What’s in a name?

Sometimes, especially in the Pryors, there seems to be unnecessary drama surrounding what to name the new foals. There’s a lot of people in the community, and everyone wants their name to be the one. I get it, foaling season is an exciting time, but unless it’s a question of the sensitivity of the name, I don’t see much reason to get worked up about the outcome. I think part of being a strong advocate is evolving one’s views, so here’s the evolution of naming horses in the Pryors.
I’m not sure of the exact timeline prior to 2000, but there wasn’t an organized way of naming horses. Some of the first horses documented in the Pryors either didn’t have names, or given numbers. There’s even a handful of older horses currently in the range where their parentage isn’t fully known.
Starting in 2000, the Billings BLM and Mustang Center started giving the foals names that corresponded to the alphabet. Horses in 2000 were given names starting with A, this year foals are given names starting with R. It’s good in theory, names are easier to remember than numbers, but not every group was on the same page with the system. Sometimes, the horses got separate names by the Mustang Center and The Cloud Foundation. The Cloud Foundation has a special connection to those horses related to Raven, and thus wanted to give them fitting names.

Quanah and Halcyon

This is Halcyon’s 2016 colt Quanah.

Regardless of intentions, the double naming system was confusing to people following both pages. In more recent years, both advocacy groups have been working together to find the perfect name for the horses. There are always a few people who have their nicknames for the horses, and for some reason it seems like people are getting offended by the names more often. For those of you interested in naming a foal, here are some of the things I’ve noticed.
Who reported the foal?
The person who reported the foal gets some say, but it’s never been guaranteed that their name will get used. There’s a lot of thought that goes into the name, so the Mustang Center and TCF get final veto power.
How Spanish is the name?
The horses are known for having a Spanish heritage, so some feel it’s important to honor that when naming foals. There are not a lot of herds that have that history, so it’s a nod to the conquistadors that reintroduced horses.
Native American Names
The Crow Native Americans have a reservation almost adjacent to the range. They also have a strong history with the horses. The goal is to honor that, although sometimes there’s a fine line between that and cultural appropriation.
How well does it connect to the foal’s lineage?
Not only is there an effort to keep track of birth years, there’s also an effort to make it easier to remember the sire and dam of each foal. It’s not 100% certain which stallion the sire is, but especially for rare bloodlines it’s a good way to make connections.

Norma Jean and Greta

Greta’s foals are given German names, or names of actors/actresses.

Does it fit the foal?
Even with all this in mind, it’s important to see the gender, and personality of the foal before naming it. Personally, I think there’s sometimes too much of a rush to name a foal. There was one year in particular that the foals had names, only for a handful of them to get changed. I’ve already mentioned the confusion of double names, so the easiest way to avoid confusion is to name them the right name the first time.


Sometimes names are given before it’s been confirmed if it’s a filly or colt. However, Outlaw is still a good fit.

Did you submit the name?
You’d think this would go without saying, but the Mustang Center might not know someone is interested in being part of the discussion if they don’t take initiative. Communication is a two-way street. It might be a good idea to submit the name while reporting the foal to avoid misunderstandings.
While it’s a bummer when names don’t get used, it’s only as dramatic as you make it. No one is ever going to convince me that the horses care what they get named. I think no matter how disappointing it is if someone’s name does not get used, it’s important to handle it with grace. There’s a point where we need to realize that a name is just a name. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: there are bigger things to worry about than what a horse is named. If we make names into a big deal, we risk perpetuating the stereotype that advocates are subjective, and can’t make appropriate management decisions.
To quote Shakespeare: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”

Reno “Mustangs”

I know the Virginia Range horses have a following, but I can’t bring myself to call the horses that live in Reno wild. It’s true, they form bands, woo mares, and nurse even though they are larger than their dams, but the most serious confrontations I have seen have been about food.
The first time I saw hay I thought it was a mistake. Maybe someone drove through, and it fell off a trailer. The second time, I thought it was to bait a band wandering residential streets and move them to a safer location. More cars showed up, and I realized they were deliberately spreading the hay around. One of them even got out and started petting a stallion. It was the first time in a while I was worried that stallions would get too close while sparing. When a stallion walked up to my car and sniffed my window, I decided I’d try again in the evening. I now have a horse sized nose print on my car, so I guess the silver lining is some of the pollen has smeared off.

Food conflict

This roan was especially protective of the feed.

I returned in late afternoon, and another horse approached my car. The rest of the band followed. Since they had been wary the last time I saw them, I knew they were anticipating treats. Much like you would with a domestic horse, I ended up clicking at them to move. There were two girls riding bikes, and I kept an eye on them as they pet one of the horses. I was worried for them. Horses can be unpredictable.
The girls left, and a man drove up in his truck. The horses were drawn to him, and he began tossing carrots from his truck.
As the horses vied for the treats, it attracted the attention of bachelors. A sorrel came first, but a bay pinto seemed very protective of his black bachelor friend, and territory. The pinto pawed the ground and skidded to a halt. The sorrel came over, and went through the characteristic ritual of sniffing poop and posturing.

Bachelors spar

The two bachelors spar over carrots.

The man tossed a few more carrots, and after grabbing one, the pinto snaked the black bachelor away. The sorrel tried to approach the truck again, but a band stallion chased him. Although I was too far away for good photos, the force of the fight caused pieces of carrot to fly, and the band stallion almost fell over.

Bachelor and band stallion

Not the best photo, but the band stallion was not happy with the bachelor. You can see the pieces of carrots as they spar.

I think people tend to have a savior complex when it comes to mustangs. If their ribs are seen at all, then it’s tempting to think they need more food. But even when it was just hay the horses were eager to have it all to themselves. If they’re expending so much energy fighting for it, is it really worth the extra calories?
I’m sure the people feeding the horses have good intentions, but if I’m being honest the answer is no. Horses have sensitive digestion systems. If something does not agree with them, you risk colic. If a horse gets too sick, especially a mustang, they may need to be put down.
Horses need time to get used to new food, but these horses greedily went after the carrots. Assuming that it’s not the first time someone’s fed them carrots before, you risk the horses becoming dependent on the idea that a car means food. At the very least, you risk damage to the vehicle. At most, a horse or a person gets hurt.


The sorrel bachelor decided to move somewhere else.

