Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Horses with a Heritage!

Lakota and his mares (and foal!).
[From left to right: War Bonnet, Blanca's foal, Blanca, Lakota]

July 15

Wild horses are really something you only read about, hear about, dream about as a kid. You see photographs of scarred stallions battling with sharp teeth and hooves, you watch films of large harems galloping across the plains. It looks so far away from civilization, like only a few people have ever been amongst these untamed Equines. You envision huge, never-ending herds reminiscent of those of the great buffalo in early America. In reality, these herds are small, approchable, accessable, and true mustangs are an even scarcer breed. Many, many years ago, the Spanish Conquistadors brought their compact and hardy horses to the New World in the conquest of the uncharted Western continents. These horses were bred to be strong, versatile, able to fit (in large numbers) on the small ships carrying Spaniards to the mysterious distant lands. The horses came in beautiful colours like dun, grulla and grullo, roan, and jet black. Short, thick legs, hard hooves, distinct sloping croups, low-set tails, and muscular necks defined this Spanish stock. Escapees and releases from this minute original band formed the beginnings of the modern-day Pryor Mustang herds. Blood testings and study of the conformation of the Pryors have confirmed this story. Genetically unique and running rich through the veins of American heritage, the Pyror wild horses are a breed like no other.

While larger herds of escaped domestic horses of all breeds roam Nevada and other states of the like, the Pryors are no random bunch. While all horses are special in their own ways and rights, the tough little Pryors hold a distinct place in our nation's history and environment. Dwelling in the first ever government-designated wild horse range, they are protected by the Beureau of Land Management (BLM). Under threat from lawsuits, radical animal rights activists (ironically), their [the horses] own decision to stay in areas of low food availability, inadequate public education, and of course predators, these mustangs have a lot to worry about (but they have great people working for their well being!).

The BLM and related mustang protection representatives use PZP's, a contraceptive drug, on select-aged mares to help control the population. Because the range is only so large, it can only support a certain number of horses. The PZP's don't work 100% of the time, however. Small roundups are necessary to assist in the goal of subdueing the effects of overbreeding, thus keeping the herd at a healthy and sustainable level.

If you've ever watched the documentary 'Cloud: Wild Stallion of the Rockies', you would know of the Pyrors. Although, the facts and names displayed and shared in these films are not all correct. I don't take sides, and don't wish to represent either side, but please, if you'd like to know more about the horses visit Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Website. Lawsuits have previously prevented water catchments, roundups, and contraception drugs for the herd and have maimed the Pryor conservation efforts. Since the horses stay by the only available water in the range, they consequently are in the area of the lowest food quality. By placing water catchments strategically throughout the lower hills of the Pryor mountains, it is hoped that the horses will stay there with the better food supply. This will allow there to be fewer roundups. It's a nice thought to want the horses free from any human contact, but unfortunately it's necessary for their health. The Pryor horses are currently in good hands and things are going well!

The list of what needs to be done is a long one, but first and foremost is to educate the public. They need know the critical situation that these horses are in and how to help.

So how can you help America's last wild horses? GET EDUCATED!
*Donate to or visit the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center in Lovell, WY*
*Tell others of the mustangs and how they can help*
*Do purchase literature with proper information (like America's Last Wild horses by Hope Ryden or Among Wild Horses by Lynne Pomeranz)*

For Further Information:
EMAIL info@pryormustangs.org

And now for a small tour of the herd! These photos were taken with a 500mm lens and cropped.

Mescelero and Fortunatas after a tense 'discussion'.

Two Boots leads his family away from Doc (another stallion).

Dove is chased by Mescelero.

Flint's yearling prances around.

Blanca leads her new (female) foal!

Cloud, looking weary with age, grazes.

Two stallions fight in the distance.

~Peace Always,

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Treats, Travel, Towers, Ticks, and Tines

July 14

"The travel day" was just that. The morning was full of saying goodbyes (to family and horses alike!), and the rest of the day was pretty much just driving. Little events in between made the day unique, however.

The day started at the ranch, where we were al over the place trying to pack up. We still had time for the horses, and gave them their treats and said goodbye. Herman, Devil, Rojo, and Chap are all great horses and it was sad to say 'bye. They didn't seem to catch the underlying sad note in the air, though, and were lively as ever.

Ahhh Rojo and Herman, don't squish me!

The best moment of that morning was having Devil walk up to me and take a treat from my hand. He has certainly come a long way!

