Friends of Animals*

In 2016 Friends of Animals (FOA) found that a couple of BLM field offices hadn’t updated AML in a timely fashion. Rather than work with local advocates or compromise with the BLM FOA litigated against the field offices. One of those field offices was the Billings BLM and management had to stop until all litigation was complete.
At the time, I am sure FOA had good intentions. They had two main reasons for their litigation: 1. the range is under populated, 2. PZP goes against nature. Unfortunatly, by choosing to ignore the opinions of other advocates and scientific sources about PZP it biased FOA’s opinions.
FOA had very little information to back up their claims. Based on one trip to the Dryhead they tried to make generalizations about the entire range. When they saw only a few bands, they assumed the range only had those few bands. Since the majority of the range is remote and rocky, they were lucky to see bands in the Dryhead at all. If they had gone to the Mountain Top they would have seen the vast majority of horses on summer grazing that is no longer large enough to support all of them.
Even before the Pryors were the first wild horse range the horses were managed. In order to truly say that have a foal at two is what nature intended you need data from a time when there was no management. I don’t think there’s any HMA with that type of data, so I’ll have to do some inferring to predict if it’s natural or not.
A filly goes into her first heat as a yearling. Physically she is able to have her first foal at two, but so can a human have their first baby as a teenager. If it is as nature intended why is it so stigmatized when a teenager has a kid?

Electra kids

Both Quillan and Pegasus had their first foals this year.

I think it’s more likely that having a baby at a young age is not what nature intended for any species. Often having the ability to have a baby does not mean an animal will be able to successfully raise that baby. Nature intended for mares to have foals when they are done growing, but having their first heat is a type of population insurance.
In this case, the way horses are managed does show this to be true. In herds where mass roundups via helicopters still take place mares experience compensatory breeding. That means that there are an increase of births the following years to make up for the horses removed. This happens naturally too, but not nearly as often as when humans cause the management.
In the case of the Pryors, PZP paired with helicopters, and now bait trapping has been used for generations. Although the last helicopter roundup was in 2009, that’s still a lot of management for a small herd. Even before the Pryors had a year off from PZP we saw the consequences of the law suite.
The first step was reevaluating AML. I’m sure FOA thought they had a big victory and AML would magically increase, but I know I was not the only to worry that it would actually decrease. Luckily AML stayed the same, but on the heals of that decision more another EA was drafted.
The Billings BLM wanted to start PZP again, and remove young horses. While we are still waiting for the final decision, the draft is a mix of good and bad. On paper the it’s hard to imagine a PZP program that is more adapted. The removal looks like the Billings BLM is trying to make up for lost time.
It’s unclear when the Billings BLM will issue their decision record and when removals will start. I know some advocates are hoping to delay and reduce the number of horses removed, but if I had to guess I think one or the other will happen. It may not seem like a lot of management compared to helicopters round ups, but considering that some mares became infertile due to PZP when it was first used I can see why compensatory breeding still takes place.


Quintana, unfortunately, has already lost her foal this year.

I think it’s most likely that the two-year olds having foals this year are not what nature intended. PZP has been given to mares for generations. Especially as the population is aging, this gave the horses a chance to make up for declining births. Thus creating pressure on a declining range which will lower the health of the herd.
It’s important to keep BLM field offices accountable, but advocates need to weigh the pros and cons before doing so. Often short-term gains can be too good to be true in the long run. It would have been better if FOA had encouraged the Billings BLM to look at AML then asked what they can do to help improve the range.
If I’m going to call FOA out for being biased, then I should probably point out that this post is biased toward the advocates that have spent time working lasting management changes and have seen more than the Dryhead. I would love to believe that FOA truly have the best interests of the horses at heart. There’s always multiple sides to a story, so if anyone has another perspective let me know. I can only report the side I know. Based on press releases from many organizations including FOA, the way FOA responded to people on social media, the results of litigation, the management decisions being made, and the way the herd is responding to management this is the story as I know it.
*Photos from 2016


Mustang “Rescue”

