It is with a very heavy heart that I tell you all that the stallion called Golden Boy was humanely euthanized on Wednesday of last week. This blog is about the parts of his life that touched ours, including much of the last ten days of his life.
If you are against what we did to intervene in his end, this blog is not for you. Yes, we went to the BLM with videos, immediately after we caught up with him a few days ago. It is not less than what we would do for our own beloved animals (and have). He possibly could have survived for weeks, maybe even months, but it would have been a gruesome and unkind ending. For those who say it's "natural" to leave them alone to die, I would say yes, that's true. Many wild horses die a natural death and are never seen- but in this case, humans did see him. We simply could not let him die a so called "natural death." We are relieved his pain is over. We wouldn't, in fact, couldn't have done it another way.
If you are anti-BLM, this blog is not for you. We have nothing but praise for the expediency, professionalism and compassion for the way the Burns BLM (Oregon) wild horse specialist handled this situation, both for Golden Boy and for us. When we took the videos to him and another person in the program, they were carefully looked at and the injuries were explained to us. The wild horse specialist was on the Steens early the next morning, hiked for six hours looking for him and when he didn't find him, came back early the next morning.
If you want a fairy tale ending, this blog is not for you. We all know that wild horses don't live fairy tale lives, right?
You may not want your young children to read this blog. There is nothing graphic here but I have tried to be very honest about the situation as it evolved. Golden Boy does not survive. But he does go out valiantly.
You might wonder why I want to chronicle a stallion's end days. It's because there is a great deal to be learned about the dynamics of wild horse families, the dynamics of the herds and how things shift with the passing of a stallion. I certainly learned a lot. There is much I don't understand still, but it was an amazing process.
If you are ready to read this week's blog, you will likely learn some things about wild horse behavior and herd dynamics. I know I did. This one is not about pretty pictures, funny stories or videos. It is about the real life of a stallion, through Barbara's filter, which happens to be the only filter I have.
I have screened the photos to the best of my ability to show Golden Boy at his best- there are no photos of his last day, other than the one where his mares are surrounding him. This is intentional on my part. It's not necessary for you to see see him as he looked the last few days of his life to know what happened.
Many of you know that we do not use names for the mustangs. We have known the South Steens horses for many years and to suddenly have horses assigned human names has been difficult. This is not the time for that though. This once, I will use the horses names to the best of my ability, as I know many of you know them. It will make the story easier for you to follow.
You will likely want a hanky. Don't tell me that I didn't warn you.
We first saw Golden Boy in 2003 or 2004 and first photographed him in the spring of 2005. At that time he had two mares and a newborn foal with him.
We had seen wild horses before but they were always far away. The Hollywood Herd has existed for a long time, but it wasn't the way it is now. You rarely had horses walking to you like what happens commonly these days.
Hanging out with McCloud. There were no mares with him at this time.
When I looked at these a few days ago, I was surprised to see how young he looked.
Golden Boy did not have a freeze brand. I'm sure he has been gathered, but was probably released at the trap sight, which sometimes happens with horses they definitely want on the range. He is estimated to be between 10- 14 years old by the wild horse specialist.
Golden Boy has never really been a member of the Hollywood Herd, though there have been times he has been living in close proximity to them. We've seen him there, even this trip, but it's almost like he's cruising through. We've seen him in the high country and in the back country. He has gotten around!
Though we visited each year, we did not see him in 2006 or 2007. In the spring of 2008, we saw him again with a band. From that time on he always had a large band.
Yes, that is Majesty coming over the ridge.
This sorrel mare was with Golden Boy to the end, even with a gather in between.
Golden Boy simply walked up to his young filly to check her out. She must have been cranky that day because she bit him on the lip! He blinked, shook his head as if to say "Women!" and walked slowly off. LOL
We can't say we've seen him every year. In fact, there have been long stretches when we haven't seen him or have seen him from a long distance. In fact, this wasn't exactly close range. One Eared Jack is in the foreground, Charm and Sage on the far right. In the Hollywood meadow, September 2008.
Much to my surprise, the day this photo was taken, Golden Boy walked down the ridge, went behind our pickup and stopped on my side of the truck. I gently opened my door and looked into his eyes at a distance of about 6 feet. Today, this would not be a big deal, but at the time it wasn't a common occurence. I was just beginning to realize it was safe to be closer than 100 yards to the horses, though I would never recommend approaching close, even now. They are wild animals and unpredictable things can happen, even with the tamest appearing horses.
I learned over the years that Golden Boy had a very calm, quiet personality. He would certainly defend his family but he would not go out of his way to look for trouble. It certainly doesn't mean he wasn't ever seen "in action."
Snaking his mares. He was a strong, capable stallion with a very stable family band.
We missed him in the spring and fall of 2010, though we spent two and a half months with the South Steens horses in the spring. See how elusive he could be?
Spring 2011, with his family band
Fall of 2011
With one of his wildly marked pinto fillies. For a buckskin, he certainly threw the color!
Golden Boy was seen by several photographers on Memorial Day weekend of this year and was healthy and fit. By the time we arrived, on June 17, the situation had changed.
The first thing that we noticed was his limp. He had also lost a lot of weight since we had seen him last fall. I thought at first that he had a hip injury, as it looked like he had lost muscle mass in his hip. I was wrong about that- he had a foot or hoof injury. Subsequently, it was discovered he also had a hock injury on the same side (left) and a few days later sustained a serious right knee injury.
