Another Perfect Day!

Every day on the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range is a good day, but there are days like Saturday, December 8, 2018 that simply surpass expectations and turn out to be perfect days. The day began for me with a phone all from Jack Sterling, a friend of ours and a friend of the wild horses. A quick plan was set up to meet asap at the Sykes Ridge entrance to the horse range. Off I went, ready for the day! The short drive in the morning cold air, set the stage for the day. The Pryor Mountains to the north were vivid against the backdrop of the blue sky and the light of the sun sending tones of gold from the rim of the Big Horn Mountains to the east. Jack climbed into the Jeep and off we went.

We headed to Sykes Springs first. The spring itself was locked tight with ice. Thankfully the snow gives the horses some form of hydration. Just before turning around we spot a dun horse. My first thought was Hidalgo because of the face marking, but no…it was Parry!


Parry is the three year old son of Fresia. They have been with Hawk for much of Parry’s young life.

Fresia was across the road from Parry, and got nervous by our presence. She, like several other mares, have a strong flight instinct. She watched us for awhile, and then moved towards the other two.


Fresia is the 2005 daughter of Durango and Buffalo Girl. Buffalo Girl was also a shy, beautiful mare like her daughter.


Fresia moved toward Hawk and Parry. She is definitely a lead mare!

Fresia began walking up the ridge. The other two watched and then walked off with her. This was a magic moment on the range as the horses walked through the glow of the rising sun!

Part 2: Jack and I turned around and headed back towards the red buttes. These beautiful hills are from the geologic “Chugwater Formation” which is characterized by the deep red color. I call it rusty dirt because the red is formed from the oxidation of iron. These red buttes are landmarks and can be seen even from the top of the mountain.

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The red buttes at Lower Sykes provide good shelter for the horses and other wildlife. Not much grows in the rusty dirt, but these landmarks add a splendid beauty to the area.

There is always such anticipation as you drive around to the west side of the buttes. That is where the expanse of Turkey Flats becomes visible and where horses can frequently be seen during this time of the year. We were not disappointed. As we got to the “parking lot” at the bottom, Jack simply stated, “Well look over there.” Oglala was grazing right near the road. It didn’t take much time to find his buddy, Jemez resting in the early morning sun.


Oglala is a solid black stallion! Just beautiful! He looks curiously at us as we get ready for our hike.

He turns his attention back to the sagebrush flowers that he has been enjoying for breakfast. He sets his eyes and his ears on the sound of a vehicle in a distance. These horses are ever alert to their surroundings.


The sagebrush is a major source of nutrition during the winter months.

Oglala heads off down a well-worn trail, then turns to look for his buddy, Jemez.


Jemez was resting just to the north of Oglala. The big, burly stallion was not at all concerned by the two visitors to their part of the horse range.


Beautiful Jemez glows in the morning light.

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Jemez against the backdrop of the red butte.

By the time we got all our gear ready for a long hike, Jemez had started his movement to join Oglala. He looks almost small against the red butte behind him. Off we go!

Part 3: The walk across Turkey Flats is about two miles. It isn’t a difficult hike if you stick to the old two-track road that cuts across the vast area. All along you get a great view of the face of Sykes Ridge and even across to Burnt Timber. Surprisingly, there was no snow which makes travel even easier. We got to the edge of Turkey Flats, at the point where it drops into the mouth of Big Coulee. It was there we spotted more horses!

It was a great treat to find the Miocene clan on the edge of Turkey Flats.  This has been one of the continuing sagas of 2018. And all the players were still there…..Miocene, Hailstorm/Shadow, Hataalii, and Morning Reverie. And right in the mix were stallions Lobo and Nickle.


This was one of the first views of horses that we saw. From l-r: Lobo, Hailstorm/Shadow, Hataalii, and Reverie.

Seeing Miocene is like seeing his sire, Blue Moon/Flint. In fact, I commented to Jack that one of the last times we were out there together, Flint and his band were right about this same spot.


Miocene is the spittin’ image of his sire, Blue Moon/Flint

Off to the side was the ever persistent, Orlando. I had seen him a few weeks ago on Sykes Ridge with stallion, Inniq. But here he was back doggin’ the band. He kept a bit of a distance from the others. I think he’s been attending the school of hard knocks all summer in his relentless pursuit of these mares. At some point, that education is going to pay off for him.



The band kept close proximity to one another. Jack and I took lots of photos of the tight-knit group.


It is great to hike with Jack Sterling. He is friendly and has that long lanky stride that keeps a great hiking pace!


The band rested in the warmth of the morning sun.

All was quiet until Nickle got a little too interested in Hailstorm/Shadow. Miocene and Lobo were going to have nothing to do with this!


Hailstorm kept a close eye out on the other horses in the area. She has shown good leadership skills in both Morning Star’s band and now, with Miocene.

Nickle’s advances are quickly thwarted by the strong kick from Hailstorm.

DSC_8373She walks away, but Miocene comes over to deal with the situation. No one is going to mess with his mares!
DSC_8375Lobo then comes over to help out.
DSC_8376The three stallions do a little posturing. Miocene does the classic “scratch in the dirt” gesture to show his strength.
DSC_8379Then Miocene and Nickle go head to head.
DSC_8382Then up they go. Notice how the rest of the band has pretty much lost interest as these two interact in the “dance.”

Finally, Orlando heads over to check things out. The sequence of photos tell the story far better than my words could!

At that point, Hailstorm took the lead again and headed down into Big Coulee. One-by-one the others followed her.


Hailstorm leads the way and checks out her surroundings.




Morning Reverie close behind her mom.


Nickle and Lobo stop for a bit of snow. Hard to believe this snow can keep these large animals hydrated through the winter months.

Jack and I took this as our cue to head to the next bunch of horses.

Part 4: The next two horses were not far from Miocene’s bunch and it didn’t take long to figure out their identity: Mica/MatoSka and Gaelic Princess. Mica is just stunning with his darker than normal winter coat. He has matured so much and seems to have settled down in the company of this mare. Gaelic Princess lives up to her name with her regal demeanor. She is simply stunning.

Mica/MatoSka and Gaelic Princess take a glance at us, then return to their business.

Gaelic kept a close watch on the other horses in the area. I was curious to see if she would be tempted to try to join her former mare companions, Hailstorm and Hataalii, after their many years together in Morning Star’s band. But she was more interested in the horses to the south of them.


Gaelic and Mica keep a close watch to the south.

The two horses started moving against the beautiful backdrop of the landscape. Gaelic Princess took the lead and she was followed by her handsome stallion!


Gaelic Princess looks just lovely against the colorful backdrop of the area. This looks out in the direction of  Burnt Timber Ridge Road.


Mica is the 2012 son of Cloud and Feldspar. He entered the bachelor world in May 2014 after the battle between his sire and Doc.

We took the same opportunity to head south just a short distance to the next band. How exciting to find Hamlet and his band of three mares: Sapo, Maia, and Niyaha. This was my first glimpse of Niyaha with this band. Dennis McCollough had reported the change a couple weeks ago in one of his wonderful FaceBook posts. Now we were seeing it firsthand! Maia and Niyaha were together with the stallion, Jupiter, up until last year when Niyaha ended up with Inniq. She remained hidden on Sykes Ridge through the summer. Not long ago, Inniq was seen without the mare. Her whereabouts were unknown until she was discovered with Hamlet.


Hamlet looks amazing! This might be the best I’ve ever seen him.

The mares were skittish and stuck pretty close to each other.


The stately mare, Sapo, stands between the two dun roan look-alikes, Maia and Niyaha.

The band was nervous and started moving away. We left them as they sure don’t need additional stress at this time of the year. Jack and I turned back to the north to check out the one remaining band in the area. The size and color composition of the band made them very easy to identify. What a thrill to see Irial’s beautiful band!


Our arrival was well noticed!