Each season change creates different challenges for mustangs. Summer foaling has its risks, stallions spar, water could be scarce. Fall grasses dry up, and animals are trying to get extra calories for winter. Winter mustangs are trying to conserve energy in the cold and snow. Spring mustangs look their leanest.
Often, people who aren’t used to how mustangs over come those challenges want to help the horses. Since horses are fat and sassy in fall, people are less likely to complain about their condition. If there is a foal born late in the season, about the only thing you can do is wait and try to keep an eye on them over the winter.
How people respond to horses in winter depends on how visible the mustangs are. If they move to remote areas, then people might not see them close until spring. If it is a bad winter, and the horses get lean, people ask if they can feed the horses.
Although the idea to feed horses is well-meaning, it could make them sick. Mustangs are adapted to eat everything in their environment that is natural. Even if the feed is as natural as possible, horses with good body condition have a hard time switching feed. If a horse looses weight during winter they are just going through seasonal changes, and will be able to gain it in the spring and summer.
Spring is when people really get worried about the condition of horses. How lean a horse will be, depends on a lot of factors. Pregnant mares, and old horses will always look worst in spring. If a stallion is depending his band he will also look lean. Young horses, and mares without foals often lose less wight over winter. This is a healthy part of seasonal changes. I’ll reiterate that they gain weight back quickly. The true test in their condition is how they look in fall.
Summer is peak foaling season. Often newborn foals look wobbly, lean, and like they are on stilts. Sometimes, people assume that the foal is sickly, can’t keep up with the band, and needs to be saved. No baby is going to be fully coordinated, but from day one foals are able to keep up with the band. Like human babies, mustang foals eat and sleep. Before long, they are pestering their band-mates, testing their legs, and have good odds of making it to adulthood after their first year.
How people respond to the horses in fall depends on how long foaling season is. People worry that the mare and foal will not be able to gain weight before winter, but often the foals born in fall are the sturdiest in the spring. Just like weight fluctuations, a few foals born in fall is a healthy part of nature.
As people start to learn more about mustangs, they might want to start or join an advocacy group. Part of being an advocacy group is trying to decide what to do when a horse is in distress. It’s a fine line between treating the horses as wildlife, and limiting their discomfort. Some groups refuse to rescue horses, while others seemingly rescue every horse with the slightest issue.
I have seen horses overcome extremely difficult situations, so I strongly recommend against rescue. Natural selection is a powerful management tool. If the horse passes away they become food for another animal. If the horse survives, they should be given the chance to pass along their strong genes to their potential offspring.
There’s only three reasons why I would even consider a horse should be rescued: badly broken legs, a foal separated from their mom, and bad injury caused by humans. Even then, advocates should avoid interfering until they think they are preventing prolonged suffering. If the horse is suffering, there is still no requirement that it needs to be rescued.
Rescuing a horse also causes potential for stress. Especially if it is an older horse, a change in environment could cause more harm than help. Unless the horse is young enough to find a good home, there are humane ways to put a horse down, while letting their body provide nutrients for animals and to the soil. The best management decisions mimic natural selection as closely as possible.
If you’ve made it this far, and are still convinced mustangs still need rescue it is important for advocacy groups to use donations well. Rescuing horses costs money. If an advocacy wants to justify spending money on rescue, they also need to show they are using proactive management tools to keep the horses healthy. If the only management is to rescue horses without using population control, range cleanup, range improvements, etc., then people will take their money elsewhere.
Each herd requires a different type of management, but it is always important to make objective decisions. If people want mustangs to legally be considered wildlife, they need to be open to managing them like wildlife. Even if it is hard for us to see, managing mustangs like wildlife means letting natural selection manage populations.

Belle and Miles

I’ve decided every long blog post requires a cute photo of a foal. Miles is an example of how natural selection works. He is missed.

Mustang Myths and Facts

I love getting to know the community that advocates for mustangs. They’re passionate, strong, and care deeply for the horses, but sometimes those attributes can make it hard for people to be objective when it is time to have an impact on management. Often people learn about mustangs through their knowledge of domestic horses, and try to fall back on that knowledge when learning about the wild ones. It can be a useful starting point, but I’ve found that it can be a disservice to the wild ones if people are using it as a benchmark for their survival. Often there are common misconceptions that I’ll try to clear up in this post.
Horses are Invasive
There seems to be the idea that since horses were domesticated the ones in the west are no longer wild. However, science can tell you that horses evolved on North America. There’s more and more fossil evidence to back it up, and the more testing being done the smaller the gap between when horses disappeared in North America and when the Spanish reintroduced them. Wild and feral have almost the same definition, and tend to be used when people want to be persuasive, or provide a certain connotation. If the DNA of the fossils is the same as the DNA of the modern wild horse, then the species is the same. Ergo, mustangs are a reintroduced species.
Horses Outcompete Wildlife
If you consider mustangs are wildlife this point becomes moot, but since HMAs are fenced giving mustangs only a finite amount of resources I can see where people are coming from. However, if that is true there would be evidence in the condition of the range, horses and other wildlife. Every HMA I have been to, including ones that also have cattle, the horses have been fit. There’s also been a plethora of healthy grazers, birds, and other wildlife.
The Horses are Starving
If you’re used to horses that get high quality feed every day then there are some seasons that mustangs can look thin in comparison. Because of that people assume if a horse is showing ribs it is unhealthy. That is not usually the case. Usually, it’s only in spring when horses start to look lean. Their weight is cyclical, so they spend all summer and fall trying to gain extra weight for winter. In the spring, older horses, mares in foal, or stallions working hard to defend their band can look thinner, but sometimes only means an absence of fat, not that a horse in underweight. Sometimes even just the position of the horse can make the horse look lean, when in the reality it is just one photo.
There are no Natural Predators
Mustangs may not have many predators, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any. Mountain lions are especially adept at hunting foals, sometimes preying on entire cohorts. It can look like there are no natural predators because mountain lions aren’t often a protected species. Regardless mustangs still succumb to natural selection: a mare dies during birthing, an older horse passes away, entire bands get struck by lightning, or a foal gets sick and can’t keep up. Nature can provide the best population control.
Every mare is pregnant
People get cabin fever in winter, and a past time can be guess the due date. If people create respectful discussion it can be fun, but often no one wants to admit that there is the possibility they could be wrong. It can be a chance to show one’s skill in understanding horses, but people can sometimes assume all mares are pregnant if there belly is even slightly round. Horses can get hay belly, so it can make it hard to know for sure if people are guessing early in the year. By that logic, even stallions are pregnant, so either guessing a due date should take more finesse, or people should accept the idea that it’s all in good fun.
If a Horse Isn’t pictured they are missing
One picture is just a small part of a horses’ life. Serious wildlife photographers have zoom lenses, so it can be hard to fit all the horses in the band in one frame. Photographers often like to tell stories with their images, and sometimes that’s best done by focusing on the details rather than the entire band. Not seeing a horse in a series of photos doesn’t mean that horse is missing. It probably just means it didn’t photograph well that day.
Every BLM Field Office is “Evil”
Communication 101 is that people are mirrors of each other. Often advocates complain that BLM personnel are disrespectful, but they aren’t as willing to lead by example. If each party thinks the other is disrespectful they are going to act defensively, and nothing is going to change for the horses. In HMAs where advocates make an effort to compromise and listen, BLM personnel respond in kind. It’s created more discussion toward adaptive management in smaller HMAs, and there’s room for larger HMAs to adapt that type of discussion.
Natural Selection is the only Management
While I’m sure all advocates would love a future where horses are managed only by nature, there is only a finite amount of resources in each HMA. It is very hard to extend the land for mustangs, and I don’t see a future where all HMAs are only used for wildlife. Some times compromise is needed so management tools can be used to help keep the horses on the range.
PZP Misconceptions
Despite PZP being around for a while, there’s still a lot of misinformation about it. Unfortunately, once people make their mind up about it, they don’t always want to listen to other opinions, and that can be a setback to the horses in the long run.  Sometimes people are so biased to their opinion they no longer want to continue listing the pros and cons of it.
I value PZP because without it there are some HMAs that would still be using helicopters for management, but that doesn’t mean it lacks cons. If used too many years in a row the mare becomes sterile. There’s also a chance that it will wear off during the wrong time of year, and the mare will have an out of season foal. In rare cases, the dart can cause an abscess that usually heals quickly on its own. PZP also doesn’t always wear off a year later, for some mares it can take years before they have their first foal.
Avoid PZP and horses get removed. A loss of genetics forever, but if PZP is overdone you still risk losing genetics. With PZP it’s harder to tell if the lack of foal from a mare is due to the birth control, or nature. All management tools have pros and cons, and it is the responsibility of those using those tools to understand them.
These aren’t the only misconceptions, but they tend to be the most common ones. It’s ok to use one’s existing knowledge, but you still need to be open to new ideas. It’s ok for people to admit they misunderstood a situation, hear from others, and continue to grow as an advocate.