Those kids petting the wild horse may seem like a sweat moment, but that horse is still a stallion. Maybe that bachelor would have been aware and tolerated the girls, but the band stallion he was near may have only seen him as a potential threat to his mares. If those girls got hurt, the horse that caused them harm might be labeled as aggressive. Maybe they would try to relocate it but it’s easier to put down a large animal.
There are a lot of people trying to prove that mustangs are feral. If we are going to say that on a scientific level the horses are wildlife, we need to treat them as such. The Virginia Range horses have a reputation for being stray wildlife, and by feeding and petting them that perpetuates the stereotype. The people who feed and pet them aren’t doing the horses any services.
It almost makes it seem worth it to drive to the Pine Nuts to see horses, but the Pine Nut Ponies don’t need my help. There’s a large following for the Pine Nut Ponies with committed photographers and advocates that understand management practices.
I’m not saying that there aren’t advocacy groups like that for the Virginia Range horses, but I find it very hard to find information about them. Most of what I can find about the horses is a tour group, or information that’s outdated. Maybe I’m looking in all the wrong places, but if I plan on being a conservation photographer someday, I might as well take advantage of living in NV.

Bay bachelor

I opened my window for a photo and this guy wandered over.

I can’t bring myself to call the Virginia Range horses wild, but I can’t bring myself to call them feral either. Free roaming wild horses seems to clinical, because technically they aren’t protected under the Wild Horse and Burro act. For now, mustangs seems like a good compromise until I decide exactly how to feel about them.
I don’t know how many people actually read my blog, but maybe it will reach someone who can either educate others about keeping mustangs’ behaviors wild, or educate me that it is appropriate to feed or touch mustangs. I don’t anticipate changing my mind, but I’m always game to hear from other’s opinions. If not, I’ll just keep on reporting what I see. Hopefully people enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it.

Appropriate or Inappropriate?

When I first started my blog I decided that I wanted to make it appropriate for all ages. If I was going to bring up copulation, it was going to be in the most euphemized terms available or not at all. On a scientific level, I would make a mental note about possible sires, and potential birth-dates, but I would shy away from even taking a picture of the event.
As I had more opportunities to observe horses, I started viewing it in more of a scientific perspective. I was shifting my writing style in more of an essay or short narrative style, creating several posts for one trip rather than one post for the entire trip. It left me more freedom to add details I normally would have felt were out of scope for the post. One of the freedoms was talking about more behaviors, including stallions courting their mares.
With those behaviors, the courtship was as far as it would get. I was still a little timid about taking pictures of a mare being bred. I knew the horses didn’t care if they were seen, it still felt intrusive. I can never resist seeing a mare sass her stallion, or the stallion nuzzling her affectionately, but once he mounts her I start to lose interest.

Zorro and Honey

Zorro courts Honey.

As I started visiting the Pine Nut horses, my perspective changed. It wasn’t just band stallions, or colts that were almost ready to be bachelors courting mares, the yearlings in the Pine Nut herd were brazen. Not only were they trying to court mares, they weren’t receiving as much discipline for the behavior as I would expect.

Cree and mare

The yearling Cree flirts with a mare.

Rather than the routine behavior of the band stallion breeding his mares, the Pine Nut Ponies were giving me a story to tell. I had already decided that while I was an outdoor educator I would take advantage of traveling different places to get photos of wildlife. That way, if I got burned out of educating youth outdoors I could be a conservation photographer.
I’m a firm believer that not only do conservation photographers have to tell a story, they also have to provide facts. It’s a fine balance that involves telling the entire story. The full story is: sex is natural. To find the balance between my original goal of keeping it appropriate, and telling the full story I try not to include photos where there is obvious genitalia. Sometimes it involves creative cropping, but I’d still rather do my best to tell the full story.
As I came to the conclusion, I started wondering: why does sex have a stigma? The horses clearly don’t care. I’d be surprised if other animals care. To them it’s a part of seasonal life. My current theory is that the desire to be uncomfortable at the thought of sex is a human construct.
I’m not sure if sex is inappropriate or the way it is talked about is. If a kid is at an age where they still think the opposite gender has cooties, it doesn’t mean the subject should be avoided. If we avoid it the stigma stays there. Avoid a subject enough, the stigma grows.
That doesn’t mean I’m interested in hearing about everyone’s sex life, but when it’s related to wildlife I don’t plan to avoid it. I am interested in showing all aspects of life and behavior. I think there are ways of putting it scientifically to make the language more acceptable, while still being honest.

Shorty falls Short

Traveling down the rocky roads to the Pine Nut horses, I never know exactly what I’ll get. The decision on where I go depends on the roads, so when I saw my usual haunt was a bit too overgrown for comfort, I decided to go a way I hadn’t been in a while.
It took me down to a valley that was surprisingly green. I stopped when I saw horses, and decided the best way to safely hike through the tall vegetation. So I wouldn’t risk startling a rattlesnake, I walked up a hill with less vegetation.
The closer I got I was able to recognize Mystique’s band. There was also another band I recognized as Blondie’s. As I walked a little further to try to see the horses better, I also realized Shorty’s band was nearby.

Shorty and mares

Shorty stays close to his mares.

It’s starting to get late enough in spring that mares are more consistently in heat, and Shorty was persistently wooing a black mare. Arching her neck slightly, like a more feminine version of a band stallion, she walked away from him.
Shorty was persistent, even trying to mount her, so she moved faster. He managed to keep up with her while staying on her back, but couldn’t quite get close enough to copulate.

Shorty and mare

Unfortunately for Shorty, she wouldn’t stop moving.

I was torn between being impressed with his balance, amused, and irritated on the mare’s behalf. Some of the other horses in the band were starting to notice, including one of his sons. As the son approached, Shorty was forced to give up and respond to him.
As his son put himself between Shorty and the mare, I was surprised Shorty didn’t confront him. The son nibbled the mare’s side, but it didn’t seem opportunistic to me. Rather than court the mare himself, it seemed like he was comforting her. Perhaps thinking safety in numbers, she moved closer to the rest of the mares.

Shorty and son

Shorty lets his son get between him and the mare.

