Family Matters

As exemplified by Tecumseh in my last post, paternal care is often just as important as maternal care in mustangs. While it is true there is more maternal investment in the offspring (after all, the dam is the one carrying the foal, going through labour, nursing the foal etc.), a good stallion certainly has his fair share of responsibility in caring for offspring. Interestinglu, quite often stallions find themselves raising the offspring of other males. While animals like lions are notorious for killing unrelated young, stallions will raise unrelated foals born into their bands, and also frequently raise young that are brought along by a new mare. While there are of course exceptions to the rule, particularly if the foal is very young, in general stallions make pretty good step-fathers.

This short post, however, is about Hamlet, who is the actual biological sire of Penn. Poor Penn had very freshly been weaned by a rather large (and grumpy!) pregnant Audubon. While the filly was certainly old enough to be weaned, it didn’t stop her from missing her mother’s milk! Since Mum kept rejecting her, she sought out other options….I think the following photos speak volumes for what a patient Dad Hamlet is!

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Penn gets creative….
Poor, confused Hamlet….
Is this really happening right now???
Kudos to Hamlet for using the death-glare approach over kicking out or biting!

Niobrara was the next target, but at least she was the correct sex to produce milk, even though she has never lactated (as a mare who has yet to foal). Niobrara was also very patient with the confused yearling.

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You can almost see the thoughts running through Penn’s head
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Going for the sneak approach…..
The face of defeat.
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Penn resigns herself to her milk-less future and begins grazing with her family

Never a dull moment

Sometimes people will ask me what I do all day on the mountain, and question whether I ever get bored with “just watching horses.” And the honest answer is “No.” As many visitors to the mountain can tell you, just sitting and watching the horses interact in their normal life is fascinating, and often supremely peaceful.

Of course, life isn’t always quiet on the range. When Sandy and I reached the top on our first trip last year, we set up camp under the watchful eyes of Jackson, Mandan, and Nodin. I was itching to get pictures of these guys observing me building a tent, but, alas, tent construction and photography don’t exactly go hand in hand!

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Nirvana investigates the fire pit outside Penn’s Cabin

Once camp was set up, we headed towards Penn’s Cabin, which isn’t somewhere I had spent much time at previously. Here we found the bands of Morning Star, Horizon, Garay, Galaxy, Gringo,Tecumseh, and Blue Moon. I was delighted to finally “meet” Orielle and Innocentes as they had been in the Dry Head when I was on the range in 2015.

The peace was first disturbed by Tecumseh when Grijala showed up with Graciana and new band member, Oceana. Oceana was born in the fall, and many of us were surprised to hear that she had joined Grijala’s band at only 1.5 years old. This was especially surprising as her sire (Tecumseh), dam, uncle, and “aunt” all doted on her; Oceana was the apple of the four adult horses’ eyes. On this day, while Grijala was distracted, Tecumseh made his move to retrieve his daughter and snaked her back to her mother, Galadriel. Almost as though it was planned, Galadriel moved off with Gringo and Beulah, Oceana behind her and Tecumseh bringing up the rear. Oceana gave a little of her typical sass, but otherwise agreeably rejoined her former family.

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“Fineeeee Dad”
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The double band makes a subtle break for it
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They really are the cutest family

Tecumseh’s plan worked fairly well, until Grijala noticed his latest lady had gone missing. He charged after them and Gringo and Beulah decided they were bailing on Operation: Retrieve Oceana. While Tecumseh was fairly defiant at first, he eventually decided not to risk fighting a much younger stallion over his wayward daughter. Grijala collected Oceana and drove her back to Graciana, his only other mare. While Oceana kicked out at her beau a few times, she went back more or less willingly and peacefully to her new band.

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Tecumseh tries to head Grijala off
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Gringo and Beulah decide they don’t need to be involved in the drama!
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Oceana can take care of herself!

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The newly established peace didn’t last long as Bolder and his family drama (aka Killian and Lobo) showed up. Bolder was constantly running between sons, scolding Killian for hounding Sapo, and stamping on Lobo’s plans to court Celt (though Celt was doing a fairly good job of that herself!) But what really drew my attention was chaos among the bachelors.

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Take the hint, Lobo.

A lone coyote dun stallion had appeared and in near-disbelief Sandy identified him as Johan, a stallion rarely seen, let alone on the mountain top. While I missed the initial action, Dawn Ness described how Johan had separated young foal Quintana (whom I refer to as Quartz) from her dam, Feldspar, in a recent Facebook post. Daddy Mescalero went charging after Johan to retrieve his daughter and was able to return her safely to Feldspar.

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An anxious Feldspar checks over Quartz, who was unharmed
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Feldspar shields Quartz from the continued drama

Meanwhile, many of the other stallions in the area, including the bachelors, banded together to chase Johan clear out of the area. This was incredibly fascinating to watch, as a bunch of stallions and colts joined forces to drive out another male that had presented a threat to a young foal, even though none of these boys were part of her band. This was a fantastic example of the horses working together as an overall herd to protect one of their own. While they do live in distinctly separate bands, ultimately it is still one herd. I saw a couple more examples of this altruistic behaviour during my trips last summer.

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I never said they were an *organized* group of vigilantes…..
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Johan flees the mob
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The young boys followed to make sure the job was done (and probably for a bit of extra fun!)

It was hard not to feel at least a little sorry for Johan. I do not think he had any intentions of harming Quartz, but perhaps had hoped to lure Feldspar away from her band so he could claim her and her daughter for himself.