This post is very information heavy, so here’s a foal to make it better.

Advocacy Oneupmanship

If you’ve been following this blog, you probably know that I enjoy travel. If I could I’d visit all areas with wild horses, but the more I see mustangs the more I try to advocate for each herd. With so much going on with wild horse management, it can be hard to prioritize how to respond to each field office.
As I’ve been thinking about the most recent EA int he Pryors I realized I’m feeling a bit burnt out. I could limit the amount of HMAs I advocate for, but the more I respond to different field offices, the more I can predict how they will respond to advocates. What worries me more is how advocates respond to one another.
I enjoy social media for its ability to provide a venue for thoughtful discussion, but it also means I run into all kinds of people on public pages. Some of them are willing to have respectful discussion, but not all of them are as willing to listen. That’s probably my hint to take a break from social media, but if I don’t hear from other people I risk my opinion becoming biased. I try to be respectful and open-minded, but it is hard not to get discouraged when people are argumentative, and I can tell from their comments that they are not reading mine in their entirety. I’ve loved getting to know the communities that advocate for different herds, and would be disappointed if I thought it was time to stop being so active on social media, so I thought I would post techniques on how to have quality conversations.
1. Let go of the idea that visiting HMAs matters more than critical thinking. As the name of this post indicates, if a debate isn’t going the way someone wants it to it often deteriorates into a competition to see who has the most experience with wild horses. Many of the most knowledgeable advocates have limited means to visit the Pryors, so I try not to count people out just because they have less first hand experience than I do.
2. A profile picture shows very little information about someone. If someone looks young that doesn’t mean they lack knowledge. Often people post pictures with their friends, family, and sometimes of their own kids. You can’t know for sure how old someone is from their profile, and if you are letting your inference on that age interfere with the way you respond to them that’s called ageism. Ageism is a type of discrimination.
3. Show me, don’t tell me. As mentioned before, one’s credentials don’t mean much to me if you can’t also show me you are capable of utilizing critical thinking. If you provide quality facts and information I can use my own critical thinking to determine if you are a good source. If you start off by letting me know how creditable, then to me it doesn’t look like you are as confident in your information as you say you are.
I enjoy the people who leave comments on this page. I know that to the people that read this blog I am probably preaching to the choir. I also know that blogging is as close to writing a diary as I’ll ever get, except everyone that wants to can read it. This post aside, the community overall is wonderful. I love seeing the discussions this blog generates, and look forward to continuing to get to know people from around the world, but sometimes you have to get your thoughts down and hope for the best. Self care is important, so if anyone else fills a bit tired let me know how to help.

Greta q

I don’t actually have a great way to connect this photo to the post. Foals make everything better, I guess.