A few moments later, a different mare was being courted by a Shorty son. Although she was not as aggressive she also shifted her weight and moved so he was unsuccessful. When Shorty realized what was going on, he pinned his ears. The two horses separated, but she did not seem happy to see Shorty either.
I got distracted by some flowers, and when I turned back, a similar scene was unfolding. This time, the son was trying to mount a mare from the side. He continued to sweat talk her, but it wasn’t surprising she was unimpressed.
As I spend more time with the Pine Nut Ponies, the more endearing I find them. For such a large band, you’d think at least one of his mares would be interested in him, but this is the first time I’ve seen him even attempt to breed them. I’m not sure exactly how old Shorty is, but apparently he’s currently the oldest band stallion. I anticipate he’s going to be transitioning to life as a bachelor soon, but hopefully not for a few more years. The mares still seem to be bonded with him, but not currently in the way he’d like.

Blondie’s Blues*

Since the Pine Nut Range is small, there are only a few main roads that go through it. One travels along a ridge, and is easier to see distant bands, the other travels down into a valley. Usually I prefer the former road, but the middle is getting over grown, and I’m starting to worry about the tough plants scratching my car or getting a flat tire on a hidden rock. I hadn’t been down the other road in a while, so I decided to test it out.
As I started down, I realized that although I could see the rocks better, they were bigger and there were more of them. As long as the vegetation did not get too much thicker or higher, I wondered if it would be a better idea to prioritize the other road on future trips.
Finally I made it down, and was surprised at how green it was. With so much tall grass, I might have missed seeing horses if some hadn’t still been standing. It made deciding where to park slightly more difficult. I always try to get as close as I can to horses before hiking, but all the grass could easily hide a rattlesnake if I wasn’t careful. Although the road looked clear of vegetation I still wanted to be careful where I parked so my exhaust wouldn’t accidentally cause a fire.
I decided to park closer to horses anyway, and evaluate where to hike when I got out. The section of grass meandered like a river, so I wondered if there was a seasonal wetland there. It was dry now, but the vegetation on either side looked more typical of the rest of the range. On one side was a hill, so I decided to try to approach on higher ground toward the horses.

Mystique's band

I always enjoy seeing this band.

It didn’t help make the grass seem smaller, but it did help to start make the bands seem more separate. True to form, Mystique’s band was a little apart from the larger group of horses. As usual when I see a group of sorrels, I deliberate between Shorty and Blondie’s bands.
When I saw Blondie, I deliberated no further. I was a little more excited. The last time I’d seen Blondie’s band Elisa was less than a week old, and the band was protective. I knew it would be hard to see a small foal in the grass, but I was hopeful the band would be a little more comfortable.
Trying to avoid the taller grass while still respecting the horses’ space, I tried to find a spot where it would be easier to see the horses. As I continued, I realized I was also looking at Shorty’s band. He was trying to woo a mare, and it made it a tough call do decide if I wanted to stay put or keep on going. I watched as he and his sons took turns courting, then tried to find a better spot for Blondie’s band.
In Blondie’s band, it was the yearling colts that were brazen. Although Cree stands out a little more than Joker, they spent equal amounts of time approaching mares. Normally it’s the band stallion’s job to discipline foals, but the mares were sending the colts to the perimeter of the band.
As the drama heated up in the other bands, Mystique decided it was time to move his smaller one slightly further away. Sydney is normally a little more independent, but even she didn’t seem to mind the change. She stuck close to Treasure while Mystique checked over his shoulder at the other bands.
With the bands so close, horses from Shorty’s band would mix with Blondie’s band. Finally starting to get the message that Blondie’s mares weren’t interested, Cree decided to say ‘hi’ to a mare that had wandered over.

Cree and mare

Cree greets a mare flirting from another band.

Step one: touching noses was a success, but Cree didn’t seem to know that you also have to talk to a mare to see if she’s interested. When she didn’t automatically let him mount her he stuck out, which of course, made her cranky.

Striking out

Cree gets a little impatient when the mare is not interested.

Despite her turning away and pinning her ears, Cree refused to give up. The reward to his continued persistence was a slight buck to the chest. The commotion caused daddy Blondie to come over.


The mare warns Cree with a small buck.

Rather than come to his son’s aid, Blondie had finally lost patience. Chasing the mare, and Cree away she fled to Shorty’s band. That got Shorty’s attention, and he wasn’t interested in an adolescent youth that thinks he’s the greatest gift to mares, so Cree made the wisest move in those few minutes. Heading back to Blondie’s band, Cree took a break from antagonizing mares.

Blondie chase

Blondie chased both Cree and the mare away.

Most colts become bachelors at two, but once they develop an interest in mares it doesn’t take too long for the band stallion to take notice. Joker and Cree are both precocious, so I have no doubt they’ll transition well to being bachelors even if they do end up being a little young. The transition to being a bachelor is also a process.

Blondie chase 2

Cree tried to appease Blondie, but his sire was pretty cranky.

I have a feeling if there hadn’t been other bands in the area Cree and Joker would have been pushed completely out of Blondie’s, but that doesn’t mean it would have been a permanent change. Nor does it mean they would have joined a bachelor group right away. Being apart from the band but nearby can be a good first step to becoming a bachelor, and although it can be hard for people to see it, it’s a natural part of being a wild horse.

*Nothing to do with the band stallion Blue, more’s the pity.

Majestic Mystique

Part 1: An apple a day keeps the maiden away!
Some horses are endearing. All have personalities that are worth getting to know. Some seem more expressive than others. Mystique is one such horse. It isn’t that other horses don’t posses similar endearing traits, rather Mystique’s band has behaviors every time I see them.
The first time I saw Mystique they were resting on a hill. It was a warm day, and despite many bands in the area, they were all content to doze. Deciding to view the larger bands first, I circled back to Mystique’s smaller band. At first glance, they were plain compared to the flashy sorrels, but there was a bay roan, and both Mystique and the yearling in the band had high stockings, and blazes.
The yearling was nursing his bay mother as the others kept watch. At the time, I wasn’t sure which band I had found, so I slowly circled so I could see them better. They seemed more curious than wary, so it did not take them long to settle. As I found a good spot to observe, they became even more comfortable, the bay roan mare even laid down.
Soon Mystique decided to stop dozing. He yawned revealing healthy flat teeth. He turned to look at the yearling, and the yearling pulled his upper lip away from his teeth. He lifted his head, and I could tell at least one of the mares was in heat.
Mystique noticed too, and wandered up to the bay mare. Softly he talked to her, but she walked away. Respectfully, he let her move away, then sniffed the ground where she had been. Unexpectedly, he began eating her poop. I’d heard of foal’s eating poop if they’re lacking minerals, but not mature stallions. I’d also seen stallions urinate over a spot where a mare has peed, especially if she was in heat, so I also wondered if Mystique was trying to cover up that she had been there. The yearling tried to join Mystique, but he pinned his ears.