As I reported on Facebook the first day we arrived in the South Steens, Blue was chasing Golden Boy and his mares. Golden Boy was chasing him and while he was limping while walking, he ran without any problem. I knew it wouldn't be good for his injured foot to run like that, but he was getting around relatively okay.
Fighting and chasing even in the waterhole. June 17, 2012
Golden Boy and his band, June 17, 2012
Over the next two days, we saw Blue harassing him more and more. The first night he had gone up to the rimrock and put his band up against it so he only had to defend in front of him. The next night he had done the same thing by backing his harem up against a fence. He was only visible with high powered binoculars that second night and was not moving away, so we couldn't see how well he was doing. The second night, the black and white 4 year old pinto, Domino, and his bachelor companion were hanging on one side of Golden Boy's band. They didn't appear to be doing anything other than standing and watching when we saw them. They were keeping the blue roan busy.
We couldn't find Golden Boy, his band or his hangers-on for four days, though we looked hard for them.
We finally found him a week after we first saw him. He had deteriorated considerably and had a new and significant injury to his front right knee and his left hock, in addition to the foot or hoof injury on his left side. He was having a difficult time walking.
Now he wasn't just being harassed by Blue but Domino and his sorrel stallion buddy, though the sorrel seemed more interested in being with Domino than acquiring a mare. Domino was becoming aggressive. Bachelor stallions had showed up and were surrounding him on three sides- eleven bachelors, counting the blue roan, Domino and his friend.
It seemed so odd. The bachelors somehow knew...
Blue had his hands full keeping the other bachelors away but was also trying to breed Golden Boy's lead mare. We were surprised to watch her not only fight him but aggressively approach him- more like a stallion than a mare. She was defending not only herself but the other mares, it seemed.
While Blue was busy on one side with the bachelors and the mare, Domino was trying to pick off Golden Boy's young bay mare, who may have been in estrus (season or heat). Golden Boy was defending and Domino was, so far, backing away. He had an injured eye, so the fighting had likely been going on awhile. It was clear that he was becoming more and more aggressive.
We took the video we had taken the first day and the one from this particular night into the BLM the next day. It was clear that the foot injury (left), knee injury (right) and hock injury (left) were not going to heal. One of those injuries would have probably ended his life but three injuries made a very dismal prognosis.
The wild horse specialist did not find Golden Boy the next day, though he hiked for six hours in the area we had last seen him. We found him the next morning and the wild horse specialist met us there.
The young bachelors were gone, with the exception of Domino and the sorrel. However, mature stallions were now in the picture. Dibs and Cortez were now actively fighting Golden Boy. You all know how I talk about fighting as posturing or practicing and that it is not often serious. What we witnessed this morning was the real thing- what probably happens in the winter or early spring when stallions fight for mares. It was for real and it was not pretty.
Interestingly, the mares were surrounding Golden Boy. There was no doubt they were protecting him. Marty has seen this with elk during hunting season, but I have never seen or heard of it.
The stallions were fighting each other viciously. Every one of them had an injury of some kind. Golden Boy took on all comers, giving as good as he got, even though he was in very poor shape. We were awed by his valiant fight. There was no doubt where this would have ended had humans not intervened, but he was giving it his all. He could not rear but he bit and kicked with his front legs.
Cortez and Blue
The blue roan has several injuries and is very obviously fatigued from a week of harassing Golden Boy.
Domino and Cortez
Dibbs would mainly dash in and out, rather than challenge one of the other stallions
Within an hour or so of this photo, Golden Boy was euthanized. One of the last things he did was cover his lead mare. I am still surprised he was capable of breeding considering he could barely walk.
When it was over, the mares were quickly divided up. We did not see this but they were all gone within about 20 minutes.
After about two and a half hours, we saw Domino with three of the mares and two foals. The tables were suddenly turned- bachelor stallions were now circling Domino and his new band. Blue was obviously exhausted and did nothing more than hang around him.
It was no better that evening. Even more stallions were coming out of the woodwork. He had his hands full!
Even Shaman joined in, though he was not particularly aggressive. It seemed like he was concerned he would lose his new mare and foal and just didn't want to leave them.
Cortez was nearby with a new addition to his harem- Golden Boy's lead mare.
Cortez's lead mare was not very happy about this- she was chasing her at every opportunity. Cortez covered his new mare multiple times, adding to the general discontent. You can see the new addition standing at a distance from the family band.
Obviously missing were four of Golden Boy's band and Dibs. Dibs had been hanging around in the junipers while the other mature stallions fought, just before Golden Boy was euthanized. He wasn't doing much fighting but he stayed close. I thought it suspicious that both he and the mares were gone, but we couldn't find them.
Everything stayed much the same for the next three days. Domino had his three mares and he was still being harassed by bachelor stallions. Even a few mature stallions, such as the silver bay, were hanging in the area. He maintained control though.
Cortez was wisely off a ways with his band. Golden Boy's sorrel pinto mare didn't look much happier but things had settled down a bit.
The evening of day three brought a sighting of Dibs. Sure enough, the other four mares and yearlings were with him.
He was off by himself at a distance from other horses and from us, but there was no doubt it was them. Three of the mares and foals are under the tree above Dibs, the mare and her yearling.
On day four there was a big surprise. Domino was with his mares and Cortez with his. They both went down to the waterhole with their bands. We heard a lot of squealing and could see heads from their rearing but nothing else. Suddenly, Cortez came running out with the young dunskin mare and her perlino (or cremello) foal.