Welcome to the blog by Marylu Weber

This blog contains dozens of posts and photos of the wild, feral horses from the park and some of the people involved with them. These horses are owned by the park and not managed by the BLM. To see most of the photos, scroll to the bottom of this page. To find earlier posts of interest go to Blog Archive on the right and follow this guide:

For some of the history of the horses and people involved:

Wild Horses of Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Tom Tescher's Story
The Boicourts
The Roundup

The Sale

For some of the special horses' stories:
Fire's Story
Whisper's Story
Our Boys Come Home
Dancing with a Wild Horse
Whit's Story

The Dance Continues
Training Update

More Dancing with Hawk
More Training for Hawk
Bashful, the Steps of His Life

Post of Interest:
Four Stallion Fight
Hazards, Did I Mention Hazards?

Sunday, July 27, 2014


Tracking in the snow
The Sieben Four Adventure

By Marylu Weber

At one mile above sea-level, winter comes early to the Sieben Live Stock Company ranch nestled in the foothills of the Big Belt Mountains of Montana.  The four wild young stallions that had been purchased from Theodore Roosevelt National Park had been gelded and kept together in a large corral separated from the ranch headquarters so they could adjust to ranch life gradually.  They had plenty to eat and drink, but something in their hearts must have been drawing them back to the wild.  One day in early winter while having lunch at Cooper Hibbard’s house, Iain Davis saw that Sage, Hawthorne, and Peace Pipe were on the wrong side of the fence around their corral.  Tomahawk was still inside but running back and forth trying to figure out how the others had gained freedom.  Iain watched as Tomahawk too jumped the narrow space between the wooden gate and the gatepost and all four galloped up the hill behind the corrals.  When a couple of them dropped their heads to graze Iain hoped they would stay on the sunny slope about ¾ of a mile from the corral complex. With any luck he could somehow lure them back into the corrals, but the young horses had other ideas and within the hour disappeared over a high ridge into what was wild, rugged breaks filled with all sorts of wildlife, including bears and mountain lions.

Iain took two bales of good hay up the mountain to entice the horses back or maybe even catch them there.  Hawthorne, always the tamer of the four, came with the others behind him.  Iain was able to get within 100 yards of them, but it was too much pressure for the wilder horses and they all ran farther into the rough country.  As more snow came Iain was able to track the horses but never get close to them.  Several times he saw the tracks of mountain lions following the horses.  Fascinated with the mountain lion tracks and how the dust from the barren areas the cat had walked on would drop off onto the snow tracks, Iain took his phone out and took a few pictures of the large tracks.  As he crouched there in the snow, intrigued with the size of the tracks and the dust encircling each indentation from the cat’s pads, he noticed that the wind was quickly blowing the dust away.  The cat must have been in that very spot only minutes earlier.  Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to be crouching in the snow so soon after the cat had passed that way; maybe he was being watched at that very moment.  After all a pocket knife wasn't much of a weapon against a mountain lion.  With the hair standing up on the back of his neck and being much more aware of possible hiding spots for the big cats, Iain hiked back out to the safety of the ranch, deciding the wild horses would have to fend for themselves or come back to the safety of the corrals on their own.

It was almost three months since the horses had run away to freedom.  Efforts to bring them back were scrapped because of the weather and the difficulty in traversing the back country in winter.  Would the ranchers ever see those four ungrateful equines again?  They could travel for 100s of miles if they wanted to.  Would they starve or become dinner for the mountain lions?  It was anyone’s guess, but toward spring some hunters reported seeing horses not too far from the corral complex so this time Iain baited his corral with hay, a mare in heat, and later another gelding.  The adventurous boys seemed to long for the company of the mare and her companion and gradually came back to the corral.  Seeing that they were hanging around by the corrals Iain was able to sneak in, open the corral gate, run down the fence line, and hide so that he could close the gate again if he was lucky enough to have them go in.  One by one the wary young horses entered the corral and went to eating the delicious hay.  The adventure was over and, though a little thin, they had all survived winter blizzards, pawing through drifts for forage, eating snow for water, and the teeth of the big cats.  It was no different than life in the Badlands of North Dakota to the four wild horses, but the cowboys on the ranch were not going to take any more chances, the four were separated and put with four groups of domestic saddle horses so that they were not drawn to the wild country any more. 
 That was the end of their adventure, but not the end of their story.
showing the size of this track

showing the dust in the track

The horses disappeared over the hills to the right.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

By Marylu Weber
This story started in 2008 when Whit Hibbard, a fourth generation rancher and Low-Stress Livestock Handling Instructor, came to Theodore Roosevelt National Park to share his livestock handling knowledge with the staff of the park.  I had been invited to that workshop and had the privilege of riding with Whit when he gathered and penned 10 of the wild TRNP horses.  At that time, a young blue colt came up to him and sniffed his hand.  I told him he had to buy that colt and Whit took the bait.  (Read “Whit’s Story” on this blog)  Whit has never regretted that decision and calls Teddy one of the best ranch horses he has ever ridden.  Teddy is admired and coveted by all the horsemen of the ranch.  Whit’s nephew, Cooper Hibbard, says of Teddy, “He’s like riding a dream!” 

After the suggestion by Whit, it was Cooper’s decision whether or not to add four more North Dakota Badlands Horses to Sieben Live Stock Company’s cavey of ranch horses.  Whit told me Cooper would be calling me, but as busy as a “CEO in training” of a large ranch can be, he didn't call me until the night before the sale.   Based solely on Teddy and what his Uncle Whit had said about the TRNP horses, Cooper was willing to take a chance and buy four wild 2 or 3 year old stallions, sight unseen.  Though I knew the horses well, I wasn’t feeling entirely comfortable picking prospective ranch horses from the 103 being sold.  When I asked Cooper how he would get them home, he mentioned a hauler named Steve.  Surprising Cooper that I knew of Steve, I told him I had talked to Steve on the phone earlier that summer and liked him immediately.  Knowing he was a experienced horseman and a good judge of horses I enlisted his help in picking horses for Cooper.  While looking at the horses in the pens, Steve asked me if I knew Billie Rase;  Billie was a lifelong friend of mine and someone I had always loved and admired.  It turned out that Steve was married to Billie’s niece.  Any friend of Billie’s was a friend of mine, so now I trusted him implicitly with helping me pick horses!  Steve graciously gave me his list of 5 stallions he thought would make good ranch horses based on conformation and attitude in the pens. 

Without knowing it, Steve picked four sons of Sidekick: Sage, a two year old gray overo, and Peace Pipe, a three year old gray out of Snip’s Gray, Hawthorne, a two year old, and Guitar, a three year old, both roans out of Embers’ Girl.  His fifth pick was a sharp minimal sorrel overo, Bandit, out of Dolly by Cocoa.  These were favorites of mine too, so I would bid to try to purchase four of the five.  I was able to win the bid on both Sage and Peace Pipe with Sage going a little high and Peace Pipe a little low.   I was at even money when Hawthorne came in.  The bids quickly rose over my allotted budget, but I really liked the 2 year old colt’s docile disposition, so kept bidding and won him at $200 over budget.  I was not to be so lucky with Bandit; his coat still glistened and he was already showing a lot of muscular development.   Soon, at $1400, the winning bid was far beyond my budget.  The young lady sitting beside us at the sale had set her heart on buying Guitar and I was not about to deprive her of that handsome young roan, so I quickly went to Steve to see what he thought of 3 year old Tomahawk who was just about to come into the ring.  Steve gave his approval and I was able to fill out the order of four horses with Tomahawk.  Steve was going to haul the four to Billings, MT yet that night, rest them overnight, and meet Cooper in the morning.  I was a little nervous that I had gone $250 over budget, and that Cooper had never seen the horses; I wondered what he would think of them.  The next day, when we were almost back home to Rapid City, I received a call from Cooper.  He said he was “blown away” at the quality of the horses and thanked me for buying them for the ranch.  The four young stallions were moving on to another stage of their lives.