After a final view of the ranch, we were on our way! On the way out, we passed a group of Turkey Vultures. I got out of the car to take some photos, and they launched into the air. As they landed, I got a photo of their "landing gear" (talons and legs). It's a pose you don't usually see in large birds.

What was the neat part of this encounter was one of the Vultures flew super-low within 10 feet of our car!! The high winds were pushing them all off course and causing flight difficulties. This was the closest I'd ever been to a wild flying bird of prey!
Next, a while down the highway, came Devil's Tower. I saw Prarie dogs, Rock Pigeons, and a Spotted Towhee, and plus seeing the giant formation that is Devil's Tower was spectacular. We also listened to a nice talk by a young Native American woman as she explained her language and culture.The bad thing about that was I got 3 ticks in my hair from walking through the trail. UGH!! It was terrible, and I was very paraniod about bugs afterwards...I haven't gotten any since (knock on wood)...

Finally, as we pulled into our lodge for the night, we passed 2 incredible Mule Deer bucks in velvet. This was a great sighting-- look at those antlers! A nice end to the evening.

~Peace Always,

Hard Work Hardly Pays Off

July 13

Another horsey day at the ranch! A great breakfast of home made waffles was followed by 2 full hours of working with Herman. We did the normal routine of roundpen work before putting him through his paces bareback. This time, we tied the halter differently so the pressure would be on his cheeks rather than lower on his head. This would give the rider more control and it would confuse Herman less. He did very well, better than before...in the roundpen, that is. We brought Chap in the pen for some work and I rode Herman around the corral (which contains the barn and the other horses). Or, tried to ride him. He would not listen and kept trying to go back to the barn or the roundpen. Basically, he didn't think he had to listen because he was in the place where he, usually, is free. Others got on him and he did the same thing. After Chap proved just as difficult, we turned Chap out and took Herman out of the corral to be saddled. This time we didn't attempt applying the bit or bridle, just the saddle. By then it was the heat of the day and the South Dakota sun is unforgiving. Herman was already breaking a sweat, but he still had about 45 more minutes of hard work left!! I got on him, and took him to the pasture. It's riddled with hay bales and this is where the horses spend their nights, free and without close-range fencing. He didn't seem to want to listen here either, being stubborn and fighting any command. He pretty much just wanted to go back and relax! But oh, no, not one bit! He was just earning himself more time under a rider. For a horse that did so well in the roundpen, it was hard to believe that this was the same gelding. He was just so stubborn and I could tell he only wanted to take off towards the barn.

The men got on him, thinking maybe they'd have better luck-- how wrong they were! Of course it may have been the flies plus the heat, but Herman started kicking out even more than he had with me. After trying and trying, we decided he needed a break! (So did we!) The big guy was sweating buckets, but it was good for him to be worked so hard. He isn't worked often so he needs the excersise.

After giving him a drink, we turned him out to the corral. It took a few minutes but he finally rolled as we had expected. For such a large animal who is always on their feet, it was funny and strange to watch Herman roll and stretch upon the ground!

LATER, when it came time, we let the horses loose for the night. Of course we don't send them off without a goodnight snack! Apple treats and carrots are their favourite. Devil, Rojo, and Chap come all around and between us gently, but Herman just pushes through like it's nobody's business. Little Devil has been increasingly tolerant of us, and we even were able to feed him treats! This, you must understand, is a big step for him. He's skittish and very shy, but we think that it's because of the added horses that he has warmed up to us.

[from near to far: Prince Herman, Little Devil, Chap]

~Peace Always,

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Horsin' Around is For the Birds!

July 12
(Warning: Long Post Ahead!)
[Wi-fi is hard to come by in these parts of the country, so I haven't been able to post in a while. This was pre-written on one of the long car rides! I'm sorry for the inconvenience!]

The first full day on the ranch was a geat one. I woke fairly early and went downstairs to wait for the others to rise. Breakfast was good; cereal, orange juice, and fruit. We then gave the horses (Chap, Rojo, Devil, and Herman) their 'breakfast' of apple treats and carrots. We led them into the corral but put Herman into the roundpen to be worked. We stood in the center of the ring with a rope, and had Herman trot and canter around, in different directions. After a while, he decided to come into the center and "submit" in the Equine way of lowering his head and licking the air. The halter was put on his head (a rope halter, not the typical nylon w/buckles type) and I rode him bareback.

