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:

2008
Wild Horses of Theodore Roosevelt National Park
2009
Tom Tescher's Story
The Boicourts
The Roundup

The Sale

For some of the special horses' stories:
2008
Fire's Story
Whisper's Story
2009
Our Boys Come Home
Dancing with a Wild Horse
Whit's Story
2010

The Dance Continues
Training Update

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

Post of Interest:
2009
Four Stallion Fight
Hazards, Did I Mention Hazards?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

I have finally finished a compilation of short stories, most of which are from this blog, but there are some new ones too.  This project was done mostly for my family at the insistence of Sandi, my sister.   A writer I am not, but she wanted me to record my stories of the adventures I have had while tracking the wild horses in TRNP over the past several years.  Realizing I have had the privilege of doing what many people only dream of doing, spending time with wild horses running free in a wild, sometimes hazardous land, I am sharing this book with friends and others who may find it entertaining.  I've had any family member I could coerce into helping me read through and proof it.  Going over it a hundred times myself has only resulted in sore, tired eyes.  Therefore, I hope there are no glaring mistakes in the book, but if there are, I don't want to know about them.  The book is available for $29.95 in soft cover at Blurb at the following site.  Eighty % of the profits for this book will go to North Dakota Badlands Horse, a 501 (c) (3) non profit established to promote and preserve the wild horses of TRNP.   There is also a hard cover version available now.  Thank you!

http://www.blurb.com/b/5874355-adventures-with-the-wild-horses-of-theodore-roosevelt-national-park

Wednesday, November 5, 2014





The 2015 Guide to the Wild Horses of Theodore Roosevelt National Park is now available  for purchase on this site.  It contains photos and brief descriptions of all the wild horses currently living in TRNP.  It also has several pages intended to help you find a particular horse or know where to look for them.  North Dakota Badlands Horse will be using sales of this guide as a fund raiser so that we can do more to promote these great horses.  The Guide sells for $20/ea. + shipping.  Thank you for your support of the horses and this project.

http://www.blurb.com/b/5707545-2015-guide-to-the-wild-horses-of-theodore-roosevelt-national-park

Saturday, August 16, 2014

BASHFUL, THE STEPS OF HIS LIFE by Marylu Weber

Spring of 2007, a dark colt opened his eyes for the first time, blinking at the sunshine streaming down on this land of buttes, juniper lined valleys, rock encrusted ridges, and grassy meadows. Theodore Roosevelt National Park had no meaning to him; this was just his world, his home, the place he would live out his life like all the other wild horses in his little band. Little did the blue colt know that his life would not be so simple, but for now he was intent on the only goal he must accomplish, standing up to nurse. His very first steps in life were pivotal in his survival. Stand and wobble on uncooperative legs to the sweet life-giving milk the pretty gray mare standing over him was patiently offering, or fall back to the ground, too weak to rise, succumb to the cold wind, and die. The dark colt took his first steps, reached his goal, drank in life, and grew in strength.

The first two weeks of a foal's life are tenuous with predators wanting to feed on their tender flesh and other stallions with flailing feet and biting teeth attempting to steal their dams during the foal heats. The land that provides shelter and nourishment to the band can be dangerous to foals running precariously on spindly legs through deep spring snow, hidden sink holes, and rocky gullies. Around 30% of newborn foals die in the first two weeks of life, but the blue colt was one of the lucky ones. With each day he grew stronger, soon adding bright green grass to his diet of milk.

Some time during his gestation, his dam, Winter, another cute red roan, maiden mare, Little Brother's Girl, and another gray mare, Rain, with her two fillies, were stolen from his sire, Thunder Cloud. Thunder Cloud had most likely been injured in the fight with Blaze, as he was now running with another bachelor, Copper, while he gained strength to fight again. The mares stayed several months with the feisty bay roan stud, Blaze, but by spring, his blue roan sire had gained enough strength to win them back. Unfortunately for the blue colt, at one year old, he was now also considered a threat and Thunder Cloud chased him away from the band before the blue colt could learn the ways of a wild stallion from his majestic sire.

