Changing of the Guard

by Nancy Cerroni

It has to happen…a time when the older stallions step down from the helm as leaders of the band. This certainly isn’t by choice. And it can be very emotional for those of us who have watched them since their glory days. However, this is one more natural phase in the life of a wild horse.  Lately it seems that we’ve had more than our share of the changing of the guard. In the last two years we watched Cloud first become a lone stallion, then quietly disappear. He wasn’t the only one that year. We’ve lost many including Chino, Coronado/Red Raven, Durango, Sitting Bull, and possibly Bristol, Seattle, and Merlin.

Last year there were four 20 year old band stallions: Duke, Baja, Morning Star, and Custer. Through the winter, we wondered which of these would come into 2017 with their bands. Day by day, the answer to this question is revealed. This post will update what we know so far. Some of the news is good news, some is poignant. Yet all of this should be considered a celebration. These horses have lived the life as wild horses. And now the circle continues as the guard changes. A wild horse friend, Alessandro, recently summed it up nicely, “It’s all natural for these older stallions to lose their bands, giving a chance for their sons and grandsons a chance to carry on their legacy.” This post will focus on the four stallions who were born in 1996 thus turning 21 years old this year. While I am writing the story, it couldn’t be told without the observations and shared communications with others that devote their time and attention on the Pryor horses.

We’ll start with Custer. Custer was the beautiful bay roan, almost purple roan, son of the mighty Shaman and roan mare, Sitka. I will always remember Custer as a shy one. He was not a dominant stallion, but protective and loyal to his band. His last band consisted of old mare, Winnemucca, Fiasco and her daughter, Prospera.

Custer’s coat was like a road map of life. If a roan horse is injured, the coat grows back in the base color. Each dark spot on his coat represents some piece of history….a story of Custer’s life.

Custer June 19


Custer kept his band close close together as shown in this July 2016 photo. Custer grazes close beside his band of Prospera, Fiasco, and Winnemucca. This is one of the last photos of the group as Winnemucca died shortly after at the age of 28.

Custer's Band.jpg

Custer with mare, Winnemucca (right) and Fiasco (middle) with daughter, Prospera.

Right around the first of the year we noticed that Fiasco and Prospera were with Galaxy’s band. They were seen frequently in the newly opened Administrative pasture. However, Custer has not been reported as being seen at all in 2017. It is possible that he is in the remote areas of Sykes Ridge. Time will tell if Custer is still alive.  His legacy will continue on through little Prospera and through his 2013 son, Nodin/Navigator, who became a bachelor in 2016. This young stallion is energetic and is frequently engaged in active stallion behavior which should lead to a solid future as a band stallion. In addition, Navigator’s grandsire is Chino, another fine stallion recently lost.


Nodin/Navigator is a combination of his s his mother’s grulla color and his sire’s roan color pattern.

Duke has had a longtime presence as a strong band stallion. He is eye-catching with his flashy red bay color and muscular conformation.

Duke 7.23.16

In 2017, Duke maintained his majestic appearance.

Duke has gone through a major life change very recently with the loss of his band to other stallions. The details aren’t known, but in the past week we’ve had reports and first hand observations of the changes.  The timeline of events began a week ago on May 7 when Dennis McCollough reported that Helenium and Aurora were with Chief Joseph. Chief Joseph had been very visible and active on Cheyenne Flats as he tried to move from bachelor stallion to band stallion.

Joseph and Helenium

Chief Joseph and Helenium

On that same day, Dennis had taken a distant picture of a lone bay stallion. It was later determined that this was, indeed, Duke. At that time it was unknown to the whereabouts of Helenium’s daughters, Outlaw Lady and yearling Quintasket.


Duke from a distance as a lone stallion on May 7, 2017. He still looks good with no visible “war” wounds.

On Thursday, May 11, Steve Cerroni headed up the mountain on a tour. He had another mission to search for Duke’s young fillies. It wasn’t long until he texted photos with part of the mystery solved. Three-year old, Outlaw Lady, was with Knight and Nimbus/Encore. It seemed somehow fitting that this gallant young stallion now had another young filly with him.

Knight and band

Outlaw Lady with Knight and Nimbus/Encore on May 12.

Outlaw and Nimbus

Outlaw Lady and Encore represent a bit of mountain royalty. Duke’s name and status on the mountain infers royalty. Encore…well, as a daughter of Cloud we needn’t say more. And now they are with Knight!

