Saturday, December 18, 2010
How Following Her Heart Saved The Wild Stallion, Traveler: Part I Interview with TJ Holmes
Can you tell us a little about your life and experience with horses, and how you came to be so passionate about Mustangs?
I've had horses all my life. I was blessed to be born into a military family - my dad was a career Army officer, and we moved a LOT. Only in a couple of places, when I was a baby and in Germany, did we not have horses, although we still found ways to ride, and my parents gave me dressage lessons in Germany.
Both my parents grew up with horses, as did my mom's mom and dad's dad - with riding horses/ponies and farm horses. I showed horses growing up - mostly in 4-H, some lower level dressage, and equestrian team one year in college. So I brought a significant amount of horse knowledge when I embarked on this experience with mustangs, which started in 2002, when I found out about a herd about three hours from Durango, Colo., where I was working (and now work again) at a newspaper.
First Round-up and Meeting Traveler
The first three years, I visited the horses two or three times a year, enjoying and taking pictures and getting to know a few favorites. I moved to Montana in 2005, and the last thing I did, before I left, was visit the horses ... never guessing I'd be back within a year, never guessing how they'd change my life.
In 2007, BLM held a roundup of Spring Creek Basin horses - the first one I ever attended. I had just met some people with the Colorado chapter of the National Mustang Association, so my journey of documenting and advocating for these horses began at basically the same time.
The roundup, while fairly well done, I thought objectively, was nonetheless one of the most traumatic experiences of *my* life - to say nothing of the horses'. I shook and cried the entire time Grey/Traveler's band was brought in ...
We had to deal with someone who insisted that it was NOT Traveler - I'd only a few weeks earlier found out he had a name (and a human following) when I showed my pictures of him.
We had been promised Traveler would stay - he is to Spring Creek Basin what Cloud is to the Pryor Mountain herd - but the last day of the roundup, when the horses were a) released, b) loaded for the adoption outside Cortez and c) loaded for short-term holding at the Canon City prison, we found out that Traveler may NOT have been released, that he may have been on a trailer bound for Canon City prison.
I was at the roundup Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, but had to leave Tuesday evening because I was the editor of a small paper at that time with a Wednesday deadline. So I missed Wednesday's captures, and I was on my way to the basin Thursday when I "met" the trucks and trailers bringing horses to Cortez (so I turned around and headed back to the fairgrounds where the adoption was held).
Springing Traveler From Prison
I made a frantic call to someone from the government who had taken pictures of the release horses, but he was useless as an identifier of horses.
When asked, the herd area manager told me, "I released the horse I thought was Traveler". Five minutes later, he came back and told me, "Traveler wasn't gathered because at the 2005 gather, he was seen to have a broken tooth, and no horse came in this time like that."
However, we later saw Traveler handled in the chute at Canon City, and he had a tooth that was high in his gum--making it appear broken.
We were able to convince the wild horse specialist for Colorado that we, or I, could identify the stallion, Traveler, that we had been promised he'd stay in the Basin, and that he was important to the herd and to its supporters.
With an NMA/CO board member and a civilian who had the legal ability to drive a BLM truck and trailer, we went the next Monday to Canon City, and I identified Traveler when we were taken to the prison facility.
(TJ was able to do this, prove it was Traveler, because of her photography and documentation.)
Before the release, he was in quarantine for three weeks.
On Sept. 19, 2007, he was returned to his home and set free. One of the happiest days in my life.
That day was also the start of my personal "documentation project." I had attended the Little Book Cliffs roundup just a few weeks after ours, and although they also used a helicopter, they did not use contractors. Instead, they had volunteers from the very involved Friends of the Mustangs group.
No yelling, no mass hazing the horses with plastic bags on the end of whips (that was only used once, when two stallions' bands came in together--a stallion with a mare and a stallion with two mares. They used the bags very briefly to separate the bands into pens, but they kept the bands together). Best of all, because the horses were known and quickly identified because they'd been thoroughly documented, they were able to separate out particular horses and release the horses that had been gathered within about three hours.
This was amazing compared to ours: yelling, whip-bags constantly going, horses banged up, scraped up, separated immediately, and a mare mistakenly put in one of the stallion pens (Traveler's mare). In our roundup, it took three days for the horses who were gathered first to be released.
(The bay in the picture is Traveler's mare. They did finally get her out, but not before she had gotten punctured or scraped and bled all over several of the stallions. The vet on site stitched it, apparently, when they got her out.)
Immediately after that, I visited Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range for the first time and learned they also document their horses (have for decades) - and their previous gather had been done by bait trapping - not helicopters.
Bait trapping takes longer and costs more per horse (though I'm not sure about overall cost because it's done by one man) but is extremely low stress and also singles particular horses out for removal. It also requires a temporary holding facility because the horses are removed in small numbers as bands come to the bait trap (the bait is usually a mineral mix), so it takes longer than the mass roundups and removals of horses BLM typically conducts.
Why TJ Prefers Mustangs Now
What an education that year was ... and every year since. I love horses, but there's something about mustangs - self-reliant, independent of human "care" (and I think most domestic horses are too babied - and that has resulted in a lot of problems - founder, colic, pacing, weaving, etc.), tough, incredibly social, indulgent of their babies, fierce protectors of their families, terrified of being separated - but capable of surviving alone.
Before I ever saw these horses in 2002 - and they were my first experience with mustangs - I was a little worried, expecting to see skinny little runty hammer-headed, knock-kneed "cayuses." ... Yeah - not. I've been in love with these beautiful free spirits ever since!
Spring Creek Basin Mustangs: A Tragic History
A little about Spring Creek Basin mustangs: There were originally three major herds in that basic area: where they are now, tucked up in the northeastern part of Disappointment Valley; an area called Slickrock, just west of Disappointment Valley; and near Norwood, north of the herd area as the raven flies.
My understanding is that they were consolidated to Spring Creek Basin in about the 1950s. They're thought to descend from Indian horses (Ute and Navajo), white settlers' horses, even stolen cavalry horses brought from Montana.
In about the 1980s, three stallions were introduced from Wyoming herds, before it was known that mares make better introductees. One was a grey stallion with a Roman nose named Miguel, one was a grey stallion considered very Spanish in type - believed to be Traveler's sire - Mr. Ed (yeah, I know), and one was a pinto stallion named Spook (2-year-old pinto filly Spook was named after him). Until Spook, there were apparently no pinto horses in the herd.
Spook was later found dead along the fenceline border with the county road (shot, though BLM would not confirm that). Mr. Ed was taken to Little Book Cliffs, where he was later found dead, also shot. And Miguel was taken to a sanctuary, where he bled out and died after gelding. But they all left their legacy in Spring Creek Basin ... from Houdini's Roman nose to Traveler's refinement to the pintos' spots.
So, while I've known the horses and herd since 2002, I have known them intimately since 2007. With the exceptions of bad weather (thunderstorms, blizzards - the roads are exceptionally bad when wet) or I'm out of the state visiting my parents or Yellowstone country (my other favorite places on the planet), I visit the horses every week of the year.
This is the first of what will be a four part Q & A with TJ Holmes, of Spring Creek Basin Weblog. The next three parts will concentrate on what TJ has learned about the Mustang contraceptive, PZP: the good, the bad, and the unknown.
If you have any questions for TJ, please ask them in the comments, and she will be happy to answer them for you--or just say a quick, "Hello."