I did a quick head count and found all members present and accounted for..nine in all, still missing Pilar from this group. Dove was the sentinel. She is a great identifying horse in the band with her wide blaze and very distinctive dark buckskin color. She is a shy, beautiful mare who did not take her eyes off of us.


Dove peered up at us through the sagebrush. She is such an elegant beauty!

Right up front with Phoenix was Adona. She is one of the “blues” in this band. Luckily she has a star which makes her more identifiable.


Adona is the 2000 daughter of Shaman and Sitka.

Irial’s band is one of mares and daughters. This, I believe, is one reason that he has been able to maintain such a large band. Fool’s Gold and Pele are examples of the mother/daughter pairs. At the age of three, Pele is still nursing. She had and lost a 2018 foal that was named Sparrow. Fool’s Gold and Pele look stunning together in the winter with both coats bright shades of dun.


Pele loses her roan appearance in the winter. She and her mom, Fool’s Gold look so beautiful together!

Another of Irial’s mother/daughter pairs is made up of Blue Sioux and LaBrava. Blue Sioux is an absolute legend. At the age of 25, she is finally showing some age…but still a blue roan beauty!

DSC_8549 Blue Sioux

Blue Sioux

La Brava, daughter of Blue Sioux and Coronado/Red Raven is a spectacular bay roan mare. Her story of 2018 still causes ache in my heart with the loss of her foal, Santiago. In addition, Pilar moved onto Chief Joseph’s band. Thankfully she still has her mother and other mares to provide companionship.


La Brava

Lovely Manuelita/Mourning Dove shares her color with her mother, Dove. Manuelita was quite the “poser” today and gave us lots of good photo ops!



Manuelita/Mourning Dove and her mother, Dove, share the same unique shade of dark buckskin. Manuelita displays the roan gene of her sire, Coronado, which is faintly visible on her winter coat.

Scarlett/Velvet gave us quite a surprise….she looks amazing and certainly does not look to be 23 years old!


Scarlett/Velvet is the 1995 daughter of Konik and Feather.

Last but not least is Irial himself! This handsome stallion stood at the north end of the rest of the band. He was not particularly interested in us, but kept a good watch on his band. Like his full sister, Gaelic Princess, Irial is a wonderful representation of both Prince and Ireland.


Irial took one quick look up at us!

Irial turned 10 in 2018. He has maintained a large band for several years, despite a relatively young age.


Then he turned to look at his band.

Our day didn’t end here. We continued on up into Big Coulee. This is a land that Jack knows well, but if fairly new for me. We only saw one horse up in the Coulee as we met Oro coming and going. The rest of the trip was filled with magnificent beauty and points of historical interest.

Published in: on December 10, 2018 at 8:08 am  Comments (15)  

2018 Pryor Foal #2: Sundance

The birth of a new foal always brings excitement and hope. And the birth of Hickok and Nova’s 2018 foal was no exception. Nova is a young horse, At age 5, she has already given birth to three foals despite the current management plan that applies fertility control to the young mares. This new foal, Nova’s third, is the first colt. He has been given the name, Sundance. This post will introduce the young foal through visits to the band during the first two weeks of his life.

April 4, 2018: It was April 4, 2018 when we got the word of Nova’s new foal. He was born into Hickok’s band on the low end of the horse range near Crooked Creek Bay. Hickok’s band is commonly called “The Greeters” as they are often the first band of horses seen in the Bighorn Canyon Recreation Area. A band of horses has claimed that particular spot of the range and for good reason. It has fairly lush vegetation, good water, and is isolated from other competing bands. Little Sundance was born into a good band living in a good area.

April 5, 2018: John and Lynda Nickle headed out to see Sundance on April 5. It was a cold, snowy April morning and they found the band huddled in a group of trees. Little Sundance showed a lot of spunk at that young age. He wanted to run out and play, but his mother brought him back to the shelter of the trees. John captured a perfect family photo that shows Nova and her offspring with their “copper penny” colors.