This left one small horse to account for. Duke’s 2017 daughter, Quintasket, was the second of a lovely pair of chestnut beauties. Noble was born in 2013 and is with Garay’s band’s. But where was the yearling? Kristen Collett felt the need to go out and search for her on early Friday morning, May 12. She put in a full day of driving and hiking in search of a small Pryor horse in a big Pryor land. Kristen was able to confirm that Outlaw Lady was with Knight and Encore. But there was still no sign of the youngest member of Duke’s band. At that same time, Jack Sterling had been on the mountain for an overnight camping trip. He found that the dynamic of change was still happening with Duke’s band. Chief Joseph was now alone. And Helenium was with Horizon. He sent a photo confirmation and the photo showed that the dun mare was definitely with Horizon. However, lo and behold, there lying in the spring grass was a little chestnut with a white hind stocking. It was Quintasket!

Horizon's new band

This magnificent photo taken by Jack Sterling shows Horizon’s large band. From left-to-right: Horizon, Galena, Petra, Demure, Juniper (sleeping behind a tree)….and the two newest additions…Helenium and Quintasket.

The only mystery yet to solve is where Aurora is. Aurora is one of those mares that never foaled. She has been a steady presence with her half-brother, Duke, for many years. They are both offspring of the late sorrel mare, Flicka. Aurora served as Duke’s lead mare and also a caretaker of the young that were born into the band.

Joseph and Aurora 2

This photo, by Dennis McCollough, shows Aurora walking stride-for-stride with Chief Joseph. She was no longer with him by Friday, May 12. We will keep you informed of her status.

Duke’s legacy is secure on the mountain with his many offspring.  In addition to those mentioned, he is represented by his look-alike son, Gringo and daughter, Galadrial. Duke’s 2013 son, Naolin, is showing a strong presence in the bachelor world. Though Duke’s dominance as a band stallion may have come to an end, these others will carry on.

Naolin and Inali

Even as a 4-year old, Duke’s dun son, Naolin, didn’t hesitate to take on the challenge of strong bachelors such as Inali.

Morning Star came into 2017 with his large band intact for the most part. His band consists of mares Felina, Gaelic Princess, Hataalii, Hailstorm, and Isadora. The only band change is that Morning Star’s young son, Oracle, ventured out into the bachelor world. Morning Star has been a stallion of cunning. His is a close-knit band that often stays on the edges of the crowd. Morning Star has been a successful model for a stallion that may not be as physically strong as some, but uses other strategies to maintain his band.

Morning Star's band

Morning Star and his band on April 30, 2017

Morning Star

Morning Star

Morning Star is starting to show his age. He is very much on the thin side and it may just be a matter of time when he loses his band. Last week, Steve Cerroni witnessed young Mica/MatoSka challenging the older stallion.

Morning Star and Mica

Morning Star and his young challenger, Mica/MatoSka

It is very symbolic that at a time when his son, Horizon, is emerging as a strong band stallion, Morning Star is on the decline…perhaps, poetically, it can be said that the Morning Star is now setting on the opposite side of the Horizon.

Horizon on Horizon

Horizon is now the leader of a larger band than ever before with: Juniper, Demure, Galena, Petra and the newest additions, Helenium and Quintasket. Morning Star’s legacy continues.

That brings the story to Baja. Baja is a powerhouse! He got his looks and strength from his sire, Looking Glass. In 2017, Baja was with his long time companions Washakie and Bacardi. He and mare, Washakie, had a sturdy little filly named, Quahneah. Baja led his band with strength and cunning. He would keep his band close together and sometimes on the periphery of the action.

Baja's Band June 2016

Baja leads his mares Washakie and Bacardi across  a meadow. Later in the summer, Washakie gave birth to Quahneah.

Baja has been seen as recently as May 12, 2017 with his band intact. He is keeping himself and his band remote from more populated areas. This is another example that wisdom is a factor for Baja’s longevity as a band stallion. It sure doesn’t hurt that his mare, Washakie, is a lead mare with ample wisdom of her own.

Baja’s future is secure with his offspring and their offspring. In addition to Quahneah, he has two other daughters, Inocentes and Graciana. Graciana is the mother of Duke’s son, Naolin. This young stallion will carry on for both father and grandsire.  For now,Baja continues to hold his own as a leader of his band.


Baja, at the age of 20, maintained his great looks and solid conformation in 2016.