Mystique was in the process of eating a mare’s poop.

By the time Mystique finished his snack, the bay roan mare had gotten up. Rubbing her face on a snag, her movement got Mystique’s attention. He sauntered over to her, but she lifted a back hoof in warning. I did not blame her. Horses often exchange breath in greeting, and I couldn’t imagine Mystique’s would have been agreeable. He was persistent, so she pinned her ears and walked behind him. He looked up at me as if he couldn’t figure out what had gone wrong.


Mystique and TJ took turns making faces.

As if he had meant to do it all along, Mystique moved to the snag that the bay roan mare had been to. He sniffed it, then lowered his head. Scratching under his chin, I imagined it felt good to get rid of some of his winter coat.
Part two: Fight or Flight!
When I next saw Mystique’s band I was surprised to see him by the more dominant bands of Shorty, and Blondie. Feast or famine is a phrase sometimes used to describe the resources mustangs share, and on that day there was plenty of shade to go around. The bands were so close that I had a hard time deciding where one band stopped and the other started.
I decided to focus on Blondie’s band to start. He had two yearling colts trying to woo Blondie’s mares, and Blondie was doing nothing about it. As the colts got increasingly brazen, I realized the reason for Blondie’s disinterest.
A UTV was driving on a distant hill, but at top speed. Blondie noticed it, then his band, and soon all the horses were running. I stood still to see where they were going, and they headed to higher ground.
Blondie’s band led, then Shorty’s with Mystique’s band close behind. Too close for Shorty, he lagged far behind his band to keep in front of Mystique. Forcing Mystique’s band to slow, Shorty wheeled before turning back to his band. Mystique pinned his ears, but there wasn’t any thing he could do with two dominate stallions in the area.

Shorty warns Mystique

Shorty thought Mystique was too close.

Shorty sped up to catch up with his band, and Mystique’s band followed at a more respectful distance. Once they crested the hill the bands slowed. I let them settle completely, then circled wide to try to get a few more photos. Every once in a while Mystique would get too close, and Shorty would glare. Horses rely on subtle body language, and I decided they had probably had enough of my presence. I wanted to be better than the people who drove past on a UTV. I doubted they intentionally stressed the horses, but I still found it disrespectful.


Shorty stayed between the bands.

Part Three: Water rights, a synopsis
Mid way through my next visit to the range, I saw several bands in the distance. Making a big circle to see them all, I was pleased that one of them was walking towards the other. I was hoping I could walk to the larger one, and by the time I got done visiting them, the smaller one would be even closer. To my surprise, even before I had reached the band I was intending, the small one was still walking. I was too far away to see details, but most bands are more dominant if they are bigger. Unless the four horses were rejoining the band, or both were groups of bachelors it seemed odd the smaller group would approach a bigger one.
As I got closer, I realized it was Shorty and Mystique by water. Mystique’s band was waiting patiently, but the more dominant Shorty’s band was taking their time resting by the water. The members of Mystique’s band took turns rolling, but still Shorty’s band stood by the water without drinking.
Slowly Mystique’s band inched closer. They took turns glaring at Shorty’s band, and finally Shorty seemed to realize they were there. As Shorty ran up to them, Mystique hastily snaked his band away. Then Mystique spun and confronted Shorty.
Bucking high Mystique warned Shorty, but Shorty acted as if he hadn’t noticed. Instead, Shorty sniffed, and contributed to a stud pile.

Shorty and Mystique

The stallions spar.

Demanding attention, Mystique turned, slid to a stop, and brandished his front feet at Shorty. The two stallions seemed to agree to disagree, and Mystique snaked his band even further away.
It wasn’t until Zorro’s band showed up that Shorty’s band decided it was time to drink. As Shorty ran to confront Zorro, even the mares turned to watch. The confrontation was even briefer than the one with Mystique, but the mares had enough. Shorty’s lead mare stepped away from water, and on the road.

Leaving water

Shorty’s band leaves water.

They looked like they wanted to continue down the road, but there was one problem. Mystique’s band had moved closer again to stand on the road. Shorty’s lead mare deliberated, but seemed to decide that she did not want any more conflict. Veering course, she crossed the road, and went up a hill.
Once Shorty’s band crossed, Mystique’s band walked purposefully to water. Mystique went in first followed by his bay mare Treasure. Her yearling TJ followed close behind, splashing gleefully. Seeming to roll her eyes, Sydney stayed daintily on the bank. Letting them drink in peace, I moved on to find Blue’s band.
Part 4: An Unexpected Journey
During my next visit, I was able to take my parents along. With another warm morning, I wasn’t sure if we’d see horses. We saw Samson’s band first, but they were under the trees and in valleys making it hard to photograph them. The few that were visible were happily napping in the sun. Wanting to show my parents more of the range, we moved on.
I was hoping to see Blue’s band, so we hiked to where I’d seen them the last few weekends. We hiked a little further, but still no sign of Blue. A little further, still no Blue. We decided to turn around and try one more place for horses.
Hoping there might be some horses in nearby trees, we continued our walk. Walking slowly, and scanning we were unsuccessful. As we turned around to go back to the car, my dad stopped me. There were horses on the hill where I had expected to see Blue’s band. Wondering where they had been when we were originally there, I let my dad drive up the hill I hadn’t been comfortable taking.
Negotiating a rut and rocks, we made it to the first small plot of water. We couldn’t see the horses anymore, but knew they had to be nearby. As we crested a small hill to another small water source, a group of bay horses poked their heads up.
We stopped and got out. It wasn’t Blue’s band, but I was happy to see Mystique. I had been telling my parents stories about his antics, and was glad to see another group of horses. Even as I moved to a better angle, it did not take long for them to get more comfortable.

TJ and Sydney

TJ tries to breed Sydney.

TJ was very interested in Sydney, sniffing her, flehmening, and even licking her leg. Despite her lack of interest, he tried to mount her. Circling, she tried to move away from TJ. He still persisted. Sydney whinnied softly. Finally he got the message.

Mystique's and mountains

Mystique’s stunning band against stunning mountains.

During the entire flirtation Mystique did nothing. Compared to other herds, it seems like horses in the Pine Nuts are lenient toward the young in their bands. I’ve always enjoyed seeing Mystique’s band, and hope to get to know them more in the future.

