A wild experience on the range
As the sun made its way over the Pine Nut Mountains last Friday morning, wildlife photographer JT Humphrey and I made our way through the hills in search of the mares and stallions known to graze the area. I could hardly contain my excitement, with my camera in hand, eagerly scanning all directions for a sign of wildlife.
I was thinking about the last time I saw wild horses up close as we cruised up to three large troughs in the center of a dry patch near the beginning of the Pine Nut foothills.
Humphrey explained the importance of the troughs and how they are meant to keep the horses closer to the hills rather than the homes in the valley while providing them a place to rest and drink.
“I would like to see them moved further out, just so they’re not tempted to go down the hill and into the backyards of the residents,” Humphrey explained pointing east toward the hills where he would like the troughs moved. He said the Bureau of Land Management keeps up the water troughs and fills them more than three times a day.
“(The horses) are getting themselves in trouble by going down there, between people feeding them and the horses grazing and drinking where they shouldn’t be. Having the troughs a little further out may help with that.”
Just as he finished his thought, a band of horses came trotting down the hill where Humphrey had just gestured toward. They came closer and closer to us until gathering around the cylinder trough for a refreshing morning drink.
As we took our turns snapping shots, Humphrey identified the group as “Shorty’s Band.” To my amazement, he said there are eight different bands with anywhere between 6-20 stallions, mares and foals making up each group.
I glanced back toward the hills and spotted another band inching its way toward the troughs. The leader of this band stopped at the bottom of the hill staring down Shorty, who had gotten a whiff of the approaching group and turned to see who it was.
For a few dragging moments the two stallions just stared at each other. Humphrey said we might have a chance to witness some action between the two groups. I watched eagerly.
Shorty’s Band moved away from the trough and back in the direction they came as Samson’s, Humphrey said, took a turn. Just as the two stallions were turning away from each other a curious mare from Samson’s group spotted a stallion of interest in the other. The two shared a greeting before Samson trotted over and broke up the exchange.
“Looks like he wasn’t ready to give her up yet,” said Humphrey as Samson gave the mare a nudge as if saying, “get back over there!”
The next band we came across was that of Blue. Blue is a beautiful, shadowy stallion with a broad neck that if I were to have the privilege of getting close enough to wrap my arms around, I’d have to grow two more just to fully embrace him.
Humphrey said Blue is a horse lover’s favorite and I could see why. He stood tall, proud and alert as these two-legged outsiders “oohed” and “ahhed” at him and his band. He kept his leader eye on us, but at a distance as if trusting us not to cause trouble.
“He trusts me,” said Humphrey. “Witnesses have seen him leave his group with me sometimes while I’m out here. He’ll go for a stroll on his own or over to another group and then return a few minutes later.”
Humphrey said he is a member of the Pine Nut Wild Horse Advocate group that works to preserve the horses while educating the community about living in an area where wild horses, and burros live.
He said there is a lot of controversy going on about the horses recently.
“Some residents don’t like them getting into their yards, while others enjoy seeing them come through,” he said. “That’s why it’s so important that we keep them away from temptation, yet still around to enjoy.”
He went on to explain the current BLM’s 2018 budget plan requests to slaughter thousands of America’s wild horses and burros.
He said there are many myths that are jeopardizing the horses’ protection such as; there are no natural predators to control population and wild horses damage the range, unlike livestock whose grazing is controlled by man.
“Just look at the range,” said Humphrey looking across the open territory. “It’s beautiful. The grass is growing, but is kept maintained. The horses have plenty to eat; they’re strong and healthy.”
I glanced over at Blue as if in agreement.
As we made our way back in the direction of the troughs, we spotted the “Bachelors” — a group of all stallions, making there way from the residential area.
“Looks like they were out causing some trouble,” said Humphrey.
They passed Samson’s group and started greeting some mares along the way. Samson put a stop to that real quick, flinging his front legs and bucking angrily at the Bachelors who took off in the opposite direction.
“Well,” said Humphrey after Samson cooled off and gathered his band again. “We have seen almost all the bands all that is left is Blondie, Mystique, Rogue and Zorro. Blondie is usually a little further out. He likes to keep his band in the craters and Mystique will usually be near him. Let’s go see if we can find them before turning back.”
Sure enough, as we jostled up a few hills and over bumpy trails we spotted Mystique and his band on a hill near by. He was looking straight ahead as if pointing us in the direction of Blondie, who had his band grazing a crater below.
We stopped to admire the blond stallion and the new foe of the group before calling it a day.
On the way back to the valley Humphrey said the best thing to do for these animals is not to feed or water them.
“All it takes is one complaint and these wild horses could lose their families, freedom and home,” he said.
For more information on the Pine Nut Wild Horses visit wildhorseadvocates.org.
JT Humphrey provides tours of the Pine Nuts Wild Horses and other wildlife for more information visit akawolf.zenfolio.com or visitcarsonvalley.org.