Cooper drove back to Cascade, MT with the four young horses that would one day be part of the cavey of saddle horses serving the large cattle and sheep ranch his great, great grandfather, Henry Sieben, had established in 1909.  He was excited to show the horses to the other three horsemen who would each work with one of the young stallions, gentling it and training it under saddle.  Upon seeing the four stallions, the other men were also impressed with the four and marveled at how well built they were for horses bred and raised without human intervention.   Whit Hibbard’s wife, Felice, a horse enthusiast and rider since an early age, loved Whit’s Teddy.  She said, if the new colts were a fraction as good as Teddy they would be great ranch horses.  She had been studying the Phanfare.com photo files of sale horses and was excited to see that some of her favorites were among the ranch’s new horses; she admired the sturdy build, good bone, and large healthy feet of the wild ones. 

The first order of business was to get the four young stallions gentle enough to be gelded.  Each man was to pick one stallion to work with.  Iain chose the young gray overo, Sage.  Brice liked the way Tomahawk was built; he would one day look like his sire, Silver.  Cooper had his choice of Peace Pipe, Hawthorne.  He liked them both, but Hawthorne walked right up to him so he figured Hawthorne picked him.  Brent was to train Peace Pipe.   The three other colts were pretty easy to get the first halter on, but Tomahawk was not very trusting.  He was finally caught, sedated, and all were gelded, then all four were turned out in a large paddock to heal and get accustomed to life on the Montana ranch.

Bryce and Tomahawk
Cooper and Hawthorne
Iain and Sage

Brent and Peace Pipe

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

NDBH Achieves Tax-exempt Status

As one of the members of the Board of Directors, I am pleased to announce that North Dakota Badlands Horse Registry has achieved federal tax-exempt status.  With that status, we will be able to be more active in the goals of educating the public about Theodore Roosevelt National Park and it's horses, promoting, and protecting, and finding homes for the wild horses.  We have a lot of exciting plans, so watch here and on our Facebook page: North Dakota Badlands Horse, for updates and announcements.

One of our projects is to make a Guide to all the horses of TRNP that people can buy and use to identify the horses when they visit the park.  We will let you all know when that is available.

Happy Trails to you, and go visit the Park.  You will not be disappointed!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Behavior report from the 2009-2013 research done on the TRNP wild horses

  If you copy and paste this address you should be able to get the article published by the research team.



(an overview by Marylu Weber)

             Horses have run wild and free in the upper plains of North America for centuries, having migrated north from South America and south from Canada.  Native Americans oral history differs on when they acquired the horse, but when the plains tribes began using horses in their daily living, it changed their lifestyle forever.  They changed from primarily farmers, living along rivers and streams, growing the majority of their food and hunting small game, to a nomadic people who could follow the bison herds.  They became experts at gentling and training horses which they called Sunka Wakan, “sacred dogs,” a gift from the Creator.  Horses were used as valuable currency when trading with one another.

When Europeans came exploring the region, they reported seeing great herds of wild horses.  They also brought with them, horses from the east that had been imported to the new world.  Europeans gradually spread across the plains, bringing not only imported saddle horses, but draft horses to work the farms that sprung up on the rich land and along rivers and railroads.   The US Cavalry built forts to protect new settlers and their claims.  Since horses were still the main means of transportation, thousands of horses flooded the northern plains.  Wars brought the need for even more horses, so remount operations were scattered throughout the region and horses were raised or captured to send back east as mounts for soldiers, many of them finding their way to Europe for “The Great War.”

During that time of pioneering and settlement of the plains, it was discovered that the Badlands of Dakota Territory may be treacherous to cross, but were abundant with rich native grasses that nourished wildlife and wild horses.  Those same native grasses could support great herds of domestic cattle and the horses the ranchers needed to handle them.  Two of the most famous of those ranchers were the Marquis De Mores, a rich young Frenchman, and the young Theodore Roosevelt. 

The Marquis settled in what is now SW North Dakota where the Little Missouri River and the railroad intersected.  He named the town of Medora after his wife; their summer house still stands on a hill overlooking the river.  Importing vast numbers of cattle, he built a packing plant with visions of making millions raising, slaughtering, packing in ice, and shipping beef back east, thus leaving out the middlemen.  To handle the cattle and the daily chores of his ranch, he imported Thoroughbred and Percheron horses which he bred to the tough little local ponies.  At one point he bought 250 ponies that had been confiscated from the Lakota Chief, Sitting Bull.   Using his swift horses, he even started a stage coach service from Medora to Deadwood.  There was no doubt the Marquis was a visionary whose dreams were clever and daring. 

The young Theodore Roosevelt came to the Badlands to hunt, but wound up turning to ranching also.  He loved the vastness of the prairie and credited the years he spent there with building his strength and making him the man he later became.   In his writings he told about seeing wild horses running free in the Badlands.  He built two ranches in the Badlands, the Elk Horn Ranch and the Maltese Cross Ranch.

Though these men and hundreds of others thought Dakota Territory was the perfect place to raise cattle and horses, with its miles of tall grass reaching from horizon to horizon, they could not imagine the devastation and toll on livestock that could be caused by drought, and a series of mighty winter storms.  After one particularly brutal winter, one cowboy reported riding for miles that spring and not seeing a living animal.  The Marquis moved back to France, later to be killed in Africa and Theodore Roosevelt went on to become the 26th President of the United States.

That year drove hundreds out of the Badlands, but other immigrants, eager to build a life for their families in the new world, came to replace them.  At one time, every quarter of land in the Badlands was homesteaded.   These homesteaders brought their saddle and work horses with them as well as cattle and sheep, but Mother Nature would also drive many of them out of the Badlands with the droughts of the 1930s.   Livestock by the thousands were lost or abandoned by farmers and ranchers retreating to more fertile lands back east. 
As trains, automobiles, and tractors became more numerous, there was no more need for horses.  By then the Badlands of North Dakota were only sparsely inhabited, so thousands of horses, either migrated or were driven there from other parts of the country.  The bison were long gone, so the horses settled into the rough breaks of the Little Missouri River from Canada to South Dakota, mingling and breeding with the herds of wild horses that still remained.  The weak died off and the hardy, that could survive the harsh conditions of drought and blizzards flourished.  However their reprieve was not long lived.  Ranchers did not appreciate horses, which required more forage than a cow, eating up the grass on the open range.  Horses were indiscriminately hunted down with saddle horses, pickups, or airplanes.  Many were killed outright and thousands were loaded onto railcars to be made into fertilizer in the east.  The lucky ones were bought off the trains by individuals who appreciated the strong, hardy “Northern Horses.”

By the mid-1950s there were very few horses running wild in the Badlands.  Theodore Roosevelt National Park had been established in 1947 and a boundary fence was being constructed to keep wildlife in and domestic stock out.  As that fence went up, a few small bands of horses were inadvertently being trapped inside the park.  These bands were made up of wild horses and domestic horses from area ranches.  Since the National Park Service looked on horses as trespass animals, the horses were again hunted and many of them removed.   There was a large roundup conducted by area ranchers in 1954 in which almost all the horses were removed from the park.  Most of them were domestic horses that had escaped from ranches or were part of domestic strings that had run in the park for decades.

Tom Tescher, a local rancher and well known rodeo cowboy and his brothers had watched and wrangled the wild horses for years.  Along with more positive public sentiment toward wild horses, Tom was instrumental in the park’s decision to keep a few horses in the park.  The decision was made to keep a small “demonstration herd” to represent the wild horses that Theodore Roosevelt had observed when he lived in the area.  Tom began to document the horses, keeping detailed records of births and deaths and which stallions held which mares.  Tom and his brothers helped the park round up the horses periodically so that numbers could be kept to around 50-100.  Culled animals were sometimes sold to individuals and rodeo contractors, but most of them went to slaughter.

My husband and I started riding in the park in the early 80s and fell in love with the wild horses we saw.  I started to document them and look for familiar ones each time we returned.  In the 90s we met then Resource Manager, Russ Runge, who introduced us to Tom Tescher who graciously invited us into his home and his pickup for horse tracking adventures and shared all his records with us.   I started making spreadsheets with information about each horse and in 1999 we began volunteering for the park in helping Tom with the identification and documentation of the wild herd.  Since then we have worked at every roundup.  I have been the principle identifier of all the horses at each of the 5 roundups since then. 