Water Rights

I never know exactly what I will see when visiting a wild horse range. Some days I see a lot of bands, and can get close enough to get natural behaviors. Other days the horses want nothing to do with me, and I have to respect their space. There are also some bands like Zorro’s that I’ve seen on all but one of my trips, and don’t seem to mind people once they are familiar with them.
Sometimes bands that don’t mind one week, are wary the next. After spending time with Zorro’s band, Blondie’s was unusually wary. They had good reason to be: they had a foal under a week old, and the mare was only two. I could already tell she was going to be a good, watchful mama, but the rest of the mares were also stepping up to watch and help out. So even though Blondie was more interested in rolling than me, I still only stayed long enough to get a few photos before moving on.
I already knew there were at least two other bands, so I was keeping an eye on them. As I was trying to decide how to approach, one of the groups started walking closer to the other. That was fine by me, I could easily walk down the road, and have less walking time to see both of them if they got closer. As I approached, they still got closer. That was perplexing to me. I was too far away to know for sure, but I thought the smaller band was Mystique. That left the most likely candidates for the large band Samson, or Shorty. Blue’s band was large too, but I wasn’t expecting to see them until a more seclude portion of the range. To me, it seemed more likely that a dominant stallion would chase a subordinate band away, rather than the subordinate stallion approaching the larger band. Perhaps they were two groups of bachelors?
As I got closer, I could also see Zorro’s band nearby. I had only ever seen Zorro by Blondie, but Blondie was still on the hill where I had left them, so I was a little more confident at least one of the bands was Mystique. Finally I got close enough to see that one of the bands was Shorty. I looked a little further, and confirmed my theory about Mystique. That still did not explain why Mystique was approaching Shorty.
I got a little closer, and saw a little patch of water.
Once I saw the water the situation made a little more sense. Unless there’s snow, horses are restricted to finding water in specific areas. Water in Pine Nut Mountain HMA is in small ponds, but abundant throughout the range. It’s up to the lead mare to decide when and where to go to water, so Mystique’s lead mare must have decided it was time for water.
When they approached the larger band and more dominant band they hesitated. Stopping at a respectful distance, they waited their turn patiently. Shorty’s band was napping by water, and showed no motivation to drink, or move out-of-the-way. Mystique’s band inched a little closer. Shorty’s band still made no move. Mystique’s band inched a little closer.
Finally, Mystique’s band inched too far over an invisible line. Seeming to notice the other band for the first time, Shorty charged Mystique. Torn between making sure his band was out-of-the-way, and being done with Shorty’s antics Mystique chose to challenge Shorty.

Shorty and Mystique 1

Shorty confronts Mystique.

Ears pinned, Mystique bucked at an equally as angry Shorty. Mystique circled as Shorty sniffed a stud pile, and bucked again. Mystique approached Shorty one more time, came to a sliding stop, and struck out with his front feet. The move did not seem to impress Shorty, so Mystique turned to his band and snaked them further away.

Shorty spar

Shorty was unimpressed with Mystique’s moves.

Like most sparing, it was full of bravado, and the moves Mystique pulled did not seem to have an affect on either band stallion. Shorty’s band seemed still content to rest. I settled down, enjoying the fairly peaceful scene. As I scanned the rest of the area, I realized Zorro’s band had gotten closer from when I’d seen them earlier in the day. Zorro had also noticed Shorty’s band and was watching from a respectful distance. I figured it was only a matter of time before Shorty also noticed Zorro.
The mares had finally started taking turns getting water. Mystique’s band seemed a little more alert, perhaps hoping that they would finally get a chance to drink. As more of his mares got water, Shorty also noticed Zorro.
As Shorty charged at Zorro, something unexpected happened. Normally mares ignore conflict, but Shorty’s entire band pivoted to watch. As Shorty returned from his brief confrontation, his lead mare decided it was time to leave. There was just one problem: Mystique’s band was standing on the road where they wanted to go.
Normally the subordinate stallion yields, but Mystique pinned his ears at Shorty’s lead mare. Shorty’s band paused. Mystique snaked his band away, but not by much. His band turned to keep Shorty’s band, and the water in their view. After deliberation, Shorty’s lead mare led them off the road.

Leaving water

Shorty’s mare leads them from water.

As the rest of the band meandered off the road, Mystique’s band crept closer. With Mystique leading, they made their way to water. Stepping carefully around rocks, Mystique was the first to step into the water, followed by his bay mare Treasure. Although she waded a few more steps than Mystique, Treasure was daintier. She lifted her feet high as if trying not to make a splash.

Mystique's at water

As she waded, she lifted her legs high out of the water.

The bay roan mare Sydney, and the bay colt TJ joined the rest of them at the pond. Following his mother, TJ was not nearly so dignified. Splashing almost as soon as he reached water, I imagined Sydney rolling her eyes.


The mares did not seem impressed with all the splashing.

I was happy they finally got a chance to get water. Out west, there’s not a drop of water that isn’t carefully monitored. Nevada has water rights over California, for example. Shorty has water rights over Mystique. Some day’s it’s hard being less dominant, so I enjoyed seeing him stick to his grounds.

Respecting the Range

It was a warm morning as I headed to the range. I was a little later than I normally am, and was worried it would be the first time I would not see the horses in the Pine Nuts. I picked a road that followed a ridge, then led to a valley. Normally it would help me see horses in the distance, but I had already reached the valley and I had barely seen any sign. As I neared a crossroads, I decided to find somewhere to park.
The closer I got, I noticed some red in the trees. Either it was some dead leaves, or a horse. I started toward the area, but wasn’t sure if my car could handle the road. Backing up, I parked and hoped if there were horses they’d still be there. I approached slowly. Even if there was just one horse, I did not want them to feel like I was sneaking up on them. I was pretty confident there was a horse, and they usually did not travel alone. I was starting to make a list of possible bands.
Finally I saw the orange of a sorrel horse again. Blondie, and Shorty were possibilities, but I was going to wait until I was closer to make final judgments.
Carefully, I circled around the trees so I could see better. As I noticed several horses I paused. There were a few sorrels, so I was still thinking Blondie and Shorty’s band. I saw more horses nearby, and it finally clicked. There were three bands.

Blondie's band

Blondie’s band resting near shade.

