A Jersey Girl's Maiden Voyage
In October, TCF's new Deputy Director, Dana Zarrello, who grew up in the wilds of New Jersey, gets her first taste of life in the wild west! This is Dana's first trip to the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range. As always our trip is predictably unpredictable with unexpected glimpses into the intimate lives of wild horses.
As TCF's new Deputy Director, this was my inaugural adventure in the Pryor Mountains with Ginger. It was love at first horse sighting! From breakfast with Hickok's band to 'happy hour' with the Bachelors, each day was a revelation for this first-timer.
(Above: Sundance keeps an eye on us, Hickok and part of his band stop for a drink)
Starting on day one and almost every morning thereafter, we spot the "Greeters at the Gate" (a.k.a. Hickok's band) getting a drink at the lake in the Dryhead. Stealing a few quiet moments with beautiful 2018 foal Sundance and his family is a wonderful way to start the day!
We continue on the paved highway toward the north end of this lowland section of the Pryors alongside the spectacular Bighorn Canyon. Initially, we see no horses, but on a second pass, we spot horses at the south end of Mustang Flats. The band has a black, blaze-face mare and Ginger tells me she is Morgana in Johnston's band. The littlest member of this five-horse family is Morgana's amazing son, Sorcerer. Though born sickly and lame, this resilient colt has survived against all odds. I'm surprised that the band continues to graze as we watch from a respectful distance. (Photo: Sorcerer)
Later in the day, also on Mustang Flats, we find Fiero's band. Mares Strawberry, Bakken and La Nina are all present and accounted for. We are in for a surprise, however...Fiero is nowhere to be found! This band is once again with Hidatsa who we suspect is the father of La Nina's beautiful dun colt, Stillwater.
Ironically, the band we see the most during our brief sojourn on Cloud's home turf boasts one of the wildest mares in the Pryors. Greta, mother to the youngest Pryor filly, Sophia, is notoriously wary of two-legged on-lookers. Below, you can just see her peeking out from the brush to see what's going on.
(Below: Garcia on the left, with Naara behind; on the right is Greta and you can just make out little Sophia)
Near the low water catchment we spot one grulla and five duns. "There is only one band that can be"says Ginger. It's Casper, Gabrielle, her son Banjo Patterson, the grulla mare Aztec who was with Cloud for many years, and Moenkopi with her son, Shoshone. Someone is growing up fast! The colt, born in early April, is a tall and handsome fellow. The band rests in the shelter of dense junipers.
What a surprise greets Ginger and me as we continue up Tillett Ridge Road in our tough UTV. Suddenly, a handful of horses crests a narrow portion of the road just above an old horse trap.
(Below, R to L: Polaris, Rosarita, Half Moon, and the rest of Mescalero's big band)
They trot right at us and we huddle beside the UTV. And then more (many more!) follow them. The horses unfortunately aren't coming to welcome me; they've been spooked by shooting atop the mountain. All told, we watch as over 40 of them head down, bands and bachelors alike. For the rest of our trip, Ginger feels the horses are more skittish than usual. I'm surprised that sport shooting is allowed here!
Later, we find Mescalero's band and Feldspar's newest foal, Sirius. Now the family is resting calmly; the flashy colt hanging close to his mom and Broken Bow. Sirius looks like he may be turning grullo like Sophia!
Big brother Pride, Feldspar's last colt with Cloud, sticks close to family and band stallion Mescalero doesn't seem to mind. Perhaps he sees Pride as a secondary defender of the family. Later in the week we witness Pride stepping forward when another band stallion wanders a little too close for comfort.
We catch up with Knight's band at the end of the day, just as the light turns perfect for a photo shoot.
A day later, Encore and her companion mare, Outlaw Lady (the son of Duke and Hopi) are on high alert. Many bands, as well as opportunistic bachelor stallions, are on Cheyenne Flat after the shooting atop the mountain. Encore is the lead mare in this small band and Ginger said she wasn't happy when Knight won Outlaw Lady last year. Now they seem like friends.
Approaching the teacup bowl near the top of the mountain, we are treated to the sight of another of Cloud's sons, beautiful Mato Ska, and his fiery mare, Gaelic Princess. Not far away, Galaxy's band grazes peacefully, and we are just able to glimpse the foal Silverbow resting on the ground near her mother, Quillan. Though still quite lame, she's a tough little girl. We're pleased to find her with the band, and remain very hopeful that she can survive the coming winter.
At the top of the mountain heavy clouds are rolling in as Ginger films the horses streaming past her. It's like she isn't even there. What has them so riled up? We don't hear any shooting. Ginger worries about this extra expenditure of energy with winter just around the corner.
Back down in the low country we search for Jesse James' band and the only foal that Ginger has not seen--Sentinel, the son of Jesse and Penn. While we don't manage to find Jesse's band, we do happen upon a group of contented (and well-fed!) bachelors who are happy to let us join them as they snack.
Jemez, Pax and Oak are showing how good life on the range is. These hefty boys certainly haven't missed too many meals. I'd like to think that the next time we see him, handsome Jemez will be be starting a family of his own.
Our last day in the Pryors dawns wintry and cold. Back on Tillett, we find Cloud's mother, Phoenix, War Bonnet and their handsome stallion, Hernando, along a sheltered cliff face. At 27 Phoenix still sparkles in the sunlight. Smartly, she has led her band out of the wind, leaving the mountaintop to the younger horses.
Begrudgingly we make our way down the mountain at dusk. I'm feeling sad to be leaving this magical place but am heartened by the idea that my work centers around protecting these amazing animals. As the sun sets and we round one of the final turns on the long red road, I perk up at one last, delightful surprise.
There, in the shadows of the valley, are little Sophia and her family. It is a fitting end to our daily visits with her and a perfect way to end our journey.
I hope you have enjoyed seeing this magical landscape through my eyes.
Until next time,
The Cloud Foundation