Man that title sounds really over dramatic. Unfortunately, I went on a pun-filled Cream binge earlier today (the band, not the dairy product though I had some of that too) and consequently used up my allotted number of song references. Sorry, not sorry.
I like to think that Gladiator stays on the top of my list when it comes to visiting horses in White Mountain. The reality is that most of the time, Gladiator hardly even counts. I don’t find him so much as wake up, put my contacts in and bam! There Gladiator is.
This trip was a little different, and not just because of Gladiator. The night that my friend Lauryn and I arrived, there was a good, steady rain. It was the type of rain that this high desert area does not often see, and was more than welcome. The downside for the humans is that the horses stayed hidden and out of the rain. The bands that are normally the easiest to find were all out of sight in the draws.
While Gladiator was out … doing whatever it is Gladiator does when he isn’t showing off for humans (probably showing off for ghosts and sage grouse) we headed north. A few burning questions were immediately answered. For example, I found out where two of Orion’s missing mares went.
Most exciting of all was finding Marty.
Marty is a stallion that I have a great deal of affection for. He looks a lot like my adopted White Mountain gelding, Bandit. He acts a lot like Bandit too. For while Marty has a definite love for the ladies, he is not what you would call mature. Or responsible. But he tries hard and … uh, has a nice face?
I hadn’t seen Marty since May of 2013, so it was a real treat to see him and his mares again. His lead mare, Sil, had lost her 2013 foal, but otherwise everyone seemed healthy. Marty had even managed to gain a two new mares. Huh, I wonder who those two are…
Oh. It’s Belle. Belle, who was with Gladiator back in June.
Well, that’s okay, I told myself. Belle did not seem particularly happy in Gladiator’s band. I had suspected that if anyone left the Goonies it would likely be her.
Belle’s yearling daughter, Spitfire, was also with Marty and crew, and looking well. But Belle’s little newborn was conspicuously absent from her mother’s side.
On average, about 15% of foals die in their first year of life in the deserts of southwest Wyoming. It is one of the realities that you have to accept if you are going to spend any amount of time with wild horses. Death is part of their reality, and as with all animals, the highest mortality rates occur in the very young or the very old. There are a lot of reasons why the filly may not have survived. High on my list of possibilities is the fact that she seemed weaker and may have gotten sick from the wet weather this year has brought.
To completely redirect the energy of this story away from a dark place, the true moral here is to make sure your grandmother never ever breaks her back, because broken backs have a way of nixing plans to go out and get the dish on wild horse drama in a timely fashion.
So now I was really determined to find Gladiator and see if he still had the rest of the Goonies in tow, or rather, was continuing his futile attempts to herd the youngsters like so many belligerent cats. I tried to be subtle and not forcibly spend the whole day searching Gladiator’s usual haunts. (Spoiler: my subtle was not that subtle as Lauryn caught on right away)
Another piece of the puzzle went eschew and veered off into independence and chaos. While stopping for a much-needed pasta break, we spied two horses in the distance. The harsh light of the middle of the day made the distant hills wavy and off color, but after a lot of squinting through binoculars it was clear that one of the horses was both positively adorable, and also black.
Another Goonie had bitten the dust. There is only one black horse in the southern portions. Fibonacci. Gladiator had lost his lead mare too. Granted said lead mare was/is two years old and very much acts like the adolescent she is … That’s not the point.
I suppose I should have been disappointed by the news. With Nacci gone, it seems very unlikely that Gladiator was able to retain the only other filly in his group, Verity. He may have kept the two boys, though, so at least that’s something.
The thing of it is that it was impossible to be upset by this news that Nacci was now with Colonel. The girl is smitten. I have never seen a mare so in love with a stallion before. Nacci could not keep herself off of him!
It was simultaneously the cutest thing to watch and also a little uncomfortable. Have you ever watched two people make out on a bus? Have you ever watched a teenager make out with a dude in his forties on a bus? Yeah, it’s a little like that.
I was so thrilled to see Nacci so happy. Like any proud not-quite-mother-of-another-genus, all I want is for Nacci to find happiness by living her life in her own way. Clearly this girl had found what she needed, and what she needed was a little more Colonel in her life.
The thing of it is that I don’t really feel too upset about any of this. I should feel upset. Gladiator is my muse. He is my Cloud, my Picsaso, my Shaman. I desperately want him to earn a happy ending and to find a band.
Yet even though Gladiator came out the loser in all of this, that’s life in White Mountain for your. It’s just another day of being a wild horse. The herd ebbs and flows, with new bands forming all the time. Gladiator was facing an uphill battle to keep all those kids in line. It looked exhausting. For all I know, he was glad to get a break from the Goonies and the madness they brought with them.
It was fun while it lasted, but there is a reason why some bands can stay the same for years while others dissolve within weeks. If the dynamics aren’t right, it’s almost universally doomed to failure before too long.
I left on Sunday without seeing hide nor hair of Gladiator. I am confident that somewhere out there he is as fat and sassy as ever. And yet… Losing a band means there was a fight involved. And while it is rare, stallions can kill one another in said fights. Both Marty & Colonel were sporting some scars, and knowing Gladiator, he did not let the two mares go quietly.
But I’m not worried or anything. Not even a little bit. Gladiator is fine. Just fine.
Even so, if he could show up in one of his usual spots this Saturday morning, that would be fantastic. Just throwing that out to the universe.