After confirming two were Blondie, and Shorty’s I tried to figure out the third. It was much smaller than the other two, and I realized it was Mystique’s band. Hoping the horses would rest for a while, I tried to decide which band to photograph first.
Out of all of them I had seen Blondie’s band least, so I focused on them. Most of the horses were happy to relax, but the yearling colts had different ideas. There must have been mares in heat; both curled back their lips in the flehman response. One even tried to court a mare, but she paced in circles until he gave up.
Despite their best efforts, the mares could not keep the yearlings away for long. They edged around the trees, and the rest of the band seemed to decide it was time to wake up. Blondie half-heartedly snaked them together, but did nothing to discipline his colts. With more of the band awake, their attention seemed to be wavering, but periodically a colt would saunter up to a mare.

Joker courting

This yearling was particularly persistent.

I began wondering why Blondie wasn’t doing anything about their behavior. He wasn’t even looking at his band. As I followed Blondie’s gaze I realized there was a UTV in the distance. Far across a hill I was surprised Blondie was interested in it. But despite the distance, the sound of the UTV was clear. It roared as its speed caused dust to sail behind it. The rest of the horses were starting to notice too.

Shorty confrontation

The horses react to the UTV.

Blondie’s band started moving purposefully to higher ground. As the rest of the horses followed, they shifted into a run. Hoping I wasn’t in their way, I stayed still. Letting them settled, I walked parallel to where they were headed so they did not think I was following them. I did not want them to expend more energy than they already had.
I was able to get a few photos, but did not stay long. It’s the responsibility of people visiting the range to also respect it. I doubt the stress that the UTV caused was intentional, but it still should not have happened. It’s tempting to say people don’t know better, but they can still do research before going to an area with any wildlife. It’s not the first time I’ve seen people on UTVs go too fast, it’s just the first time it’s happened so close to horses. It’s a little disappointing theirs no signage about entering a wild horse range, and I would like to see more education to the public about the horses.

Roman and Faith

When people aren’t careful, it can make foals like Roman and Faith vulnerable.

Journey to the Center of the Pine Nuts! (AKA Blue’s Valley)*

Part One: Great Expectations!
I’m not one to rely on clichéd saying, but the more time I spend as an adult, the more I appreciate the phrase, “good things happen to those who wait.” I try to have no expectations for a trip to see wild horses, but as I get to know a range better, I start to pick up on the bands that have presence in the range. Cloud of the Pryors. Pacasso of Sand Wash Basin. Blondie and Blue of the Pine Nut Mountains.
Even though no one mustang is my favorite, there are still horses that I enjoy hearing about. Sometimes sounding like legends, I enjoy seeing for myself their prowess. If a band is more elusive, it helps me get to know the range better.
Seeing horses can be a figuratively feast or famine experience. Although I hope to see bands, I always acknowledge the possibility that I wont see any. Thus far I had been lucky, but it seemed like I was driving further than normal before I saw my first sign of horses.
Scanning a valley as I drove down a hill, I saw red in some trees. I couldn’t see enough to know for sure, but I hoped it was a horse, and not a clump of dry leaves. I started down a road that would get me closer. I reached a dip that looked like it had the potential to eat a portion of the front of my car.~ I backed up until I had a better area to turn around, and parking.
I couldn’t see the red from the perspective of the road, so I approached slowly so I wouldn’t startle any animals that might be in the trees. Once I got closer, I left the road so my approach wasn’t as direct. As I started to edge around the trees, I was able to confirm that it was at least one band of horses. I was on the wrong side of the sun, and too far away to know which bands, but I could see at least one sorrel.

Blondie's band

Members of Blondie’s band rest in the trees.

Blondie, and Shorty came to mind, but I still wasn’t sure. Edging a little further, I saw another smaller band a little apart from the bigger group. I was starting to see more detail, and I realized I was looking at Mystique, Shorty, and Blondie.
Resting together in the shade, I enjoyed seeing the three bands. Blondie’s was the first to get up, but they stayed grazing nearby. His colts kept on trying to court his mares, and I wondered why he wasn’t doing anything about it. Blondie wasn’t even looking at his band, or any horse in the area.
**I scanned ahead, and saw a UTV in the distance. The rest of the horses noticed and when Blondie’s band took off the rest followed. I deliberated. I did not want to stress them further, but maybe if I approached slowly, and kept my distance they would settle. Once they got to higher ground they slowed, so I took my time as walked up the hill.
Careful not to cut them off or seem like I was stalking them, I tried to find a better angle for photos. Taking advantage of being higher, I scanned nearby hills for horses. To my surprise, on the side of a hill in the distance there was another large band of horses.
Odds were better it was Samson, or a large group of bachelors, but part of me hoped it was Blue’s band. After spending a few more minutes with the three other bands, I decided to make my way down the hill. Although it was on the next hill or two over, the band looked close to a road. I started on that to get closer, then slowed as I got a better look at the band.

Blue's band

Members of Blue’s band by water.

It was a band I was not familiar with, a little spread out almost at a crest of a hill. There were several blue, and bay roans so I was hoping for Blue’s band, but they had a reputation for being wary. Had I really stumbled upon one of the more elusive bands in the range? I inched a little closer, and realized the band was standing near a small plot of water.
Satisfied with seeing a band that was new to me, I settled down. It also looked like a few of the roans were younger, so I was hoping for some playful behaviors. Some of the younger horses joined the mares by the water. A few of them drank, and ate the minerals that can be found in dirt.

Young horse by water

A horse in Blue’s band eating minerals.

The mares tolerated their presence, then pinned their ears. They had been resting peacefully, and did not have the patience for the youngsters. One even nipped at the hocks (knees) of the horses in her way. I smiled, trying not to laugh and startle the horses. I was quickly enjoying their different characters.
Watching their antics for a few moments longer, I stood and edged around them. I was hoping to get photos of other members of the band.
I always scan around me so I don’t surprise wildlife while I’m walking so I gave a pregnant mare, and the stallion Blue a lot of space as I climbed the hill above them. I edged down closer to the water and waited again. It was getting later in the morning, and I was enjoying observing more than taking pictures. Blue moved away from the dark chestnut mare, and I kept an eye on a lighter sorrel mare. She also looked pregnant, but not nearly as uncomfortable as the mare named Lady. Lady didn’t look like she wanted to move, but the other mare was getting closer.

Mutual grooming

Mutual grooming with a very pregnant Lady.

