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Patti Mosbey: Sand Wash survivors lift our hearts

Patti Mosbey/For the Saturday Morning Press
Benson and Lennon battle for Lona at Sand Wash Basin in Moffat County. The herd at Sand Wash has nearly 600 wild horses.
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Sand Wash Basin has wild and rugged terrain. The summers are hot and bug-infested, and the winters are cold and bitter. The wild horses are seasoned to endure the best and worst of the land they call home. For many, life is a daily venture of freedom, living in a family system with unspoken words. The tilt of an ear, the swish of a tail or the lowering of a stallion’s head can send family members moving in a new direction without hesitation. The savvy horse person sees the unspoken language and knows the nuances of the slightest of movement.

Since the last round up of the Sand Wash horses, much attention has been given to documenting the herd. The horses have been given names by a large group of fans, all of which clarify which stallion, mare or foal has been seen. The names garner adoration with certain horses and fans of Sand Wash. Naming a horse gives you certain “parental” concern over the animal. Losing one of the horses can break your heart.

The horses gain fans who have never been to Sand Wash but keep up with their activities through the Sand Wash Adventures Facebook page. They choose their favorites, inquire about them and fret when they do not see a current photo posted of their chosen one. This past winter left many of us apprehensive as to which ones may have lost their lives in the deep snow with little shelter or food.

In July of last year, I was on a regular photography outing and witnessed turmoil in Corona’s band. One of his longtime older mares, Lona, was being harassed by a younger son of Corona, Indiana Jones. The younger stallion was intent on separating Lona from the band. I watched for almost an hour as he chased her endlessly to keep her out of the band. She would make her way back into the midst of the other mares as if to hide away and again, he would cut her out and run her off. This behavior was troubling to watch, but it wasn’t my business to interfere.

Within a few weeks, it was apparent that Lona was missing, and I feared the worst for her. Months passed, and still no news or photos surfaced of her. I was saddened to think this “plain Jane” sorrel mare was not worthy of concern or worry. I had empathy for her, as she also was missing an eye and maybe not considered a jewel to many.

In October, while venturing on the far east side of the basin, I came across another loner at Sand Wash, Benson, a beautiful, black-and-white pinto stallion that also had not been seen for a while. The dust was kicking up as we headed down the trail to see what action was taking place. There, embroiled in an all-out stallion fight, was the beautiful Benson and young stallion, Lennon. I caught a glimpse of a sorrel horse that had moved a distance away. My attention was focused on the ruckus that had come full circle and happened right in front of my vehicle. The action was fast and furious.

The two stallions took a break, and I began checking which mare they were fighting for. It looked like an older, red mare moving in the deep brush. I watched as she finally came out of the brush. When I could see her clearly, my heart leaped with joy. It was Lona. She was miles from her family band. My worst fears had been relieved. We left the trio with Lennon standing his ground between Benson and Lona. It was the last sighting of them for months.

Winter 2015-16 was one of the harshest in years for Sand Wash. We were cut off from news of the horses, as the roads drifted deeper with snow. With the spring thaw, we were anxious to know how many we might have lost.

Lennon was seen running with other bachelors, but there was no sighting of Benson and Lona. Many trips to the east side brought no news of the two. Benson had gone into the winter with a ravaging tumor on his left eye. Many were concerned it would take him down. They seemed like the odd couple now, both missing an eye. Together, they depended on each other.

As the snows deepened in the basin, the two made their way to lower ground to a remote area rarely visited. This past week, we received the great news that Benson and Lona had been seen and photographed. The Sand Wash Adventures Facebook pages lit up with excitement about the discovery. They had braved the winter together and were found in good health and thriving. Benson’s tumor has enlarged, but his body condition remains sound. A new foal from the couple this spring would make a great ending to the story. We shall wait and see.

Patti Mosbey is a regular visitor to Sand Wash Basin. Her passion is photographing and documenting the daily lives of the Sand Wash herd. For more of her photos and adventures find her on Facebook under Sand Wash Adventures.


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