Thursday, February 7, 2013

Winter tracking: following the wind drinkers

Posted By on Thu, Feb 7, 2013 at 11:24 AM

There are horses in them 'thar hills!

Demure, grulla mare
  • Demure, grulla mare

The mare in the photo is Demure. South of Billings, a small herd of mustangs call the Pryor Mountains home. And yes, every horse has a name. The names typically run like hurricane seasons. Last year's foal crop were all 'M's' - and this spring's class will be all N-names.

Unless you have a side-by-side (or are a very adventurous driver, as was one of my range companions last month) seeing the range in the winter involves walking up one of the two 4x4 roads that bisect the reserve. For me, that involved very wet feet, steady string cheese intake, and some spectacular views of the range from a new perspective.

In the summer months, the horses tend to conglomerate around the range's few water sources - they're pretty darn easy to find. But in the winter, omnipresent snow allows forage to take priority over water, and lower ground is generally more fecund. One particular mineral lick was a good horse-sighting spot. Pregnant and nursing mares are especially in need of minerals during this time of year (that wisdom came to me from a long-time range veteran).

Doc snaking his mares downhill
  • Doc snaking his mares downhill

You can see the mineral lick in this photo, it's the earthy-looking bit above Doc, this group's band stallion. Doc's body language - head low, muzzle pointed out, neck craned - is a posture called snaking. Here, he's gently corralling his mares (out of sight) down a hill. This is a pretty gentle 'snakey' - stallions can get much more aggressive with this behavior.

Documenting the mustangs and their cohort of people (for my graduate work) has afforded some great days hiking through Montana's high desert. Many thanks to those who have been sharing their passion for the range with me.

Doc chases off another stallion and his mare after a brief altercation with the buckskin stallion.
  • Doc chases off another stallion and his mare after a brief altercation with the buckskin stallion.

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