The horses are rounded up by helicopter because the terrain is so rough that it cannot be done safely on horseback.  Until the last three roundups, riders were used the last mile in order to lure the horses into the trap, but that was deemed too dangerous and discontinued in 2003.  The park has a permanent trap and handling facility that is used for elk and bison as well as horses.  Pens are high and solid wood so animals are not temped to try to get out.  Each year the roundups have gotten more humane.  The 2007 roundup ended early with the crash of the helicopter because it was too low and caught a skid on the fence, but neither horses nor people were injured.  There were no injuries to either horses or people in any of the last 3 roundups. 

In 2009 a research project was initiated to find a reliable contraceptive to prevent pregnancy on a temporary basis and avoid side effects that would cause harm or behavior changes with the horses.  During the breeding season of each year since 2009, technicians have observed behavior, pregnancy status, condition, and any possible side effects of the contraceptive.  These data have been compiled and processed by researchers in order to determine the effectiveness of the drug and any changes that should be made.  In the fall of 2009, 58 mares were injected with either the contraceptive or a placebo and data was collected at least once a week from March until July each of the following years.  In 2013 treated mares were re-vaccinated to test the efficacy of the contraceptive when boosted.

After the roundup in 2009, 77 horses were sold to the public.  Because of the efforts of a few passionate people, all but 8 of those horses were bought by individuals who gave them a home. 

That winter North Dakota Badlands Horse Registry was established to provide a registry and a network of communication and support for the buyers of those horses.  Our goal is that no more horses will be lost to slaughter, but all will find good homes where they will be appreciated and gentled.  We registered about 30 horses and created a Facebook page to share stories and photos of the horses.  As photos and stories are shared more and more people are beginning to appreciate the wild horses of TRNP.

Over the past 5 years we have attracted a large group of enthusiastic people who love the horses.  In September of 2013 we had our first Reunion Ride of horses that were once running wild in the park.  Ten once wild horses were ridden back in their homeland.  Other activities were held for owners and enthusiasts.  This will be an annual event in Medora and the park.  The 2014 Reunion Ride is scheduled for the weekend of September 5-7.  In the months leading up to another roundup in September of 2013, NDBH stepped up our Facebook campaign to reach as many people as possible with the plight of the horses being removed from the park.  We were able to bring in The Cloud Foundation and Legacy Mustang Preservation to help us tell the story of the wild horses of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  Both organizations raised money to buy unwanted horses and Legacy was prepared to take those horses to their facility in Louisa, VA to gentle them, train them, and eventually offer them to forever adoptive homes.  Ginger Kathrens of the Cloud Foundation wrote press releases and made videos about the plight of the TRNP horses.  We are humbled and grateful to both organizations and the people involved in them for caring so much about the TRNP horses that they would work so hard, shoulder to shoulder with us to see that the horses were not lost.  Our relationship with The Cloud Foundation and Legacy Mustang Preservation grows as we support one another in the effort to help the wild horses of America.

The public auction was in a small town in ND, but Wishek rolled out the red carpet for us and the potential buyers of the wild horses.  The horse sale manager of Wishek Livestock Auction did everything he could to make the horses safe and comfortable, even having his talented cowboys practice gently moving the horses from pen to pen and through the auction ring.  Wanting to welcome all the visitors from far away, the town of Wishek had a celebratory approach to the sale with activities in which all could participate.  NDBH had depended upon and become friends with so many people during this campaign that we called ourselves TEAM NDBH, knowing that the job of saving these beautiful wild horses had to be a joint effort by many, many individuals.  TEAM NDBH succeeded in seeing that none of the wild horses went to slaughter.  Horses were sold at a minimum of untainted slaughter price ($.42/ lb.), so that the meat buyers would not be interested.  Horses went to homes all over the country and Canada, including 35 to Legacy Mustang Preservation in VA.  About 15 of those were bought by a private buyer but the other 20 might have gone to slaughter if not purchased with donated funds.  About 20 horses will be available for adoption from Legacy as they get them gentled and halter trained.   Five of the mares bought by Legacy have since had healthy foals.

During the festivities before the horse sale, NDBH had a silent and live auction of donated artwork to help pay for DNA testing on the wild horses.  Hair was pulled on all 197 horses that came through the handling facility.  (Only 16 did not get captured.)  We are confident that the results will be consistent with that found by several individuals who have had ancestral DNA reports done on their privately owned NDBH horses, and those results have been very interesting.  There is a surprising amount of Spanish influence still evident in the wild horses from the park.  There is also strong Oriental, Scandinavian, and other eastern and western European influence along with some North and South American breed connections.  They are definitely showing themselves to be mustangs with the typical mix of blood from many diverse sources.   One hundred eleven horses remained in the park in about 20 different bands.  They will again be documented and evaluated by researchers in the coming years.  The foal count as of early June is 31 live foals.

Ranging in size from 13 –16 hands, the horses come in most colors, with grays and red, bay, and blue roans the most prevalent.   Many carry the overo traits of patches of white on dark coats, bald faces, and blue eyes.   There are no tobiano pintos and no palominos in this wild herd.  Most are of sturdy build, with good bone and large, healthy feet.  They tend to be healthy in other respects, as the sickly horses do not survive in the wild.  When gentled, the horses from TRNP have proven themselves to be mellow, sensible, highly trainable, loyal partners to those lucky enough to know them.   The consistent feeling among owners is that they love these horses.   
Please visit the Facebook page, North Dakota Badlands Horse for regular updates on the horses remaining in the park and many of those being successfully gentled and trained by happy owners who are so thrilled to be a part of the history of these beautiful horses.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

