One Glorious Day: A Trip to the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range

Santa Fe moves up the mountain despite the stormy weather

Dear Friends;
Lauryn, Carol Walker and I bumped up Tillett Ridge Road in the Pryor Mountains looking for horses, as I have for over 18 years now. How time flies when you’re having fun! We had only one day to try and see wild horses. Lauryn and I were on our way back from moving our Freedom Family horses to a new pasture, and I had to fly to Florida the next day for a film shoot.

The weather was iffy on the way up, cloudy with a threat of rain, but as the day progressed, dark skies eventually gave way to blue.  Early on we saw the bay stallion Santa Fe herding Adelina near the road. Or was she leading him? The two-year-old filly raced away with Santa Fe hot on her heels.  Adelina, the granddaughter of Blue Sioux and Red Raven, could be bait trapped and removed this summer and Santa Fe could be left with nothing. It wouldn’t be the first time. In 2001 he had a band of young fillies and all of them were removed in the roundup that fall. But he’s not as young this time around.

When we glassed from below the mines hill, we saw Santa Fe’s two mares with the younger stallion, Doc, far out on the edge of what I refer to as the Hell ‘n’ Gone — remote meadows and forests laced with deep canyons.

Seeing only the bachelors Galaxy and Hernando high on Tillett near the snowline, we dropped back down to the open meadows and set up our spotting scopes, panning across Big Coulee canyon to the ridges of Sykes. Horses! We could see Red Raven and the band, Custer and his family, Morning Star and his big band, then Bolder with Echo and the rest of the family. Even from miles away, Echo was a beacon on the greening slope. I pray he will not be removed in the coming bait trap operation for he is so like Cloud in personality and in looks. Echo is listed as a Tier 3 horse because of his rare color and genetics — but will that save him from losing his freedom?

With only one day on the mountain, there was no time to travel up the long and treacherous Sykes Ridge Road to access the bands. We had to be content with seeing them from afar. Lauryn spotted another pale horse — it was Jewel with her young stallion, He Who, and tagging along, Fiddle, the younger half brother of Cloud. Before I could get a shot off they disappeared.

We traveled back down the mountain, hoping to spot Cloud. On the other side of the canyon on our right was a solitary horse, and when he turned our way we were shocked and thrilled to see the blaze face of the 23-year-old stallion, Starman, staring back. We thought he had died this winter. In the fall, we watched him pacing along the big wooden fence, looking for a way in to the high meadows he roamed for decades. It was heartbreaking seeing him looking so depressed and thin last fall. But here he was — still thin, but alive.

Down a bit lower, we stopped to glass from the mines hill again, scanning across to distant Looking Glass flat, then across the rugged Hell ‘n’ Gone to closer ridges. Bands were visible — Chance and his family, Doc again, and nearer, across only one canyon the young band stallion from the Forest Service lands, Grijala (son of Cavalitta and Conquistador). He was with the old mare Quelle Colour, her filly, and several other young fillies, plus Knight, the orphan son of Gwenivere. Grijala is unmistakable because of the beautiful heart-shaped star on his dark face that ends in a tan nose.

When we turned our scopes uphill we saw a light horse with other darker horses. It was Cloud! We were sure of it. Before we rushed back up the road, we looked for landmarks that would guide us to the spot we had spotted him. Then we began driving uphill again.

We crested a rise, and near the road was the light horse and HER band. It wasn’t Cloud we had seen, but his beautiful palomino mother, Phoenix. She looked like a young filly and had just begun to shed her light winter coat — no wonder we’d mistaken her for Cloud. And with Phoenix, was the whole Diamond family and a new addition — a stunner of a foal with a big blaze like her grandfather, Starman, and her sorrel great-grandfather, Flash. Like Flash, she has high stockings. Her mother is Starman’s daughter, Half-Moon, a beautiful bay with a half moon star. She looked plain in comparison to her “chromey” and lively little daughter.

