By Ginger Kathrens, The Cloud Foundation
On Thursday, September 5th, Lisa Friday and I flew to Billings MT, rented a car and drove for four hours to the Badlands of North Dakota and into Theodore Roosevelt National Park that evening. Herds of bison grazed, some with little orange calves born late in the season. Prairie Dogs barked and ducked into their holes and mule deer foraged near the road.
The park was still amazingly green and Lisa was blown away by the sculpted hills with their strange, horizontal ribbons of rocks. This was a place I dreamed of visiting for years, a place where bison and wild horses roamed together. But where were the horses?
We had driven at least 20 miles on the loop road through the park before we saw our first band and some of them were nearly in the road. Like the Pryor wild horses, these beautiful mustangs are used to people who are respectful and do not try to hurt them.
Seemingly oblivious to our presence, we walked near the bay stallion Cocoa’s band and could hear the calls of horses beyond them. Lisa spotted a big band and we started hiking, cresting a hill to see the spectacle of a band of mustangs with bison approaching.
We stood watching as the sun dipped low and the landscape turned orange. So peaceful, I thought as we walked back to the car. It was dark for most of our drive out of the park and we noticed the faint, hulking shapes of bison moving slowly along the edges of the road.
Our meeting the next morning with Park personnel was productive. They were very generous with their time and we had an excellent give and take discussion on how to extend protection for the mustangs, not just those that will remain free in the park, but also those that are removed for sale.
Our discussions included ways to prevent injury and minimize the trauma to the captured sale horses, which will be weanlings, yearlings, two year-olds and three year-olds. And we suggested that we should not have to bid against kill buyers to secure a future for these beautiful animals.
The Park expressed a willingness to do things differently in the future, so we are hopeful that our input will be seriously considered as we move forward. Lisa, Marylu and Henry Weber, and Deb and Bob Fjetland and I attended the meeting. The Webers and the Fjetlands have years of experience and know all the horses in the Park and we are so thankful to be able to try and help them preserve the herd and prevent young horses from going to slaughter.
In the afternoon, we drove into the park despite temperatures nearing 100 degrees. Viewing was limited as most of the horses were probably in the trees and the bison were happy to lay motionless around the prairie dog towns. We did spot (with the help of the Fjetlands and Webers) a few distant bands. One group of horses stood in the breeze atop a hill, and beyond them we could see the oil and gas rigs that have come to the very edge of the park. Fracking is huge in the area and the damage to the environment has yet to be thoroughly assessed. We were happy to get out of the heat and back to the shade of the ride camp at a nearby park where we were invited to a delicious chili supper. A dozen riders or more had returned for a trail ride in the park the next day.
Lisa and I got out early and, although it was a rainy morning, we knew that we might have a chance to see more than the day before. And we did! At one point we were surrounded by six bands of colorful Badlands horses. There were paints and roans and bays and blacks.
Although the bison are a major attraction to the park, the tourists were more interested in taking pictures of the highly photogenic mustangs. Many had never seen a wild horse and were thrilled to see them up close and paying no attention to the video and still cameras as well as the oohs and ahs of the appreciative visitors.
We found the trail riders a mile beyond the horses and shot footage of them riding their once wild Badlands horses through the spectacular hills that had once been their home. Lisa and I had to go as we had to drive back to Billings to catch a plane to DC early the next morning. We were going to attend the Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board meeting. If I'd had my way, I would still be sitting on a hill watching the mustangs in their bountiful homeland.
Please help us make the Badlands mustang sale on September 28th successful. Help us ensure that no young horses go to the killers this time around. Please support our efforts with your donations. We are nearing our goal to have enough money to buy, transport, feed, geld, and train up to 24 youngsters at Legacy Mustang Preservation in Louisa, Virginia. Legacy will then offer these young horses for adoption. The Park has indicated they will remove 110 horses, so please attend this auction in Wishek, ND or let us know if you cannot attend, but can offer a loving, forever home so we can try to work out transport to your location with the help of North Dakota Badlands Horse.