GUEST BLOG: A Visit to the Freedom Family
GUEST BLOG: Kim Michels: TCF Montana Lead
I received a call from Ginger Kathrens, Executive Director of TCF. She asked if I would help with an assignment for The Cloud Foundation. She wanted me to bring some oats to the Freedom Family horses and observe the herd dynamics since Shane’s passing in early June. Does Pistol have Shane’s band? Does Trigger have both bands? Is Pistol a satellite stallion? Or is he a bachelor?
I felt my face light up as I told Ginger I would love to go.
The next day I left Red Lodge and headed west to the Freedom Families. As I drove, my thoughts drifted to Shane. I had only seen him three times, but he left a big impression on my heart. The last time I saw him was on April 7, 2014 when I accompanied Ginger, Ann Evans, and Kim Frank on a road trip to visit the Freedom Families. It was time to dart the mares with the reversible fertility vaccine, PZP. As Ginger drove in, Shane galloped along the fence-line with his mares and Trigger’s band followed close behind. He and all of the others looked great, as usual. I only got a few photos of Shane that day. I thought to myself that I would be back again to get pictures. I completely took for granted that Shane and all the horses would be there on my next visit.
The mountain air smells like a mixed bouquet of alfalfa, cottonwood, jasmine, and Montana sweetgrass. When I arrived at the Freedom Families' pasture they all came running with Lily (Shane and Moshi’s daughter) in the lead. The three year-old filly has filled out and become a beautiful, voluptuous, dun mare.
I was surprised at Lily’s demeanor. She chased off all of the other horses from both bands in anticipation of tasty treats. The few times I had seen her, she was shy and stayed to the back of her band. Now she seemed to dominate both bands as the alpha mare.
At first I couldn’t tell if the horses had become one band or remained two. They were excited at the thought of getting oats. Lily chased every horse off of each pan I set down, even Trigger! After the horses scarfed down their crunchy oats, the new order of the bands became clear. Trigger was the dominant stallion, chasing Pistol off every chance he got, but it was nothing more than a warning to keep his distance.
Trigger now has most of Shane’s family: Cavalitta, Chalupa, Josie, Moshi, Mystery, and Sierra.
Sierra appeared to be the lead mare in Trigger’s band, but she backed down when Lily came over to graze. Josie is also coming into her own.
I watched Josie and Sierra boss Chalupa around as well as the tight trio of Cavalitta, Moshi, and Mystery.
Mystery has some of the most soulful eyes I have ever seen - very sweet and lady-like.
Four year-old Pistol has his first band of mares: Evita (his mother), Grumpy Grulla, Lily, and Mae West. Lily is Pistol’s lead mare.
I didn’t see Pistol nurse his mom during my visit, but time will tell. I was relieved to see Lily being so affectionate to Grumpy, who is now 27. I often spotted the two mares mutually grooming.
Pistol persistently courted Grumpy. She appeared to be annoyed, moving off, and wanting nothing to do with the youngster.
Lily moved back and forth grazing, spending time with both bands. She seemed to be curious, or perhaps just plain nosey about what her herd mates were doing.
I sat with the horses for hours over my three day visit. Every so often Lily would march over to see what I was up to and the other horses would follow. I decided that one of Lily’s new jobs, in addition to being a supervisor, is to act as the dinner bell.
Overall, the two bands are co-existing well and the mares seem content with their new stallions. If Pistol gets too close to Trigger’s mares, he is chased off. It was evident the two stallions had been in a squabble based on the recently healed scratches on their coats, but I did not witness any serious fights.
On another note, last October one of Billy’s (the man who cares for the Freedom Families) mares gave birth to a beautiful colt. The mare jumped the fence and was bred by one of the Freedom Family stallions. Ginger called me about the baby. She didn’t know for sure who the sire might be, but was confident the father was either Trigger or Pistol. “He’s at least part mustang,” she said enthusiastically. Ginger asked me to drive up and get some pictures of the darling little colt, which was how I spent my birthday last year!
The mares and one mule were very protective of the colt right from the start and made it difficult for me to get photos. They are still protective of him, but not nearly as much as when he was first born. Billy named the colt Huckleberry and will call him Huck for short.
At only eight months of age, he will likely grow as tall as his very large mother. The colt has such a sweet disposition. I know Billy is pleased with Huck and is looking forward to having him as a riding horse.
When it was time for me to leave the Freedom Families, I walked out to them and said a special goodbye, individually calling their names. After I crossed through the fence and was about to get in my Jeep, both bands slowly walked over the hill towards me. It felt almost as if they were saying goodbye too.