Removal and PZP in the Pryors

The Billings BLM is accepting comments on a bait/water trap removal and PZP use in the Pryors until February 16th. You can find the documents associated with the EA here. If you plan on making comments, please read the EA in its entirety. Please make sure your comments are well researched, and your own. Please make sure your comments are objective and based on sound science.
Since comments that are too similar are often counted as one, I am intentionally not going over all of the EA in this post. To help encourage people to make write their own letters, I am also going to keep the points on how to respond to the EA brief. At risk of sounding crass:if you are an advocate that copies and pastes talking points into a letter, you are  doing a disservice to the horses. To BLM personnel and advocates alike, it makes it look like you don’t care enough to do your own research and take the time to make thoughtful contributions.
Disclaimer about making comments aside, the EA has two management points: removals, and PZP. The PZP plan is fantastic. Participating in the NEPA process is all about compromise, so let the Billings BLM have their modifications to PZP. Let them know how well the plan looks on paper.
The removal makes it harder to know how to 
compromise. With a (0) to (-) growth rate it is too soon to see if a removal is necessary. The challenge is, BLM isn’t required to do exactly what the public wants. They’re required to take all comments into consideration and make the management decision that they feel will be the most scientific. Regardless of what the public wants, there is a high possibility that a removal will happen in 2018.
This is the part where it gets tricky. Advocates need to find a balance of promoting a 2019 removal, while finding ways to control the process if a removal in 2018 does take place. It’s a balance of standing up for what is best for the horses in the long run, while maintaining obtainable goals.
If advocates don’t acknowledge the high possibility of a 2018 removal, then horses will be removed anyway. We risk having horses removed solely based on how many foals a mare has had, and if that line is potentially inbred. That leaves it open for a lot of poor management decisions if horses are removed.
To prevent that from happening, encourage the Billings BLM to significantly reduce the number of horses removed this year. There’s only about 5 that could be removed with minimal loss of genetics at this time. Remind them to consider the most likely sire when making management decisions. Dare I say it: in the long run color is the least important factor when determining long-term herd health. That means if a removal does take place horses like Pride need to be a priority for removal. Make sure when you list the horses that would have the least impact if removed, you make it clear why and how you made those objective decisions.
Part 2 of trying to reduce the number of horses is reminding the Billings BLM of range improvements. Praise them for guzzlers, and encourage them to continue to make water improvements. Ask them to reseed portions of the range, and control erosion especially around ponds. I think when advocates shot down prescribed fires it was a subjective decision, not an objective one. Ask the Billings BLM to revisit that management tool and it could prevent a wide-spread fire that would be difficult to control, and rejuvenate forage in a safer method.
The rest is up to you. I can’t stress enough the importance of making objective, science based comments. It is better to take the time to make comments well, than to send them at all. Continue to help the Pryors lead the way toward true adaptive management in a respectful and scientific way.

Hopi Q and Orielle

There are only about 5 horses that would have minimal impact on genetics if removed: Pride, Oak, Pegasus, Quanah, and Quaid. Once those horses are determined, all others need to be taken out of consideration. 

Using Motorized Vehicles in the Pryors

Edit: The Billings BLM provided clarification on their facebook page. Apparently the hearing happens every year, but I hadn’t heard of it happening before. If those that can’t attend the hearing still wish to comment, they can mail a comment to the Billings BLM by February 2nd.

On February 2nd the Billings BLM is having a public hearing about the use of motorized vehicles when managing the horses in the Pryors. More information about the date and time can be found here, but I thought I would provide more information about what that might mean for the horses.
Since the Pryors were the first US designated horse range, they have seen a plethora of management. I’m not exactly sure how the horses were managed when the range was first being established. I started paying attention to management in the Pryors around 2009, so for early information I recommend contacting the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center.


The Pryors has two main regions: the mountain top, and Dryhead.

When management tools became more modern, it seemed like a pattern emerged when the Billings BLM wrote their EAs. Step one: recommend an adaptive management technique such as PZP or bait trapping. Step two: decide not to use new management due to negative response from public. Step three: use a less desirable management tool such as helicopters while acting like the public forced the BLM to make that decision.
For example, when PZP was first being used it was rightly criticized because there were risks to mares. The formula is now safer, and now if there are risks it is due to operating error. When bait trapping was first proposed, it was hypothesized that the large concentration of horses near the trap site due to the salt or mineral lick used to bait the horses was causing an increase in predation. Now bait trapping is viewed as the most humane way to remove horses.
The helicopter round-up in 2009 provided a wake up call for advocates. Done in fall, there were still very young foals and the run down the mountain caused foot issues, and even a few cases of colic. With high temperatures, the Billings BLM was forced to stop the round-up early. Rather than cutting their losses, the Billings BLM decided to remove entire bands from the Forest Service without regard to genetics. Luckily The Cloud Foundation and others stepped in to help give the horses a great lasting home.

Pococeno and Nomad

Older horses like Pococeno (left) likely remember the trauma of the last helicopter round-up.

After that, advocates decided that there should never be a helicopter round-up in the Pryors ever again. If they wanted to make an impact, they had to change the way the communicated with the Billings BLM. Rather than being reactive, and waiting for the BLM to release EAs, advocates have been trying to have more meetings to influence what goes into the EA. Advocates would need to make compromises to make small steps toward adaptive management to prevent management like what happened in 2009.
Since then the horses have only been managed with PZP and bait trap removals. An increase in natural selection has seen a 0 and (-) growth rate in the last two years. As horses get older, and there are fewer foals being born and surviving I’d guess those trends are going to continue. Management isn’t currently perfect, but it’s making good progress.
While there are other uses for motorized vehicles in management, it still makes me worry that there is potential to undo the work of advocates. If the Billings BLM wants to truly market themselves as a pioneer of adaptive management, then I would think this could be an opportunity to take the use of helicopters off the table completely.


