Still Running Free on Wild Horse Mesa

They Get By with a Little Help from a Friend

By Laurie Paulik

 

BlueHe’s the one, she said. The one you have to see. Blue. The magnificent, dappled, silver stallion.

We would look for him, of course, but later in the day, when the sun started dropping in the sky. There were other horses to meet and locations to visit first.

On March 27, nine LPS members traveled to the San Luis Valley to meet with Judy Barnes, wild horse advocate and founder of the Spirit of the Wild Horse Foundation. Judy, herself, is an experienced photographer and suggested some nearby locations we might like to photograph before visiting the horses. Thus, Thursday morning found us heading up the highway to view some distinctive rock formations. After a quick stop, we continued on to view an arresting wooden fence that sprawled horizontally before righting it self vertically–its weathered slats directly lead to the distant snow-covered mountains. Even an inexperienced photographer couldn’t mess up this photo op. The final stop was a late-1800s wood and metal bridge that spanned the Rio Grande.  Its stark, heavy lines contrasted with the sun-washed background around it.

Once finished with the bridge, we jumped in our vehicles and headed across Wild Horse Mesa to Judy’s 40-acre homestead. It was there that the first band of horses waited. As Judy’s truck approached, horses materialized from all directions. Before we had even exited our vehicles, they had surrounded Judy’s truck, nosing for the alfalfa hay in the back. We mingled for quite some time with this band of horses, led by the stallion, Napoleon. The horses are wary, of course, but anyone who stopped photographing for a while could approach a horse and stroke its coarse, mud-flaked hair. As Judy pointed out each horse, its age, lineage and relationships to the other horses, we could watch some of the behavioral dynamics of a wild horse band—dominance, shunning of the weak, expelling of the unwanted (primarily 1-2 year old males forced to leave the group).

After spending time at Judy’s property, we headed out across the mesa to find other horse bands. Within a short time, we saw a distant new band of horses starting towards us, the individuals again recognizing Judy’s truck. Here came the imposing stallion, Beamer, with 10-month old Braveheart, Diamond, Little Darling, and others. This was my favorite stop. Maybe it was the mountain backdrop, the wind-whipped manes and tails, the facial angularity, whatever, these horses were impressive. They seemed watchful and attentive, and less willing to come close to us. Though the extreme windiness made it difficult to hold the camera still, even on a tripod, all the elements were there for some great photos.

After leaving Beamer’s band, we had a quick lunch in San Luis, and then, literally, chased Lightning. We drove across the dried mud flats of Sanchez Reservoir trying to catch up with the small band led by this stallion. Alas, the horses immediately took off running and put a great distance between us and them in a matter of minutes. Judy had thought they might not be as approachable and she was right. But, no matter—we were now looking for Blue.

We marveled all day at Judy’s ability to find her way across the 77,000-acre mesa and its maze of dirt roads. Had any of us been leading the group, we would have all been lost. We drove left and right and here and there scanning hillsides, eyeing distant features, and then…we found him—Blue. He and his band were hanging out at a small, seldom-used airplane runway on the mesa. Wow! Then Blue can surely be called a wild-horse rock star. And like any good rock star, he seemed to love the spotlight. This was a horse that posed willingly for photo after photo — turning his head this way and that, giving a gentle shake of the mane here, strolling past the cameras there. His specialness was evident to all. Blue’s band was the most interesting–with lead mare Maggie Mae and foal January Blue (born January 10th in the snow), Misty the dark mare, Cheyenne the sorrel, Jet Blue, Smokey Blue, and several unnamed bay mares. Also of note were Patch (a young stallion) and Ginger Blue (a filly) — two horses that Judy guessed might be ready to break off from the group and start a new band.

We left Blue’s band as the sun was sinking and had one final encounter with another band, led by the stallion, Milagro, with Lily, Lacy, Windy, Allegra and babies April (born last Easter) and Logan. The time of day made for some striking photos, especially with the lowering sun striking the reddish coats of the horses and the greening sage providing a background. It was with this last group that we got quite a lesson in “who’s in charge” as Milagro chased away any and all horses from food he had claimed.

After one last visit to Judy’s property, we all headed out to Fort Garland for a final dinner. We found that the shared meals, field photography and travel time enabled all participants to learn about each other, ask questions, and share experiences.

As a writer, I have been taught to use the word, “unique” sparingly, but I think in this case it applies to our whole day. There are many horse lovers and horse advocates, but few that share Judy’s wild horse sensibilities and her ability to communicate what these wild animals are all about. Having Judy Barnes lead us through our day on Wild Horse Mesa made for a memorable and lasting experience for all.

 

 

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