The other mare nibbled Lady’s side, and they began mutual grooming. Mutual grooming is the epitome of strengthening bonds, and I always enjoy seeing it. The mares gently scratched each other’s withers, and then slowly worked their way back. Soon they were grooming each other’s tails. It was a behavior I’d never seen before. I wondered if their teeth acted like a comb.

End mutual grooming

Lady had enough.

A few more minutes, and Lady had enough. Pinning her ears, she sent the other mare away. Respectfully, she joined the rest of the group leaving Lady to herself on the hill. When you’re as wide as you are tall, I guess you have reason to be cranky. I watched the band for a little longer before deciding to walk back.
Part Two: Surprise!
Since there are a few mares in each band that look likely to foal, it was hard to be patient as I waited for Saturday. I would have been happy seeing any horses, but I really wanted to see Blue’s band. Another foal had been reported, so I thought it was only a matter of time before someone saw Lady’s. The week passed, and there was still no report, so by Saturday I was ready to see for myself. Although I am still learning the range, I think I saw almost every horse except bachelors before reaching what I’m assuming is “Blue’s Valley”. Bypassing Samson’s band since I figured they’d be there on my way back, I hoped I was on the right track. I kept up the hill I had followed the week before. I knew I would reach the small patch of water soon, and knew I should be getting closer.
I reached the spot and scanned around me. I didn’t see them, but that didn’t mean they weren’t near by. Hoping I’d have a better view by the time I crested the hill, I decided to try a little further. If I didn’t see Blue’s band by that point, I figured I probably would be out of luck for the day.
As I walked, I happened to look to my right. I think a swish of a tail must have caught my peripheral. I almost missed them on my second look, but deep in a narrow valley was a large band. I had already seen many of the other bands, so although I was trying not to get optimistic I was pretty sure that left Blue’s. I took a quick photo in case they didn’t let me get close, and used my camera to scan for a foal.
I thought I saw a head peeking out from behind some sage, so I approached carefully. This foal would have been under a week old, so I wanted to make sure I didn’t give the band unnecessary stress. As I approached, I could only see older horses, so I wondered if I’d been mistaken. The band was wary, so I still gave them plenty of space.
As I curved around them to a better angle, one mare in particular was extremely watchful. I’d take a few steps; she’d pause in her grazing and stare. Her gaze was intense, causing nearby band members to look up. I paused to let them settle, but the bay mare would still look.


The ever watchful Belle.

As I gave them more space, a little head popped up. On gangly legs, a little foal appeared from the sage. No more than a few days old, his action seemed to startle the band more than my approach. That was enough for his mama. Taking her colt higher on the hill, the rest of the band followed.


Belle would stand over her colt, Miles, while he slept.

Staying close to mom, the colt seemed a little unsteady on his legs. He nursed, then laid down. The mare went back to grazing. Periodically, she’d lift her head and turn so she was facing him. Always scanning. Always wary. Periodically she’d get him up to nurse. He’d drink; walk a few steps, flop in front of mama, nap, and the cycle would repeat.
The rest of the band seemed to get used to the idea of having me around, but I didn’t want to overstay mama’s welcome. I watched as she led her colt a little higher on the hill. There were still at least two mares that looked like they were ready to foal, so I knew next time I visited I’d try to keep an eye on them. The Pine Nuts have a high predation rate, but this new colt looks sturdy. At first glance, he looks like a carbon copy of his mama, but I’m hoping he turns seal bay, and I get to see him grow.

Belle and Miles

Miles is already such a character.

*I’m taking artistic licenses with the word center. I think I’d describe where Blue was the first time I saw him compared to the other bands as perimeter.

~I’ll let you readers decide how much I’m exaggerating.

**More on this situation later.

A Tribute to Jaci

Part 1: Getting to know you!
You don’t have to stay long in a HMA to know that some bands are more tolerant of people. Some horses are so visible that they are affectionately referred to as “the greeters” to advocates. Admittedly, I haven’t been following the Pine Nut Ponies long enough to know if a band or horse fits the bill, but for me personally I really enjoy seeing Zorro’s band.
Although I’ve visited four wild horse ranges before making my way to the Pine Nut Mountains, there’s always anticipation before the first visit to a range. You’re not supposed to let a first impression define the experience, but they can still tell you things about the situation.
My first impression was if I hadn’t asked the Pine Nut Wild Horse Advocate group for directions there’s no way I would have found it. The best HMAs have signs with regulations. Most let people know they’re entering BLM land. At the very least there’s a cattle guard. For this herd, one minute you’re driving on pavement, the next it is dirt.
With the choice of a steep rocky hill in front, and a deeply rutted road to my left, I spent a few seconds debating. Deciding straight was the better option; I made it up the hill, and started seeing more of the scenery. The road ran along a crest, and I could see horses in a valley to my right, so I scanned ahead to see if I could get closer before parking.
Not wanting to lose sight of them, or get further away since I was just learning the roads I opted to hike. Just in case I couldn’t catch up to them, I took an ID shot, and turned around to make sure I knew where I was parked before getting started. For all wildlife, but especially wild horses that have not seen me before, I try to avoid approaching directly. I want them to know I’m approaching so they don’t think I’m a predator, but I also don’t want to be so boisterous that I startle them.

Zorro's band

Having a telephoto lens is beneficial when viewing wildlife.

Most of the time the technique works, but Zorro’s band seemed to be on a mission to find higher ground. I gave up trying to approach them, and walked parallel to them until I could predict where they would stop. I was always scanning around me to see where Mushu the Subaru was, and watching the horses to make sure I was not pressuring them.
Finally, they found the end of a ridge, and made their way up it. I circled wide to give them space, and tried one more time to get at a good angle for photos. Both Zorro and his lead mare Brandy took turns watching. Often Brandy would put her filly Jaci in between her and the yearling Honey.


The ever watchful Brandy and Jaci.

Brandy would get too close trying to get a better look at me, and when I would back up to give them space Zorro would snake them a different direction. Loathe at the idea of causing mustangs to expend extra energy at the end of winter, I decided the best thing for me to do would be to remain still. After weaving around sage to approach indirectly it seemed ironic that their wary curiosity was causing them to be too close. Letting them pass, I slowly walked away. They were letting me know that they weren’t sure about me, and I wanted to respect that.
Part 2: Winter coats and courtship
The next weekend I was fortunate to see several bands in the distance. Opting to start with the band that was closest, my hike took a different type of planning. Not only did I want to know where the car was, I also wanted to keep an eye on both bands. Zorro’s band is fairly distinct to me, so even from a distance I was starting to make predictions that it was his band again. That left me with a dilemma: do I pass them in favor of seeing a new band, or do I try to see if I would have better luck during my second visit to the range.
I’d like to think of myself as an opportunist, so after checking to see if the other band had moved, I made my way down to Zorro’s band. Brandy was as wary as ever, but after a few quick looks, Zorro started to ignore me. More concerned with scratching her winter coat, Honey was under a tree with Jaci nearby. Jaci watched her aunt closely and wandered over. Soon both fillies were scratching, and fitting under branches.

