Blair's Travel and Photography Blog

Pryor Mountain Wild Mustangs

A couple of years ago, Meriam’s brother, Ken, visited the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center in Lovell, WY. He took a couple of trips up Pryor Mountain with the Center’s director where they observed this special herd of wild mustangs. Enthralled by the experience, he encouraged Meriam and me to put this on our “bucket” list.

This herd of horses is very special because of its Colonial Spanish American heritage. This tough little horse, derived from the horses of Portugal and Spain, has been present in this rugged mountain area for nearly 200 years. If lost, the herd cannot be restored.

The history of the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustangs is not well known. There are accounts of wild horses being present in the late 1800s, and many people believe that there were wild horses in the Pryor Mountains in the early to mid-1700s. Many believe the herd is descended from Spanish horses brought to the area by different Native American tribes, especially the Crow. Many others share this belief, though some other plausible explanations have also been proposed. Starting in the mid-1990s, studies were done on the Pryor Mountain Wild Horses to determine the genetic traits of the herd, such as their level of inbreeding and what type of horse the herd was most genetically related to. From these studies, it was determined that the herd has high genetic diversity, meaning they have low levels of inbreeding. It was also determined that the herd has genetic traits consistent with Spanish horses and that the herd lacks genetic traits that would have originated in draft or thoroughbred ancestors. Around this same time, there were also studies on the phenotype of the herd. That is, these studies were concerned with determining if the wild horses looked like Spanish horses. These studies confirmed that the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustangs indeed had colors and conformation consistent with Spanish horses.

The Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Range comprises of more than 40,000 acres of federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. Located in the southeastern portion of Carbon County, Montana, and northern Big Horn County, Wyoming.

Steve and Nancy Cerroni manage the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center. Steve was our guide for the day. We left the Center at 9:00a (returning about 4:00p) in their new Jeep Rubicon and were glad we did. Virtually any other type of vehicle would not have made the very arduous trip up and back. We ascended from 3,800 ft to almost 9,000 ft in just 2 hours over some of the roughest roads we have ever traveled…BUT worth every inch of the trip. The scenery was magnificent and being able to view these magnificent horses is beyond description!

We want to apologize beforehand for presenting you with way too much information and way too many photographs. If you get bored, just take a siesta and wake up when it’s over :-).

There are currently over 150 wild mustangs in the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang herd. The herd is comprised of bands, each band has a stallion plus his mares (from 1, up to 7-8). These bands co-exist in a tolerant way until a mare comes into heat. This often creates a fight when an “outside” stallion tries to mate with a mare in another band.

