Let Freedom Ring!
A Visit to our Freedom Family Bands, November 2014
Five years ago we were scrambling. In a surprise move, BLM decided to permanently remove all the Pryor Mustangs living in the Custer National Forest. We had only a few weeks to work out how we could buy and adopt every older horse removed during this massive helicopter roundup. (link: What Price Freedom, Nat. Horse Article)
We were confident that the younger horses would be adopted, but we knew there was a good chance the older ones could end up as prisoners in segregated holding areas. Our goal was to keep them together, in their family bands. . . forever. And that is what we’ve done since the auction at the bottom of their Pryor Mountain home in September, 2009. (Sponsor a Freedom Family Mustang)
I am driving along the sparkling Yellowstone River in southern Montana, on my way to visit our bands as I do every few months. The mountains around me have new snow and there is definitely a chill in the air.
It's always exciting to visit the bands, but this journey is a difficult one because I know Shane won't be there to greet me. As many of you know he died suddenly and unexpectedly this summer. Both powerful and gentle, he was a natural leader and a beautiful spirit. He was always the first to politely greet his human friends, of which there were many. Shane knew we rarely came empty handed, yet he was never pushy or demanding. I loved this remarkable horse. (A Tribute to Shane)
Clouds are building over the Crazy Mountains to the east and the wind picks up as Kim Michels and I drive into the ranch TCF leases north of Wilsall. We have a car loaded with oats and horse cookies.
Far out in the scenic pasture, I can see horses. When they notice us, they begin walking in, as if knowing that special treats are on the way!
Lily is in the lead with her older sister, Chalupa, and her mother, Moshi, following close behind. In the distance I can see giant Cavalitta. I get a lump in my throat as I watch Shane’s three year-old daughter trotting confidently toward us just as her father used to do. She has no star and there is a little nick out of her left ear. Otherwise, she is the spitting image of her father. Is she assuming the role of lead mare?
“Hello girls,” I say and reach out to let Lily sniff my hand. By this time Josie, the 3 year-old daughter of Trigger and Mae West, has come up to investigate me. "How have you been?" I ask them. Just by looking I can tell they have been doing very well. Lily is noticeably pudgy. Of course, I don't tell her that!
I crouch down to make myself less threatening. Gentle Sierra joins us and I feel a bit like a quarterback, whispering plays to my teammates. "Okay, Lily you go wide right. Let Cavalitta block for you. I'll fake the hand off to you Sierra. Then Lily you cut across the middle for the pass." We could have quite a team, I think. Broncos and Colts beware, the Pryor Mustangs are coming!
Kim and I pour oats into pans spaced far enough apart to prevent any squabbles. But where are the rest? Then, at the very end of the pasture, far to the south I notice a head, and then another popping up over the horizon.
We leave Trigger’s band to go visit our other band stallion, Pistol, the son of Evita and Trigger. At only four, he has inherited mares, but Billy Maloney (who owns the ranch and watches over the horses) says this changes daily. We’ll just have to wait and see how this situation shakes out and whether Pistol will permanently claim a mare or two. He has always mooned around over Lily, but I have a feeling she might have something to say about this.
Today Pistol is with Mae West and Grumpy Grulla. As we get closer, it appears they have been to the little spring at the far corner of the pasture for both Mae and Pistol are covered with mud. Grumpy is pristine in comparison. She is our oldest at and I wish she were heavier going into winter. But I have to remind myself that she has always been a lightly built mare, unlike Mae who always looks a little pregnant.
I first met Grumpy in 1994. Back then, she didn’t have a name. I watched her stern discipline of not only her offspring but every youngster in Raven’s band. All the pretty grulla mare had to do was glare and her wishes were obeyed. I named her Grumpy Grulla and surprisingly the BLM made it her “official” name. Grumpy was one of Raven’s three mares. She gave birth to a grulla colt the year I came and she already had a yearling son I called Little Raven.
Regardless of how much longer she lives, Grumpy has had a remarkable life and leaves a lasting legacy on her Pryor Mountain home. She is the mother of Cedar in Bolder’s Band. Bolder and Cedar are the parents of Jewel, Lobo, and Mesa.
Jaime Wade adopted Sage in 2009, Bolder's first foal and a Grumpy granddaughter. Sage is featured in the Cloud: Challenge of the Stallions. (Cloud: Challenge of the Stallions) Grumpy's grandson, Absarokee, was adopted in 2012 and lives in Virginia. Ann Evans owns Grumpy’s daughter, Smokey, Cloud’s birth sister. Smokey is the most reliable riding horse you could ever wish for. All the inexperienced trail riders who have ridden this very Spanish style mare can attest to this. Smokey is featured Cloud: Wild Stallion of the Rockies. (Smokey with 12 year-old Daniel Middleton aboard- Summer 2013))
Kim and I pour oats on the ground and piles of horse cookies. I try to make sure that Grumpy gets more than the rest, guarding her from the irrepressible Pistol. Are you OK girl? I whisper. She pays little attention and I keep my distance. Like Trigger and Mystery she remains proud and aloof. That’s fine with me. That’s the idea after all. She will be, as she always has been, wild. . . and forever free.
P.S. Winter is around the corner in Montana and we have reserved an ample supply of hay. If you can help us with this $8,000 expense, we’d certainly appreciate it. No donation is too small. Or, please consider sponsoring one of our Pryor Mustangs. For the second year in a row Grumpy Grulla has a full sponsorship from the same very generous donor and we thank you!! (Sponsor a Freedom Family Mustang) . (Winter 2013-14, Grumpy enjoying her hay, below)