Saving The Onaqui – Part 13

In Loving Memory of Raja

This is one of those stories that I would have never foreseen, and one that has taken longer than most to get to an emotional place where I could tell it without falling apart. It is a tribute to a short, but very special life out on the Onaqui range of a small black mustang affectionately known as Raja.

Raja was born late in the fall of 2020 to a beautiful black mare with delicate white facial markings which made her appear as though she had been painted with care. She also sported a pure white pastern on her back right leg, but otherwise she was pitch black like a starless night.  This mare was shy, but watchful and had quite a rough go of it since giving birth to Raja.

She briefly was seen traveling with Silver Star’s band down south in the crisp winter months of 2021 side by side with young Raja who was still very young and an awkward, fuzzy little ball of black fuzzy mustang.  They wintered with the rest of the Onaqui far out in the desert searching for banks of snow to drink as the moisture that winter was shockingly light.  Slowly they moved north as the grounds dried out and began once again occupying the base of the Simpson Mountains which was speckled with juniper and sage.

Band stallion Tango teaching young Raja to spar April 2021

Shortly after being seen traveling with Silver Stars band a change in dynamics occurred and Raja and his dam were won by a large bay stud.  They vanished from human sight for about three months and during that time their leader and stallion was found deceased from what appeared to be natural causes. 

Raja and his mom were now on their own.

Fast forward to early April of 2021 and insert handsome South bachelor stallion Tango.  Tango is a short, but brawny buckskin with a perfect blaze and a spitfire personality.  Not one to overreact, he also wasn’t one to back down if he felt his little family was facing a potential threat.  Tango kept a very far distance between his new band and the main south herd and he cautiously guarded and guided now 8 month old Raja and his mom to and from a relatively unused water source at the base of the mountain. 

From their clearing at the base of the hill they had unobstructed views of the valley below and also of any incoming Onaqui horses. The vantage point was perfect as was access to precious water.

Raja’s dam (back), Raja (middle) and Tango heading to water July of 2021

As spring turned into early summer Tango began to calm down and loosen up a bit.  He began routinely grooming Raja’s mom and was frequently seen play sparring with Raja, teaching him the ropes of what life looks like as a wild stallion.  The amount of gentleness which he would take care of and play with little Raja was so endearing.  For a young colt who was not his own, he treated Raja practically like he was a precious breakable thing and was one of the most gentle stallions on the range.

As summer temperatures stormed into the desert in earnest Tango started allowing his family to travel along the well worn paths with the rest of the south Onaqui herd.  They watered and grazed together and Raja now finally had friends his own age to sow his oats with out on the plains.  Around and around the desert they raced, clouds of dust swirling in their wake.

And then the helicopters took to the sky.  Tango was strong and brave and didn’t allow his little family to follow the others into the trap the first time the south herd was targeted.  I found them that afternoon with others like Maverick, Avalanche and Jasper.  But then the helicopters returned.  On the very last day not one south horse was spared aside from Goliath and Joker.  Two lone bachelors who knew better than to spend time in the usual places.  Little Raja, his mom and step-dad Tango were captured along with the rest.  July 18th they lost their freedom.

Raja May of 2021

There were 123 horses selected from the 436 captured to be released back onto the range on August 9th, 2021.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think this little black horse with a tiny little star would be one of them, but Raja and Tango made the cut.  Back to their home they went.  And ran they did.  Ran and ran and ran from the north to the south until they finally found familiarity.

Tango managed to acquire a gorgeous young sorrel mare who looked at him like he hung the moon.  For a couple months they were inseparable, but along the way they split up and he is now with two new mares who are pretty as little Onaqui super models and spend all their time with the other bands controlled by Bernard/Eclipse/Grey, Cobra and 300z.

Raja went with another group of Onaqui who number approximately 20 and are rarely seen.  They have hidden themselves very far out in the desert well outside their normal stomping grounds.  His life from August 9th to February 23rd, 2022 is a bit of a mystery because of the remoteness of where he was living unfortunately.  But on February 23rd lightening storms erupted and raged across the desert.

Raja and his mother March of 2021

I remember the date well because I was flying back to Utah from a much needed trip back home to the Islands and the weather had once again turned cold, skies had darkened as they rumbled low and loud.  The area where Raja and the other Onaqui now lived was low, flat and the trees there were sparse at best.  Unfortunately while hunkering down with a very experienced black Onaqui mare they were hit with lightening.  His little body found not long after laying side by side with hers.  Their deaths are considered to be instant.

The loss was literally palatable. 

He was a fuzzy little yearling that hardly anyone knew about, but I did.  And I looked for him whenever I could.  He was sweet as the day is long.  Playful, loving, and well cared for by his horse elders.  All of my guests that were fortunate enough to meet him immediately fell in love with his spirit.  Despite so many drastic changes at such a young age he was resilient and curious.  Never afraid of life or of making new friends.

It was so incredibly sad to learn his life ended so early.  But I’m so grateful atleast it was instant.  He was simply cuddled up with another mare who I have no doubt would have cared for him based on her previous role as a lead mare before the roundup. 

It is a stark reminder that life in the wild is harsh as well.  Every time I find myself down south I am inadvertently scouring the mountains looking for a glimpse of him.  I hope that little Raja’s memory will live on and on and I hope he’s running free and fast as far as his little legs can carry him in the skies.

Raja’s dam (outside), Raja (middle) and Tango June 2021
Raja behind Davis Mountain on August 9, 2021 – day of the Onaqui release
Raja March 2021

2 Comments on “Saving The Onaqui – Part 13

  1. Tears as I read your story. Life on the range is hard. I was just out yesterday to see the Onaqui South herd. Beautiful foals, mares and their stallions, bachelor stallions sparring in the mid afternoon. So precious!

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  2. It leaves me so sad every time I hear of how much roundups breakup the wild horse society in the wild – not to mention those removed. Raja’s story is heartbreaking, but I am grateful that he died free. That, at least, is a gift.
    Thank you so much, Ms. Jen, for writing these. It’s so important to tell their stories!

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