The beginning of a great day! Four of us (Meriam, Myself, Steve, and Tim, another participant but very knowledgeable regarding wild horses) spent over 7 hours on this trek.
This rather complicated chart consists of four pages of data that Steve and Nancy Cerroni use to uniquely identify and classify the more than 150 wild mustangs currently in the herd on Pryor Mountain. They have genealogical data for the herd that goes back more than seven generations.
Not long after we began our ascent up East Pryor Mountain, we spied these Mustangs in the distance, with a backdrop of magnificent scenery. If you look closely, you can see one of the seven colts born this spring. Six have survived. Today we had the opportunity to see three of the six.
A short while later, Steve stopped to show us one of the hundreds of horse trails. Note the almost perfect cross these two trails make.
A view of East Pryor Mountain in the distance…our destination! We will be driving on the road in the far distance leading further up the mountain in an hour or so.
A short time later, Steve stopped to show is one of several Burnt Timber Guzzlers. The guzzler developed recently, provides a water source for wild horses and other wildlife in lower elevations for the range where there are no natural water sources. Rain and snow water collects on the apron (black plastic in the background) of the guzzler. The water is then funneled to and stored in an 1800-gallon tank (foreground). The curved top of the tank also acts as a catchment. You can see there is water in the tank.
As we progress our way up the mountain, I asked Steve where he thought this herd of wild mustangs originated. He asked me to hold that question for a few more minutes. As we reached the top of East Pryor Mountain, he pointed across the valley to West Pryor Mountain and asked us to note the two horizontal green areas. He said Chief Plenty Coups, the principal chief of Crow Nation (1848-1932), was exiled, with his herd of mustangs to the upper plateau. Evidence on the plateau shows he and his tribe spent a considerable amount of time here. It was while they were here that Chief Plenty Coups released his Mustangs into the wild, becoming the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustangs.
Our first view is a cluster of seven bands of Mustangs. The relaxed posture of the horses and striking cloud cover made for a wonderful photograph.
Meriam is admiring Steve’s hand-tool leather suspenders…maybe a gift for me in the future?
Several bands can be seen in this photograph. FYI, it’s quite hard to select photographs that provide new information/detail without being repetitive. Apologies if we cross the line!
One of the three colts we saw today. Steve and Nancy have developed an interesting way of naming newborn colts. They began naming colts with names from the alphabet. Starting with the first year, all colts of that year had names that began with the letter “A”. This year all new colts have names beginning with the letter “X”. I guess after three more years they will start over again with the letter “A”.
We were surprised by the variety of colors of the Mustangs. Note the “markings” on the horse in the center of the photograph. These are not color makings, they are scars from the many fights this stallion has been in over the years acquiring and protecting his band of mares.
Another of the Colts. He must have spent several minutes rolling around in the flowers. I presume he was scratching his back…or maybe just having fun!
This is Cloud’s Pride. His sire was Cloud, one of the most famous wild mustangs. Perhaps you have seen the YouTube PBS documentary. It is still available if you search on YouTube.
Your first glimpse of Heritage. She is one of two mares in Cloud’s Pride band.
Meriam’s first encounter with Heritage.
We loved this closeup of Heritage… munching grass amongst the flowers…almost tame…maybe too tame!
MB and Heritage, with Cloud’s Pride in the background.
This photograph projects beauty and tranquility. Although we are certainly not experts, it was clear the horses were very healthy. With 150 horses spread over 40,000 acres, BLM and the Center are intent on not allowing overpopulation or in-breeding. Did you know that a mare can become pregnant 21 days after giving birth? If not handled properly, overpopulation and inbreeding in such a limited population can occur. For 10+ years, BLM and the Center have worked together with other agencies to develop and utilize a proven contraception method.
Another colt.
Panorama with multiple bands. Even though the horses are somewhat together, the various bands can be seen grouped closer together. There are at least 5 separate bands in this group.
Leisurely grazing, unconcerned about human presence.
Closeup of one of the Colts
One of the bands we saw earlier has migrated to this waterhole. Steve says this will be one of the last visits here for the season. There is a much large pond a few miles away where they will be getting their water during the summer months.
Vesuvia (b. 7.15.2021) and Foul’s Gold (b. 2005) engaged in mutual grooming.
Another juxtaposition of colors.
Almost all roans in this band. Notice how the horses are turned away. They are slowly retreating from our presence. Steve says this is one of the typical ways the stallion of the band protects his harem.
Another colt playing…
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  • CledThese are beautiful horses.  This is our first look at these wonderful wild creatures.  We looked at every single one and thoroughly enjoyed it…thanks.ReplyCancel

    • HaroldThanks Cled. We are most pleased we can share this with you. Take care and we’ll see you on the next trip.ReplyCancel

  • Sherry MaskBeautiful pictures and I love all the different colors!!ReplyCancel

    • HaroldThanks, Sherry. I think the array of colors stood out for me the most.ReplyCancel

  • mao  Very enlightening,  I never thought of breeding wild mustangs.  I thought that nature just took her course.  Most of them are beautiful.  I can’t say that about the brat that must have gotten in a lot of fights.  Thanks for sharing. Beautiful pictures.ReplyCancel

    • HaroldMao, as they say, boys will be boys 🙂 We appreciate all your comments. Thanks for traveling with us.ReplyCancel

  • dianaYou guys… have the best time! Of course I LOVE all the beautiful horse and landscape photos, thank you for sharing.ReplyCancel

    • HaroldMy hat’s off to Meriam. I just drive, she does all the research to find neat places and things. Thanks for traveling with us.ReplyCancel

  • meriam.blair@gmail.comFor those of u interested in the contraception method, see Really amazing. We can do so many things right !! ReplyCancel

    • mao  I read this article—very informative Thanks.ReplyCancel

  • SharonAmazing!  And like you said, the horses all look so healthy, and we’ll fed…all natural from Mother Nature! Thank you for sharing.ReplyCancel

    • HaroldSharon, you are welcome. Glad you joined us on the trip.ReplyCancel

  • The BurksAnother fantastic set of Blair photos & information.  Thank you so much!  Amazing, beautiful & captivating!ReplyCancel

    • HaroldAdam and Susan, Thanks for following along with us. After Alaska this year, where will you be headed next?ReplyCancel