The More Things Change….Cloud’s Herd at RiskJune 4, 2009
I had not been to the area for over a year, and as I drove in the dark, slowly lightening sky I wondered if I would find familiar friends, wondered how they had weathered the winter, and also where exactly I would find horses. The road is so familiar to me that I can find it even covered with snow, but there were unfamiliar new improved turnout sections, silent witness to new oil drilling projects that dot the area.
The first time I visited the area I saw over 150 horses in one day. Last year, two roundups later, I had difficulty finding more than 30 after searching in the most remote locations of the area.
I see many stud piles as I get closer to one area, evidence of horse traffic. The stallions leave their droppings for other stallions to scent and cover with their own, much as dogs mark their scent when lifting their legs, and the bigger the pile, usually the more horses around.
Three bachelors that I photographed last year, a timid grey, a big bay and a sleek chestnut see me as I turn a corner in the road. They all look bulkier and more mature than last year, but hadn’t yet struck off on their own to steal mares. Next I turn and go down Grindstone Road, a much neglected decaying road in the past, that has had a fresh infusion of oil money. Last year I was barely able to make it over deep crevasses cut by water – this year it is wide and smooth!
Through my binoculars I am able to spot what appears to be a huge band with many grey horses. I wonder if it isn’t instead a loose association of many smaller bands, as usually in Adobe Town the bands are relatively small, no more than 8 horses. I cannot tell if I would be closer on the main road or on Grindstone road, which run parallel to each other for about 5 miles, so I drive onto the main road to check. It appears they are about halfway between the two roads but with a big ravine as a barrier from the main road I choose to hike in from Grindstone.
As I approach a flash of white streaks by at the edge of a butte – there is some activity going on!
Spring is the most active time for the wild horses and as mares come into season the stallions fight and steal mares when they can.
As I crest a rise, the big band comes into view. I walk quickly toward them – the wind is blowing toward me and I want to get as close as I can before they notice me. Finally a mare looks up, then a stallion, and I stop. I go to my knees, holding my camera on my monopod and wait. The horses do not seem disturbed by my presence but are watching me carefully. Suddenly a big grey stallion runs to the left over the hill, I assume in pursuit of another stallion. He then runs back to his band, and I walk over to see who he encountered. A big black head peeks over the sagebrush and looks very surprised to see me. A gorgeous young black stallion, only the third black I have seen out here, trots forward slowly, then circles me at a trot, white socks on his legs flashing.
As I turn back to watch the big band I am conscious of the black stallion behind me. He stays there about 30 feet away the entire time I am observing the band.
As I watch, the band churns and boils restlessly. It is indeed a loose configuration of smaller bands, but in very close proximity, and the five grey stallions are constantly chasing each other, sparring, snorting at each other and sometimes breeding the mares. Mares are chestnut, grey, red roan and bay. There are 3 very small foals in the group. A scruffier stallion looks to be an older retired band stallion who is still hanging on, unwilling to give up. Never have I seen 4 discreet bands in such close proximity to each other in this area. I wonder if the 5 grey stallions are all related, and if this isn’t why they tolerate each other. The fighting doesn’t progress further than a squeal and a little rearing.
As they move further away, I begin the long walk back to my car. My companion, the black stallion, comes forward as I walk and moves closer to the bands, and I wonder if he will be successful in sneaking in and winning a mare in all the confusion.