|Surprises in the Snow
An Update on Cloud, his Family, & All the Pryor Mustangs
Dear Friends of Cloud and the mustangs;
On our three-day trip to the Pryor Mountains this month, Lauryn and I saw only 76 wild horses. Most of these were dots through the spotting scope. But the ones we saw up close and personal were pretty spectacular—Cloud and family, his son Bolder and family, and Flint with his band! It is a thrill to see any wild horses, but these three bands are what I consider the “trifecta” of Pryor wild horse viewing!
Day One: December 15, 2011—the 40th anniversary of the Wild Horse and Burro Act
How appropriate that we were able to spend much of this day with Cloud and his family. They were foraging in the snow around juniper trees, just below the old uranium mine on Tillett Ridge. Fog was still clinging to the hills below us as we began to hike closer to the pale stallion and his band of girls. The last time we saw Cloud was in late October when he and his family were on upper Sykes Ridge in an area we would never have been able to access at this time of year. But here they were on Tillett within a hundred yards of the road.
Cloud and his family
As we sat with his beautiful family (Aztec, Breeze, Jasmine, the Black, Dancer, Feldspar, Agate, Ingrid and little Lynx) I thought about 40 years ago and the words of President Richard Nixon when he signed the Act into law. He talked about the “tonic of wildness seeming all too scarce.” Here, in the quiet beauty of the Pryor Mountains, wildness is alive and well and it is a tonic for the soul to be sure.
Cloud & Aztec's yearling daughter, Breeze
Day Two: December 16, 2011—Wild discoveries on Turkey Flat
Flint & Feldspar's yearling daughter, Agate
We planned to try to drive up a ways on Sykes, but as we passed the red buttes in the desert, we stopped to glass. Out on the flats ahead, in an area called Turkey Flat, was a gleaming white horse. Cloud’s grandson, Echo, was shining in the snowy landscape! We had found Bolder and his family. After about a nanosecond of thought, we changed our plans, parked and began hiking. The pale colt in the distance, stood out like a beacon. Echo was foraging with his black mother, who is perhaps the only offspring of Cloud’s old nemesis, Mateo. Her son is nearly as tall as she is, but still nurses. Echo is just the type of powerful youngster who will pass on his strength to his offspring—if he is allowed to live free.
A tall Echo nurses his mother, Cascade
We looked around for Jewel, the pale buckskin daughter of Bolder and Cedar. She was gone. It came as no real surprise as the filly is going on three—time to select a stallion. We were excited, wondering who the unique filly might have chosen.
After watching the band for hours, Lauryn suddenly said one word—“Texas!” Up to then we hadn’t noticed she was gone. I believe that the pretty dun mare with the Texas-shaped star was the main motivation for Bolder stealing Shaman’s band in 2007. Where was she? I worried something might have happened to her because I just couldn’t imagine her leaving Bolder.
Lauryn spotted horses across the flat, on the low hills at the base of Sykes Ridge. Was it Texas? No, it was the dun bachelor, He Who, and the rest of the “Fiddle” gang – Cloud’s 6 year-old halfbrother Fiddle, He Who, the Indigo Kid (Electra X Prince), and two year-old, Jasper (Feldspar X Flint). There was one other horse among the boys, a very light horse. Through the scope we identified Jewel! In less than a half hour we had hiked down, off the Mesa where Bolder and his band foraged, followed a shallow canyon and hiked up into the low hills. From a high vantage point we spotted the band moving toward the big red buttes and we followed.
Lobo, recovering nicely since his ankle injury
It was pretty clear that He Who had claimed the filly (or had she picked him?). At only four, it will be hard for He Who to keep the filly unless she is completely bonded to him. Over the course of the next few hours, we were amazed that Fiddle seemed uninterested in Jewel. Indigo sparred briefly with He Who but the older dun backed him off. He Who asserted his dominance chasing Jasper off a little ways. Fiddle didn’t care and just tagged along, grazing, and looking pretty.
Jewel, with He Who behind her
As Jewel and He Who grazed with their heads just inches apart I wondered if this was the beginning of an enduring relationship or a temporary fling. Time will tell, but are they ever a handsome couple.
He Who keeps the Indigo Kid at bay
Jasper is warned to stay away
Day Three: Discoveries on Tillett
He Who & Jewel
We drove up on Tillett again. Below the mines where we found Cloud two days before, we spotted Cloud’s palomino mother, Trace’s mother (War Bonnett) and his little sister (Kayenta), Diamond, and the rest of his colorful band. Everyone looked just great. Phoenix, Cloud’s mom, will be 21 next spring but she looks beautiful as ever. Kayenta is stunning with her unusual red roan coat and elegant lines. She is tall and strong—just the kind of female to one day pass on the strength of her parents, if she is allowed to stay on the mountain.
Diamond and his band below the mines on Tillett
About a mile up the road we could see a light on the very tip-top of the mines hill. It was Cloud, looking like the King of the Mountain. His band grazed on the slopes of the big hill, working their way around to the road. I watched the Black glancing toward the juniper studded canyon just to the west of the road and saw what had caught her attention. Flint was there and he had Texas!! How in the world did this happen? Texas looked up and I wondered if I saw some ambivalence in her demeanor. Was this transition her idea? Had her lack of reproduction contributed to this surprising switch? Studies have shown that reproductive failure can lead to increased infidelity. I believe that Velvet’s lack of reproduction led to breakup with Cloud earlier this year.
Flint with a surprise!
Was this her idea?
Flint with Halcyon and her daughter, Adelina
We drove higher onto the open meadows of Tillett and glassed for more than an hour, scanning across Big Coulee to the many ridges and canyons on Sykes, trying to spot Mescalero and his son, Longshot. We did see Custer and his band and Morning Star and his family but no others. Longshot was seen earlier in December and we pray that this endearing little spitfire of a colt will be able to weather the coming storms and the cold Montana winter.
On our drive back down the mountain we glassed again into the area far to the west of the road, rugged country I call the “Hell’n’Gone.” Horses! It was the red bay stallion, Duke, and his band trotting in the snow on a faraway side-slope. We spotted Madonna. And to our shock, her daughter little Lariat trotted alongside her. We had written off the the foal because she appeared to have a broken leg. She was lame but was keeping up with her band! What a thrill to see her alive. I have to credit Lariat’s experienced mother, Madonna, for sticking with the filly when her daughter was barely able to take a step in October. Also Duke’s stable family should receive credit for not deserting the mare and foal.
Flint's lead mare, Sequoyah
Family is such a crucial component in the survival of any foal, let alone one that looked to have a broken leg. Way to go Lariat—the little filly who could!
Hope you have a peaceful holiday season, full of family and fun. Please keep these special wild horses in your prayers.
Little Lynx in Cloud's band
Our work to protect wild horses and burros still roaming free, depends on donations from people like you. Any year-end contribution is appreciated. And remember it can help you defer giving money to Uncle Sam come April, allowing you to give the gift of freedom to our precious wild horses. Thanks!