Helicopter round-ups are especially stressful for mares with foals.

You could argue that aircraft help do population counts, or assess range conditions, but to me that excuse seems like a cop-out. There are no substitute for physically being on the range to assess condition, and the horses are so well documented that getting an exact number of the population is only guess-work in winter when the horses are more spread out and elusive. Even then, you can make inferences about how old a horse was, their condition at the last sighting, and how long ago that sighting was. In regard to wild horse management, using aircraft doesn’t seem realistic to me.
While I would love to see all the horses in the Pryors stay free, the fact is there is only a finite amount of summer grazing. Unless the 0 to (-) population growth continues, bait trapping will continue. Occasionally a foal will be separated from its mother, and if it is too young to survive without milk, then efforts are made to remove it from the mountain and adopt it. For now, trucks and trailers will be a part of management.


Unless there is a way to increase summer grazing, and consequently AML, management is needed in the Pryors.

I don’t know exactly what the Billings BLM will propose after hearing from the public. I’m not even sure if they are only looking for feedback from local communities, or if they will eventually provide more information in the form of an EA so the public can utilize the NEPA process. I do know that advocates need to start thinking about the possibilities now, so they can be prepared if there is an EA.
If you are able to comment, remember that each field office manages horses differently. Make sure your comments are well grounded in facts, objective, and thoughtful. Regardless of how you think BLM treat the public lead by example and show a willingness to listen, compromise, and be respectful. If you have more information I would love to hear it, and I will try to post more information hear as I learn more.

The Lifecycle of a Wild Stallion

For people who aren’t familiar with wild horses, it can be tempting to compare them to domestic horses. At first glance they look like domestic horses: shiny coats, surprisingly clean coats, fit, but compared to domestic horses mustangs have a complex society.
In domestic settings, horses spend time in pastures or stalls. If they’re in pastures they are usually separated based on if they are mares, geldings, or stallions. They still vie for dominance, and they still form bonds, but it prevents them from forming bands like in the wild.


While a formidable stallion, Fiesta spent his life as a satellite stallion.

In the wild, an animals goal is to reproduce. Usually this is explained as survival of the fittest, but the ecological definition of fitness isn’t limited to strength. Take Fiesta, for example. He was a feisty stallion that never backed down from a fight. He was more than capable, but never the band stallion always the satellite. Sometimes satellite stallions stay because they can can occasionally gain breeding rights, but I once saw Fiesta pin his ears at a mare when she said hello, so I’d guess the realisticness of him successfully procreating are null. He may have been physically fit, but not from a genetic perspective.
Fiesta was physically fit despite being a lighter built stallion, but other’s like the Forest Service stallions have a bulkier body type. Grijala is one such stallion, and when he was first vying for mares he fought valiantly for Lakota’s mares. So valiantly that Lakota broke his leg and had to be put down.


Despite his size, Grijala is a gentle giant.

For a while people harbored animosity toward him, but when he later lost the band he spent ample time as a bachelor. Despite his bulky size, Grijala became known for taking younger bachelors under his wing. He would play with them like slow motion sumo wrestlers.
He now has the mares Graciana and Oceana. Despite his large stature, he keeps his band away from others. He’s gentle with the mares, and still takes time to play with the bachelors. If he continues to attract young mares, he has a pretty good chance of being genetically fit.
Stallions, especially, seem interested in passing on their genes. To do that, you need mares. How a stallion defends his band varies, but steps each stallion takes to gain mares can be similar.
Step one: being born. It might seem a tad obvious, but you don’t get too far in life without a strong mother. She and her band-mates help care and protect him, but only she can provide nutritious milk.
As he gets older, he gets stronger, and the others in his band teach him how to survive in the wild. Not just how and where to find food, but how to protect a band, woo mares, and nurture foals. Usually by two, a stallion is starting to become interested in mares.
Regardless of how lovingly the band stallion looked after a colt, once that colt becomes interested in mares he becomes competition. To eliminate that competition, the band stallion will force the colt to become a bachelor.

Pine Nut bachalors

This is an example of a bachelor band in the Pine Nuts. Big Red (far right) is at an age where he is going back and forth between being interested in having his first band, but not exactly strong enough to keep them.

