What is it about the Pryor Horses, or any wild horses for that matter? They each give us a gift that if you take the time to listen and except it, it will change your life. Forever. Some people just want to go and see them, others want to feel their presence. To me that is what it is all about. Feel the horses and the land, it has much to offer.
On this trip I was given two very special people to share the horses with. Ones that want to take the time to experience all that the horses have to offer. People that don’t mind sitting for hours (in the snow!!) just watching and enjoying every little move or interaction. Thank you Anh and Kimerlee for being there with me and sharing in my passion.
The morning of February 18 was clear and sunny. The temperature was 25 as we left Lovell and headed towards Burnt Timber Road. The expected high was to be 38 in Lovell. A perfect day. We were all looking forward to seeing more horses.
Along the way, we spotted another Bald Eagle perched in a tree.
We parked, unloaded Ophelia and loaded her back up with all of our camera equipment, lunches, water, shovels, emergency supplies and were headed up the frozen road by 9. I was happy for the firm mud on the lower part of the road. I also want to note and give thanks to Ginger for her tracks that she made in the snowy road just a few days before I got there. For the most part they were still there, packed down, making our journey a bit easier.
I stopped where we had spotted Cappuccino and band and Jasper and Grijala the evening before. Hiking over the hill, I only saw the two bachelors, still in the same area. We decided to continue on. My goal was to again get as far as the mine and park there where I would have a great view of the range.
We made it there with little trouble. I do think that long red hill is a bit scary any time of the year (because of its narrowness), but in the winter, it can be a tad more-so.
I spent some time looking through my binoculars (wishing I had a scope!). After a short time I suggested we leave Ophelia parked ( I knew the next part of the road was going to most likely be more difficult with very little room to turn around). I love hiking and had a feeling that we may see Jackson and his band from where I had spotted them the afternoon before.
The hiking was pretty easy. The road was packed down and we only sunk to our knees in the snow a couple of times.
Just a short way up the road, I caught a glimpse of some horses. It was Phoenix, Warbonnet and Hernando. Where was Half Moon and Missoula? I thought perhaps they were ahead and I just missed seeing them. Hernando had a very obvious limp.
I was hoping to see them again, once I got to the top of that hill. Instead, I saw this:
While I was happy to see Jackson (always!!), I was also disappointed not to be able to get a closer look at Hernando and his new band. I could see Jackson watching up the draw, so I assumed that Hernando was most likely down that way too. I also heard a horse calling for others (Teton?) and also the noise of a stallion trying to breed a mare.
We stopped in our tracks and let Jackson and his beautiful band get used to our presence before moving on. I am especially careful in the winter months about my movements. I do not want to be the cause of a horse expanding anymore energy than they normally would. Patience is a great virtue to have with wild horses, especially in the winter.
Once I saw them carrying on normally (grooming, grazing, not always focused on us), then and only then did we move pass them and away to a good place to “camp out”.
I was surprised and happy to see the bare ground and the amount of forage available to them in this area. These horses don’t have open water from the guzzlers in this area. The guzzlers are frozen in the winter months, so unless it is a warm day with some puddles, the snow is their only water source. Amazing creatures, so strong with their will to survive.
I chose a big rock to sit and watch these amazing horses. I love when they carry on as if we are not there. It truly is a gift that they give us to see and I soaked up every minute of it.
I quickly spotted Hernando just below the hill from Jackson’s band. He seemed nervous. It was not the best place for him to be. He kept looking up the hill every time a horse got closer to him. But he could not see who it was, which added to his nervousness. I still could not see Half Moon or Missoula and I found myself starting to worry about them. I knew there was no way I could walk past Jackson and closer to them without disturbing them too much, so I stayed parked and waited.
Brumby and Moorcoft were enjoying the slushy snow, which lead to some mutual grooming and then Moorcroft spent several minutes nursing. That made me decide that Brumby was just round (as always) and not pregnant. But of course I could be wrong. We will just have to wait and see.
Hernando was getting even more nervous, as Heritage worked her way towards the hill directly above them. Jackson sensed a change and went over to move his band back and check out the situation.
I could no longer see Hernando, Phoenix and Warbonnet and assumed they had worked their way further down. Jackson stayed alert, but started to relax a bit more, appearing to nap in the warm sun, watching over Firestorm and Niobrara.
The band took Jackson que and began to move on over the ridge.