He did fine, not much trouble. I had to get used to having only a halter without a bit to control him with, since my usual Huntseat/saddleseat lessons use snaffle bridles. It was fun, and a different experience. Next, my brother then got on him, and some other family members. Herman did well for all of them! After seeing the good results in the roundpen, we led Herman out in front of the house, where we tacked him with a saddle and a bridle with a bit. He did not like that bit one bit! (No pun intended.) I mounted him and took the reins, but he didn't calm down. We finally decided to take the bridle off and replace it with his normal halter. Thinking this would make him do better, I asked him to "Walk!". He did...however didn't go beyond the opening to the field. No matter how hard we tried, he just wouldn't listen-- he even tried to brush me off under the trees! After a few minutes of this nonsense, we just put him back into the corral with the other horses. He hadn't been ridden in a while and isn't worked every day so he just wasn't ready.

After lunch and a break from the heat (full of riddles from an old book, ex. would be "What two letters contain nothing?" answer at the bottom of this post) I took my 500mm lens outside for a workout of its own-- birding!! I finally had a chance to bird the ranch, and boy, was it successful! I saw FIVE Life (new) birds in the span of 2 hours. That's got to be a record. The first of the day was a Yellow-billed Cukoo (Life bird)- very unexpected. It was preening as I captured these photos:

Next came another unexpected visitor: a Spotted Towhee (Life bird)! It was foraging. These birds are very stout, entertaining, and colourful! They have a very unique and funny style of foraging...

I walked a little further, only to come across an Eastern Kingbird with a grasshopper in its beak. It was thrashing the grasshopper against the branch, to stun it, presumably.

(The grasshoppers were everywhere so this was a welcome sight!)

Then in the same tree I spotted a female Yellow Warbler, who (like all other Yellow Warblers) wouldn't let me get a good photo of her! Next was another Eastern Kingbird and then...

a female Orchard Oriole (Life bird)! At the time (since I got such a fleeting glance) I thought she was another Yellow Warbler. Upon looking through my photos, however, I ID'd her correctly.

A while later I saw a 1st year male Orchard Oriole as well...this time I knew it was an oriole...

Then came sightings of a Red-tailed Hawk, Western Kingbird, Lark Sparrows. But the next prize view was of a Great-crested Flycatcher (Life bird). He was gorgeous and demonstrated a few calls for me!

Then...the next Life bird was the chatterbox House Wren. I had been hearing them all day, but hadn't sighted them until...

Finally, a young American Robin strutted past, displaying the heavy spotting that characterizes juveniles of the species.


Late afternoon brought a trip to the Cheyenne River, where we hiked down a steep hill (dodging pointy yucca) to get to the banks but didn't find anything. Another surprise came when, as we were gazing down at the faraway Cheyenne (from atop the hill) an American White Pelican(Life bird) flew by and landed in the river!! I recognized the color pattern immediately, however I didn't believe that I had actually seen a pelican in South Dakota! Of course I consulted my bird field guide and saw that they, in fact, live in parts of SD. Certainly a cool sighting!

LATER, I tagged along as the boys went out to the field to shoot cans and bottles. Nearby was a prairie dog town, where Burrowing Owls were living! I was so excited; this was a species I wanted to see before leaving South Dakota. They were beautiful, and it was neat to see them fly. One even hovered for a while over the truck. They stayed low to the ground, and went into the prairie dog's burrows. Burrowing Owls have such character.


~Peace Always,

(Answer to riddle: N and G)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Westward Bound

July 11
On the way to the ranch...

Many different and amazing sights were to beheld, like 5 new Life birds, cows, deer, antelope, jackrabbits, and more. It was a 1+1/2 hour drive from Wall to the ranch...a very beautiful drive! The country landscapes were incredible! It was so quiet, even when these Turkey Vultures passed overhead:

I was surprised by a flock of Yellow Headed Blackbirds (Life bird) and their "otherworldly" trills:

Among the meadow-dwelling birds flew a striking Blue-winged Teal (Life bird):

A high-flying Wilson's Phalarope (Life bird) made for an interesting sighting!

Upland Sandpipers (Life bird) ran and displayed on the side of the road:

Horned Larks, like this female, foraged on the ground:

Angus bulls and cows moaned along the fence lines:

Mule Deer leap and bound over the tall variety of grasses:

A shedding Pronghorn satisfies her hunger:

A wary Jackrabbit poses for a photo:

Small herds of rancher's horses gather to watch us drive by:

At the ranch...

The horses greet us, receive treats, then go on their ways:

A sweet Eastern Cottontail browses as the sun goes down:

A small raptor (seemingly an American Kestrel) harasses a Red-tailed hawk:

Thus ends the first night on the ranch.

~Peace Always,