Often to help ease the change, the band stallion will let colts play with bachelors temporarily. Becoming is a bachelor is a natural part of growing up for a stallion, and does not mean the band stallion suddenly is being aggressive to the colt. It’s a bit parents visiting colleges with their high-school student. It helps them get used to the type of play bachelors have, and become independent.
The exact age a colt becomes a bachelor varies depending on the band stallion, but the average age is 2-3 years old. How much “tough love” the stallion and band needs to have depends on how independent the colt had been up to that point. Sometimes, a colt will spend more and more time with bachelors until he naturally ends up a bachelor. Other colts need a little more enthusiasm from the band stallion. Since it usually involves snaking and posturing I’m going to reiterate: this is not because the band stallion is being violent. If a human is having a hard time transitioning into being an adult, the parents use words, horses communicate those boundaries with body language.
Once a bachelor, a stallion decides which stallion(s) to find companionship with. How many bachelors each stallion spends time with depends on the personality of the horse. If a horse is on his own, that doesn’t automatically mean doom and gloom for him. Like people, horses have different personalities. Some enjoy playing non-stop, while others occasionally spend time alone.
When stallions first become bachelors, they often find another stallion to take them under their proverbial wing. If the new bachelor is outgoing, they tend to adapt well, if he is more reserved, then it might be a little overwhelming for him. It’s not unusual to see a young bachelor with only one or two other horses, or even apart from a large group.
The process of deciding how much to play, where to go, and which horses to spend time with is all part of helping young bachelors gain confidence. While play can look rough to those familiar with domestic horses, it lets the bachelors practice the moves they will need as band stallions.
As the bachelors get older, they begin to get protective of younger bachelors. You might see an older stallion snake a group away, or step in if he thinks play is too rough. Moves that he would use on wayward mares, or other bachelors being too rough on a colt in his band.
The next step in becoming a band stallion is dogging a band. Dogging means finding mares that the stallion is interested in and trying to wear the band stallion out. If there are other stallions interested in the band, the band stallion might let a stallion become a satellite stallion. Also known as lieutenant stallion, a satellite stallion helps protect the band from threats. It’s the same responsibility of being band stallion, minus the breeding rights.
This is where a bachelor stallion’s path to becoming a band stallion can deviate. Becoming a satellite at least gains closer proximity, but there’s still no guarantee they’ll pass on their genes. Other bachelors perfect the art of dogging.
Stallions communicate with stud piles. That’s a polite way to say that when a stallion poops it communicates all kinds of information. The strongest stallions wants his “apples” on top. It’s how every greeting ritual starts. Often if another stallion gets to close to a band, the band stallion will contribute as the first warning.
The bachelor then has two choices: they can heed that warning and view it as a challenge. Sometimes, even if a bachelor moves away from the band, he can take advantage of the situation. If the band stallion really wants to make a point, he’ll chase the bachelor away. In that case, it’s a question of which horse has the most stamina.
Regardless of how a bachelor attempt to wear down a band stallion, dominance displays are similar. Step one: challenge a stallion by contributing to a stud pile. When the other stallion comes over, sniff noses to greet each other. This also can be accompanied by sniffing flanks and the stud pile. I think this steps helps each stallion assess the health and threat level other horses posses.
Once all the introductions are made, it’s a test of bravado. This is another instance where people used to domestic horses might misunderstand the situation. If you’re only looking at the rearing and listening to the squeals it’s dramatic, but most of it is about body language.
Sparing can happen fast, but catching it in still photography reveals that the two stallions rarely harm each other. When they rear, ample space is between their front hooves, and if a stallion bucks, the other horse is agile enough to avoid damaging blows. Neither stallion wants to get hurt, so they are careful to know when to concede.
When a bachelor gains a band, he has to decide how to protect them. Often he will try to behave how his band stallion showed him, but it also depends on the mares. If he has a strong lead mare, she will also show him what is expected of him, and how to be a wise, nurturing stallion.
Ideally, a stallion will be a band stallion for the majority of his life, thus giving him the most time to pass on his genes. The older he gets, the harder this becomes. One of the last stages of a stallions lifecycle is losing his band for the final time.
Different stallions respond differently to losing their band. Some enjoy the break, and become mentors for new bachelors. Some aren’t as willing to give up their band. Others chose to be by themselves, and quietly disappear over the winter.


After having such a large band, I’m sure being a bachelor is like being retired for Socks. He spends his time with Little Socks, his son, or alone. Regardless, he seems content.

Watching band stallions become bachelors for the last time is hard on those who have known the stallion their entire life, but it is a part of natural selection. I think even the horses that take it the hardest understand that their time has come. Being a band stallion requires a lot of strength, so being a bachelor again has to be a reprieve in some way.
Despite all their sparing, stallions live long lives for wildlife. On average, stallions live well into their late teens to early twenties. There’s plenty of sorrow, maybe a foal dies, he losses a mare, or his entire band, but it’s all natural. There’s also no shame in a stallion becoming a bachelor. Even if sparing can look dramatic to us, they spend a lot of their life in play. Instead of feeling sorry for them as bachelors or if we think they might get hurt, let’s celebrate the fact that these guys are strong enough to live in the wild.

2017 in Review

2017 was a year for wanderlust. In February I explored Oregon with a friend. We started the trip hiking, snowshoeing, exploring mountain views and waterfalls. We ended it near Burns, OR, where we tried to find some mustangs. We had heard mixed things about how much snow the Pacific Northwest was receiving, so we tried hiking in Palomino Buttes HMA first.


One of the many views while snowshoeing in Oregon.

Palomino Buttes

I’m sure Palomino Buttes is a beautiful place, but in the winter it was a bit of a mess.

There was  a thin layer of snow covering puddles of frigid water, so we decided to go back to the car and reevaluate. Seeing minimal signs of mustangs, we decided to try South Steens HMA. It was a litter further from amenities, but we were determined to see horses and camp.

South Steens

Liberty and Noah were often nearby.

