For the past several months I’ve been writing a romance story about a young woman who lives and works on the family ranch in the Mojave Desert near Barstow, California. Years ago, when Jim was in the Air Force, we drove back and forth between Sacramento where he was stationed before he went to Vietnam, and Michigan. We always took Route 66, and I have fond memories of stopping along the way in Barstow. So I had this idea about the young woman taking her grandfather’s horses to the high country in the summer to get out of the heat. Wild horses make an appearance in the story, but I knew next to nothing about them except for the song.
In my research, I came across more information about wild horses. I was hooked. A childhood friend who lives in Reno introduced me to Karen Sue Hopple, and I was immediately intrigued. Karen is a photographer who has devoted the last ten years of her life to photographing the wild horses of Nevada. With her permission, I’m sharing a Facebook Post about an experience she had with a band of horses outside of Carson City, Nevada.
A DAY WITH THE DEER RUN BAND
My friend and I started out early today… but not early enough. Before dawn… in the dense fog… the fillies had been picked up by the Bureau of Land Management. We did not know it at the time… but later in the day when we spotted the band high in the hills near the power lines we knew something was terribly wrong. We both counted… and then counted again. We only came up with seven horses.
My friend decided to hike up the hill and take a better look. I had thrown my back out a few weeks earlier and knew I couldn’t make the steep climb. I gave her my camera. She called me on her cell halfway up and told me all the fillies were missing. (We did not learn until later in the week what had transpired earlier that morning.)
When my friend reached the band she began to take photos. I was watching through binoculars. She had made a crucial mistake. She was not watching the stallion. I could see a change come over Rio. He saw her as a threat. She was not answering her cell so I could not warn her. She was about to be charged! She was saved by Fairlight who stepped between her and Rio. Fairlight knew she was not a threat. I truly believe she was watching out for my friend this day. She is usually in the background… but today she was in the forefront. This was unusual for her… but as we learned later she had lost two of her girls that day! They had meant to pick up Moon Shadow as well… but missed him in the dense fog. This cost him a forever home.
In the coming weeks we learned this band was to be zeroed out. There would not longer be a Deer Run Band. An uproar went up… and the homeowners in the area set up a meeting with the local BLM office. A representative was chosen to head up the Deer Run Wild Horse Preservation Group. In the meantime I managed to find homes for the four fillies with the same woman in Colorado who adopted Studley and Reno… aka Cracker Jack. I adopted one myself. Desert Rose. We paid for the adoptions… signed the papers and I arranged their transportation to Colorado. Desert Rose would go with them so she could remain with her family. I wish I could say the adoptions went smoothly but they did not. The advocates wanted all my adoptions nullified. The BLM office told them it was too late. I was called and asked to sign my adoption over to the advocates… and to urge the woman in Colorado to do the same. We refused. They conceded. The story does not end here. It continues.
DAY WITH THE DEER RUN BAND
This is the last day I ever saw the Deer Run Band wild and free. Only six remain. Rio has already been removed… leaving the five mares and Moon Shadow. When I reached the band they were grazing by the river. One of the mares came up to me looking for a handout. It was the first time in all my years of photographing this band that this has ever happened. (In retrospect I believe they were already being baited by the BLM.) Once she saw I had nothing for her she moved off.
I spent my time just enjoying being with them. At one point they started to move up towards Deer Run Road. I moved them back towards the river… I had not yet said my good-byes. Jessie allowed me to get quite close. She spent much of the time looking out across the river. Not moving. Her eyes fixed. Moon Shadow was exhibiting unusual behavior. When I first arrived he was trying to mount his mother! She had bite marks all over her! With me there he settled down. They all settled down and allowed me to take my final photos. It was hard to leave them.
Five days later… on the twenty-seventh of February the six were captured using bait and trap. Luna was the last to enter the trap. The gate slammed shut behind her and my heart sank.
They will now be going up for public auction on the twenty-third of March. The fillies are not part of the auction. They will be going to Colorado. Their adoptions have already been finalized. The residents are not happy with my out of state adoptions. They fail to realize the fillies will be together with two other members of their family. Efforts are being made for the remaining six… including Rio, to be sent to a sanctuary where they can live out their lives together… but no one can guarantee that! We will only know their destination after the auction. The fillies are going to Colorado. That is certain. It is the only happiness I can find in all this sadness.
I have always liked horses. My grandparents owned a ranch in San Juan Capistrano. My grandfather died before I was born. My grandmother ran the ranch herself. As she got older, she needed help. My mother would take my brother and I to the ranch so she could help her out. I spent much of the first 10 years of my life there. It can get a bit annoying playing with your brother all day so I would go out and talk to the horses. They came to the fence line and seemed to understand every word. My grandmother said I had a special gift. She taught me how to talk to the horses.
There is some kind of connection between us. I wouldn’t call myself a horse whisperer… as I have said… but I have been able to handle all the situations I have come across in the ten years I have been photographing wild horses. I am one of only a few photographers who can say they have never been charged by a stallion. I can read their body language. I can look into their eyes and know if I am welcome or not. With a little convincing they do not view me as a threat and allow me to get close enough to take photos. I have a long distance lens… but the closer I can get the better… as long as I still feel it is a safe distance.
Here is a photo you might find amusing. I was five years old. My father took the photo on a weekend… the only time he could make the drive down. He was working and could not spend much time on the ranch.
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