Tactfully Reporting Remains*

It’s been a long winter, and for the Pryors at least we already know that some horses didn’t make it. It’s a part of living in the wild, but for people who are not used to the idea of wild horses it can be hard. That’s why it is important to report that a horse is missing tactfully. There are a lot of misconceptions, and some people have different views on how to approach it. Part of me views remains as a way to learn more about how well a horse lived in the wild, and practice IDing horses, while another part of me realizes people’s concerns about the “graphic” nature of finding remains.

Misconception 1: no it is not possible to find the remains of all the horses missing. The Pryor Mountains are a small range with over 38,000 acres. The terrain is varied, and rugged, with many places that are inaccessible to people. Older horses like to disappear when they pass, so usually if a horse is not seen in a year they are presumed deceased. I know people feel like they have more closure if remains are found, but I like the idea of respecting the horses’ wildness even after they are gone.

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The older bachelor Santa Fe passed away this winter.

Misconception 2: it is possible to ID a horse by their remains. Teeth, for example can indicate age and gender. Depending on how much hair remains, it can make the difference between getting a rough idea, and complete ID.

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I am surprised Jackson has done so well as an older bachelor considering how close he was with his former mares. I hope he has a few more years to mentor the younger bachelors.

Misconception 3: should I take pictures of the remains? That depends. I personally have only seen two remains, and only took pictures of one. I took a picture of Dancer, for example, because I was working for The Cloud Foundation at the time. At that moment it seemed appropriate to document the situation in case an ID needed to be confirmed later, or someone wanted to know where she passed away. I did not take pictures of the remains I found in South Steens because I was on vacation. I do not know the South Steens horses, or advocacy groups well enough to tell them anything beyond that the horse was a young male, or the general location. For some reason, in that instance it would have seemed disrespectful to document the remains.

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It seems like people are torn between being worried about Washakie, and being in denial about her age. People seem to think that because she’s been prolific all her life she’ll be fine despite being an older mare, but she looks so tired to me.

Misconception 4: should I post photos of the remains? That also depends on the situation. I personally don’t. Some people are more sensitive than others, and sometimes posting photos of remains can seem crass. The only time I personally would share photos is if I’m teaching in a scientific way, perhaps about the horses’ adaptations. However, it is still possible for someone to take a picture of their feet, and teeth even if the horse is living. If someone is interested on seeing those photos using social media, I personally think a more appropriate way to do so is through a PM.

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It seems like there are a lot of band stallions in their late teens/early 20s this year. I’m fairly confident Baja is still as strong as he ever was.

Misconception 5: how should I respond if someone posts photos of remains? Answer: tactfully. Even if the person posting the photos seems crass in their approach, I think it is still important to respond with sensitivity. Once an ID is made, I don’t think it’s appropriate to doubt the person’s word publicly. That’s one of the reasons why I think posting photos of remains is a little excessive. If people are really desperate to prove the person wrong, then a gentle PM would be a better way to explain their perspective. Even then, sometimes it’s not worth it to be right, and it’s ok to let the other horse be seen by someone.

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Custer (right) lost his band over the winter. I’m hoping he’s just somewhere secluded on Sykes.

I’m not saying my way is the only way to respond to finding remains of horses, but I think it is important to remember that the horses are wild. I’m not saying there’s not an adjustment period when a band-mate passes away, and different horses have different personalities, but I don’t think they could afford to use as much energy on mourning as humans do. I worry that in the eyes of certain BLM offices certain advocates seem subjective. If advocates are viewed as subjective, it might mean that their opinions about management should not count as highly.

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Winnemucca had been declining over the years. I think she picked when it was time to disappear. 

To people who are used to horses in a pasture they can seem straight forward, but horse society can be complex and messy at times. So are management practices. I think it is important to find the balance of letting oneself mourn a horse they have known for all its life, but also remaining objective.

*This isn’t about any specific horse, or news about the Pryors. I couldn’t think of a really clear way to phrase the subject of this post.

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2 Comments »

  1. sp Said:

    Interesting topic! I do agree with you , there should be a tactiful way to handle the remains or the news of a passing dead horse and it would also be interesting if someone documents the behaviour chanses of the living horses if they lose one of their own. But as for how people handle i think there has to be the right balance between sensitivity and still managing to be objective and recognise the wildness of these animals. If we love wild horses we should also let some aspects of their life such is their death, a big vague and distant from how we would feel for our domesticated horses or a pet in generals

    • Thanks! I think it can get challenging when people don’t realize that it is very rare to find remains. Even in small HMAs like the Pryors that’s 38,000+ acres of difficult terrain.


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