Sykes Secrets

Sykes Ridge is a place I don’t get to often. I would love to say it is just because I am too busy going up Burnt Timber Ridge Road, but in all honestly, Sykes Ridge downright scares me to drive! But thankfully, there are those brave souls that not only have the courage to go up, they also take amazing photographs and share those with the rest of us.

During the spring of 2017, there were some big changes with the bands of horses who use Sykes Ridge during that time of year. I would like to thank the wild horse friends for sharing their stories and photos that capture the changes on Sykes. While some of the secrets will never be revealed, these eyes on the mountain tell some of the story.  The events are interwoven and reveal the beginning of new bands and the ending of others.

We begin with Hamlet’s band…

The first hint of change with Hamlet’s band came with the change in Jesse James’ band. He and Cecelia live remote in the lower Sykes/Turkey Flats areas. On January 29. 2017, Dennis McCollough wrote an email that simply said, “Here are some shots of Jesse and Cecelia + one.” The “one” turned out to be young Penn, the 2015 daughter of Hamlet and Audubon. The untold secret was how this coming two year old was separated from her parents’ band and came to be with this particular band.

IMG_0560 (2)

Young Penn with Jesse James’ long time mare, Cecelia.

Move forward to March 2017. Jack Sterling reported seeing Johnston with an extra mare which turned out to be Niobrara. This young mare had been with Hamlet and Audubon through the past couple of years. Here we were with yet another mare separated this band.

Johnston's Band

Niobrara (left) joined Johnston’s band which includes Morgana, Phantom, and Icara.

Unfortunately, there are still secrets concerning Hamlet and Audubon. We know that their 2016 grullo colt, Quicksilver, died in October 2016. His death seemed to trigger a series of events leading to the separation of the Penn and Niobrara. But it still remains a secret as to the status of Hamlet and Audubon. They simply have not been seen.

Along comes Issaquah…

Back in February 2017, Dennis reported the “Mystery Horse.” This was a solid black stallion that showed up with a couple other stallions. Through lots of conversations and the process of elimination, we came to the conclusion that the mystery horse was Issaquah. It was a crazy thought as this horse had been declared as deceased. His whereabouts in the past few years have been a secret… but here he was, alive and well, and looking amazing!


Mystery Horse..Issaquah

On April 20, Jack Sterling took some beautiful photos of Issaquah. The mysterious black stallion was no longer a bachelor. He was with a grulla mare that was identified as Sapo. This mare had been the object of Killian/Echo’s intense desire for a couple of years. He finally succeeded in gaining Sapo as his own, only to lose her to Issaquah.

103_1938 Issaquah

Issaquah is just stunning in this photo.

103_1929 Sapo

Sapo/Cedar with Issaquah

Fast forward to May 14, 2017 when Dennis chances upon a scene that shows the brutal reality of life for the Pryor stallions. Issaquah had somehow managed to take Jupiter’s mare, Maia, into his fold. Now he was a band of three with himself, Sapo, and now Maia.


Issaquah and mares Maia and Sapo/Cedar.


Issaquah’s shiny black coat has taken on a new set of battle scars compared to the photo taken by Jack Sterling in April.

IMG_2481 Battle Scars


On this day, there was plenty of action. Issaquah. It is poignant looking at the photos of Issaquah chasing off Maia’s son, Oro. The younger stallion has since been seen over on Burnt Timber Ridge.

IMG_2652 Chasing Oro

It isn’t unusual for a new band stallion to chase off the male offspring of the mares. At the age of three, Oro is fully ready to head into the bachelor world.

Issaquah also had to work to fend off Jupiter who was not far from the band.

IMG_2469 Jupiter

Jupiter is the beautiful grullo son of Flint and Feldspar. He is not giving up Maia easily.

IMG_2659 Chasing Jupiter and Oro

Issaquah chases off Jupiter while Oro steps out of the way.

IMG_2544 Jupiter

Jupiter sticks close.

IMG_2667 Chasing Jupiter

Issaquah is relentless.

Towards the end of May, Issaquah moved the band up to the top of the mountain. Most likely wise mare, Sapo, moved the band to an area that is fairly new to Issaquah. All of a sudden this mystery horse is now quite visible.

IMG_9845 Issaquah

Issaquah and his mares on top of the mountain in early June.

Issaquah's Band 2

Issaquah moves his band across the mountain meadows with the ever present Jupiter dogging close behind.

More to Tell…

So now one secret is, “Where is Niyaha?” Niyaha is the 2013 daughter of Audubon and Morning Star. Niyaha and her mom were with Hamlet’s band for awhile. Then she moved off into the next stage of her life to Jupiter. What a sight to see these two look-alike dun mares with the handsome Jupiter!

Jupiter's Band 6.4.16

Jupiter and his band in 2016. It was only possible to tell Niyaha and Maia apart by Maia’s faint star. Young Oro follows close behind.

We now know Jupiter is alone. We saw how Issaquah overpowered Jupiter to gain Maia. And in the process he kicked Oro out of the band.  Like Maia, Niyaha has moved onto a new life with an elusive Sykes Ridge stallion. The beautiful dun, Johan, is rarely seen. Yet in late May, Anh, traveled to Sykes and was able to see Johan with his new mare, Niyaha.


Johan and Niyaha….a striking pair!

This reveals some of the secrets held tightly by Sykes Ridge. We still have unanswered questions with the biggest one the status of Hamlet and Audubon. Through the watchful eyes of a network of people, we do have a fairly good understanding of the changes of Jupiter’s band and the rising of Issaquah and Johan.

Written by Nancy Cerroni

Thanks to:

  • Dennis & Toots McCollough
  • Jack Sterling
  • Kristen Collett
  • Dawn Ness
  • Anh Nguyen
  • Steve Cerroni
Published in: on June 12, 2017 at 6:22 am  Comments (3)  

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 (12)  

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)