The colt didn't have much choice but to join another young stallion who had been fiercely driven from his natal band. Though he was curious when he saw us, the two leggeds he would come upon on a regular basis, he was young and shy, and didn't want to get too close to us. He would hide behind the older, braver, bald faced colt. The bald faced black colt was a son of High Star out of the beautiful gray mare, Bella. His family had been taken by Embers, so he too needed company. We called the black, Baldy and the blue, Bashful, because of his shy behavior. It was already apparent that both would gray like their dams, though both had colored sires. They spent that summer and the next munching on the rich green grass and playing with other young stallions in the "bachelor" bands. The younger bachelors were often referred to as the "young guns" because they cruised the Park play fighting and looking for mischief. It was an idyllic life for a young horse; the valleys were filled with lush grass, water was abundant, and the young Bashful had not matured enough to worry about acquiring a band of his own. However, on a rainy day in October, life took another change for Bashful, forcing him to make another choice and another step into an unknown world

The helicopters hung low in the sky that day because of the overcast sky. As they came closer, the young stallions became frightened and started to run away from them. They could already see the forms of other horses moving away in the distance, up, out of the flats and onto Boicourt Ridge, then down again into Talkington valley. Though the helicopters were a constant reminder, looming behind with their rhythmic roaring, thumping like the heart in Bashful's chest, they didn't get too close, so the horses settled into a comfortable trot that was easy for the suckling foals who had joined them along with their dams. Most of the mares moved obediently up the trail toward the east ridge, not wanting to challenge the throbbing beasts above them. One pretty, light red roan mare, Pale Lady, was not to be intimidated; finding just the right gully to make her move, she suddenly broke from the herd and led her golden dun colt, Marquis, to safety. The pilots saw her go and one attempted to go after her, but not wanting to lose the others, they let her return to freedom. Along with several other wild horses, Bashful ran into the catch pen and into another chapter of his life.

The trip though the handling facility can be very frightening, but the Park people stayed quiet and as gentle as they could be to move the horses, one at a time, through the chutes. Bashful was so distracted by all the sights and sounds above the chute as he was weighed and measured that he barely felt the needle as Doc expertly drew blood for a Coggins test. All Bashful wanted was to get out of this tight spot; he hated being confined by the high solid walls and tried to focus on the blue sky ahead of him. It must have seemed like an eternity to him, but he was soon released to run down the ally to a large pen where his buddy, Baldy, was already munching on grass. They spent three days in the large wooden pen. The green grass soon turned to brown as their sharp hooves churned it into mud. They were given fresh hay, which was difficult to learn how to eat, but filled their nervous stomachs. Water was provided from a tank that they soon learned would not hurt them. They must have wondered what would happen next.

The horses destined for sale did not have long to wait; soon large trucks came and they were herded onto the noisy, smelly stock trailers. What was more frightening was the fact that they moved under the horses' feet. The rocking and bumping must have seemed to never end, but before long they were unloaded at the sales barn in Dickinson. Nothing could have prepared these wild horses for the noise and stress of sales day with hundreds of people flocking through the alleys to gaze at the horses and plan their purchases. Bashful was particularly nervous, as he hated confinement; his only comfort were his buddies in the pen with him. On October 23, 2009 Bashful made another step that would be pivotal to his survival.

Stepping into the sales ring itself, he moved around in a daze with all the noise and lights confusing him. He could see what seemed to be hundreds of the two legged creatures surrounding him and two in particular, flailing flags at him. He couldn't get his bearings; where were his buddies; where was the light leading him out of this chaos? Then he saw it, the light of day high above him. Bashful took a huge leap in order to reach the light, a jump like he had never attempted before, to take him away from this cacophony of sounds and pressure, away to freedom. He gathered his body, tucked his front legs under his chest, rocked back on his haunches, and pushed with all the power and adrenalin within him. Up he soared toward the light, but he didn't make it to freedom; the cruel cable fence caught his hind leg and he came crashing into the crowd of people. The people screamed with fright and Bashful screamed with pain as the cable slashed into his leg. He pawed and fought furiously to get free, but it was not to be. A man under him felt his fury; a vidiographer, Brad, put himself in jeopardy and reached in to pull the man to safety; another man, Dan, threw his jacket over Bashful's head to try to calm him, but Bashful was in too much pain and terror to be calmed. He fought the jacket and anything else in reach of his teeth until his blood left crimson stains where once enthusiastic buyers had been.

What would happen to Bashful now? How would they remove him from the cable fence? Not able to watch any more, I left my safe vantage point in the auctioneer's box. Sure that they would have to euthanize him to get him off the fence, I couldn't bear to see it. As people milled around outside the barn I wondered what Bashful's fate would be inside. As the ambulance rushed away with the injured man, I learned that Bashful was removed alive from the fence and was recovering from sedation far back in the lot, away from the crowd, away from the noise, away from the auctioneer's cry as he finished the sale in the back barn. I could hardly be happy for Bashful, since he had decided his fate when he took that leap. Injured and deemed a rogue, no one would want to take him home now.