The stories of these horses will continue into the upcoming months. Despite the emotion caused by these twilight years, there is also cause for continued hope. These stallions were born in the Pryors and will die in the Pryors. In between those two events, they have lived full lives and have achieved the goal…to leave a living legacy that will perservere through time as Pryor Mountain Wild Horses.

The leader of the band is tired, and his eyes are growing old.

But his blood runs through my instrument and his song is in my soul.

I am a living legacy of the leader of the band.

Lyrics by Dan Fogelberg
Thanks to the following people for their contributions to the post: Steve Cerroni, Dennis McCollough, Jack Sterling, Kristen Collett, and Alessandro.
Published in: on May 13, 2017 at 8:27 am  Comments (10)  

A Letter to Supporters of the Pryor Mountain Wild Horses…Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center’s Position on Recent Litigation

August 12, 2016

Dear Supporters of the Pryor Mountain Horses:

We have become aware of a recent legal Opinion that involves the Pryor Mountain Wild Horses. This is a continuation of legal action initiated by Friends of Animals (FoA), a Connecticut based animal advocacy group who unsuccessfully attempted to stop the BLM’s 2015 removal of 19 Pryor horses. Last week, Judge Susan P. Watters issued an Opinion on this litigation. While Judge Watters confirmed that the BLM acted properly in many areas, she also stated that the BLM failed to recalculate the herd’s Appropriate Management Level (AML), as outlined in the 2009 Herd Management Area Plan (HMAP).  At this point, we do not know the impact this Opinion will have on the herd.  Based on similar situations that have occurred here, we strongly believe that this Opinion could result in significant negative impacts to the herd.

Wild horse management solutions are not easy, yet we believe the Billings BLM has made great efforts to select management solutions that best ensure a healthy herd of Pryor Horses and a healthy range for them to live on while considering today’s realities. These efforts include plans tiered to the 2009 Herd Management Area Plan: projects to improve range conditions including water sources, plans to use temporary fertility control on selected mares, and plans to conduct a series of small, low-impact bait-trap removals of young horses, not only to stabilize population growth but also to ensure representation of all bloodlines on the range. This last objective is unique compared to most Herd Management Area Plans, but is consistent with goals to preserve the unique genetics on the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range.

Again, this recent Opinion points to the fact that the BLM did not recalculate the AML. However, it should be noted that under the current HMAP, the BLM has been able to work to develop a thorough management strategy. The point needs to be stressed that the BLM has been very tolerant of a herd population that has exceeded the AML for many years. The fact that BLM failed to recalculate the AML prior to the 2015 removal of 19 horses does not mean that that the removal was unnecessary, as lawsuits in other states have charged; but instead reflects implementation of steps designed to plan for a series of small removals based on the annual results of previous year’s fertility control. This was largely due to a goal to work towards a genetically viable herd by ensuring that removals are carefully managed to preserve representation of existing bloodlines and genetic diversity. In developing the strategy, the BLM considered and used comments from the Mustang Center as well as other organizations and individuals who have diverse yet informed perspectives. The result is a management program that works to balance a genetically viable herd with a sustainable rangeland. Notably, this program revolves around the concept that natural management, along with small, bait trap gathers and fertility control, can allow management goals to be achieved while avoiding large scale helicopter gathers, such as the significant 2009 gather. Such a program also allows management decisions to be adaptively made based on the large amount of data that results from the continual monitoring of the herd. The BLM uses a current database of the horses on the Range that includes their observations and the observations of the public, including the Mustang Center’s comprehensive database that includes over 40 years of data on the herd.  This type of herd information is essential to monitor the population with frequency. Management decisions are made on an ongoing basis and are driven by the current demographic information of the herd. The Mustang Center believes this approach has been very successful; so far, in 2016, we are seeing the impact of the plan with a nearly equal birth/death rate. Further, the Center believes that proper conservation of the herd’s bloodlines is also occurring which goes toward ensuring the herd’s genetic health.

The Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range has and could continue to serve as a model for other Herd Management Areas due to the success of the collaborative effort between the BLM, groups like ours, and individuals. So when we read of this Opinion in a local newspaper it caused great concern.  We see this Opinion based on a technicality – a misguided technicality that has the great potential to have negative impact on the herd by undermining the current practices that many individuals have worked very hard to see implemented.

