Another great update from Shawn! Thank you so much!
For New Year’s, I decided to take Malakai over for his first trip to the range and also to see the rams around Cody. We arrived in Lovell after dark Saturday night and camped out in the lower Sykes area. There was a little old snow on the ground, but not enough to make driving a problem, maybe an inch.
There are 2 reasons that this is not the best time of the year for photography. The main concern is that this time of the year is hard on the animals due to the cold weather and lower nutrition forage. Cold meaning that most liquids in the FJ froze overnight and while traveling through McCullough it took less than 10 minutes for Malakai’s water to freeze.
A lot of the horses showed their regular indifference and still grazed past me like normal. The ones that I knew were a little more cautious or seemed to want to be left alone I stayed far away from. There are some horses that it would have been great to get better pictures of, but it isn’t worth stressing the animal.
The second problem with this time of year is the amount of daylight. It doesn’t get light enough for photography until after 7:30 and is too dark to shoot by about 4:30. That means there is a short amount of time to get shots, and a lot of dark time to huddle under the sleeping bag and wait until the next day.
It was still getting light Sunday morning when we heard our first horses. After not being able to find him over Thanksgiving, I was surprised when Merlin appeared. He does look thin, but his gait seems normal. He was travelling with Johnston and Hawk. Since the sun had not cleared the horizon, the pictures of them came out grainy. I definitely did not want to move this group by approaching, so I tried some shots with the moon behind and a few with Hawk silhouetted on a small ridge.
The other horses in the area were Sitting Bull, Cecelia and Mato. They usually want left alone, so I only took distant shots of them. There was a cool sun dog as SB and Mato went over a ridge on their way to join Cecelia up the hill.
From one of my favorite knobs, I could see some horses out at the end of Turkey Flats. I decided that Malakai would get his first long walk through the range. From the Syke’s side, there are only 2 or 3 washes before you hit the long flat and can walk out fairly easily the 1 mile to where the horses seem to hang out. The familiar trio of Irial, Jupiter and London were together, along with a grullo. My first thought wasn’t of the grullo, because I assumed it was Garay, but of how dark Irial ( and most blue roans) get in the winter.
Since they were moving toward me, I kept going past them to get a better view of Galaxy and Fiesta, who were checking each other out on the edge of the flat. As I watched Fiesta moving back toward Horizon and Juniper, it reoccurred to me how striking he is, and I wondered when he is going to get a harem for himself .
There are younger stallions, notably the G’s last summer, that have begun to assemble harems. Is Fiesta just mellow and happy to hang out, has he not had the right opportunity, or is he not strong enough to win mares away? I don’t know a lot about him, but it would be a shame for him not to have some young offspring soon.
I heard some commotion from the bachelors, who had drawn closer. Jupiter and the grullo were sparring.
I finally noticed that the grullo had both ears, so it wasn’t Garay. Galaxy came down to check the group out, and him and Irial had a prolonged shoving session. When they were done, Jupiter stepped in and wore Galaxy down a little more while Fiesta and the others introduced themselves. Galaxy’s harem seemed unconcerned and slept in the sage.
Things settled down and I got a better view of the grullo. He was shorter and skinnier than Jupiter, and barely seemed bigger than London. I noticed the pink ears, which reminded me of Bristol but I knew he should have Kitalpha and figured most grullos had the pinker ears in the winter. I also imagined him as an older, bigger stallion.
I think Malakai was a little intimidated by the horses. He stayed right by my heel or nestled between 2 small rocks, when he was not busy eating every root, flower or grass he could find. I am glad he is able to get out and grow used to the horses now, so that one day he will be able to go out and just walk down the road by horses without even giving it a second thought. One of my first trips up Burnt Timber I remember seeing a man walk down the road with a dog, I think a blue heeler, and the dog didn’t care about or bother the horses. I think the guy may have been Matt’s father, because I thought he said his son wrote a blog or ran the center.
Malakai hiked back to the FJ and I ran out the Dryhead while he warmed up. The first trip out we saw no one. I didn’t even notice many tracks out in mustangless flats. Most of the tracks were from the state line to a little past the overlook. I decided to check out BT, and started up it before I decided to wait and see if things warmed up later in the week. We went back through the park and saw Fiero right before the overlook. He was the only DH horse today.
Hoping to get some good sunset or moonrise shots, Malakai and I headed back to our knob in lower Sykes. At the top of the hill he started digging. I wasn’t sure if he smelled something good to chew or if an animal had been there. I scanned the area for horses, and when I looked back at Malakai he had nestled down in the hole he had dug. I let him rest while I watched the sun set, the deer come out and SB’s family graze on the side of lower Sykes. We did not see a lot of horses, but it had been a great first day of introducing Malakai to the range.