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?

Saturday, December 8, 2012


Every year for the past three years I have been involved in the feral horse fecal collection project in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  It may seem like a strange and nasty job, but it is the best way to determine if the contraceptive used on 28 mares in 2009 is successful at preventing pregnancy, since a fetus will produce enough estrogen after 90 days of gestation that it will be very evident in the feces of the mare.  Therefore, every mid-November several of us, who have been working with the Colorado State Feral Horse Reproductive Study and a few volunteers head out to find every mare and collect two sample of fresh manure from each.  The first two years we had plenty of help and warm weather, so the collections went quickly, but in 2012 it had just snowed 3-5 inches and then started melting, which made spotting the horses very difficult against a mottled black and white landscape.   Plus, we only had two of us who knew the horses, so we were limited to two teams or sometimes one team and one single.         
                     Maggie went alone the first day finding several bands along the fence near the Interstate.  Sandy and I found a couple small bands that were generally hard to locate, so we were short on numbers, but glad to have found them without much searching.  The second day, Dan and Maggie found all the bands that usually hang along the Interstate and Sandy and I spied Cocoa and Mystery from Buck Hill.  We had to climb up the north side of Buck Hill through the Cedars and the snow to find Cocoa and confirmed that Busy Blue was still missing.  Though climbing down and up the steep muddy east side of Buck Hill was a challenge reminiscent of a pyre trip to those same flats, we made it out to Mystery and even had barely enough daylight to catch a sample from Ruby who, along with her two fillies, had been taken by Granite’s Boy and were right along the loop road. At the end of two days we were still missing about half the mares.  The third day, Dan and I hiked a good ten miles and found a few horses, but none that we needed.  We say Blaze’s band just north of Talkington Trail but we were a long way from them and even farther from our vehicle so opted to hurry back to the road where we could meet Maggie on her way by and catch a ride back to our vehicle, then our hike in to Blaze wouldn't be so far.  
It was a great idea except that when I got back to the road my phone was no longer in its pouch.  In all my hopping and jumping over gullies and sliding down slippery slopes, it had worked its way out and disappeared.  I told Dan I would go back for it and he could go get the Durango.  After checking all the pockets I had, off I went back across the meadow, up the hill, over to where we had eaten lunch, saying a little prayer that God would help me find my phone.  Back I came, again tracking myself through the mud and snow.  I could hear Maggie calling to me, so I tried to run the rest of the way to the road.  Maybe they had found my phone in my bag.  I wasn’t so lucky and neither were they; I had the Durango keys in my pocket.  Back I went across the meadow.  I knew I had bent down to look at a skull and had not found it the first retracing of my steps, so I was intent to find that skull this time.  Finally after going almost to the hill, I was able to look back and see the skull.  Back to the skull I trudged, but still I found no phone.  I was beginning to wonder, but still had faith the Lord was going to show me where to go.  About fifteen feet farther, there it was, my bright orange phone, facing up, but still showing its narrow orange frame.  Thank you Lord!  And, we still had enough light to head out for Blaze.  Out we went, my body feeling like that of a marathon runner, but Blaze was nowhere to be found.
The next morning I volunteered to scout.  I took the big scope we call Bruiser and climbed every high hill I could find to scout for horses.  I scoured the park from Buck Hill, but could not find Blaze.  From the top of Horse Trap Hill, I did see Coal with his new mare, Busy Blue and her filly.  Climbing down again, I found them and spent the next hour waiting for a sample.  I headed back to Buck Hill.  Maggie and Dan called that they had gotten a couple bands on the east side and had hiked in from there to find Blaze, but had not found him.  Taking one more look through Bruiser, I saw movement north of Talkington.  It was Blaze.  It was 3:00.  If I hurried, I would maybe have time to get to them and have about 45 minutes to collect before it got too dark to see.  Since they had alluded us all week, I was determined to get them.
After calling Maggie to let her know where I was going, I almost ran the ¾ of a mile out to where I had seen them, hoping to get most of the samples I needed.  When I got there, I saw that Blaze had Flame and Jud from Redface’s band.  Half of his mares were on one side and the others, along with him, Flame, and Jud were on my side of a wide gully.  Flame was extremely agitated to be held away from her band.  I could read the fear and anxiety in her eyes.  Just then Satellite and his family showed up over a nearby hill.  I was about to try to get my camera out as all the horses stood facing me when Flame made a break with Jud glued to her side and Blaze close on their heels.  Flame broke directly toward me, since she had never had anything to fear from me.  Blaze was not so trusting of me and hesitated, giving Flame and Jud a little head start. It did not last long; Blaze was soon in front of them, driving them back at me toward his band.  Flame would have none of it; she was determined to go back to Redface and the rest of her family.   They churned around in the cedars and breaks for long minutes as I worried about delicate little Jud trying to stay out of the way and keep up with his mother.  His eyes were huge with fright, but he would not leave his mother’s side.  I momentarily lost sight of them in the cedars.  Just then Blaze’s mares on my side of the gully took off across the gully to the rest of the band.  That must have been what made Blaze give up on Flame, because he came charging back, wheeling away when he almost ran up my trail, and joined his band running off in the distance.  I was so happy for Flame and Jud.  Flame had been with Reface for at least six years; that was where she belonged.
I followed Blaze’s band to a meadow wondering if they would continue to run, since they were all so wound up by now, but they settled to grazing and I settled among them to wait.  The sun had set several minutes ago and it was almost dark when Diamond gave me a sample.  That was it, I could still get it and get back before I lost all my light.  I hurried to the pile and plunged my gloved hand into it to see if it was warm, proving it was the fresh sample I needed.  It was, but I had forgotten to take my knit glove off that I had put on over the latex glove.  Oh, Well, it was washable!  I collected the samples quickly, stuffed them into my pocket, put on my head lamp, and almost ran through the near darkness back to the Durango.  I thought a little about what would happen if I got hurt or if I ran into some animal on the way back.  I was careful where I put my feet, but thinking how stupid I was to be so stubborn.  I guess the really good adventures never come without a little risk.

