The Black Stallion - Part 1
The term “Black Stallion” conjures up many feelings and thoughts in people who have read or heard stories about wild horses, or seen them portrayed in movies. I never really thought that I’d ever see a wild black stallion or have an experience with one, but I did.
In Idaho, between Mackey and Challis there used to be a lot of wild horses that lived free in that vast expanse of canyons, hills and valleys, and maybe they still do, it wouldn’t surprise me, but I don’t know, I haven’t been back there for decades.
These horses were not true mustangs, or descendants from the Spanish stock. They were what is called “Ferrell” horses-meaning they originally descended from local domestic herds, but over time became wild and truly lived like the mustangs. The local ranchers used to organize big roundups of these herds, and capture many of the colts to keep, break, and train for their own use, turning loose the rest, to raise another crop of colts for future roundups.
My friend Brent Staker educated me about the whereabouts of these herds, and took me into that country to see them, and experience the thrill of trying to get close to them, not to capture them, there was a law against that at the time, but just to be among “the wild ones” in BIG wild country.
We camped out on the range cooking our dinner over an open fire, and sleeping in our bags. We brought a few bales of good hay for our horses, and oats. We rode for many miles on wide open, unfenced rangeland that almost took your breath away with its lonely beauty.
As far as you could see there were no signs of civilization, buildings, fences, etc. It was truly as it had always been for centuries. We were all alone in “the Big Lonesome” or the “High Lonesome” as some call it. Just us, our trusty horses and the hawks and eagles, hunting for the wild horses. Most of the land consisted of sagebrush, grass, rock, outcroppings, interspersed with canyons, gulleys, broad swelling hills and rim rocks. A few trees or stands of trees occasionally came into view, some springs and small creeks were present in a few places, and were the vital sources of water for the horses, ours, and the wild ones.
I’ll always remember the first wild horses I saw in that country. After a rain storm we had ridden from camp, upward, ascending a large bare mountain, by bare I mean hardly any trees. When we finally reached the crest, after about an hour ride, we rode out onto the ridge where it drops down into a gigantic sprawling basin known as “Corral Basin”. This basin probably stretches 10 miles or so across to the other side. As we came over the ridge or rim of this basin, the wind caught us full in the face. It was a cold damp wind, the smell of the sage when it’s wet from a storm, was so strong and alive with that wonderful pungent aroma that is like no other smell on earth. At that same moment, there they were directly in front of us, upwind, not more than 50 yards away. A herd of about 15 beautiful wild horses. They had seen us at the same time we saw them, they had been grazing. They threw their heads up swiftly and, just for a moment, stared at us, then, wheeled around and with tremendous power in their muscled front and hind quarters thundered off through the sage toward the west and the bottom of the basin a few miles distant. We ran with them a little ways, maybe a quarter mile, the thrill of the chase was on, but the terrain was rough, and soon we reined up to avoid the rock outcrops, and unknown whatever under the sage that we couldn’t see. Our horse’s blood was up and it was hard to stop them. It was a definite RUSH.
We sat our chargy horses and watched the wild ones race down the slope, so smooth and swift like, on and on they went, until we could barely see them in the distance, still running, and finally they disappeared into a canyon. That was my introduction to the wild horses of my home state of Idaho. I had hunted wild horses in Utah, and that’s another story, but this was a first for me on my home turf.
This was the first time I learned about or saw the markers that the stallions made of their own territory. I’m sure there’s a name for them, which I can’t remember, or didn’t learn, but I just call them “horse turd piles”. And I don’t know if just the stallions make these or if all the horses contribute, but these piles are not small. Over time, they are built up to about the height of a horse’s rump. They are four or five feet in diameter, and that’s a lot of horse manure!
Brent told me that’s how the stallions mark their range or home territory, and it’s a warning to any other stallion not to come in past the marker or there could be a fight which often times results in some bad injuries, some of which can even cripple a horse permanently—or lead to an early death.
I saw several of these markers over a period of time on different forays in wild horse country. On one such trip, I was with my cousin David Price, or Brent, I can’t for sure remember which, but we were taking a rest on the top of a small rise. We had dismounted and were reclining in the grass, using the shadows of our horses for a cool spot to escape the heat of the sun. A slight breeze added to our comfort and we had our hats off, feeling it on our sweaty foreheads, ah…the simple pleasures of life.
While we were cooling off and talking a little, a small but not insignificant drama of the range began to unfold before us...
To Be Continued