April 7, 2018: Two days later, I got to finally go out and see him. My first glimpse of him was as a sleeping foal. This isn’t a surprise as the new ones spend much of their time sleeping. The rest of the band was scattered across the ravine.

Sundance got his name from the “star” theme that was started year’s ago with the birth of his grandmother, Kitalpha. The star Kitalpha is in the Equuleus “Little Horse” constellation. That was followed by Nova, Prima, Rigel Starr, and now Sundance.

It didn’t take long for the sleeping foal to wake up. He kicked up his heels and ran towards his mom. Sundance was already showing evidence of being a strong, sturdy foal.

Nova and Sundance moved with the rest of the band a short distance up the ravine. The foal follows safely with his mother.

Sundance’s sister, Rigel Starr, was the first foal born in 2017. She was a similar color to her little brother, but has deepened into a beautiful chestnut color. It is just amazing to see the difference the first year makes in the growth of a horse. Nova is a a red dun and right now Sundance shares that color.

April 14, 2018: The next visit to Sundance was on April 14, 2018. The foal was now 10 days old. The band was in the same ravine as before, this time farther to the north. This time the foal was up and surveying his world!

The foal was under the watchful protection of his sister, Rigel Starr, and mare, Seneca. They were never far away from him. Seneca is an amazing mare. She has been in this area since I began watching the horses in 2004. That was the year her son, Exhilaration, was born. It wasn’t far from this spot that I watched him take his first run! On a side note, Exhilaration was removed and he now lives with Steve and me. Seneca was born in 1999 which makes her 19 this year. She looks great and has a wonderful wild spirit!

After a short time, Sundance headed over to his mother. Even at just 10 days old, he walks with strength on his long legs.

Then is is lunchtime for all! Sundance has a good drink of milk. It is good to see Nova beginning to fill out on the new spring vegetation.

After lunch it is time for a nap. Again the mares show the protective shield they put around the foal. Nova walked over and made sure all was well with her foal.






The soft dirt and sagebrush made for a comfortable bed for little Sundance. This is the point where I left Sundance…best to let the sleeping foals lie!

Kitalpha and her two year old son, Quasar, were grazing on a nearby slope. These two are perfect examples of grulla/grullo. Each of them have the leg stripes and dorsal stripe that are typical of the primitive markings. But what is exceptional on the two of these are their neck bars.

Prima and Hickok were off by themselves up the draw. Prima is the oldest of Nova’s offspring. She is a lighter shade of red dun called apricot dun.

Hickok is looking amazing right now. His red bay color has taken on a darker shade right now which reminds me of his mother, Belle Starr. What a handsome horse!!

So that is our introduction to Sundance, the second 2018 Pryor foal. Through these visits you can see that the foal looks good and has a great, protective band that can help him grow into a strong Pryor stallion.

Published in: on April 15, 2018 at 11:08 am  Comments (7)  

2018: 1st Foal & How He Got His Name


It was quite a surprise to hear that the first foal of 2018 was born in early February. The foal was born to the mare, Morgana, and sire, Johnston. When a foal is born there is great excitement and hope for the future of the Pryor Horses.

The foal was born into some tough conditions. The area has been hit with an arctic blast that has sent the temperatures down into sub-zero range with strong winds blowing the powdery snow. On the bright side, the area is filled with sheltered places perfect for hiding away from the wintry elements. Morgana is a very attentive mare, but she also has the help of her mother, Icara, to help care for the foal.


Morgana and her foal. The foal’s grandmother, Icara, stands guard.

