Untitled photo

Phoenix

Pax

 

    The breeze is blowing softly, just the perfect breath of wind to take the biting edge off the heat of the day. Warm enough for a t-shirt, or cool enough for a long sleeve.

     Overhead, the bowl of the sky is a metallic blue of early spring and the sun flirts with perfect little puffs of clouds. We hike through the mosaic of holes and cacophony of ‘barking’ dogs.

     The bare dirt of the dog town kicking up tiny whiffs of dust with each step. The soft green barely perceptible fuzz of new grass is starting to peek through.

     New life is blossoming!

     We are surrounded by horses.

     Behind us, spread across the landscape is Xander's band, orphaned brothers Amite and Bloom with their heads together as usual. To the south, Evans’ and company stand on the hill, surveying the land below them like the Lords they are. North is Redface, on the rim of ‘Talkington Canyon’ (Yeah I just made that up, maybe it will stick)

     In front of us, Arrowhead and Sidekick are lounging at respectable distances from one another while their mares mingle at will. At a distance of about half a mile is Vamoose.

     This is the wilds of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

     In a space of a single square mile, we have encountered 5 family bands and nearly 50 horses. We are out, hunting the herds that like to seek refuge in the wild pockets and coulees, the valleys and dales far from the loop road, and far from the fence edge at Fryburg.

     The potential of brand new foals drawing us into a several hundred square mile game of hide and seek. We have no hope of winning if the horses decide to be really difficult and not show up. But oh the rewards when we do!

     Just this morning we discovered an hours old filly belonging to Crow and proud new papa Urban. The gorgeous little girl now bears the name Phoenix, for the wing marking on her side, and rising from the ashes of her older brother’s unfortunate death hours after birth. (But that is another story).

     Can you feel the peaceful pastoral painting I am trying to describe? Don’t you want to be there? I can name all the bands by sight, so long as I can see the stallions. I will be honest and tell you, I have not learned all the mares, and frequently stumble over who is who. Except for the obvious ‘herd markers’, and I frequently defer to the guidebook to help me sort out the abundance of gray and various shades of roan.

     Take a deep breath, smell the warmth of a new spring day. Listen to the horses moving around you, the stomp and swish of tails, the quiet snip of their teeth cropping the grass.

     This, to me, is literally heaven on earth, second only to the clean barn and fresh pine at night.

     This is where my brain shuts down the extra 35 trains of thought, and everything slows down. Where I fall into myself and remember how to just be present. It's the horses, and seeking them out, the physical exertion of finding them, that brings me peace.

     I can’t really begin to quantify the lessons these horses have taught me. I thought I knew how to understand the language of horses until I started watching these herds. The subtle, but complete communication is fascinating to behold! The lift of a foot, the switch of a tail, it all means something and communicates vast amounts of interaction.

     The dynamics of this herd are pretty amazing too, that I can peacefully walk through 50 plus head of horses in such a small area is a wonder.

     I feel fairly confident to say, there is nowhere else in the United States this would happen. Sure in the Herd Management area’s (HMA) There might be that many horses around a water hole, but I doubt it would be quiet.

     Or that the Stallions would be at peace.

Teton and Family

Urban

     But the horse's idyllic existence is far from certain.

     My favorite place to go and settle myself, and have quiet thoughts might cease to exist.

     As I have mentioned in previous posts, the Park is revisiting the Livestock Management plan, which has not been revised since its inception in 1978.

     The options the park has presented will drastically reduce the herd, or reduce the range they are allowed to inhabit.

     There is a public comment opportunity open on the park website. DO NOT feel like you have to vote for the best bad option, as they are all pretty extreme…

     You can submit your own ideas for how the herds might be managed in your opinion. The public comment window closes April 15th, so get those ideas in soon!

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