The start of my camping season in the Pryors is just around the corner. Amber and I are planning a trip to the top of the mountain in June. I will be there a few times before that, but that is when the camping season starts for me.
This will be my forth summer camping up there. The first year (2010) I spent 10 days there, 2011, I spent 14 days there, 2012, I spent 33 days there. This year I will be in the Pryors for over 50 days. I sense a trend here. I wonder what next year will bring.
With that in mind, I started to think about Lakota, and how much a part of those trips he had been. I miss him, there is no denying it and I hope I don’t bore you with this post. But I thought that perhaps going through all the photos of my days in the Pryors would help me miss him less. There was some comfort in it, but it actually made me miss him more. All those “less than perfect” shots that I passed by of him and his band the first time around, suddenly looked perfect to me. I didn’t care about the shadows, focus, or composition, I just became grateful for every photo I had of him. I miss you my friend.
I decided to share these never before seen, less than perfect shots of Lakota, I hope you are touched by them as much as I have been. A few of them are repeats, but not many.
I first knew who Lakota was in October of 2010. You can read my post, LAKOTA to learn more about his history and this meeting.
I was just learning all of the horses then, it was confusing and I doubted I would ever be able to learn and recognize all of the stallions, let alone all of the mares and new foals. But now, on my forth year to the Pryors, I think I know them all very well. With the amount of time I have spent with the horses and with the amount of time I spend studying them at home when I am not there, I would say maybe I have a bachelors degree in the Pryor Mountain Wild Horses. Not a masters degree like some I know, but a very solid bachelors. That was a fun thought to think about. I am not mentioning this to brag, but I have studied in college (many years ago) and I realize that I have probably put in more dedicated time studying the Pryor Horses than I ever did studying in college.
So with my knowledge of today, and my goal of trying not to miss him so much, I decided to spend some time watching video and looking through photos to see when exactly the first time I saw Lakota was.
I found out that the first time I saw Lakota was in August of 2010. He was with his band, by Kreuger Pond. I even have video of him that day. (you can see this footage in the video I have posted at the end of this post. His 2010 band is at about 2:30 into the video. There is also many footage of him in other years throughout this video). His band then consisted of Quelle Colour (pregnant with Kohl), Blanca with her foal Kalispell, Half Moon with her foal, Kiowa and Heritage with her foal Kootenai. I had no way of knowing then, that in two years, I would be able to look out my window of my house everyday and see two of these foals, now almost 3 years old. (Kiowa and Kootenai)
I would next see Lakota and his band in October 2010.
I would not see Lakota again, until July 2011. Today, I found many photos that I had never published from that trip. That is when Grijala was fighting Lakota for his band. We woke up on our first day with this band surrounding us. They seemed comfortable with us at our campsite, and stayed several hours.
It was then that I fell in love with Lakota. I had admired him before now, but this was the day I fell in love with him. I spent enough time with him that morning, to feel his strength, pain, and determination. He was the perfect stallion to me, and I begin to find myself being sucked into the world with him. Even after I left the mountain, I worried about him and what was happening. I learned that Grijala would take the band from him and he would be alone. My heart broke with his.
While we were there that day in July 2011, we watched this scene unfold before our eyes. The still moments, the very thought-out moves and the interaction among the band was even more apparent to me today as I relived that morning.
I returned to the mountain the following month (August) with my daughter Amber. We only got one very brief view of Lakota. It was just before dark. He was heading to Kreuger Pond, and he was alone.
In September I would again go to the mountain, but I would not see him that trip. Then in October I was there for just a day. You know the story if you have read my post Lakota. I would see him just as I was about to leave the mountain.
My heart broke even more that day as I watched him. There was a look in his eyes that made me sad. His will to live seemed to leaving him. I had heard stories of stallions that just give up after they loose their bands, I hoped he would not be one of them. I worried about him all winter.
In March of 2012 I headed to the Pryors. It was my birthday. I was hoping to see Lakota, but I knew that the chances would be very slim. The horses are so spread out this time of year, and travel is very limited.
I saw him. It was just a chance finding really. You can read about that day by clicking THE GIFT.
Lakota gave me one of the best birthday presents I have ever had. Showing himself to me. He looked great too. The winter had been kind to him and he had put on a lot of weight since I had seen him last.
I would not see him in April when I returned, but in May 2012, he gave me another very special gift. You can read about that encounter, by clicking on Finding Lakota.
It was one of the most incredible moments of my life and most definitely the most incredible moments I have ever had with a wild horse. I will always remember it. Every time I head up Burnt Timber road, I point out this spot to whom ever is with me. I don’t care if they don’t care to hear it. I say it out loud every time. I will never forget that day.
I was so happy and excited for Lakota. He looked so good and that sparkle was back in his eye. I heard from Shawn a few weeks later that he was dogging Grijala, trying to get his band back. I thought “Good for you Lakota”. Even though he was 20, I had every confidence that he would prevail and win his band back, or at least Quelle Colour, his faithful and devoted long time mare.
But it was not to be.
I returned the middle of June, only being away for 3 weeks. I received a text from Matt on the first evening I was there. “Lakota is injured”, the text read. I was lucky to find a place where I had fairly good cell service and called Matt. He told me Lakota was down Burnt Timber Road a ways. The next day, my friend Linda and I headed down in search of him. We passed Grijala and his band way down in a valley below us. Continuing down the road, not much further, was Lakota, looking down towards his former band.
I knew right away by looking at the pain in his eyes that it was not good. Linda and I tried to have hope and we managed to have some. But I think I knew deep down that my first thought was the right one. Lakota would never win his beautiful chestnut mare back. He would be lucky to survive this injury. You can read more about that day by clicking on Healing Thoughts For Lakota. I did not know that these would be the last photos I would have of him alive.
I kept in contact with other people that were on the mountain after I left. (thank you Ginger and Jared). Some saw him, and I held out hope he would make it through this injury.
I returned 3 weeks later and spent most of my time searching for him. I never found him. It was heartbreaking. You can read about that trip by clicking on Searching For Lakota.
Two weeks later, my phone rang. It was Jared and he said the words I did not want to hear. “I euthanized Lakota last night.” It was July 24, 2012. I weeped for days and I still do, even I as write this post. Click on Remembering Lakota.
I made several trips to the mountain last summer, after Lakota’s death. Lori, Shawn and I held a memorial a week after Lakota died. And you know what? He died where he knew I could always find and see him. Not far from my campsite. I believe it was his last gift to me. It was apparent he had been there for some time. There was a perfect circle (about 20 feet) of eaten grass around his body. He could not move any longer and so he stayed and ate what he could.
One of the first things I will do on my first trip up the mountain this year, will be to visit Lakota. By now, I am sure I will have to pick up his bones and carefully stack what is left of him by the memorial that I made last July.
I hope as time passes, my pain will subside. I just hope the ache in my heart and in the pit of my stomach, that I am feeling as I write this, will pass some. Not all though.
I do have some comfort when I look out the window at his young son, Kootenai. As each day passes, he looks more and more like his father. I know that a part of Lakota lives on through him and his daughter Kiowa.
I am also sure that Lakota’s spirit is living on, on top of the mountain. I feel it every time I am there. I am sure he will be running through the lupine again this year, just like I saw him in July of 2011. My Spirit Horse.
I miss you Lakota.