After a brief debate about directions we found the range. Surprisingly, the range barely had snow. With a lot more horse sign, we found a sheltered campsite, put up our tent, and looked for horses.
For the next couple days, we saw Liberty and Noah by our camp. The other horses were a bit more skittish, but with ample hiking we were able to see a lot of the range. The horses were colorful and deft. Thick coats protected them the cold, and thick hooves protected them from the sharp rocks in their habitat. I fell in love with the charismatic horses, but hoped my next trip would be in a warmer season.
Back in Minnesota, I had the fun experience of seeing a hawk on a fresh kill. With a good view from the window, the natural resource student in me was giddy to see it pant as it recovered from the hunt, remove the feathers, and delicately eat everything of nutritional value. Not everyone appreciates  hunting, but I found it a natural part of the urban ecosystem.


I think this sharp-shinned hawk had found a female cardinal.

In March, my mom and I began the Great Road Trip West. I was headed to Reno, NV, for a six month AmeriCorps position. I was excited to go somewhere new, but driving in winter was daunting. Smooth sailing until Colorado, but as you get closer to areas with mountains weather can get fickle.
Elk Mountain Pass was especially a challenge, but we planned a couple of days especially for that purpose. Hearing conflicting opinions about the high winds and blowing snow was stressful, but it gave us more time to explore small towns like Laramie, WY.
When we made it across the pass, we decided to drive by White Mountain HMA. The conditions in White Mountain were very different from South Steens. Coming into late winter, the horses were lean and digging through crusty snow. You could tell it was a hard winter, but the horses were adapted for it.

White Mountain

It was fun to see some color diversity in White Mountain.

It was fun sharing the trip with my mom. I inherited much of my wanderlust from her. We were able to see the landscape change each day, and visit places we might not have thought to see without the trip.
Living in NV gave me ample opportunities to explore mountain and desert ecosystems. Nevada has the highest percentage of public land in the USA, so I was eager to try to see mustangs, but snow made the range difficult to access. While I waited for dryer conditions, I explored the trails of Galena Creek Regional Park.

ground squirrel

Don’t let these cuties fool you. They’ll steal an entire lunchbox if you let them.

When I did decide to visit the Pine Nut Mountains HMA for the first time, the Pine Nut Wild Horse Advocacy group was very helpful in giving me advice and directions. Even so, I was not prepared to see the desert surrounded on all sides by mountains. Compared to other HMAs, the horses were fairly easy to find, and full of character. Once they realized I wasn’t a threat, they tended to snuggle. Their personalities made up for their small stature.

Pine Nuts

A view of Mystique, Samson’s, and Shorty’s bands.

During Memorial Day weekend my family visited. Spending ample time in Midtown we enjoyed exploring Reno, and Lake Tahoe. I was even able to show my parents a couple of the bands in the Pine Nuts.

Lake Tahoe

One of the many mountain views.

Mystique's band

JT tries to flirt with Sydney while Treasure looks on.

When I wasn’t visiting the Pine Nuts, I was trying to find the Virginia Range horses. Since they are not managed by the BLM, they intrigued me. Spread out between Carson City, Virginia, Reno, and other towns, I had to get used to the idea that there were mustangs near residential streets.

Reno mustang

I’m assuming this guy was a bachelor because he was apart form other bands.

I was also surprised to see so much wildlife in the pockets of water and grasses. A plethora of birds, and an occasional beaver mingled with the horses. These horses were more used to people, and as snuggly as the horses in the Pine Nuts. Endearing, but it was hard to consider them wild.


An example of local wildlife.

In August we took a family trip to Iceland. I have been fortunate to travel growing up, but nothing compares to Iceland. Reykjavik has a charming balance of history, folklore, and modern. With so much geothermal activity, we were able to see the unique ecosystems, climate, and wildlife. I can see why it is attractive for people to become expats there.


A rapidly melting glacier was a poignant reminder of our impact on the environment.

At the end of summer, it was time to go home. I was driving on my own this time, so planned routes that were familiar to me. Including a drive through White Mountain. Despite a better maintained main road, the horses were harder to find. I was expecting that. The horses have seasonal patterns, and are harder to find going into autumn. Still, I was happy to have made the detour and with the horses I had seen.

Aurora and filly

Some of the horses in White Mountain are Curlies.

Once in MN I began getting ready to start as a naturalist fellow at Dodge Nature Center. So far, I have enjoyed teaching about the reptiles, amphibians, raptors, and farm animals we have on site. The landscape lacks mountains and mustangs, but there are still plenty of wildlife sightings.


This opportunistic squirrel was trying to steal some birdseed.

Deer and turkey meander through the yard daily. Some nights coyote sing. Birds and squirrels congregate around feeders. The fellowship position has helped me learn about the different ecosystems in MN, and the history of different nature centers.


A conference through the MN Naturalist Association taught me a lot about programs in MN.

I’m not exactly sure what 2018 will bring, and that can be a little overwhelming. I have goals, but whatever happens, I want adventure.
To quote Dr. Sues: “Oh the places I’ll go!”

The Consequences of Lawsuits*

Often there’s so much going on with mustangs that it is hard to stay proactive. Often, removals are posted before advocates have had a chance to participate in the NEPA process, once the decision has been made it’s almost impossible to change it. Since people have the idea that helicoptors are an illegal way to round up horses at that point advocates cry for lawsuits.


