Mustangs On The Mountain
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Mustangs On The Mountain

August 31, 2019


[ Silence ] [ Music ]>>A mustang stallion runs wild and free across
a meadow in the Pryor mountains of Montana. He carries the blood of ancient Spanish
ancestors and the heritage of the American West. He runs into the wind to join a group
of fellow bachelors and mock fight, preparation for his climb up the social ladder. Notice the unusual markings on these horses. The solitary stripe down the back and
the tiger like slashes on the legs, both signs of an ancient ancestry. These bachelor stallions are
part of a small herd living on a remote federal preserve
on the Montana Wyoming border. This ruggedly beautiful area is called the
Fire Mountain Wild Horse Range and is home to the Mustang’s on the Mountain. [ Music ] North America was home to the earliest
known ancestors of all modern horses. Fossil records from ancient horses have been
found dating back to some 16 million years. Thousands of years ago these ancient species
probably crossed a land bridge connecting to Siberia. From their they made their way into Asia,
Europe, and Africa and that was fortunate because for reasons scientists can
not completely explain the precursor to today’s horse died out in North
America about 12,000 years ago. While North Americas earliest humans
probably lived without horses, people living in what is now the Ukraine,
domesticated horses about 6,000 years ago. The Spaniards later cross bred horses from
Africa and Egypt with Northern European breeds. The fruits of European horse breeding
were returned finally to the new world when Columbus landed on the Caribbean shores. Eventually Spanish Conquistadors brought
horses to the North American mainland where they were used throughout the southwest. Later horses were introduced
to American Indian tribes. At one time North America’s most accomplished
horseman could be found among tribes like the Navajo’s, Apache’s,
Sioux, Comanche’s and the Crow. Many horses escaped from the Native American’s,
Spaniards, and the European settlers. These horses formed the wild herds that
roamed the western landscape numbering in the millions by the mid 1800’s. By the 1930’s only 150,000 horses remained
on public lands in 11 western states. Great numbers of horses were used
and destroyed in the Boer War in South Africa and in World War I. Many others were domesticated
for farm and ranch labor. Wild horses were valued as a meat
source for both human and pets. Beginning in 1934 the Federal Government
authorized the removal of horses from the public range and over 100,000
were removed by federal agencies and mustangers over the next 20 years. Congress began to stop the
extermination of wild horses in 1959 and eventually passed the Free-Roaming
Wild Horse and Burros Act in 1971. Under the Act, the Department of the
Interior’s Bureau of Land Management began to manage wild horses living
on the public lands. [ Music ] The reverend Floyd Schweiger has lived
in Level Wyoming for more than 30 years. When his wife dies in 1968 he found
solace in the Pryor Mountains. It was there at he encountered
the band of wild horses and a lifelong passion to preserve them began. Reverend Schweiger was at the forefront of
the effort to establish a wild horse range. He remembers how it began.>>Well I was simply driving out
of town towards the big horn canyon and met several ranchers
coming back who had been living in this area, particularly the Tillett boys. And as I encountered them
on the road I’d asked them about whether there were any
wild horses in this area. And one of them as I recall simply pointed
up to the rocks and there stood a stallion and his harem on a hillside
and that was my first encounter with the Pryor Mountain wild horses. After having seen the horses out there at that
time, and having been interested in horses and the Big Horn Canyon National Recreation Area
being established, I felt it was only a natural that these horses should be preserved. So I spoke to the Tillett boys
and they were looking for someone to help them in preserving these animals. So we organized a little tour
to go out there really led by Lloyd and Royce Tillett at that time. And we had invited a few other local
people along and the newspaper reporter. And from then on I don’t know how the
word got to the Denver Post that fast but they immediately, they
sent a reporter out here. He interviewed Bess Tillett who was about
83 years at that time and her picture on the front page of the Sunday Denver
Post and it was a striking picture. Pictures of Lloyd and Royce and of
course immediately attention was called to this range war as it was called
