The year was 2008. It was December, and we were in Oregon to pick up my new mustang for the upcoming Extreme Mustang Makeover. My friend Andi drove us up the mountain in search of wild horses. It was the first time I came fact to face with these lovely creatures, and I stood in amazement as they mingled around us, cautious, but not afraid enough to leave. It's when Darling met Dibs. It's when I named Honor. And it's when we first met this incredible stallion who became known as Golden Boy.
Golden Boy kept to himself. Many other band stallions had a second in command, but not GB. No, he'd selected some of the finest mares on the mountain and he wasn't about to allow anyone else into his inner circle. Now and again, as on the first day we saw him, he could be found with the Hollywood Herd, where several bands mingled together, but more often he was on the outskirts, not too far away, but never so close as to encourage another stallion to think he could get away with breeding or stealing one of his mares.
Clover, the buckskin, and Kamali, the pinto, were among the mares with Golden Boy in 2011.
Golden Boy and the always lovely Delight, February 2011.
When we got word last year that Golden Boy was injured, and that he was under attack by other stallions, it was devastating. Backed up against the rimrock, Golden Boy and his mares fought hard when bachelor stallions came in hopes of picking off mares for themselves. One photographer was present at the scene. Golden Boy's injury was such that he had no hopes of living through the onslaught. She contacted the BLM office, and Golden Boy was immediately put down so as not to suffer any longer. The mares were then fought over by the remaining stallions.
After a great amount of scuffling, chasing, and stealing, things finally began to settle down on the South Steens. Delight, her yearling filly (Whisper), and Cotton ended up with Cortez, the feisty little pinto who'd lived as a bachelor the past couple of years. He'd also picked up Holly and her dam, Noelle, earlier in the year, so he was now quite happy to have four mares and their offspring. Life was looking good again on the mountain.
The South Steens is loved by photographers as the 'Hollywood' horses, as they are known, tend to stick around near the roads and they don't panic when they see people walking in to get a few pictures. Of course, a soft approach is needed to get up close and personal with them, but it could be done, and never did we leave disappointed.
Up close and personal with Delight.
With the band broken and mares scattered, photographers began documenting where they'd gone and which stallions had which mares. New foals were expected to start arriving in February, and everyone was interested to know if Golden Boy's mares had been bred by him, or their new stallions. Of course, we knew there was no real way to identify sires short of DNA, but odds are always good with GB's girls, that they are carrying his colts.
A visit around the first of the year by my friend Carolyn saw everyone content. In February, two mares were missing from Cortez's band...Delight and Clover. But their foals from the previous year were both still with him. This is odd. Two mares leaving in the same time frame, but colts not going along? It just didn't add up.
Zephry, a beautiful colt with one blue eye
Meanwhile, in Cascade and Sox's band, the yearling colt, Zephyr, appeared to be missing. A colt missing isn't such a surprise...anything could happen to a baby. But the mares? They were older, wiser, larger. A big cat can pick off a colt, but rarely an adult unless it's ill or injured. The mares had been healthy. And they were both missing. A predator would not take down two.
Then there was another report. The remains of a horse and three dead antelope, all in close proximity to one another, had been found. There was enough hair remaining on the horse to identify him. It was Little Brother. Carolyn had seen him in February, so he'd died after the mares had disappeared. But the fact that his remains were so close to the antelope, and it appeared that they'd died in the same time frame, that things are looking a little suspicious on the South Steens.
Little Brother, as he was in June 2012
Another photographer reported back in early April. He'd made a trip to the mountain and found two skeletons with just enough hair for him to assume that it was Delight and Clover. They were near a water hole, not far from each other.
While there is no proof of how our horses are dying, there is enough speculation. And with that speculation, a deluge of people keeping watch over our beloved wild horses on the Steens. If someone has been up shooting, we know they've been there at least on two occasions. Please pray that they are never successful again.