With a new foal, comes the responsibility of a name. Naming the horses has historic roots and was done mainly to identify and monitor the horses. The naming of the Pryor horses started long ago when Lynn Taylor, one of the first BLM wild horse specialists, started naming the stallions back about the time the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range became the first public wild horse range in the United States. Lynn used a combination of names and numbers to identify the horses. Then as time passed, Reverend Floyd Schweiger began keeping record of the bands of horses. He, along with other local wild horse enthusiasts, Jerry Tippetts and Patti Martin, began naming the horses. Just recently Patti described why and how horses were named. She and the Reverend would go up to the mountain every weekend. They began identifying the bands by the horses with unique colors and/or markings. These were the horses they named first. For example, they named “Flower” because she had a flower design on her middle. Flash got his name because of his “flashy” blaze and socks. Pencil was a mare who had a thin “pencil” like blaze. The horse that caught her attention was a young filly with unique, bright color. Patti named  the horse, “Phoenix Rising with the Sun.” What a perfect name for the horse now called Phoenix.  These names serve as the foundation of the naming and monitoring system the Mustang Center continues to use. The Reverend, Jerry, and Patti gave thoughtful names that often represented and honored the Spanish and Native American influence on the herd.

In 2000, the BLM initiated an alphabetical naming system and all foals born that year were given names that started with the letter “A.” In subsequent years foals were named with, B, C, D and so on. At that time, the BLM kept the names internal and we actually had to use the FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) process to obtain a list that included all the names. The thinking was that the use of the names would promote anthropomorphism…the attribution of human characteristics to animals.

Around 2007, the BLM began using the Mustang Center’s horse list which included our names. Since that time, we have updated a form of the list that went back to Lynn Taylor’s time.  This is when Matthew Dillon served as the director of the Mustang Center. His rich background in natural sciences and history guided his use of interesting name choices. The system for naming developed further through this time with these guiding naming rules:

  1. The names will continue with the alphabetical naming system started by the BLM in 2000.
  2. The names will somehow link the lineage of the horse.
  3. The name does not duplicate another name used for a Pryor Horse.

With the first two rules, the name provides quick pieces of information about the horse: the age and the bloodline.

Back in the 1990’s Ginger Kathrens entered the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse world. She, too, began naming the horses. The names became well known through her beautiful documentaries about Cloud.

As a result, there were two primary naming systems for the Pryor Horses. Many of us just learned both names. However, as more and more people gained interest in the horses and with the growing use of social media, confusion grew. In 2014, the Mustang Center and The Cloud Foundation joined together to provide a single name for the foals.

Once we get a report of a horse, conversations begin to find the perfect name for a horse that meets the two primary considerations developed by Matthew. We sincerely appreciate the person who makes the first report. Our practice is to get input from that person regarding the name choice and then finalize a name collaboratively. It sometimes takes a week or so to come up with a name that is fitting for the horse.

So now we come back to Morgana’s foal. Bill Pickett of the National Park Service was the first reporter on Thursday, February 8. Since that time we have kept in contact with him regarding both gender information and name ideas.  On Friday, February 16, Kristen Collett determined that the foal is a colt.  We knew right away that that the name will start with an “S.” That is the easy part. The hard part is finding a suitable name that relates to a lineage. We have decided to carry on the King Arthur legend that goes back to Sir Lancelot. This beautiful apricot dun stallion was the sire of Merlin, a name taken from the wizard in the King Arthur legend. Merlin’s daughter, Morgana, in turn got her name from the sorceress in the same legend. And that is where the idea for her new foal was formed. The newest Pryor foal’s name is “Sorcerer” in honor of his mother, Morgana, and grandsire, Merlin. The word is defined to be one who is believed to have magical powers. This little one will have to work some magic to survive the cold wintry world he was born into!

Through this post, we hope you see the history of the names and the complexity of the naming process we use. We do appreciate ideas for names that match the criteria defined above.  So when a new foal is born, don’t hesitate to drop us a message or an email if you want to suggest a name. Who knows…it might be the perfect name for the next Pryor foal!