throughout the United States. And thousands of letters poured in literally
to the Governor of the State of Wyoming and also the Bureau of Land Management
asking them to preserve these horses. [ Music ]>>Today about 120 horses run in three separate
groups throughout 46,000 acres encompassing the Bureau of Land Management, Forest
Service and National Parks Service lands. The Bureau of Land Management holds
primary responsibility for the herd. How unique are the horses? A study by Gus Cothran Director
of the University of Kentucky’s Equine Research
Laboratory found compelling evidence that the Pryor Mountain wild horses
carry Spanish horse blood that dates back to horse breeding that took place 400 years ago. [ Music ] In a harsh landscape like the Pryor
Mountains survival is a constant concern. Each season of the year produces
the extremes of weather. The adaptability and resourcefulness
of the horses is tested to the limit. The social structure of the wild horse
herd is crucial in the struggle to survive. Wild horses have a strong and well defined
social organization that allows them to invest most of their energy in
surviving and perpetuating themselves. The herd of approximately 120 to 130
horses is divided into small family groups. Most of these groups consist of a
dominant stallion, an alpha or lead mare, and a variety of subordinate
mares and young stock. The stallions will fight to acquire
their mares and will be quick to defend them against rival suitors. The alpha mare is responsible for
decisions on where to graze and drink. Each spring fowls are born into the band. When the fillies and the young
stallions reach maturity they are cast out to find mates of their own. Fillies link up with other bands while
young stallions often join bachelor bands. The bachelors wait for the
chance to form their own bands. Each member of the group
has a defined social rank which is well respected by the other members. And each mimics the behavior
of the more dominant members. This is a system developed over generations
that results in peaceful coexistence. Wild horses may be the most adaptable
animal where food is concerned. Though they prefer tender green grass shoots, when pressed they can survive
on anything edible. They spend most of their waking hours eating. This puts them in a vulnerable position
for predators such as mountain lions, but they develop the ability to
focus on their food and watch for rivals and predators at the same time. What will it take to keep the Pryor
herd in balance with its environment? Consider this, the Pryor
Mountain mustangs live in one of the harshest climates in North America. Temperatures can be brutal all year
round and water is often scarce. And even though the horses are
incredibly adaptable, forage is limited. The mustangs must also share the range
with mule deer and big horn sheep. Yet each spring the horse herd grows
as much as 20% and that’s too much for this fragile environment to support. Managers must reduce the herd
size occasionally to make sure that the horses do not over run their range. Over the years the Bureau of Land Management has
allowed people to acquire Pryor Mountain horses through it’s adopt a horse program. Many mustangs have made a successful
transition to other lifestyles. [ Music ] The Pryor Mountain wild horses are unique among
the nation’s 50 thousand free roaming horses. Gallant symbols of the old west and
the Spanish explorers of so long ago. [ Music ]>>A lot of people have always asked me
why I am this interested in these horses. I suppose there are a number of reasons. Someone once said that if you
have a hobby it must be a hobby that completely consumes you,
otherwise it isn’t too good. But when I go up in the Pryor Mountains and be
with the horses in their natural and wild state, it gives me a kind of a diversion and a relief
that is truly valuable to an individual. I’ve simply gotten a lot of pleasure
out of going up and viewing the horses. And I know that there are other people too. There is a freedom which these horses
show and exhibit and as a clergyman of course I always relate that
to some of my own beliefs. The freedom that I have found in
Jesus Christ as my Lord and my Savior. There is something akin to that in my beliefs. [ Music ]>>The Pryor Mountain wild horses have
roamed these lands for at least 100 years and if we take care of their home the fragile
alkaline souls, the delicate dessert plants, the red colored hills, all of
which the horses need to survive. And if land managers keep the herd at a
reasonable size, all of us can continue to enjoy these spirited creatures. These Mustangs on the Mountain. [ Music ]

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