At that instant, Michael Sparling, who I had known since he was a little kid, son of our good friends, a Parelli Professional trainer, came to me and said, "I want that horse!" I was a little taken aback and just said I didn't know if they would sell him right away but to go for it. When the decision was made to sell him, Michael stepped in and bought Bashful for $35. Michael had now made a step that would forever save Bashful from certain death. Michael had seen in him a challenge to turn a horse others had rejected into one others would one day admire. Since Michael was taking on a new job in Washington state and Bashful was too injured to travel, it was decided to leave him with Michael's dad, Dan, in Bismarck. Michael spent a little time, even one night, with Bashful before his job took him to Seattle. It must have been sad to leave the nervous, blue colt behind.

It happened that Dan was also a Parelli Natural Horsemanship trainer and, having wanted to buy one of the wild ones himself, he couldn't resist starting to see what he could do with Bashful.  Since Bashful was injured and Dan had injured his foot, his first tactic was to just sit outside the pen. Little by little and with generous use of treats, Dan was able to win Bashful over. He broke goals down into simple steps Bashful could understand and rewarded him for the right reactions.
With Dan's patience he gained Bashful's trust to the point of giving every part of his body up to be petted and scratched. Like other TRNP horses removed that fall, Bashful had winter ticks and loved to be scratched where they had been feeding on him. This became a way to keep Bashful coming back for attention. The scratching led to playing confidence building games, which led to under saddle training.

Over the summer Bashful became more and more reliable as a saddle horse. October 22, 2010 Dan rode Bashful back into the park. Bashful stepped with confidence onto the sun flooded ground where he was born, into the juniper lined valleys, across the rock strewn ridges, up the high buttes, and down the grassy meadows. He is in Dan's "herd of two" now and his future is bright.
Dan on Bashful at the 2013 Reunion Ride
SCROLL TO THE BOTTOM OF THIS PAGE TO SEE MORE PHOTOS OF BASHFUL AS A FOAL AND HIS FIRST STEP BACK INTO THE PARK WITH DAN.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

SAGE AND PEACE PIPE by Marylu Weber

After seeing the horses housed at the Sieben Live Stock headquarters, we climbed into the vehicles for the short drive to the corrals where the four once wild horses had been when they escaped for the winter.  Sage, the gray overo, and his older gray brother, Peace Pipe, were the only animals there at this time.  Iain sent the two into the high round pen from their corral.  Whit mentioned that when it was been built he thought the round pen was higher than necessary, but with the 3 and 4 year old wild horses, it didn't seem too high; the horses never looked to jump its rail sides.  Cutting Peace Pipe back into the corral, Iain started to work with young Sage.
With a braided rope called a reata in one hand, Iain sent Sage around the pen at a lofty trot. There was no need to wear him down; Iain was just allowing Sage to move freely and decide for himself when he wanted to stop.  When Sage stopped, Iain would immediately stop, releasing the pressure rewarding him so that Sage soon learned that stopping and standing still was what Iain expected.   That lesson learned, Iain went on to roping Sage by the neck and then by a front foot.  Sage was still a long way from leading readily, but he was getting the idea that he should yield to the pressure of the rope.  Now when he yielded to the pressure, Sage would get a gentle stroking on his face, neck, and shoulders.   After haltering him, Iain asked Sage to yield his hind and then his front quarters, teaching him to turn away from the pressure of the scary bag on the end of the stick which was the beginning of what would later be control of the front and hind quarters in order to move obediently to the cowboy’s cues.  Iain ended the session with Sage’s acceptance of the saddle pad.  It is always better to stop when positive acceptance has been achieved.  The saddle would come another day.  Sage had already been saddled so he was well on his way to the day he would be ridden.  The most important lesson of the day was that Sage could trust Iain not to hurt him.  As that trust is gained the horse begins to yield his whole body and spirit to the soft hands of the cowboy.
Sage wants to engage with Iain
Sage is rewarded with a soft rub on the nose.
By his actions, it is very apparent that Sage in interested in this cowboy.
The bond of friendship is being built both ways; horse and man benefit from this understanding.