We definitely understand the obstacles that arise with wild horse management. As stated above, there are no easy solutions. We also know that everyone doesn’t agree with the solutions found in the current management plan.  However, when looking to make change, we believe it should be done so with viable solutions in mind. The current Herd Management Area Plan for the Pryor Herd offers practical solutions to the public management of wild horses. Management is a delicate balance between a viable population and adequate resources in confined areas that restrict movement in search of food and water. The apparent strategy behind this lawsuit and the recent Opinion could therefore have unintended negative consequences which is of great concern to us. We keep asking, why the focus on the Pryor horses when the current HMAP offers practical and proven solutions to preserve this herd?


The Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center



Published in: on August 12, 2016 at 7:42 pm  Comments (4)  

Cheyenne Flats: May 14, 2016

The day was a bit cool today, but no rain made for a great day! We began the day with a question, “Where are Gabrielle and Banjo Paterson?” Cappuccino and his band were in a familiar spot near the mine. This was our first time seeing Jasmine back with Cap, but there were only four horses.


Cappuccino (far right) grazes with his smaller band: Blanca/Mariah and Moenkopi along with newest member, Jasmine, the beautiful blue roan.

Hernando and his two mares, Phoenix and War Bonnet were in the same area.


Hernando, War Bonnet, and Phoenix were just above Cap’s band and to the left…about 10:00 from them!

We continued the trip rounding the back of Table Top, climbing the steps up towards Cheyenne Flats. The day was cool and cloudy, but at this time of year there is a great deal of excitement about who might be on Cheyenne Flats. And today there was no disappointment!

We climbed the last steep rise onto Cheyenne Flats and our question was answered. For there we found Gabrielle and Banjo Paterson along with…her sire, Jackson.


A Family of Coyote Duns (l-r): Jackson, Banjo Paterson, and Gabrielle

Last year about this same time of year, Gabrielle left Cappuccino’s band to have her foal, Banjo. She was seen soon after with Jackson. She didn’t stay long with her sire, and ended up back with Cappuccino.

I sat there looking at the three and thought of the beautiful Broken Bow, Jackson’s mother. These three share her color. And Gabrielle might not be here today if it wasn’t for Broken Bow. During the first winter of Gabrielle’s life, somehow Broken Bow and the young weanling, ended up on their own. Broken Bow took care of the young filly and eventually brought them back to Jackson’s band. We did see Broken Bow later in the day and I want to share her photograph now along with the other three that look so much like her.


Broken Bow wasn’t with the band, but her photo adds a fourth generation to the other three pictured above.


Banjo Paterson has grown into a fine looking yearling. He is pretty woolly with his winter coat, but he is clearly displaying the sooty gene which characterizes the coyote dun.

Banjo was very intrigued by his grandsire, Jackson.


Banjo heads over to Jackson, engaging in teeth clacking. This is a behavior in which Banjo is showing submission to Jackson. I see it as a sign of “respect for elders.”


Jackson showed patience with his look-alike grandson. The two engaged in brief mutual grooming.


Published in: on May 16, 2016 at 6:42 am  Comments (2)  

Horses Far and Near

It was a privilege to go to Sykes Ridge with Ginger Kathrens and Ann Evans on the last day of April 2016. The day started out with horses in the distance. Medicine Bow and Jemez were grazing up on a high meadow on the face of Sykes. That set the stage for the rest of the day!

As we continued up the mountain and up to the mid-meadows we ran into friend, Dennis McCollough, who was scanning the area with binoculars. He pointed out several more bands including Kemmerer & Waif and Hidatsa & Belle Star.


Kemmerer had just chased Hidatsa and Belle Starr off as they were a little too close for comfort. Waif and Kemmerer are near the trees to the left.

At that same point we could also see Bolder’s band, Irial’s band, and Hamlet’s bands. We continued up the road with the knowledge that we could get much closer.

We found a good spot to look for horses and were not disappointed. We was the first “near” horses which gave us a wonderful treat!! Ginger was excited (as we all were) to see the beautiful stallion, Mica/MatoSka. He is the 2012 son of Cloud and Feldspar.For me, this sighting was incredible because of Johan. Since his birth in 2009, I had never seen Johan. And there is was!!! There was a third young bachelor stallion with the other two. It took us a minute until we realized it was Nickle. This was the first time we had seen Nickle away from his mother, Fool’s Gold, in Irial’s band.

IMG_0818 Mica and Johan

It was easy to recognize Mica/MatoSka. But who is that dun behind him???

IMG_0823 Johan

Oh man! It is Johan!! As we drove up the rocky road of Sykes, I mentioned that my day’s goal was to see Johan. And there he was. He is a beauty…reminds me much of his sire, Starbuck.

IMG_0831 Nickle

It was the dun roan color and the left hind white leg that led us to identify Nickle…now a young stallion entering a new chapter of his life.

IMG_0836 Boys

The three young stallions ran down into some trees and had a brief, harmless scuffle.

IMG_0837 Boys

The blaze on that blue roan face…Mica/MatoSka is one handsome horse!

The three horses took off running and disappeared. We walked up the hill to see if we could spot them again. But…no…they were gone! From that vantage point, though, another band was spotted to the west. It was Bolder’s band.Bolder’s band has had a major change this year. Scarlett/Velvet disappeared from the band earlier this spring. Jack Sterling had reported the band was one horse short, but we weren’t certain which one was missing. Scarlett/Velvet turned 20 last year. We’ll keep an eye out for her in case she somehow wound up in a different band. The rest of the band is accounted for including: Bolder, Sapo/Cedar, Baileys/The Black, Celt/Cascade, Lobo, and the ever persistent, Killian/Echo.

IMG_0842 Bolder

Bolder on the left. Killian/Echo on the right.

From the same lookout point, Hamlet’s band could be seen to the southeast. Hamlet has mare, Audobon and her 2016 filly, Penn. He also has Niobrara who joined the band earlier in the year. The band was resting quietly.

IMG_0851 Hamlet's Girls

Hamlet is out of the picture just to the left of the band. The three horses from left to right are: Niobrara, Penn, and Audobon.

After we turned around to head back down, it wasn’t long until we saw a horse off in the distance. We were able to quickly identify Jupiter’s band of roans.


A single horse caught our attention against the backdrop of the snowy Big Pryor.

A short hike brought us much nearer to this beautiful band. During 2015, Jupiter/Jasper had mare, Maia, and her colt Oro. During late winter or early spring, he acquired one more dun roan mare, Niyaha. Niyaha had been with her mom, Audobon, and stallion, Hamlet in 2015.


Look-Alike Mares: This is such a fun photo that shows Jupiter’s mares.

At first Jupiter grazed quietly a short distance from the mares. What a beauty! He is just unmistakable with his funnel shape face marking.


Jupiter grazes contentedly on the spring grasses.


Oro has grown into a very handsome bay roan. He was born in 2014 to Maia and stallion, Galaxy.


Something caught Jupiter’s attention and he gave us this beautiful stallion pose.

We continued on down the mountain and enjoyed the rugged beauty of the land. Sykes gives such an amazing view of Bighorn Canyon to the east. That alone is worth the trip. We got all the way to the bottom into Cougar Canyon when we saw our next “up-close” horses. This little one walked across the road in front of us.


The age and color…hmm…followed by…


A horse of this color…Hidalgo!

The two males walked across the road and took us to the rest of the band.


Fresia and Parry at the top. Morgana, Oglala, and Oak in the foreground. Fresia has the wild shyness of her mom, Buffalo Girl, and she kept her distance.


Little Parry is such a Hidalgo look-alike! It looks like he is a regular dun with the black primitive marks.


Hidalgo is a red dun with a dark mane and tail. He has light red primitive marks which indicate the red dun coloration.


Morgana and Oglala. When Oglala was first born in 2016, there was another foal born into Fools Crows band. We called that one Osage, who died soon after birth. We do not know for certain who is Oglala’s birth mom, Morgana or Icara.


Morgana is just striking! She is the daughter of Icara, born into Merlin’s band.


Oglala is a solid dark bay. He was very curious about the visitors.

We left the band and continued out of Cougar Canyon. We took the high road leading out of Sykes. This gave us the opportunity to view a few more horses from a distance. The use of a spotting scope revealed a lone horse standing high on Sykes Ridge. Persistence led us to identify the white socks and the classic face marking that could only be…Corona!


Corona has been on his own since summer 2015. He turns 19 this year. He is definitely a favorite…leading a very elusive life in the harsh country of lower Sykes.

More scoping showed us the two horses we started the day with….Medicine Bow and Jemez.


The “orange” color of both Medicine Bow and Jemez makes them fairly easy to spot from a distance.

And that was our day with horses near and far. We drove out of Sykes without seeing any other horses. But what a day! Many thanks to Ginger and Ann for letting me share this unforgettable trip to Sykes with them.










Published in: on May 5, 2016 at 6:45 am  Comments (10)