As of now there’s only 5 horses that would have minimal impact on genetics if removed from the Pryors. Quanah would be one of those horses.

While the reaction is well-meaning, it unfortunately is very limited in it’s approach to helping the horses. In order to be successful in a lawsuit advocates need to be able to prove that the BLM is acting illegally. Managing horses is well within the realm of the Wild Horse and Burro Act, so it is a lot better to prevent helicopters from being used than to cry foul after the fact.

Quintana and Prind

Color or no color there is a bias towards Cloud’s line. Removing Pride instead of Quintana would help preserve Mescalero’s line.

The NEPA process is also designed to be the public’s opportunity to influence management. Since there’s an opportunity after the scoping notice has been posted, and the first draft of the EA there’d be plenty of time to comment if there weren’t so many different herds and field offices. But there’s two sides to any perspective and when the NEPA process requires so much paperwork, I’m sure BLM Field Offices try to avoid using it. Thus giving advocates a reasonable amount of EAs to comment on.


Prospera only has one full sibling on the range, so I hope she stays.

Usually lawsuits are a waste of time and money, but occasionally a group gets lucky. Using Friends of Animals as an example, getting lucky doesn’t always have positive long-term benefits. They’re a group, that I’m sure was well meaning, sued a couple BLM Field Offices because the Field Offices had not assessed AML in those herds when they were supposed to. While the litigation went on management in those herds stopped.
When FOA won the lawsuits it forced the field offices to assess AML.


Quaid has look alike full siblings on the range and would have minimal genetic impact if removed.

Luckily for the Pryors AML stayed the same, but not long after the assessment the Billings FO released a scoping notice about removing horses in the Pryors. In the Pine Nuts they finally decided to start their PZP program again, but they also want to reduce the herd to 21 horses. Advocates for both herds are hopeful they can work with the respective Field Offices, but to me it seems like the BLM is making up for lost time.

Orielle and Quin

I don’t particularly want either Orielle or Quin removed, but at least Quin has full siblings on the range.

I worry if advocates aren’t willing to be more proactive and compromise with the BLM then we’re going to miss our opportunity to have lasting positive impacts. By latching on to any flaw in management after the fact only reinforces the idea that advocates are emotional and don’t understand how management decisions are made.


Since Electra has been a prolific mare it is likely that at least one of her daughters will get removed.

To be more proactive it is imperative that advocates show a willingness to work well with local BLM Field Offices. You could almost argue that waiting until an EA is released is too reactive. If advocates are local, they can request meetings with that BLM field office. They can try to influence management decisions before they go in an EA, and might have a better idea of where the BLM will go with management.
I’d like to think that the vast majority of people that know that participating in the NEPA process is one of the best ways to influence management are well researched about each HMA, but I also worry that the people that do not understand management will create major set backs for the rest of us. With so much fake news, it is so vital we do quality research with critical thinking to stand up for the causes we care for.
*I’m intentionally just providing pictures from the Pryors since I know the range there best. If people want more information about he Pine Nuts they can visit the facebook page Pine Nut Wild Horse Advocates.


Recently, The Mustang Center gave the bittersweet report that due to getting separated from Washakie Renegade got removed and adopted. Most everyone has been positive, but since there’s a few people who think he should have remained in the wild I thought I’d clarify things.


Washakie always got so large every time she was in foal.

Although it’s best to let animals live and die on the range, part of managing horses in humane management. Renegade was only 3 months old. I’m sure there’s some domestic breeders that want to wean their foals as fast as possible, but in the wild it’s not uncommon for a foal to nurse for a year or more. Usually you know foals have passed away when they disappear. You hope it was predation, because at least then it probably was fairly instantaneous.
The rare times I hear of a foal being separated from its family Renegade is the only foal to survive. If left in the wild, the process is a drawn out decline. Even if a foal is removed, there’s no guarantee it will adapt to getting nourishment from formula. Even with how tenacious the Pryor horses are, I think I can say with confidence that there is no way Renegade would have survived the wild without mama’s milk. Removing him gave him a second chance, and he ended up in the best of homes.


I can’t imagine Baja without Washakie, but I really hope he’s still in a remote part of the Pryors ready to teach the bachelors a thing or two.

There’s also the hope by some that Renegade will be allowed to go back to the wild once he is stronger. Unfortunately that is not the case. A strong trait of mustangs is being adaptable, and that relates to captivity as well. Young horses especially are eager to find companionship in humans.
In order to thrive Renegade needs companionship, but I would assume he is not strong enough to meet the rest of the horses yet. He will need to get his companionship from humans, which will make his life harder in the wild if he were to be released. If you are giving him less chance than the rest of his cohort, then how is that better than giving him a better life with the Cerroni’s?

Baja's band

I loved seeing Baja’s band for the first time in 2011. It’s changed over the years, but he’s always had Washakie.

I see where people are coming from, but I think this is a situation that requires tact. I think it’s important to ask oneself when making comments: am I being helpful? Once a management decision is made it is very hard to change it, so even with the best intentions now might not be the appropriate time to question that decision.
As bummed, as I am that Washakie is gone, I am happy that Renegade is getting a second chance. I can celebrate that he is in the best home with the Cerroni’s. No matter how much we want Renegade on the range, we have to accept that it’s not possible. The best thing for him now is to be supportive of his new home.

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