By Marylu Weber
Winter had been typical in western North Dakota, with below zero temperatures and strong NW winds sculpting the snow into mammoth drifts, but spring was coming, though residents often wonder if warm weather is just a fond memory or something their “snowbird” friends brag about. 
Out in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, there had already been one foal born.  Mist had again been the first to foal, but little Autry didn't survive that pelting snow and cold.  Every year our boss with the research project wants to get technicians in the field in March to document those early foals, evaluate mares, and watch for any behaviors that could be affected by the contraceptive vaccine.  This year was no exception, but fate determined that April would again be the start of the 2014 research season. 
Our former Lead Coordination, Maggie, our new Lead Coordinator, Tiana, another field technician, and I were scheduled to all get to Medora April 1, so that Maggie and I could train the new people.  Watching the weather forecast, I talked to our boss and decided to go early, before a blizzard hit the Black Hills.  The Medora area was predicted to get rain changing to snow, but no large accumulations.  I left at 6:30 and was in the park by 11:00 am where I met up with Amber and Elizabeth, some FB friends and enthusiasts of the horses, to find horses and see if there were any new foals.   Before the rain started, we were able to find Granite’s small band and the Double band of Red Face and Singlefoot.   Amber and Elizabeth had seen a new foal with them the night before so we wanted to check it out.  There was Pretty Girl with a cute light sorrel filly; we named her Cash, because the theme for 2014 is country music artists.  Just as it started to rain, we met up with Lyle and showed him the shortest way to get to the band so he could get some shots of the new filly.
Overnight and into the next day the rain and light snow flurries became 8 inches of crystalline beauty.  By the next morning the sun came out bright and warm, but the temperatures were still just above zero.  Since the snow was soft and had not blown around much, with a “be careful” from a couple of the guys from the park, I set out around the 36 mile “loop” through the park in search of horses.  What a magical experience it is to see the Badlands covered in a pristine blanket of white!  That day I found the bands of Clinker, Gray Ghost, Silver, Satellite and the Double band.  When Amber, Elizabeth, and I had seen Firefly in Silver’s band, we had thought she looked close to foaling so it was no surprise to see a brand new baby with Firefly.  It was a cute dark filly; her name is Dixie.  It was a fabulous day to be born and to just enjoy life.
The next day Tiana and I worked in the office while we waited for Maggie because another prediction of light flurries brought about 5 more inches of snow.  Once Maggie arrived we drove just to the north side of the park and prayed that we would be able to traverse the loop the next day.   Morning again brought bright sunshine but a biting NW wind.  Going around the outside of the park we found Thunder’s band on the east side and Blaze in the bottoms to the NE.  The snow was up to our knees in places, making hiking possible but very tiring.  Neither of those two bands had new foals nor did Gary’s band on the south, but we started with the behavior study, documenting what each horse was doing every minute, on the minute for 20 minutes, and also making note of any aggressive or reproductive behaviors.  Mares were evaluated for condition, pregnancy status, and any possible reactions at the site of injection of the vaccine. 
Days six and seven brought warmer temperatures, melting snow, running water, and lots of mud.  We had taken the large scope in order to identify horses at a long distance and I had finally braved bulldozing through the drifts to get to the top of Buck Hill.  From there we could see Cocoa, Thunder, and Sidekick.  There didn't appear to be any new foals with Cocoa or Thunder, but there was a little black foal with Sidekick that could be the one born in February or a new baby.  They were so far away that we decided against going out to find them; a friend had offered to help out on his day off so he could go the next day.  I dropped Maggie and Tiana off on Talkington so they could go after Cocoa.  What would normally be a 3 hour hike, including the study, would become a 5 hour excursion through mud and running water.   I had decided to keep glassing from Buck Hill and no sooner got back to the top when I spied the Double band on lower Talkington behind a small herd of bison.  What intrigued me was the sight of another new foal, this one out of Flame.  I knew the others would be gone for some time so I texted them that I was going after the Double band again for the new foal.
It took only about 15 minutes to skirt the bison and get to the Double band, grazing and resting just across Talkington Creek.  It was an uneventful 20 minute study except for a couple threats from Red Face to Singlefoot.  Having completed the behavior study, I needed to get closer to do mare evaluations and get a sex on the foal.  The problem was that the creek had now risen to be about 4-6 feet wide and an unknown depth.  Searching up and down the creek looking for a narrower place, I considered what the best plan of action was- jump for the other side, find a tree overhanging the creek, or maybe finding an area with rocks to step on?  None of these options looked good.  Out of frustration, I finally found a wide spot that didn’t seem to have any disturbances on the bottom.  Reaching out with my walking stick, I tested the depth and found the bottom to be about a foot down.  Tying my waterproof pants over the tops of my water-resistant boots, I figured I couldn’t get too wet if I sprinted across to the other side.  After all, there was an animal trail there and I HAD to get a closer look at that foal.   I made sure my backpack with my camera, paperwork, timer, glasses, etc. was secure on my back and my phone was zipped into a deep pocket in my jacket, took a deep breath, and made a run for it.  Two steps in, I dropped into the gully running in the bottom of the streambed and stumbled to my knees.  Muddy snow runoff was now covering all but my shoulders and head.  Gasping from the cold, I scrambled across the rest of the way and stood up.  Backpack-dry!  Paperwork-dry!  Phone-just a tiny bit wet on one end!  Field Technician-soaked to the skin from shoulders to waist with water running down inside my waterproof pants and boots.   I started to laugh hysterically.  Well, I had saved the important things and now I was on the right side of the creek to get closer to baby and continue my study. 
Baby was another filly who looked just like her sister Cash; since “E” was the next letter, I called her Emmylou.  After I got some shots of the foals, the horses paraded themselves past me so that I could get good photos of their right hips in order to record any injection site reactions.  I bid them adieu and headed off the try to find a way back across the creek.  Hiking both directions found me nothing to make my crossing any easier until I came to a dead tree bent over to create a perfect arch about 4 feet high and 6 feet wide.  It was located in the center of the streaming water but I could get to it from my side without getting too wet and hoped I could jump to the other side.  Crawling onto the arch and to the other end I again reached into the water with my stick to test the depth.  It was DEEP.  My stick went down to about 3-3.5 feet.  This was not going to be a good option.  Back across the arch bridge, back through the ankle deep water and what could I do, but start hiking up Talkington Trail to where in intersects the loop road.  There was gully after slimy gully where I had to slide down one side and clamor up the other through trees and brush in order to have any traction, but finally, after more than an hour, I made it to the road and back to the truck where I stripped off everything I could and sat alone, laughing with the heater running and the windows open, until Maggie and Tiana were ready to be picked up.  Though I was by then soaking wet from my shoulders to the souls of my feet, I was never cold.  It had been another ”Excellent Adventure!”
Maggie had to go home the next day.  I stayed to help Tiana one more day before we set her off to face the challenge alone.  We knew she would do well because she is dedicated, smart, and strong.  Lyle would try to feed her as much information as he could about the location of bands and arrival of new foals.  There will be a new technician starting in May, so Tiana will have full time help and I will go back to help once a month.  As soon as I was on the road, heading back home, I was anxious to see my husband, horses, dogs and cats and the glorious Hills of home, but I was torn because I wanted to go back to the Badlands.  They and the wild ones who live there will always have a special place in my heart.

Thursday, August 29, 2013


Tracking the wild horses in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in a roundup year is difficult when you don't plan to buy any at the sale, but 2009 was particularly emotional knowing we did plan to take some home. I didn't want to get attached to any one for fear the youngster may not make it until fall with all the perils in the park. Then, there was the worry that they might be injured during the roundup or at the sales barn. I tried to keep an open mind, not deciding on any particular horses until I knew they were safe, but it didn't work. We had decided we could take as many as four if need be, but would definitely want as least two so that we would each have a backup for the horses we ride for the tracking.

By mid-summer I had a few favorites. The first to snuggle his way into my heart was Marquis. I had always loved his sire, High Star, and his dam, Pale Lady. Little Marquis was just too cute with his wispy soft mane, dun color, and noble blaze. He was well built and fine featured like his sire and, though not representative of the characteristic colors of the park, I could see him fitting just fine in our pasture. In order to keep him company he needed a brother from the same band. His full brother, Sage, had always been a favorite of mine, but I didn't think we had the skills to deal with a two year old stallion. The yearling, Hawk, had caught my eye as well. Yearlings are notoriously awkward and even a little homely and Hawk was no exception, but under his rough appearance he was well built like his parents.  He also had a bay roan coat, the characteristic white face, and a flashing blue eye. He's the kind of color people either love or hate; I grew to love him.

I had always thought I would like to have a foal from Thunder's band. A full brother to High Star, he is powerful, one of the larger stallions in the park, short coupled, and nicely balanced. He had two nice colts from last year, but we already had a yearling on the wish list, so wondered what he might have this year. His is one of the most elusive bands, claiming their territory on the bottoms west of the far eastern rim, but finally, at the end of June, we saw the band from Buck Hill and watched them with the scope as they climbed the butte onto the flats on the east side of the park. Could we get there to see them before dark? We had to try since we could make out the form of a very small foal with them. We got to the east side just as the sun was setting, but it was light enough to see the band and get a few shots as they swirled around us in the near darkness. There was the foal with Rain, a tiny dark colt with a large round star perfectly placed in the middle of his forehead. Henry and I had been caught in a rain storm and hailed on the day before. The colt's sire was Thunder Cloud and his dam was Rain; he had to be Hail!

We didn't see Hail again until the end of September. Fortunately for us, they were on Lindbo Flats with dozens of others. Again, it was nearing sunset, but it was unseasonably warm and quiet. Redface and Singlefoot were off to the east, but Blaze and several bachelors, including Sage and Hawk, were near the fence where we slid under to get a better look. Thunder eyed us cautiously from a small butte a few hundred yards to the south as we enjoyed the antics of the bachelors. Finally, determining we were no threat to him and his family, Thunder paraded them right to us. We watched as he sparred with a couple bachelors with his son, Clipper, closely following him. I marveled at the chance to see Thunder so close, and along with him, little Hail, three months old and stunningly beautiful! His dark coat had turned to blue, just like his daddy's and his legs were long and strait. He went to the top of the list with Marquis.

With Blaze was little Talkington, also a handsome blue roan. He would be smaller than Hail, but a good match for color. The thought of a team of blues crossed my mind. I also loved little Griggs from Red Face's band. He was an adorable bay roan with an engaging temperament. When High Star unexpectedly disappeared, my thoughts went back to his band and little Barnhart, another blue roan with a tiny star. I would have to see them come in and make my final decisions then.

At the roundup, we were successful in bringing in all the mares and foals; that is, all but Pale Lady and Marquis. Pale Lady slipped away from the choppers when they brought in the rest of her band. Though they were just south of the handling facility when the last run was made, it was too rainy to see them and they were missed again. We thought, maybe it was meant to be that Marquis would stay in the park. We hoped one day he would be a strong band sire like his father and brother.

