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.

Belle

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.

Miles

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.

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