Iain uses the rope to get Sage used to being touched with foreign objects.
The saddle pad is not frightening to Sage.
Sage learns to move at the direction of his handler.
Iain with his two young children






Cooper Hibbard

All the while Iain was working with Sage, Cooper had been watching and gleaning every tidbit of information from what he had just witnessed.  Cooper is, himself, an accomplished horseman though shy about working in front of an audience.  Letting Sage out of the pen and bringing Peace Pipe in, Cooper started to build a relationship with the frightened horse.  Peace Pipe was much more nervous than Sage had been so his trot around the pen was more animated, giving everyone watching a thrill at the power and suspension of his extended trot.  As nervous as he was, Peace Pipe soon learned, by pressure and release that he should move, stop, turn, and face up by the cues Cooper gave him though body language.  After working with Peace Pipe a few minutes at liberty, Cooper too roped Peace Pipe to teach him that it would not hurt him and that it was a way for Cooper to communicate with him.  Once the rope was around Peace Pipe’s neck, he was surprisingly soft to it, letting himself be encouraged around the pen with a soft feel.  He accepted the soft strokes of Cooper’s hands and the feel of the coiled rope rubbed on his body, but he was still tense, ready to bolt at any moment that the pressure became too much for him.  Cooper wanted him to accept his touch equally on both sides of his body.  What is done on one side of a horse must be done on the other because each eye works individually when watching for danger and needs to be acclimated to the hands and the equipment of the cowboy.  Working quietly, changing from one eye to the other, Cooper soothed the tense gelding with quiet hands and calm movement.  Peace Pipe was not ready to accept the halter or saddle pad yet; that would have to come another day, but Peace Pipe learned too that the young cowboy at the other end of the rope was not going to hurt him. 

This wasn't even Peace Pipe's biggest trot, but he is completely suspended above the ground.


Young Peace Pipe is attentive to Cooper.

Peace Pipe wants to engage with Cooper, but he is more wary than his younger brother, Sage.

Peace Pipe is rewarded with a face rub.


Cooper was working on getting Peace Pipe to allow him on both sides equally.

Peace Pipe was not so sure he wanted Cooper on his left side.

Notice the softness in Cooper and the slack rope.




Each horse needs to be treated as an individual so none of the horses can be expected to react the same to each step of their training, but carefully and patiently the young men will win the trust and devotion of the horses.  In training a horse there must be as much joy and appreciation of the journey as there is in the end result.  Realistically horse training is more about the journey because horse training is never finished; there is always more to learn and each time one is in the presence of a horse, both horse and human are learning.  The goal is to teach positive partnership so that both grow.  Sage and Peace Pipe will grow and learn as they develop trust in the people around them.


