barring on his legs and shoulder, as well as a very distinct dorsal stripe. You remember all those criteria from (Facebook) Grulla Week, right? ;-)
You all remember horse rhythms from our DVD with Mary Ann Simonds? Well, we've seen them all in the few days we've been here...
There is a time for eating...
A time for sleeping...
Without a doubt, this is the most horses we have ever seen lying or standing and sleeping at once. This is only a small fraction of the sleeping group. I would say they are trusting, wouldn't you?
A time for rolling...
Have you ever noticed that just one horse rolling can start a trend? Pretty soon, horses are rolling all over the place! It's a bit hard to see here, but two horses are rolling.
The foal on the left was from another family band and cautiously approached the other foal, who wasn't at all sure about that. A moment later, the grulla foal's dam intervened and chased her little one back where she belonged.
A time to go for water...
Did you know that horses usually go single file to the water hole? Sometimes the stallion leads, like in this photo. Other times, it's the lead mare.
And a time for establishing leadership...
And yes, the beautiful bay roan that gave us such good poses last year is still there- and still posing! He still likes to shake that long, long mane too!
Being able to observe the rhythms of the horses is one of the true joys of wild horse photography for me. No matter how mundane the activity, it is an important part of wild horse behavior and intriguing to me.
Should we end it with a little horse play with the bachelor band? Oh yeahhhh.....I think so! This is the epitome of horse play- there is nothing serious about this. It's the boys goofing around and they did this for hours on end. Just about everyone got into the mix. The bay roan stallion you see at the end is not thinking it's funny though. Just before he ran over to chase one of the bachelors off, one of his young mares showed a bit too much interest in the shenanigans. You can see that young sorrel stallion was not about to tie one on with the big guy!
The original "goofing around" video was over 7 minutes long- without a break in action- but a bit too much for uploading in the field. ;-)
I hope you enjoy this as much as we did.
That's it for this week. We'll just keep tumbling along like a tumbleweed, from one place to the next.... and next is Wyoming! ;-)
If you are interested in purchasing any photos in this blog, I will be loading them into the Wild Horse & Burro gallery on the website. If I get behind, please send me an email at [email protected].
Of course, many of you know that we partnered with Mary Ann Simonds for our wild horse DVD. I would like to give special recognition and thanks to her. Through the years, she has been an invaluable resource for understanding wild horse behavior. Without her knowledge, expertise and willingness to teach, we would only be guessing at much of what we see. Thank you Mary Ann!
If you would like to learn more about horse behavior, both wild and domestic, visit her website at http://maryannsimonds.com
If you are interested in the Wild Horse DVD by Mary Ann Simonds and us (if you love wild horses, this is not to be missed), you can view a trailer and purchase it here: