Over the last two weeks, despite thousands of phone calls, emails, and letters to Senators, Congressmen, Ken Salazar, Bob Abbey and President Obama, the Bureau of Land Management proceeded after a two day delay, to round up horses of the Pryor Mountain herd in Montana. Their goal was to round up most of the 188 horses in the area, and to remove all of the 39 horses outside the horse range, living in Custer National Park, as well as 31 additional horses.
I have followed this herd for the last 6 years, visiting and photographing them 2 – 3times a year.
After driving all night Saturday, on Sunday morning I drove up Crooked Creek Road. Conquistador and his band and many other horses on Commisary Ridge had eluded capture the previous day, so the Cattors, the contractor hired by the BLM were sending the helicopter out one more time in that area. I arrived just as they were loading the horses, including Conquistador, a gorgeous dun stallion born in 1988 into a horse trailer to transport down to the pens at Britton Springs.
We drove quickly down the mountain, because they were going to start driving the horses from horse range on the top of the mountain by helicopter, a distance we were told by Sue Cattor was only 10.8 miles. However, that may be as the crow flies, and horses are not crows. Who knows how many times they doubled back trying to elude the helicopter, and how many miles they added to their journey?
The first two days of the roundup, the BLM had stopped mid afternoon when the heat was in the high 90s because many public and press were there. On Sunday when the temperature hit 96 degrees, they continued on until the helicopter had flown for 8 hours.
Bolder’s band came running in with a beautiful buckskin filly. Next was Cloud’s band. He tried to evade the helicopter, running far off on the hills to one side and then the other. Ginger and I were encouraging him under our breaths as we watched. Finally they pushed his band into the jute passageway, and released the Judas horse, who runs to the pens and that the wild horses are supposed to follow.
Cloud ignored the Judas horse completely, and turned to face the helicopter. I have NEVER seen a wild horse behave in this way. I think if he did not have his band to worry about he might have tried to charge by it. Finally he turns and leads his band to the corrals.
When we did the walk through that afternoon, I was never so happy to see a blue spot of paint on a horse’s rear, as when I saw it on Cloud’s!
Blue paint means to be released. Unfortunately Image Cloud’s grandson, Rain, and Arrow were all removed from his band to be adopted.
We were rushed out of the corrals that night at 5:00 even though the helicopter was bringing another group in. We found out whey the next morning. Jackson was the last stallion whose band came in before we left, and his mare Brumby had tied up – this is a condition caused by overexertion. One of Cloud’s daughters, Rain, had colicked as well. We asked to see both of them and were led on a tour of the corrals – both Brumby and Rain appeared to be fine and had been observed and treated by the vet. We watched the horses being processed and run though the pens to the squeeze chute where the mares were given pzp, the horses to be adopted were shaved and freeze branded, hair samples were collected, and those to be adopted were separated from their families. The cries of the newly separated family members was wrenching, and the reunions when they were put back together were very sweet.
Roundups by their very nature are extremely dangerous to horses under the best of circumstances, and this was my third roundup I had observed. Because this was under so much public scrutiny I believe that they were much more careful with the horses and took more time to do things than is the norm. Still, there were problems. A young bachelor stallion named Hunkpapa reared up 5 times before being forced into the electric squeeze chute – which made a terrible noise.
When they put Conquistador in with several other stallions including Trigger and his sons, there were horrible fights between the stallions.
And of course the worst was yet to come. They brought in Baja’s band on Tuesday. There were 3 young foals in his band. he only came in with 2, and apparently his mare Bacardi and her foal, the youngest of the 3, had been left behind on the mountain when they could not keep up. However, when we had the opportunity for the walk through that evening I went to see the foals as soon as I could, and called Ginger over when I observed how terribly lame and sore the younger of the two, a sorrel colt was. he kept picking up one foot after the other trying to get comfortable, and when he hobbled over to his mother so slowly it was heartbreaking to watch. Both foals were under veterinary care, and we were told they would be kept with their family until they healed and could be released. We were extremely concerned for Halcyon’s foal, only 10 days old, and sure she would never be able to make the trecherous trip down the mountain if Red Raven’s band were driven in as planned the next day.
We went to the morning briefing and were told that gather operations were over because they had footsore horses coming in and there was a new black foal on the mountain, and that they would take more horses from the 130 they had now to make up for the ones who had not been brought in. This was good news for Electra, Cloud’s sister, Quelle Colore, the 19 year old mare, and Halcyon and foal, but bad news for Sage in Bolder’s band, Sax in Diamond’s band and many others. Cloud Dancer, Cloud’s daughter was removed from her family and put with a young bachelor stallion Exhileration. Unfortunately, this was done immediately before Cloud’s family was released, so Cloud did not want to leave. We watched as Cloud herded his mares back to the corrals time and time again, not willing to leave so many of his family members behind. Finally the wranglers forced him to move on out and back up the mountain. Several other stallions were unwilling to leave family members behind, including Bolder and Chino. Morningstar, one of the stallions with the largest bands on the mountain had no family members removed. Baja, the stallion with the two lame foals was not kept in till his foals were healed – he was released with the black foal and his mother, still very sore while the sorrel colt and his mother were marked for adoption! This was completely the opposite of what we had been told.
After the release of the last horse at that time, as Duke’s band was being kept in because of a sore foal and Cloud Dancer was being kept with her new stallion to try to form a bond, they were supposedly going to be released in a few days.
I drove Ginger and Ben her intern up Crooked Creek Road to see how the returning horses were doing. We immediately saw Doc’s and Two Boot’s bands, drinking, and having evaded capture int he trees. The first band back on top of the mountain was Bolder’s , with Bolder in the lead, running for water at the reservoir waterhole. He chased Doc’s band out of the way, as if to say, you have no idea what we have been through. It was such a beautiful peaceful scene, with the birds calling, the wind blowing gently, and the afternoon light shining, such a stark contrast to the hell of the pens below. Many horses had red clay on their feet from stopping at the waterholes on the way up the mountain. The next band to come in was Cloud’s, with Cloud in the lead, proudly trotting down to the water. This was coming home for Cloud and his band, and he was whinnying, as if calling for his missing family. The next group to come to water was Diamond’s , with Phoenix, Cloud’s mother in the lead.
We headed back down the mountain, happy to have been there to welcome them home.
There is more work to be done now. Here is a link you can go to for phone numbers of the Senate Committee of Natural Resources – we need them to move the ROAM Act out onto the Senate Floor for a vote, and we also want to pressure the BLM to release the horses over 10 years old that were removed from the Pryor Mountains: http://bit.ly/CallAction
Youtube video of the Pryor Mountain Roundup: