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.


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