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

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.

Yearling

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

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.

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