All the others came in safe and strong. Since there were so many people coming to buy, we decided to buy two or three. Hail, Hawk, and Talkington were on the list. My friends, the Buffalo Gals, were there to support us and Joan had agreed to bid for me, since I was to be up in the box with the auctioneers, still IDing horses. At first I told Joan to buy them for whatever it took. It didn't take long to realize I was being foolish; I had Henry give her a limit. The foals were first and bringing unbelievable prices. I swallowed hard as Hail entered the ring. Joan bid like a pro. I could just see her over the head of one of the auctioneers. The bidding was lively and the price crept up. It was up to my limit; I nodded to Joan to keep bidding. Crazy or not, I wanted that colt. Joan made another bid with my nod; the auctioneer went on and on begging for another bid. Enough, enough, I cried to myself as he seemed to try too hard to outbid me, but Joan had prevailed and Hail was mine! Takington was next; I had fallen in love with the little tyke when he stood so quietly to have his blood drawn for the Coggins test. Again the price crept up and up. I knew Hawk was waiting with the other yearlings. I really wanted him, so I finally let Talkington go. I didn't know who was bidding at the time, but found out later that a very nice lady from MN had bought him and would give him a wonderful home.

Hawk was next. For all his wild looks, he was handsome and proud. Though he was extremely frightened, he kept his cool in that noisy foreign place. Joan was watching as the bidding started, but didn't want to seem too eager, so hung back a bit. Renee jabbed her in the ribs with an elbow, thinking she was preoccupied and missing out on the colt. Joan nonchalantly lifted her number. Up the bid climbed again, but stopped below my limit. The other colt I wanted so badly, a son of the great High Star who had recently died, and Pale Lady who had been the only mare crafty enough to evade capture, was coming home with me. Now I could relax.
 I have lived a lot of years and trained a few horses, but none are more fascinating than the wild horses from the park. They are essentially blank slates with very little, if any, close up experience with humans. Oh, they've seen us in the park and had the unpleasant experience of being pushed though chutes, sales rings, trailers, and pens, so they have had some good and not so good experience with us, but horses are generally very forgiving and oh, so curious.

Most of us who have weanlings are petting them and getting them to trust us. Some owners report having their babies halter broken already. A lot depends on the temperament of the individual and the amount of time one is able to spend with the little newcomer. 

A weanling is always very curious, but also frightened of these two legged predators who have captured him and seemed bent on putting their paws on him. Working a baby is much different from working an older horse. One does not want to push him very fast or very long, as he can injure his delicate legs. I recommend John Lyons' book, Bringing Up Baby. It gives step-by-step lessons for training a foal in its first year without injury to either the foal or the handler.

Our little Hail, the third wild weanling I've gentled, has been a joy to work with. He was, at first, very frightened, but careful, patient work in the round pen soon paid off. First teaching him that I was dominant yet trustworthy, I was able to get him to walk, turn, stop, face me, and eventually let me touch him. At first it was less frightening for him to touch with a training stick, but that led to being able to scratch and pet him with a hand. He now lets me touch him all over from both sides. It is very important to train both sides. Little Hail now comes to me for his scratches, as he has learned that the two legs can be pretty good friends. Recently, I was working with Griggs, the other weanling we are keeping; I had put Hail in a smaller round pen to wait his turn to "play." It soon became clear to me that Hail wasn't being so patient for his scratching. He was running around the little pen bucking and kicking alternately with pawing at the fence between us and trying to stick his head through it. Once I let Griggs out of the big pen and opened the gate to Hail's pen, he went right in and waited for his scratches!

As much fun as the little guys are, they do not compare with the older ones. Hawk, the yearling, has taught me so much in just a few weeks. I feel so privileged to have this exquisite wild creature in my barnyard. I literally can't wait to get to work with him every day and I think he is beginning to enjoy our sessions as much as I do.
First I should tell a little more about Hawk and his life up until the roundup. In June of 2008, Hawk was born into a band of around a dozen horses; he lived relatively peacefully in the breaks of the Little Missouri River.  In a good year, the grass grows tall and water is plentiful in the valleys lined with Juniper on the south and often bare bentonite to the north. 
Both High Star and Pale Lady were wary horses. High Star, the harem stallion, always stood on higher ground watching for predators.  Pale Lady was the lead mare, ready to lead the band away at a full gallop if danger appeared. Hawk had his full brother, as well as other young band mates to play with.  That winter was a cold and snowy one, but they all survived and welcomed the warm days and tender green grass of another spring.  New foals were born and life seemed ideal for the band in the summer of 2009.
Then unexpectedly, High Star disappeared in September.  No one has ever determined what happened to him, but life would never be the same for his band.  Other stallions vied for the mares and the young stallions, considered threats, were driven away.  Hawk sustained deep bites on both sides of his neck and one on his right hock, either from the new harem stallion or from the bachelors, who initiated him into the “Young Guns” band.  He was just beginning to find his place in that band when the helicopters thumped overhead and life again changed forever.
In the 17 months of his life, Hawk had learned well from his parents.  When I started to work with him, he was convinced that these predators outside his pen were out to get him. At first he jumped and ran to the other side of the pen every time he saw us or heard our footsteps in the gravel. The first couple weeks were spent just getting him used to having people around him. We would sit near his 6 foot high pen and near his feed, walk around on the outside of the pen, and finally clean it with him in it, but that sent him churning around the pen, looking for a way to flee from me.

I had to try something else. My friend had said to put a gentle horse in with him so that he could take his cues from that horse. I tried working a gentle horse in the same pen, but that really frightened him, so I had to think of some better plan that would help him relax. Finally, I hopped on my big, gentle dressage horse with, at first, no saddle or bridle and road him around in the round pen with Hawk. Maestro was so relaxed that Hawk soon accepted him and me on his back. I was able to work the youngster around the pen, pushing him when he ran from us and stopping and taking the pressure off him when he stopped. The pen was a little too small to get him to face us, so I just took advantage of the stopping and standing. At first, just moving a finger would send him racing away from us.  As he became accustomed to the movement of one finger, two fingers, a hand, an arm, and two arms, I was finally able to use a training stick as an extension of my arm.  Before long, I was able to swing the stick around, up and down and slap its string against the ground and the rails. With rhythmic movements, I could make it approach and retreat from him until I could finally touch him and scratch him with it. Maestro's ability to side pass made it easy to slide up to Hawk without frightening him. Within a week of taking Maestro into the pen, I was able to go through the ritual of moving Hawk, stopping him, snapping the whip around, touching him with it and ending with scratching him with my hand. A couple weeks of this along with cleaning his pen twice a day helped Hawk adjust to having me closer to him, so it was time to try it on foot.

The minute I would walk into his pen without the wheel barrow, he would circle the pen with his head in the air. That was good, because one of the first things I wanted to teach him was that I could make him move his feet. He soon learned that I could move his feet at any speed, in any direction. I had to speak his language to get him to understand what I wanted him to do. As I learned his response to body language, he learned what I was asking of him. I could just lift a hand to make him move, walking in a small circle with him, focusing my energy on his hip. Stopping my energy while stepping back a bit would stop him. Pointing in the other direction would send him off again in that direction. Each time he turned to look at me, I stepped back and turned away from him, which was his reward; he soon learned that I wanted him to face me.

That was when the dance became even more fun. He learned that he was to face me wherever I went in his pen. If I stared at his hind feet from one side, he would move them to the other. Soon by moving his hind feet I could get him to move his front feet. Taking a step forward earned him a big reward, of having me turn away, taking all the pressure off of him. The closer he got to me, the more curious he became. Touching the end of the training stick was a huge step for him. I always made sure to stop the lesson on a positive note when he had made a move to trust and before he lost his confidence.

In the dance, it is so very important to know when to step forward and when to step back. One must know one’s partner and what he is thinking in order to step back, taking the pressure off just before he wants to run. Rhythm in the approach and retreat builds the horse's confidence as he begins to sense the predictable nature of the dance. Moving, stopping, turning, coming forward, backing up, touch, release, reward, these were the things Hawk already knew from his band in the wild and he was learning that I could be his leader in his new world.