Sorcerer….1st 2018 Pryor Mountain Wild Horse


Published in: on February 18, 2018 at 5:18 pm  Comments (4)  

BLM Environmental Assessment (EA): Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range Bait/Water Trap Gather/Fertility Control


The Young and the Old…Pryor females, Quillan & Pococeno

The BLM-Billings Field Office has issued a preliminary EA which is proposing a 2018 gather and a modified fertility control plan. Since the release of the plan, we have been very busy gaining understanding of the plan, reviewing and updating our large data base of historic horse records, and writing comments about the proposal. This plan is complex as it combines the two management methods of a gather/removal and fertility control. We have provided a link at the bottom of this post to access the proposal and submit comments. A brief summary of the plan is provided as well as some of the main points we will address in our comments.

The proposed action calls for the removal of 15-20 horses aged 1-4. It also proposes modifications of the fertility control with young mares ages 2 & 3 treated with ZonaStat-H. Mares 4 and above would not receive treatment until after they have successfully foaled twice. The gather process would consist of bait and/or water trapping. It would not utilize helicopters in the gather process. Decisions about the horses for removal would consist of a tiered system based on the number of offspring a mare has had. The target group of 1-4 was determined as young horses are more likely to adjust to a domestic setting and are more desirable by adopters. The rationale for the removal is due to deteriorating range conditions. The adequate management level (AML) of the Pryor Horses is 90-120 (excluding the current year’s foals). The proposed action calls for removals if the number of wild horses exceeds 5% of AML.

The Mustang Center will submit comments in regards to this plan. Our main recommendations include:

  • Population: We recommend using current counts of wild horses (at the present time this is about 155 horses). In addition, we have had a low foal birth rate for the past two years and a high death rate. This overall growth rate should be strongly considered when planning any removals.
  • Range Conditions: To address range deterioration, we recommend seeking out range management solutions rather than relying only on horse management solutions. The Herd Management Area Plan (HMAP) does offer range management including re-seeding and control of invasive species of plants. It isn’t easy to rehabilitate the fragile ecosystems of the Pryor Mountains, but we do encourage the BLM to seek out and implement possible solutions for improving the range conditions not just for the horses, but for the other wildlife in the area.
  • Fertility Control: For many years, the Pryor mares have been treated with PZP.  The last two years have shown the results of the management action with low foal crops. The proposed EA has modified the fertility control plan which we believe is beneficial to the herd. For one thing, the younger mares will receive treatment as 2 and 3 year olds, but not as 4 year olds. In addition, the age cap of 9 was removed. This meant that any horse who turned 10 went on treatments regardless of offspring. Now the mares will be left untreated until they have successfully foaled twice. We are supporting this change with the recommendation to better clarify the two-foal change.
  • Genetic Preservation: The Pryor horses are a small group with a limited gene pool. It is essential to make management decisions that would have the least impact on the gene pool. We support the proposal in this EA to collect genetic samples, but not just of the removed horses, but from as many horses as possible. The HMAP recommends ensuring that each mare has the opportunity to contribute genetically. We also believe that the stallion genetic contribution is essential. The Mustang Center maintains a chart of horse lineages that date back to the 1970’s. With this list it can easily be seen how many lines  have gone extinct due to natural mortality and removals.  The genetics of the herd do depend on having an adequate herd population with representation from as many horses as possible.
  • Removal Decisions: We would support the proposed action with modification to the proposed Tier Approach. A systematic process can be developed that includes management objectives as defined in the HMAP and included in this proposed EA. This system would evaluate the horses in the target group (ages 1-4) based on those objectives. The number of horses to be removed would be determined by this decision process, not by a pre-set number of horses. We are recommending a very cautious gather this year due to factors listed above of current herd demographics and the need to protect from genetic loss.

The Pryor Horses are a wonderful American treasure. 50 years ago, a group of local citizens led a national movement to preserve the small herd of wild horses which led to the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range as the first public wild horse area in the United States. The quest for their preservation continues today.

We do encourage people to submit comments in support of the Pryor Horses. Please use our comment ideas to provide background information, but put them in the context of your experiences/knowledge about wild horses and your interest in them. Make efforts to keep your comments positive and constructive.

Link to the preliminary EA: Comments are due to the BLM by February 16, 2018.

Published in: on February 8, 2018 at 6:53 am  Comments (2)