We waited until they were out of sight over the ridge before we decided to go up and see if we could see anything. I snapped this photo of where Firestorm had been lying and where she had rolled. I was surprised to see the imprint of the ribs and realized that she was still on the thin side this year, but better than the last.
The horses were moving down the ridge. I was a bit cautious on where we should go to look. I knew that there was an avalanche warning in Western Montana on anything with more than a 30 degree slope. Even though there was bare ground here, there was still plenty of deep snow around. Those type of conditions could easily set off an avalanche. Ice on top of snow with more snow on top of the ice. Very unsettled layers. I did not want to risk it.
We made our way a few feet down the road where I could just make out a place on the ridge that was bare. I started to hike to it and got stuck, about 6 feet from the ridge. With cameras and backpack, there was not way I could even attempt to “swim” up the rest of the way. I turned around and snapped this photo of Kimerlee coming down. I really thought it gave a good perspective. You can see my tracks where I came down too.
We continued down the road looking for another place to the ridge. I was concerned on the location of Jackson and did not want to risk disturbing them. So we found a comfortable spot and sat and watched the location of everyone. We could see the occasional head poke up on the ridge.
I still had not seen Half Moon and Missoula. After several hours, I was beginning to think that they were not with Phoenix and Warbonnet.
At one point we watched Jackson run towards Hernando. There was a very brief encounter between the two of them, then it was quiet.
While we sat there, we mapped out a possible way to get through the deep snow to the ridge. We waited until we could not longer see Jackson. It appeared they were moving back to the area where they were before. We took this opportunity to slowly make our way up to the ridge.
As we approached the ridge, this is what I saw: Heritage. I have a soft spot for this beautiful mare. She is the mother of my adopted Pryor, Kootenai. I am so hoping that her plump shape means she is pregnant. Heritage does not have any offspring on the range now. A Heritage (daughter of Warbonnet and Lakota) would be a wonderful thing, not to mention that it would also be a Jackson offspring.
The band did not seem to mind us being there. We settled in the deep snow and watched them on the patch of bare ground, enjoying their interaction with each other and soaking up their amazing presence. It truly was a gift to be here and I treasured every second of it.
The young colt Maelstrom had grown into such a handsome boy. Other than his color, he is beginning to look so much like Jackson. He seems to be equally as confident as his father and will someday make an amazing band stallion.
Then they moved slightly up the ridge and gave us a blue sky background that seemed fake. We all looked at each other in disbelief. Was this really happening?
Kimerlee and I have birthdays soon, so we looked at each other and said ” Happy Birthday to us”! I certainly do not need any more than what was given to me this day.
We watched the band slowly work their way off the ridge and to the other side of the road. We took the opportunity to walk down the ridge a bit, but still did not see Hernando.
I left Kimerlee and Anh and hiked up a near-by hill to have a look around and snap some wide-angle shots.
I looked through my binoculars and spotted some horses! It was Doc and his band and with them were Half Moon and Missoula!! I was relieved to see them and glad they were okay.
Demure looks to be pregnant. I don’t think Half Moon is, but I hope I am wrong, if she is, it could very well be Teton’s last offspring.
Changes…my heart ached for Teton and hoped he was still okay. It is the cycle of life for a band stallion to loss his band when he ages, but it did not make my heart ache any less. I am happy for Hernando. He is an amazing stallion. Time will tell if he can hold on to what he now has. The mountain changes by the day, and I wondered how things would shake out by spring.
I turned my focus back to Jackson’s band and watched them peacefully grazing. What an amazing day we were having.
The day was turning late. We needed to hike back to Ophelia and start to head down the mountain. As we reached Ophelia, Anh spotted a lone horse way up on a hill. I looked through the binoculars to get a better look. It was Teton. Could the rest of his band see him from where they were? I think they could. I certainly know from where Teton was he could most likely see them.
This day was filled with joy, sadness and peace. We continued down the mountain, not seeing another horse, but feeling very full-filled. We reached the bottom of the range, just as the sun was about to set.
Kimerlee Curyl is an amazing photographer and also a beautiful person inside and out. I was happy to be able to share with her the Pryor Horses for the first time and look forward to many more meetings with her. Anh has become a best friend and I was excited that she could join me on this trip. Words can not express how great my time with these two amazing women were.
You can find out more about Kimerlee and see some of her gorgeous work by going to her website. Click on Kimerlee to go there.