Now he too looks forward to his "play" in the round pen. When I point to the round pen he readily leaves his little buddies and goes in, immediately interested in what will happen this time. I move him around to establish the fact that I am leading this dance. I invite him in and he acknowledges me by touching my hand. I remove the hand before he removes his nose and rhythmically stroke his shoulders with the training stick. I stop. He bobs his head as if to say, "I like this dance; let's do it again." We repeat the dance getting closer and closer until I can brush him with my hand, then I walk away before he does. He comes again, forward and back, in and out, all the while we look into one another's eyes. I wonder at the sun shining through his blue eye and the softness and vulnerability I see in his brown one; he looks to me hoping he can trust me, but still not sure, so the dance continues. I hope it never ends.


It has been three months since we brought home the colts, Hail and Hawk. We have learned a little about wild horses and a lot about patience in our journey to communicate with these once wild animals. It has become apparent in visiting with many other owners of the wild horses, that each horse has his own individual personality which immensely affects the rate at which he accepts human touch and
develops a trust in his human captors. It is our responsibility to learn the horse's language in order to win his trust. Time seems to be extremely important in the quest for communication as well as figuring out what motivates the horse to seek human attention. The horses are not on the same timetable as we are and have not read the training books. It seems some young horses have been immediately approachable and others are still very wary. Some owners have reported an almost overnight change in the horse's acceptance of human presence and touch while many of the horses are still not convinced that there is any benefit from letting their humans near.
Our little Hail,
 always a more accepting individual, has become quite tolerant of touching all over his body when he is in the "play pen," the round pen. He knows that pen is where he gets rubbed and scratched. Before the storm hit this weekend, he was letting me rub him with ropes, pick up his feet, and halter him. He should be fairly easy to progress to leading once our weather improves.
Hawk continues to be my
 fascinating dance partner. He has now progressed to allowing me to approach him and rub his left cheek as soon as he enters the round pen. Since he had been a little sore on his right front from playing too hard with his little buddies, I am trying not to move him around the pen too much. I found that approaching him with the rhythmic forward and back swing of my hand rewarded me and him in a scratching session. When I stop scratching he still nods his head as if to say, "I like it; keep it up!" It has been important to change hands when petting him, but this was too much for him to tolerate at first. He would jump away when I reached for him with the other hand, so I made it part of our dance to pet him with one hand and then the other. If he jumped away, I would shoo him away and then invite him back. Since he craves the attention, he is usually quick to return, but if he is hesitant to approach me again, I give his hind feet the predator look and he moves them. Moving the hind feet always gets the front feet moving, and he soon returns for more scratching.

The left side has been easier to approach for some time, but it is
necessary to teach both sides to allow approach and touch. I could scratch the right cheek and neck from the front, but he would move away to keep me from going to his right side. Sometimes we would circle in the center of the pen for several minutes, him backing away and me following, seeking to touch the right side. When he stopped, I stopped. It was here that I realized that Hawk already knows almost all of the Parelli games, the "friendly game," the "driving game," the "Yo-yo game," the "circling game," and the "squeeze game." What a smart horse! It's too bad his owner didn't catch on to "horse language" sooner.

When one of the wild horse owners discovered Winter Ticks on the horses, we were all concerned that our poor babies should have parasites feeding on them even in the dead of winter. I treated each boy with a spot
 insecticide, but Hawk still has them. This weekend I have discovered that the ticks are actually my allies. The ticks leave small swellings that itch, which causes Hawk to love to be scratched. When the warm still weather of Saturday's break in the storm allowed me to remove my gloves, I was able to work my fingers through Hawk's coat, starting at his head and working back all the way to his tail on the left side and back to his hip on the right. It was the first I had been that far back on his right side since I rode the saddle horse in the pen with him. The rhythmic scratching and rubbing lulled Hawk into a more relaxed state than he has ever been with me. Once in a while he would seem to wake up and realize I was standing on the side he had never let me touch before; he would jump away but soon come back for the gentle massage. His head dropped and he did a lot of sighing and chewing, which showed that he was accepting and enjoying the whole procedure.

Hawk is an
 excellent teacher in the art of patience, him of me and me of him. I am able to dream about the times when he will completely trust me. Though this dance takes place in a snowy round pen in the middle of rural North Dakota, no ballroom gala could be more exciting or rewarding.

Once both horses had been touched, scratched, and knew that we meant them no harm, it was time to expect more. I realize that many trainers take these steps much faster, but, though winter provides a longer period of time to accomplish the gentling process, it is fraught with obstacles that hamper, disrupt, and delay the work. Our horses are outside where we do not have the best footing and the weather in North Dakota can be downright frustrating when the temperatures hover around zero for weeks at a time. We've had to make the best of the conditions we've had in training these colts.

Hails remains my high achiever. Hail puts up with just about anything as long as it means he can stand and get petted. Whether it's a brush, a halter, a lariat, or a saddle blanket, he enjoys getting rubbed with it. He wore his blanket around the pen and wasn't too concerned about it flapping in the wind. So tolerant about letting me handle his feet, he let us trim his front feet today. I wouldn't say he leads well yet, but he's getting the hang of it. I think he is coming along very well since I really haven't spent that much time with him and the icy footing has made it dangerous to move him around a lot.

It's good that I have a more challenging colt, because he makes me appreciate Hail even more. I've taken this gentling process more slowly with Hawk than with Hail, partly because of the icy footing, and partly because getting him drenched with sweat from running around the pen would put him in danger of getting sick. Hawk has made steady progress, but he struggles with controlling his fear. Though he thoroughly enjoyed my scratching him from head to tail, he could only control his fear so long before he would leap away without warning. I was very aware of the need for me to release him often for every submission, but it was three months and he was still jumping away without any noticeable change in my activity. Luckily Hawk knows from the work I have been able to do with him that he is supposed to face me, so rather than run away he often just backs away, which allows me to chase him around backward. Backing is slower but much more work than running forward, so it is safer and an even harder penalty for not overcoming his fear and trusting me.

Still needing some fresh ideas of how to speed the process along, I went to a colt starting demonstration by Ken McNabb at our Ag Days in Bismarck. They finally found a tough colt for him, so it was interesting to see how Ken adapted his approach to fit the colt and the facility. Since the colt wanted to jump out of the pen into the crowd at the Civic Center, Ken was not able to move him around as he had planned; he quickly went to plan B and roped him. With that additional control Ken could keep the colt and the crowd safe. As he worked the colt to the point of having him ready to ride, I realized that the rope would be a good tool for me to use in helping Hawk face his fears. When I talked to Ken about Hawk, he agreed.  One small hitch was that I don't rope and didn't even have a decent one. No problem! Going to one of the local tack shops, I asked for a "rope for dummies." Chip suggested a used one and showed me a box full of them. Using my trained eye, I looked for the perfect lariat that would change this dressage rider into a roper. Actually, I just picked a green one because it was prettier than the dirty white ones. I was ready for action and the next chapter in Hawk's training.

Armed with my new rope I entered the pen, pointed to the gate of the round pen, Hawk obediently trotted inside, and we were ready for our first training with the lariat. Earlier, when moving him around the pen, I had tossed the knotted end of an old rope at Hawk to get him used to having it touch him, so it wasn't so frightening to have me toss a loop at him as I moved him around the pen this time. Closing in, with my heart in my throat, I tossed a few loops from the back toward his head so that I wouldn't crack him in the eye with my poorly thrown loop. Success!  I had the wild colt on the end of a rope.  Aaaaaaah, now what would I do with him?

It didn't take long for Hawk to show me he wanted no part of this new game.  When he felt pressure on his neck he reared straight in the air.  Then Hawk took off for the other side of the pen. Wondering if I would soon become a horse powered skier in the icy pen, I set my feet and pulled the slack out of the rope. The noose tightened around his neck; up he reared again, but after a couple more experiments with pressure and release, I asked him again to yield to the rope around him neck.  This time Hawk swung around to face me with a rather surprised look in his eyes. After a moment of reward with a slack rope, I moved him around the pen again, told him whoa, and brought him around to face me again. After a few repetitions of moving him, asking him to stop, and bringing him around to face me with tension on the rope, we were ready to test his patience and control while standing. He let me rub him all over on the left, but was still jumpy with me on the right so he jumped away a couple times and ran backward several times, but every time he felt the noose tighten and bring him to face me. By the end of the session that day I was able to rub him all over and brush him head to tail without having him jump away. Two days later I was able to repeat the brushing with no rope and no leaping away!