Jaci and Honey

Jaci mimics Honey by using a tree to satisfy itches.

Zorro was also keeping an eye on the youngest members of his band. He sauntered over to Honey. She’s only a yearling, but Zorro was talking to her softly. Honey struck out with her front legs, but she lifted her tail slightly. I wondered if she was old enough to be in heat. Honey turned and walked away. Zorro followed, and looked like he wanted to mount her, but I think they both know she is still very young. Honey tried to initiate mutual grooming, but Zorro was a little impatient, so she went back to the tree. It seemed like Honey was old enough to flirt, but not anything else.

Zorro and Honey

Zorro approaches Honey.

Part 3: unexpected action
My next visit to the range led to several bands almost at once. As much as I enjoy the subtle behaviors that reinforce bonds between band-mates with 3 bands and a large group of bachelors in the area I was expecting stallion action. However, with warm mid-morning temperatures, and a sunny day all the horses were napping.
It was still the type of morning I enjoy, enabling me to sit quietly with the horses an observe with out as much pressure to get the type of action shot people tend to enjoy seeing.
Since I try not to spend too much time hiking during the hotter parts of the day, I started back to my car. As I reached it, I noticed horses on the other side in the distance. They were a large band, so I knew I hadn’t seen them yet, so I decided to go on one more hike. It did not take me long to recognize Blondie’s band, and once I reached them I also noticed Zorro’s band.


I’ve visited a few HMAs, and I’m not sure if there’s a hunkier stallion than Blondie.

I spent some time with Blondie’s band, then circled to Zorro’s band. Like all good band stallions Zorro was between his mares, and Blondie’s band, but he kept on inching closer to Blondie’s. I suspected Zorro was also looking for action, so I decided to stick with him at a respectful distance.


Zorro checks on his band on the way to Blondie’s.

As Zorro got closer to Blondie’s band he spent less time grazing, and I thought that Blondie had to know Zorro was coming. Standing next to one of his mares, Blondie turned so he was completely facing Zorro. Part of me was expecting Blondie to chase Zorro away. Before that could happen, Zorro reached an invisible line, and contributed to a stud pile. He wandered to his band, and I followed.
As the rest of the band grazed, Jaci frolicked. If the band moved even just a step or two away Jaci would run, leaping over sage to catch up. I still kept my eye on Zorro. Even though they couldn’t see them, his band was getting closer to Blondie’s. But there could have been truth to the saying “out of sight out of mind” since Zorro spent most of his time grazing near Honey.
Since it had been a lazy day for the horses, I decided to head back to the car. Still keeping an eye on Zorro’s band behind me, I noticed him following me. Normally that means a horse is curious, or trying to decide if a person is a threat. Zorro’s young, and his band should have been used to me, so it seemed odd that he would be approaching.
Trying to keep an appropriate distance, I backed up, but he kept on following. I paused to see if he’d go around me, but he still kept walking. I tried changing direction, but he still was getting closer. As flattering as it is when mustangs are comfortable around people, the idea of a stallion approaching me was not appealing. I decided to make a more direct route to my car.
As I did, I realized that the path Zorro and I were sharing was a coincidence. Winter and spring had been wet in the Pine Nuts leaving small “ponds” along dips in the roads. Zorro was thirsty. So thirsty his band was in the distance. Zorro finished drinking, and lifted his head in their direction. He took a few steps in their direction, and gave a soft whinny.
Hoping this would prompt the mares to join him, I tried to find a good spot to get pictures.

Jaci and Brandy

Brandy leads Jaci to water.

Soon the mares came up, and Brandy led Jaci to a suitable spot to drink. Jaci seemed undecided on how to approach the situation. She was not interested in drinking, instead wading into the water. Then, she began splashing. Engrossed in splashing, Jaci didn’t notice how close she was to Honey. Normally the two enjoyed playing together, but Honey did not seem interested in the small waves. Pinning her ears slightly, Honey sent Jaci back to Brandy. As the little band grouped together I decided it was time to head home. I’ve seen a lot of wild horse ranges, but that had been one of my more satisfying mornings.

Honey and Jaci

Jaci splashing near Honey.

Part 4: Adjusting to Loss
Before my next visit to the range I learned that Jaci had gone missing. Although she would not have been the foal I expected to lose, she was too young to be separated from the band. The most likely scenario was predation. Although it’s hard when endearing foals disappear, but I hoped advocates that knew the horses better than I did could take comfort in the fact that she lived her admittedly brief life on the range.
Hoping to make a quick trip before it rained, I reached the spot where I was starting to expect to see Zorro’s band. I could recognize them from a distance, and could tell they were on the move. I felt bad seeing them so unsettled. Before deciding if I wanted to approach, I waited to see if they would slow down or stop. They did so circumnavigating them I slowly approached. Their energy felt more like my first visit, so I was careful to respect their space.
Zorro and Brandy looked up first as usual, but even Honey seemed wary. They seemed to recognize me, and even Brandy went back to grazing. Still, I didn’t want to add stress to a band that had recently lost a foal, so I did not spend long with them.


Zorro keeps and eye on me as I approach.

In my experience loss is bittersweet. It’s sad to lose someone, but it can also be an opportunity reminisce. I’m glad I had a chance to get to know Jaci a little, and at risk of anthropomorphizing, I think the band has matured. I think people see Zorro’s status of band stallion and forget he’s still growing into himself. Brandy’s only lead mare by default since she’s the oldest. I think Jaci was her first foal.

Brandy and Honey

The two sisters standing close to each other.

We can’t compare Zorro’s band to mature established bands because none of them are mature. They may have lost Jaci, but they’re one step closer to figuring out how to be an effective band. Give them time, and they’ll be stronger for it. Zorro’s a tenacious horse who’s learning to be observant, and Honey and Brandy are learning to be more aware of where he is. I’d like to think we can expect to see this band grow.

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