Diamond and his family were heading to a new water catchment being “guarded” by Duke, the stocky, bay son of Bigfoot. His mares included 23-year-old Madonna and her daughter, Lariat, and the rest of the family. The striking, black three-year-old Shaft, was having fun playing with the flashy, dun yearling, Lancaster. In time, Duke gave up monopolizing the water guzzler and Diamond’s band moved in to drink, including Trace’s mother, War Bonnet and her tall, elegant daughter, Kayenta.

When we scanned out to the Hell ’n’ Gone again we saw horses at that new catchment several miles away. Behind us on distant Sykes, Bolder had moved up to use that new water catchment. The water guzzlers are designed to encourage the horses to graze longer in these under-utilized parts of the range, providing water even after the snow has melted. The BLM told us the horses were not using these water sources as much as they had hoped, but here we were, counting band after band using them.

As the afternoon wound down we drove back through the meadows of Tillett one last time, hoping to spot Cloud. Instead we found the grullo bachelor stallion, Garay, who had stolen Doc’s band. Garay is a rough and tumble Forest Service stallion who lost half his ear fighting the summer before. Like Grijala and Hernando, Garay is locked out of the Custer National Forest where he grew up. When we spotted him he was snaking London, the yearling son of Gold Rush. But where was Gold Rush?

I thought she might have gone off to foal and so we stuck around to watch. But Garay wasn’t anxious to stick around and rushed at London, snaking him downhill with the new bachelor, Jack, tagging along. We followed the threesome as they dropped out of sight on the hill above the new water catchment. The whereabouts of Gold Rush remains a mystery. I hope she is all right.

We drove back down toward the mines (again), disappointed at not finding Cloud but happy about seeing so many horses in only one day. Then, in the distance we could see horses and stopped to take a look. Above the catchment on lower Tillett, a light horse reflected the late afternoon light. Cloud!

We drove downhill as fast as the rock pile of a road would allow, then hiked out and climbed a steep hill to get a better look at Cloud and his family.  They all looked amazingly well, considering it was April and the new grass was just starting to pop up.

Agate, Flint and Feldspar’s coming two-year-old daughter, was trotting around mouthing to every member of the family, including Cloud, teeth clacking like a little foal begging not to be hurt. What’s up with this, I thought, and concluded that Agate was coming into heat, maybe for the first time. Her mother, Feldspar, is clearly pregnant with Cloud’s foal. The Flintstones are no more, but Flint has different mares, including Bolder’s dun mare, Texas. Red Raven has Mescalero’s long time mare, Dove. Bolder has Cloud’s mare, Velvet. Garay has Doc’s band. Doc has Santa Fe’s band.

I believe that infertility drugs have created a rise in infidelity. But, on the plus side, the drug can limit reproduction if BLM would use it correctly, opportunistically darting all mares with a primer, which will last a lifetime. Then, in any subsequent year, a second dart will limit reproduction for a year or two. I used to hate this unnatural manipulation. I still do. But I dislike roundups and the permanent removal of these freedom-loving wild animals even more.

Cloud in the afternoon light

The sun was almost setting as I took a few final pictures of Cloud. He will be 17 on May 29th.  He looks deceptively young, I thought. Will his range be expanded to ensure that his legacy will survive into the future? Can the big fence come down so the herd can again access vital grazing in the Custer National Forest? Can the gates be opened into the low country, providing over 3,600 acres of vital winter forage? Can the population be allowed to grow to truly safe, genetically viable numbers? And can all this be accomplished in Cloud’s lifetime?

As we walked back down the big hill, I found myself more committed than ever.
I promise, boy. I promise.

Happy Trails!

P.S.  Please help us keep this promise to Cloud. I know we can be successful in preserving and protecting the herd with your help. Give what you can. Thanks!

The Cloud Foundation
107 South 7th St
Colorado Springs, CO 80905

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One thought on “One Glorious Day: A Trip to the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range”

  1. I was thrilled to come across this recent blog by Ginger and friends. My 18year old daughter and I are planning our first trip out that way in hopes of seeing wild horses. The possibility of seeing Cloud or his herd is amazing! I have dreamed of sharing this experience with Caroline since she first fell in love with Cloud as a young girl. She even made a clay statue of herself with a video camera like Ginger that still sits on my dresser. Any suggestions for are trip would be wonderful and much appreciated.

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