Each day with the rope has brought more success in getting him to tolerate being touched with new objects, farther down each leg, and onto his face. Now if he starts to move away, I can tell him whoa and put a slight pressure on the rope; he stops. He is starting to let me lead him by putting pressure on the rope from the side; when he submits and moves toward me he is immediately rewarded with slack in the rope. Today, the fourth day with the rope, I was able to sack him out with the lariat, the halter, and a saddle blanket. Hawk still struggles with his fears, most times cringing as the blanket is tossed his way, but he is standing his ground and gaining control over his instinct to run. He is closer to being the quiet, trusting horse he is destined to be.

Hawk was haltered for the first time today (3-5-10) He's pretty comfortable with it!

Hawk is a master at the dance, an attentive, respectful gentleman, graceful yet powerful, wary yet trusting.

It's hard to explain just how much Hawk has worked his way into my heart. Seeing him slowly learning that he can look to me for security and leadership even though his instincts tell him to run from me, builds my respect and appreciation of him more and more every day. He will always have a special place in my heart and I look forward to the day that I can ride him back in the park where he once ran free. What a wonderful privilege that will be for all of us who have taken home one of these very special horses.

The weather and melting snow made it impossible to keep Hawk and Hail outside, so Henry built me a small round pen inside the barn that is accessible from the stalls. Since both horses had been loading in and out of the trailer for several weeks, it was no problem to get them loaded for the short trip to the barn. Now they have an outside pen, nice dry stalls in the barn, and the little round pen to play in. I was afraid Hawk would be more skittish inside the barn because of all the stuff, the sound of the tin roof, and the cats running everywhere, but he has actually been more relaxed. He will flinch if a cat jumps onto the plastic bedding bags we have strewn around outside the round pen, but he stands his ground.

In the five months I have been working with Hawk, I have been so amazed with his intelligence and his willingness to do whatever it is I ask of him, even though it is against his instincts. We are perfecting our games every day. He now lets me touch him with ropes, towels, blankets, plastic, nylon, etc. He is so attentive and sensitive that the slightest cue of touching just the hair of his side sends him away from the pressure in a pivot on the forehand. I only have to point in the direction I want him to go to get him to circle the pen or reverse directions and a wagging finger backs him up. He's not brave enough to step on the blanket on the floor yet, but he will approach, sniff, and chew it.

After all these months of working on trust, he will finally let me rub inside and out on all four legs. Though he immediately puts it down again, I can get him to lift any foot just by touching it and telling him, "Up." Earlier in his training, he was so extremely afraid of the thicker ropes. I think he really thought they were snakes, because he would let me touch him all over with the lariat or the lash of the training stick, but he would cringe when I touched him with the lead rope. Now he lets me touch him all over with it and a long soft cotton rope that I use to work with his feet. Once I was able to touch him with the cotton rope, I could reach around a leg to make a loop around it. By twisting the long ends together, I could keep the loop around the pastern and ask him to lift the leg. That way he learned to lift the foot without my having to get too close to it. I also use this method to get him used to having a leg restrained. I wrap the rope around a pastern and then ask him to move around the pen. When I say, "Whoa," I put pressure on the rope and I don't release him until he stops dead still. I thought that would really panic him, but he didn't panic and learned quickly to stop and stand.

He has learned to give to the pressure of the halter when I wrap the rope around his hind quarters and ask with the rope for him to make a complete 360. In preparation for vaccinations, he is learning to relax his neck when I pinch on his neck and poke him with a blunt substitute needle. I hope it works! We are about 10 days from "G day" so we are having friends come and pretend to be the vet. We have decided to have the vet come here so that we don't have to put Hawk though the trauma of the vet clinic until he has had more experience outside his little world of our barnyard.

Hawk has a long way to go to be trusting of all his two-legged friends, but he now comes to me and drops his head letting me know he wants to be near me and get the scratches he's learned to love. I couldn't ask for a more engaging dance partner. Who needs "Dancing with the Stars" when I can dance with a wild Hawk!

It is now October of 2010, one year after the horses of Theodore Roosevelt National Park were rounded up, separated, and 77 sold at public auction. Unfortunately, we have lost track of some of them, but many of their owners are keeping in contact with us and telling us how well the horses are doing.   One of special interest is Bashful, the horses who leaped out of the sales ring in Dickinson, but his is another story.  Let me continue Hawk's tale of progress.

Hawk is learning to be brave by playing with all the obstacles I have set up for him in the arena. Besides the can and bottle box, the bridge, the rubber tub, feed sack, and step stool, he has learned to jump over a rail and back through cones. Each new thing becomes easier as he gains confidence, though the tarp on the ground is still a little frightening to him. We are still working toward loading into the two-horse trailer too. He happily loads and backs out of the stock trailer, but the other one is much more enclosed. I have no doubt that he will be fine with the two-horse once he gets used to it, since he seems to be OK with almost anything once he has a chance to check it out.

Two big steps that he has taken recently are letting the farrier trim his feet and wearing a saddle. With gradual, patient, calm work, Hawk got to where I could handle his rear feet. It was hard for me, because I didn't want to take a chance of being kicked, but I had to stuff the fear deep inside and portray only confidence and trust as I asked for each foot. He has only had the farrier trim him twice since the time of his gelding, and both times he has stood quietly once the farrier pets him a little and shows him he's a friend. 

After wearing the surcingle several times, the English saddle was easy. I was able to get him to smell of it and just placed it on him back. So far, the stirrups are tied up, but shortly he will learn to carry a western saddle with the stirrups flapping. I'm quite sure it won't be a big deal to him because he had carried the surcingle around the round pen with the saddle blanket flapping in the wind and he has not minded it. Those of us who are training these horses have found that they are very tolerant when introduced to new things patiently.

I am anxious to be able to ride Hawk next year, once he turns three. He has become such a willing partner who responds with the slightest cue. I have no doubt that his responsiveness with carry over into his under-saddle work and he will continue to be a joy to work with through the coming years.

HAWK, THE SADDLE HORSE           August 2011

By spring of 2011, Hawk was doing everything he needed to do to be ready for his under saddle training. He was obedient and gentle with every part of his handling and enjoyed each new aspect of his training. It was time to start the riding. Since I have not started a horse since my 11 year old gelding, and since Hawk has always been extremely timid and sensitive, I had decided to find a natural horsemanship trainer to start his under saddle training. Birgit Schwartzenberger had bought one of the stud colts from the park; in my many conversations with her, I had decided she was the perfect trainer for my sensitive boy.

We took Hawk to Birgit on one of our trips to the park so that he would have company in the trailer for such a long trip. He seemed to accept his new, temporary home very well that first day. I was wondering how he would accept a new leader in his life since I had been his only handler for his first 1 1/2 year in captivity. Birgit had told me that she starts every horse as if it had never been touched so that she would know how it would respond to her and so that there would be no holes in its education. I was pretty confident in the things I had taught Hawk, but was not surprised that he would struggle to accept and trust this new person. The first report Birgit gave me was that he was unwilling to give her 100% of his trust. She said some horses took months, even years to fully trust, but she would not skip this vital step in his training. She was hoping he would one day yield himself completely, especially his right side, to her patient persuasion; it might be the next day or several months down the road. The good news was that what he knew, he knew well. She was amused at how much he liked to play games and play with obstacles. He had also gained a friend, a goose; they became unlikely buddies and playmates.

After a few more weeks, Birgit called to report again on Hawk's continuing education. This time she was delighted to report that he had began to trust her and give his whole body to her. She was not riding him because, at first, he would not stand perfectly still with nothing on his head and allow her to saddle him. Even though he had been fine with my English saddle and small western one, he wasn't sure he wanted her big western saddle with all its attachments. More time, patience, and determination on Birgit's part convinced him that it was easier to let her saddle him than have to run around the round pen. She was planning to ride him the following weekend, when her husband would be home to pick up the pieces if there was a wreck, though she knew Hawk would be fine.