Sunday, February 26, 2012


There has, for many years, been much controversy as to what is the ancestry and value of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park wild horses. Park personnel, not knowing what their breed origins are, just refer to them as feral. Since some feel that national parks are meant to be filled with truly wild species, they do not think the horses should remain in the park at all. After the Park was established, local ranchers began to buy and breed American Quarter Horses, a breed they considered much superior to the "Parkies," so the park horses became valued only for their carcasses. Even now, many of the local people consider the park horses to be inferior, grade horses that are not of much use as a riding animals.

Outside the park, wild horse purists do not want to accept feral horses as being as valuable as their Spanish Mustangs, though the word mustang means feral. Some park horse owners claim that the earlier horses carried the blood of Sitting Bull's ponies and highly value those horses removed before the early 80s over those born in the park since then. Many owners of Nokota horses tell this story and claim that horses now in the park and those removed after the 1980s are mostly Quarter Horse crosses and of less value than theirs. It is true that the current park horses are a combination of whatever was there before settlement of the area, farm and ranch horses brought to the badlands by settlers, and horses either purposely or accidentally introduced to those existing herds since then. Who really knows what the horses' ancestry is and does that affect the current value of the horses?

Most of us, who have worked with either North Dakota Badlands Horses, Nokotas, or park horses that have not been registered with any breed, do not need to know their ancestry to see the value in these horses as companions and riding horses. They have shown themselves to be very trainable, mellow, engaging equine partners, no matter what breeds they represent. However, there is a way to find out more about their ancestry and maybe that will help us educate others as to their value in the horse world so that horses sold from the park will find good homes.

Some of the ND Badlands Horse and Nokota owners have had their horses DNA tested in order to determine what bloodlines the horses from Theodore Roosevelt National Park carry. Only a few horses have been tested at this time, but as more owners join us in having their horses tested, we may discover some interesting insights into these horses lineage. Just having tested our three horses has been exciting as we see what bloodlines they have.

Fire, Henry's 9 year old North Dakota Badlands Horse, has been determined to have strong, but not direct Thoroughbred influence with Irish breeds 1st, and Eastern and Western European Warmblood as 2nd and 3rd. Hail, our 2 year old NDBH has heavy draft, (Shire, Clydesdale) as 1st, Irish breeds 2nd, and non-Arabian Oriental as 3rd. Hawk, the 3 year old NDBH that I have featured here, is called "mainly Spanish," with South American Criollo 1st, Eastern European Warmblood as 2nd, and Brazilian breeds as 3rd. Irish and European Warmblood seems to be the most common in those few who have been tested with only one NDBH showing much, if any, Quarter Horse blood.

If for no other reason, it is very interesting and exciting to find out what bloodlines our horses carry, but we also plan to make up a data base of the results of tested horses. Therefore, we are encouraging anyone with a horse that can be proven to have come from the park or whose lineage goes directly to horses from the park, to have their horse tested and get the results back to us. Go to FaceBook, North Dakota Badlands Horse Registry to get details.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


I will continue to use this blog for longer stories about the wild horses, stories about those who have been gentled, and about some of the owners, but since Facebook is so popular and easier to use as far as adding photos and comments, I and some of the others who follow the horses, will be using the North Dakota Badlands Horse Registry Facebook site for publishing more information and photos of the horses. Please join us there and help up spread the word of the beauty and value of the horses of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Saturday, January 14, 2012


Difficulty accessing this blog has, for some time, kept me from reporting on the wild horses or those being trained, but I have recently fixed the problem and will try to post some updates before the next season starts.

I will get to updates of the bands remaining in the park, but first must share more of Hawk's story, because I am so excited at the progress he has made.

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 it's 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 it's 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.