I carefully mapped out my route and began the stalk. I wear camoflage-coloured clothing and carry my Nikon camera and a small backpack with a few essentials with which I am sure I can survive a couple of nights out if required in an emergency situation. The valley I have to cross does not look too bad from where I sit, but once on the trail, it becomes steeper and longer. I wonder if it is a bit beyond my physical abilities but forge ahead anyways. The anticipation and excitement of the stalk and hopes of seeing these four at close range encourages me onward. There is also a pole corral over there that I would like to look over to see if it is still being used as a horse trapping pen.
After crossing the ankle deep, clear flowing stream I make my way up the hill and into a cutblock alive with pine seedlings and fresh growing grass. The block has been replanted, probably four or five years ago. I follow a restored road into the fringe of a second block where I am expecting to see the grazing horses, hopefully before they spot me.
There they stand, heads down, munching on fresh green grass in a shallow swale dotted with belly-high willows and scattered black spruce. I approach from behind the trees, quietly and slowly, moving only when all four heads were down.
|Itch to Scratch|
One of the white horses lays down and rolls in a well used wallow, then gets up and shakes or rather, shivers, like horses do. I think they are going to continue to approach my position but they turn off and head away slowly. After they move up behind another clump of mixed conifer, I hurry forward as best I can and manage to get within about 50 yards, where I snap a few photos. They move along slowly, secure in their senses that all is safe. The wind is in my favour, the sun is at my back so all is right for my stalk. As they continue to graze away from me I continue my approach, slowly and cautiously out into the open, maintaining my distance.
|Master Stallion With His Band|
The dark stallion finally notices me. He is visibly shocked that I have been able to get so close. "Where did you come from'" is his sudden expression of alarm and warning to his girls. He runs directly toward me, ears forward, eyes locked long mane and forelocks flying in disarray. Magnificent was all I can say to myself as he prances and circles. He stops while his girls prance off to stand on a ridge about 75 yards away. What a pleasure for me, what a memorable sight to see. We all stand still, analysing each other before he steps off, herding the girls back a few more yards. He always stands to one side but in position of defence if required.
We jockey back and forth for a couple hours. I sit down on a stump, he edges nearer. I move sideways, hoping for a different background while they watch. After getting several photos, I decide to leave the horses in peace and check out the old corral then make my way back to my vehicle.
I thank my wild acquaintances and head back, pausing at the old wooden corral. It was no longer in use and in a state of disrepair so I am happy to leave it and begin the long hike back to my vehicle.
I am about half way up the other side of the valley when I hear the bark of a motorcycle from back where I had come from. I sit down in a bit of a clearing to allow my pounding heart to calm and glass the area the bike is coming from. Suddenly, my band of horses appear along a pipeline, maybe half a mile from where I had left them. The snorting, barking motorcycle appears heading toward the horses. The band takes off with the bike behind. The bike is not pressing hard, but still hard enough to give the wildies a frightened run. They all disappear from my view but the sound of the bike echos without pause, over the hills for a few more moments.
|Dirt Bike Harassment and Old Trap Corral|
The harassment these horses are getting is not fair to them. This past winter, several were rounded up, sanctioned by our Alberta Environment watchdogs. There are many more rumoured instances of horses being harassed by many other users of this wild country as well, and now, I have actually seen it myself. Perhaps I am also an unwelcome guest in their home pasture as evidenced by the fear of the first band that vanished at my approach. They will move off as every vehicle encroaches into their comfort zone, probably because of the actions of a few people when they think nobody is watching. Perhaps, in my quiet approach, I am helping to train the wild horses to trust all people. They may become too trusting, to their peril. Is my curiosity and wish to publicize the plight endangering the wild horses and threatening their freedom or indeed, their very survival.
I do intend to try to visit the wildies once in a while and take a few guests out as well. I will continue to document what I see. I will continue to spend time with these beautiful, wild or feral horses, or whatever we want to label them. They are magnificent testament to survival in this resource ravaged environment, marred by massive cut blocks, oil leases and pipelines, gravel pits and cattle grazing leases. I, for one, say, "let them wander."