I was anxious to hear how the first ride had gone, but waited for Birgit to call because I knew she would when she had time and something to tell me. The next report was again a bit of a downer for both of us. Birgit was pleased that Hawk did not attempt to buck, but he also did not want to move. It seemed pretty logical to him that he should stand still no matter what she did with him. We had both been teaching him that for the last 20 months, so why would she suddenly change the rules? Actually, he knew very well how to move away from pressure when his leader was beside him, but he could not seem to transfer those cues to having her on his back. Birgit is not one to use spurs or whips, so it took a little longer, again, for him to understand that she wanted him to move forward, but he eventually got it and began to walk around the pen. She had hoped again that the light would go on and he would start feeling OK with moving forward with her on his back, but he seemed confused or unwilling to accept this new arrangement, so each day was a challenge. Having trained wild horses before, Birgit found that they were more comfortable and willing to move out when they were out in the open, so Birgit took him out to the yard and into a field. What happened next surprised even her; he ran. Well, that was not in the plan, so she stopped him and took him back to the pen for more training.

Weeks went by with less progress than Birgit wanted to see. He was starting, stopping, turning and backing, all on light cues, but he just did not seem to enjoy having her on his back nearly as much as he liked having her next to him. It was soon time for me to pick him up, and Birgit was still not satisfied with where he was in his training, but she assured me that he had no holes in that training; he just needed time to get used to the riding. When I came to pick him up, we spent a couple hours working with him so that I could see what he had learned. He was timid and unsure, but he did what she asked. Again she reassured me that I could take it from there or, if I just wasn't comfortable with riding him, just give him more time to grow up and bring him back the next year.

Well, even though Henry was gone most of the fall, Hawk and I did "play" as much as we could in the round pen. I took him back to the beginning too, going through all the steps before stepping up on him. At first, he was uneasy; he even took a little frightened jump once in a while, but just one jump at a time and not too hard to sit, even with the English saddle. We started by having Henry ride Fire around the pen so that Hawk could follow him. That worked well, so that by the time Henry was gone to SD, Hawk knew he was supposed to walk forward. Sometimes he would get stuck and I would have to bend his neck around the side until he stepped forward. It also helped to walk beside him and give him the verbal cues as well as the pressure on his side. He was pretty good with verbal cues when free lunged in the round pen. Little by little he became more comfortable with the riding around in the pen. I slowly added cones, a rail, and the bridge. He began to enjoy walking around and over the obstacles. One day it was time to ask for the trot. Since I knew he would be startled if I asked too much, I just used the verbal cue to trot. He trotted! Then he realized he was trotting with me on his back; it freaked him out a little and he stopped, but I just reassured him and asked him again. Each time got easier for him.

When Henry got home again in December, it was time to move to the big arena. He was fine with that and seemed to enjoy having more space. He still wasn't completely comfortable with the trot and only wanted to trot in a straight line. That was OK. Again, I started adding obstacles to give him something to think about. It worked well for him. He became more and more interested in trotting, even trotting over the rails and around the cones. He was like a kid at an amusement park with the cones, rails, chair. Oh, and best of all, the bridge. Hawk loves the bridge; he thinks he should go over it every time around the arena.

I may not have made what some would think was a lot of progress with riding Hawk. We are still not cantering. He isn't doing fancy figure eights, roll backs, and sliding stops like some three year olds, but he loves to "play". He hangs his head over the gate after I have let him go because he isn't done playing yet. He has been an unusual horse all along in that trust came slowly; he had to have each new aspect of training introduced slowly and carefully. I believe that, if I or the trainer had pushed him too hard and too fast, he would have rebelled or become a horse that would tolerate something for a time and then blow up. Because we took our time and allowed him to use his own timetable, he is a happy, curious, interested horse who develops an incredible bond with those he knows. I could not ask for a more enjoyable riding partner. I think he looks forward to our sessions as much as I do.  
One story about Hawk that Birgit shared with me and has allowed me to share is that one day a huge oil tanker ran over Birgit's mother cat, right in front of her eyes.  Birgit is not normally an emotional person, but the sight of that horrible accident took her off guard and she screamed in agony for the mother cat and her 7 tiny kittens, now orphaned.  She ran to her horses and sat in the corner of their pen sobbing.  Her stallion ran to her, but not knowing what to do, walked away.  Birgit finally thought she had to get up and get to work feeding and cleaning to work through the strong emotion and pain she felt, but she was still sobbing as she entered the last pen to do some cleaning and preparing to feed.  She had her back to Hawk as she scraped up the stray hay strewn around on the ground but she felt his head gently placed on her shoulder.  As she looked into his eye, she knew that he was aware of her sorrow and was doing what he could to help.  Birgit was deeply moved by this show of compassion by her friend.  Though he was another species, he could understand her pain and wanted to comfort her.

HAWK’S LIFE AS A RIDING HORSE          October 2012
By the spring of 2012, Hawk was very comfortable with having me on his back.  Since the ground was still slippery, we weren't doing a lot outside the large arena, but we could go for short trail rides on grassy areas.  When the Buffalo Gals had our winter retreat in March at a local indoor arena, I brought Hawk along.  He had never been there before or seen any of the other horses, but he was a perfect gentleman, doing everything I asked of him.  He took a liking to Smokey, an old Arab gelding ridden by my friend, Sandy.  She would lead the parade as we played follow the leader with the other riders.
Once the snow was completely out of my arena we could work on some new skills.  I introduced cantering, but it affected him as each of the other gaits had.  It frightened him at first.  He was so comfortable with going around the cones and over the rails and small jumps at the trot, but he wanted nothing to do with going any faster.  He would go from a trot to a canter but quickly drop back to his comfort zone.  He would have gotten used to the new gait, but we moved to SD and started to build our new place, so cantering was forgotten for a while.  He became a trail horse, following Fire through the pines, over downed trees, up steep slopes and through rock strewn gullies like a pro. 
In October of 2012, three years after the roundup, I rode him back in the park.  He had come full circle to the place he had been born and raised.  We went along with the other horses in our group without any issues.  Even when we were surprised by a band of wild horses galloping toward us to check us out, Hawk acted like a trained saddle horse.  I think he may have had flashbacks of running free over the hills and through the valleys of the badlands of North Dakota, but he was now content with his four and two legged family.  I could never be more proud of my wonderful dance partner, Hawk, the not so wild horse.

In the spring of 2013 I had decided I wanted more advanced training for Hawk, but we had absolutely no suitable footing at our place in the Hills because there were still piles of dirt and rock in the area where I hoped to have a space to ride one day.  I only knew of one trainer in the area and had good references from a friend so I hauled Hawk down to Kevin McPeck.  Kevin was a life long trainer of reining horses and had taken several horses of various breeds to wold competitions.  It seemed Kevin enjoyed working with horses of different and not always typical reining breeds so he gladly took on Hawk, the mustang from the North Dakota Badlands.

I had told Kevin everything about Hawk, but being a wise trainer, Kevin too took Hawk back to the beginning.  When I came to visit one day after a week, Kevin had not been on Hawk yet, so I asked if I could ride him.  Showing Kevin what I had been doing with Hawk and seeing how relaxed Hawk was with all of it, helped Kevin know where to go from there.  When I pushed myself behind the saddle and off over Hawk's hind quarters, Kevin just shook his head.  He said he's had a lot of horses and seen a lot of things, but that was the first time he had a mustang that that would let you slide off over his butt.

Kevin loved Hawk, saying there was just nothing to say against him, he was athletic, so willing, built right, and pretty to boot.  The day I came to pick Hawk up and take him home after about 30 days, Kevin rode him without the bridle.  He said I could do just about anything I wanted with him.  

Having the use of an outdoor arena at a neighbor's, I have done more schooling with Hawk.  He continues to be a willing partner with a lot of talent.  However, most of our rides have just been trail rides through the beautiful forest of the Black Hills.  Hawk enjoys his life here.  He is a happy boy, well fed, well cared for, and content with his life as a domestic horse.  

I adore Hawk and marvel at the fact that he was once running wild in the park.  I sometimes think about how his life would be had he not been rounded up and had I not bought him.  As a five year old stallion running wild in the park now, he would be very vulnerable to injuries from fighting with other stallions.  Being rounded up and sold, he would be a likely candidate for the kill buyers.  How horrible it would be to lose this wonderfully talented and trainable horse, DNA tested as "mainly Spanish."  Hawk is a national treasure, as are the other horses from Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  We must protect and save them.