Friday, August 8, 2014

Thursday, August 7, 2014

TOMAHAWK AND HAWTHORNE



Felice, Deb, Iain, Whit, Cooper, Henry, Bob, Iain's two children, and Whit and Felice's dog
Deb and Felice
Whit and Iain talking business
Deb and Hawthorne
Bob and Hawthorne
Bryce and Hawthorne
Tomahawk
By Marylu Weber
Spring had finally come to the sprawling Sieben Live Stock Co. ranch.  Bright green blades of rich grass were pushing through the soil of the mountain meadows, seeking the warmth of the sun.  It would soon be time to move cattle to summer pastures higher in the mountains and prepare for the arrival of new calves.  The registered ewes, the last remnant of the vast herds of sheep that used to roam the ranch, would also soon be lambing.  Saddle horses would be needed for all the spring and summer chores, so they were brought in from winter pastures, hooves trimmed, and shoes nailed on.
Warmer weather and good footing would make it easier to work with the four young blue geldings that still needed to be gentled and trained under saddle.  Time was limited but the cowboys would do the best they could.  Brent, who was to work with Peace Pipe, had moved on the find a home more accessible to schooling for his children, so Cooper would take on Peace Pipe and Bryce, with Iain’s help, would work with both Tomahawk, the challenging one, and Hawthorne, the friendly one. 
Deb, Bob, Henry, and I had planned for several months to visit the ranch, meet the cowboys, and see the horses again.  That sunny July morning as we drove the long gravel road to the ranch, we could hardly contain our excitement.  The scenery was beautiful as lush green pastures laced with small tree lined creeks gave way to rolling hills, evergreen strewn mountains, and rocky crags. 
Upon arrival we immediately met a young man dressed for ranch work in jeans, chambray shirt, and white cowboy hat, who came to us with his hand outstretched for firm handshakes all around.  This was Whit Hibbard’s nephew, Cooper Hibbard, the one I had talked to on the phone and bought the horses for.  He was the man who would one day take over the vast Sieben Live Stock Company.  We could tell right away why he would be great at the work as he was thoughtful and intelligent, polite, yet very confident.  He immediately began to tell us about the plans they had to sell grass fed beef directly to companies that care about the quality of the beef they use.  We could have spent the morning listening to him relate the progressive work they do on the ranch, but there were others to meet.  Whit, whom we had known for years, was there with his new wife, Felice.  We loved her immediately with her genuine friendliness and knowledge of horses.  Some people are easy to figure out, and this beautiful woman was exactly who she appeared to be.  We were so happy for Whit; Felice was a perfect match for him.
Another young man, dressed in similar manner as Cooper, came with two of his adorable children.  Again there was the welcoming handshake of an authentic man, used to working with his hands.   But these men are not what one might expect of a cowboy; these men, like Whit, are well educated, thoughtful men who chose the lifestyle of a cowboy, not because it is all they have ever known, but because there is no better life to be found than working with horses and cattle where one can breathe clean air and trust another man by his word and his handshake.    This young family man was Iain, one of the cowboys we had corresponded with before coming to the ranch.  He too was quiet and polite, but sure of himself and his ability.  They were all anxious to show us the ranch that was their home and the horses that would one day be their partners. 
The first horses we saw were in a large corral right there at the headquarters.  There were around 20 horses of various ages, mostly bay and sorrel Quarter horses, but two horses stood out, mainly for their color; they were the gray, Tomahawk and the blue, Hawthorne.  We spread out in the pen to scratch horses, and talk to Cooper, Whit, Felice, and Iain about the horses and the ranch.  Deb and Bob both loved on Hawthorne while I snapped pictures.  Hawthorne was very approachable as long as one was careful to take time to let him know there was nothing to fear.  He seemed to genuinely want the attention of the humans.  Tomahawk was much more timid.  He was OK with having us near, but not too near.  His comfort zone was about 20 ft. away from any human. 
Later in the day, when we were able to meet Bryce, also an engaging, kind, intelligent young man, he told us what he had been doing with the two young horses.  The men used the round pens to get the horses used to facing up to a human.  As expected Hawthorne was easy to get faced up and easier to touch.  They use a whip with a bag on the end of it as an extension of their arm, to acclimate the horse to strange touches and noises, and to encourage the horse to move.  The first thing to teach the horse is that the human can make him move his feet, establishing leadership.  Since a horse is a herd animal and a prey animal, he looks for a leader who will keep him safe.  Once he knows that the human is his leader, he begins to depend on that leader for safety and direction.  Both horses had been worked in the round pen, roped around the neck and each foot to get them used to the touch of the rope and to teach them to give to pressure so that they can one day be led and tied.  Both horses were OK with the rope and the flag, but Tomahawk would take much longer to allow himself to be touched by the “paws” of the predator, man.  Hawthorne had been saddled and had no problems with it so his education could progress much like that of a domestic horse, but Bryce so longed for the day that he could saddle up the strong handsome Tomahawk and ride him out to work cattle.  Well, he would have to bide his time and patiently let Tomahawk set the pace of his own education.  One day we will visit again and see the progress made with the once wild horses of the Sieben ranch.




Thursday, July 31, 2014

    From L to R are Bonnie and Sugar, Dan and Bashful, Whit and Teddy, Kristin and Baldy, Henry and Fire, Marylu and Hawk, Mya and Hail, and Bob and Crow.  These horses were all born in the park.


The 2nd Annual Reunion Ride will be based out of Sully Creek State Park just south of Medora, ND, September 5-7.   Come join us for trail rides in the park and other activities.  You don't need to be riding a North Dakota Badlands Horse, you don't even need a horse.  Just come and meet others who love the horses from Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  Go to the Facebook page: North Dakota Badlands Horse for more information.  Be sure to sign up for the event on that page.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

THE GREAT ESCAPE

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

THE SIEBEN FOUR
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.


http://www.appliedanimalbehaviour.com/article/S0168-1591(14)00135-X/abstract

THE NORTH DAKOTA BADLANDS HORSE, WILD HORSE OF THEODORE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK


(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

A WEEK IN THE LIFE OF A FIELD TECHNICIAN FOR THE WILD HORSE RESEARCH PROJECT
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.