P.S. Sorry for the poor photo quality-lighting was bad and most of these were taken at quite a distance!


As anyone who has been to Graduate School can attest, the Grad life is a busy one! I’d love to be able to post a weekly blog post, but to keep these posts more on the manageable side I thought I’d throw in some short horse profiles. I know lots of people have done profiles on the horses, so I will likely focus on my own experiences with these individual horses.

Of course, even just choosing one horse to focus on is tough! I picked Demure to start, because I’ve always found myself drawn to her. Not to mention, she seems to love to pose for me!

Demure 2015

Demure was one of the first horses I “met” on my initial trip up the mountain. I was thrilled-and took tons of photos of her-wondering if I would get another chance to photograph her. As it turns out, that wasn’t a problem! But no harm done-I love those early photos.

Demure may not be “flashy,” but I think she is a stunning mare.

Demure’s has been in Horizon’s band since Spring 2015. This year I noticed her showing preference towards satellite stallion Fiesta, much to Horizon’s chagrin! Demure seems to really like Fiesta, and I found myself hoping the two of them could pair off. However, Fiesta did not appear interested in creating a disruption in the group.

Demure, with Fiesta in the background

Demure only has one living offspring on the mountain. Though he started off on the small side, Mandan is growing into an impressive colt, and I have high hopes for him as Demure, and Santa Fe’s, only wild offspring.


Love is All Around


One of my favourite aspects of watching the horses is observing the bonds between individuals. Whether it’s interactions between a stallion and his band, long-term friends, dams and offspring or bachelor buddies, these quiet moments are what truly stick with me when I come home. As it was recently Valentine’s Day, I thought now was an appropriate time to expand on the relationships among the horses.

Tecumseh dotes on Galadriel

If you follow my Facebook page, you might remember that I shared a picture of Tecumseh and Galadriel for Valentine’s Day. These two are one of the most rewarding pairs to observe. Tecumseh fought long and hard to get Galadriel back after he lost his band and, it seems clear to me, that he hasn’t forgotten that struggle. Tecumseh is incredibly tender with Galadriel, he dotes on her and absolutely adores Oceana, their daughter. While I was sad to see precocious Oceana leave her parents relatively early (she really was the apple of their eyes!), Grijala is doing a good job of taking care of her. For such a large stallion, he is supremely gentle with the filly. His mare, Graciana, has also taken Oceana under her wing.

Grijala: equal parts band stallion and baby sitter!

Fiesta and Horizon are another well-known pair. These two were bachelors together, and when Horizon claimed Juniper as his first mare, Fiesta tagged along. Up until this fall the two stallions remained together, with Fiesta as a clear lieutenant stallion but part of the band all the same. The roan stallion took his duties very seriously, and rushed to defend his little family at every opportunity. Fiesta has not been seen in recent months, though I am hopeful that he has simply decided to go his own way and will show himself in the spring!

The two stallions often spar together, but always make up in the end

Firestorm is one of the most prolific young mares on the mountain, though sadly she only has two offspring currently on the range. She is a fantastic mother, and her sons and daughter have all inherited her kind and affectionate temperament. Okomi recently became a bachelor but over the summer Firestorm was still as affectionate as ever with her son, and from the pictures I saw this fall, Okomi doted on little sister, Quietstorm. Okomi was also an excellent ‘stepbrother’ to Petra.

Okomi and Firestorm share a quiet moment

Pride is another wonderful big brother. He and little sister Quartz (Quintana) were seldom apart this summer, though I’m not sure which of the two was the leader in most of their adventures (though I think it was Quartz!)

Three guesses who the more affectionate one in this relationship is!

With the implementation of PZP (fertility control in order to curb population growth) it has become less common to see multiple juvenile horses in one band. Orielle and her dam, Inoccentes joined Blue Moon’s band in the fall of 2015. When Halcyon’s son, Quanah was born the next year all the horses in the band doted on the baby. Orielle and Quanah have a really fun relationship, and it was a daily occurrence to see them tearing around together, having a blast.

Orielle is very tolerant of baby Quanah!
Terribly blurry, but they were having a blast!!


It’s hard to talk about relationships on the mountain without mentioning Nimbus and Knight. While it was certainly a rocky start for the two young horses, Nimbus has clearly come to trust Knight and the two are very sweet with each other. Nimbus may appear quiet, but she certainly keeps Knight on his toes!



While relationships among stallions and mares generally get the most attention, mares in the same band often form strong, lasting bonds. When Doc took Jackson’s band, all the mares stuck together, in spite of many of them seeming less than pleased with Doc, who, to be fair, had a very different attitude towards them than Jackson did. A few years later, the band has started to break apart, but this summer they were still a very close knit group. Doc can be a dominant stallion, and oftentimes the other members of the band would get between him and a mare he was courting if that mare showed signs of being uncomfortable.

Jasmine steps in to tell Doc he was getting too rough
Okomi comes over to help

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that family means the world to wild horses. As social, herd animals, family is everything: social bonds are what keep them safe and allow them to exhibit their full repertoire of natural behaviours.  When considering management strategies, whether they be a form of fertility control or removals, I think it is very important to remember this.  While management of mustang herds is currently unavoidable, it is imperative to take into account social disruption when evaluating the impactx of various management strategies on the horses. Sadly, there is by no means a perfect solution, though tools such as PZP are promising, so long as we implement these strategies carefully. It is important that we continue to explore methods of minimizing social disruption to the horses while we manage the herd.

Love bites!