The Making Of A New Little Onaqui

One of the things I love most about my visits to the range is that they are always different.  Trying to understand all of the complex social and ecological dynamics for both the north and south Onaqui herds is honestly fascinating to me.  It’s like its own little horse soap opera and I find myself getting sucked in to it hook line and sinker.  For years the Onaqui have been one of the most photographed herds in the world and it’s very easy to see why.

Last week I was fortunate enough to be on the range for extended days with a wonderful tour guest who drove all the way from Texas to spend time with the herd after receiving news of the BLM’s announcement to round-up and remove 80% of them this coming July.  All our fingers are crossed that the Utah BLM will ultimately make the right decision and opt to forgo this round-up for a more humane method of population control such as equine fertility treatment known as PZP which has been proven to be 95-98% effective.  (Much more information is available about this alternative method by clicking here

However in the meantime local and out of state visitors alike are making the pilgrimage out the Onaqui HMA to spend whatever time they can with this cherished herd.

The day started out with a beautiful pastel sunset sprinkled among hazy scattered clouds and we managed to find the majority of the north herd on the mountainside peacefully grazing as the sun slowly emerged.  After a lovely 6 hours on the mountain we then ventured south where we were able to locate the rest of the north herd and eventually some special members of the south herd just past Simpsons Springs.  The decision was made to return to our starting point for sunset and so the drive back to Davis mountain began.

We’d only been there for a few minutes when I noticed some odd behavior in a band a couple hundred yards away.  The lead roan stallion Dude was on high alert and was chasing after any horse within a couple hundred yards and there was another black stallion who was also being unusually vigilant.  He was both acting aggressively towards Dude and also to any other interlopers who had the misfortune of grazing too close.   With these stallions swirling in circles then stopping to guard the rest of the group they definitely got my attention.

The more I watched I saw that the rest of the band had formed a very tight circle and were clustered together so closely it was difficult to distinguish one from another.  I have seen them position themselves in tight groups before when the winds start howling or when shielding small foals from the sun, but never to this extent.  The more I watched the more the overall behavior didn’t make any sense….. until it did. 

I had a hunch that a mare was giving birth and the rest of the band had surrounded her to protect her. Separating themselves by quite a distance from the majority of the norther herd.

I slowly began my decent down the hill to a spot where I could get a better view through my camera lens careful not to get too close and upset the agitated stallions even more.  Sure enough as the scene began unfolding clearly through the lens I saw a bay mare lying on her left side surrounded by the other horses.  She raised her head and looked to be straining as a young stallion of 2 years old nuzzled her softly.  Another young mare stood at her shoulder gently placing her hoof on her shoulder repeatedly in an attempt to give comfort.

At one point the mare began trying to stand, but just as quickly as she started to rise she was back down on her side again with her team of nanny’s continuing to protect and soothe.  10-15 minutes of labor passed and a brand new little Onaqui was welcomed into the world.  The whitish blue blob was the first thing I saw – this baby still covered in the amniotic sac.  The aunties immediately set about removing this and before I knew it the mare was also up and on her feet.

The band remained close and the stallions ever so vigilant while the foal was cleaned and momma began gently nuzzling him and tapping him with her front hoof to encourage him to rise.  His fur was soaking wet and filled with texture and I could just make out the little tips of his ears still bent from being tucked in the womb for the last 11 months. 

Slowly I backed away and returned up the hill to the rest of the herd to give this new family time to adjust.  The last thing I saw as we returned home for the evening was the new little colt with his head raised taking in his very first views of his new world and making unsuccessful attempts to learn how to use his new legs.

Leaving them at sunset was bittersweet, but I remained hopeful that I would find them again once morning came and learn if we had gotten a new little colt or filly and see how it has done through the night. 

As luck would have it very early the following morning after some quality time looking through the binoculars I was able to spot the family high up on the side of a mountain.  For a while I wasn’t able to locate the foal and my anxiety levels were rising by the minute. However as luck would have it he had just been resting and popped up out of the grass to follow mom and the rest of the band as they descended down the mountain towards a watering hole about a mile away.

Patience paid off and we took a seat in the open field and waited quietly as Dude brought his band slowly and methodically down the hillside. They then proceeded to stroll by us headed for a much needed drink.  After milling about at the waterhole the group then followed the same path back through the field where we remained and began grazing a short distance away.

 While we watched the new little colt affectionately nicknamed “Quinn” (OQ372brS) nursing from mom (mare OQ354bM) and taking in views of his new world.  This beautiful little fella should grow up to be a strong, healthy, wild bay roan just like Dude (OQ80brS) and within 24 hours of being born was already quick on his feet, curious and able to climb mountains with the rest of the band.

I am so grateful that not only was I able to witness such a unique and special moment for these wild ones, but I’m grateful to be able to share that with a guest who loves the horses as much as I do.  And I’m also grateful that the Onaqui in particular are so gracious in allowing us humans into their lives and families to further understand and appreciate all that they are and all that they have to offer. 

It will be nothing short of a tragedy if the round-up currently scheduled for July 12-22nd takes place.  This new family will be chased by helicopter for 10 days straight along with all the others.  They will be rounded up into livestock trailers and kept in pens over in Delta, Utah.  From there they will be separated and some kept in long-term housing, some adopted, maybe 1 or 2 returned to the range if they’re “lucky.”  But whatever happens their time of living as a family will be over.

During these round-ups horses are injured, horses are euthanized, babies hooves are worn off from running because they’re much too young and their hooves too soft to be able to withstand the chase.  It’s so critical that voices be herd in support of leaving these beloved horses in the wild to continue to draw national and international attention from wild horse lovers world-wide.

What Can You Do To Help

It’s imperative that the Utah elected officials recognize the local significance of the upcoming BLM actions regarding rounding up this valuable and cherished herd of horses.  Humane herd management and population control should be recommended, supported and commended and there are far better ways to manage the Onaqui horses than to remove them entirely. 

PLEASE take a moment to send a note to the following to stress the importance for the local business people, visitors and the Utah tourist industry of promoting, embracing and humanely managing this unique herd in the wild.

As always as more information becomes available I will try to share in a third blog to help get the word out to save our wild ones.

  • Contact President Biden and Interior Secretary Haaland to put a stop to the proposed 20,000 horses and burros slated to be removed from public lands. It’s a huge loss of our national heritage as well as an excessive drain on taxpayer resources and money to make wild horses live their lives in government pens.
  • Contact Gus Warr and Tami Howell at the Salt Lake City BLM who currently manage our Wild Horse & Burro program

Gus Warr –(801) 539-4057  email gwarr@blm.gov

Tami Howell – (801) 977-4300  email thowell@blm.gov

  • Follow Facebook pages such as Save the Onaqui Wild Horses for updates and news bulletins

3 Comments on “The Making Of A New Little Onaqui

  1. Pingback: Saving The Onaqui Pt 4 | Wild Horse Photo Safaris

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