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April Showers…

October 3, 2011

“Then God spoke to Noah and his sons with him, saying: “And as for Me, behold, I establish My covenant with you and with your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you:  the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, of all that go out of the ark, every beast of the earth.  Thus I establish My covenant with you:  Never again shall all flesh be cut off  by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”                                                                                         Genesis 9:8 – 11

As the last days of winter melted away, the ground became soggy from the melting snow.  Everyone was once again happy to run with abandon across the pasture without worries of a slippery icy terrain.  With the melting ground, came a lot of mud.

Abi, Lady Gray and Image

Image and Ember

Image, running to me

We had seen signs of our resident fox on the prowl.  His mate was tucked away in their den along the creek bank taking care of their newborn young.  It would be a good month or more before the baby foxes would venture out of the den to start exploring their new world.

Ember and Abi are always the first to let me know when there is something different in the pasture.

Ember sees the fox up on the hil

Alert ears and posture tense, they are ready to flee at less than a moments notice should some danger be lurking.  Ember became alert, looking at the far hills, seeing something moving in the distance.  But as we watched, it was Papa fox coming back to the den after a day of hunting.  Ember soon relaxed as she has learned there is nothing to fear from the family of foxes that have denned on our pastures for years now.  She has taken her cue from Abi, her alpha, that there is nothing to be afraid of.  The foxes and our horses have learned to co-exist on our land.  The foxes have no reason to fear the horses and the horses, in turn, have learned that the foxes pose no threat or danger to them.

Momma Fox and Lady Gray cross paths

Momma Fox with a few of her young

We were thrilled when we saw the first of the fox kits emerge from their den.  They did not stray far the first few days as their eyes became clearer and they gained a little more confidence.  Momma or Papa fox was always nearby keeping an eye on them.  We counted 6 kits in this litter.  We were excited about the coming days, knowing the youngsters would be running and playing and scampering about the pasture without a care in the world.  It would be a while yet, before Momma would teach them to be wary of different dangers that surround them.

Momma fox with her babies

I set up my photography blind out in the pasture with a clear view of the foxes den.  In doing so, I also have to put up a mock fence around it to keep the horses from tearing it down in their endless curiosity.  I always chuckle to myself each year as Terry and I put the blind up that we should call it something else.  It certainly is not a ‘blind’ when I have to put high visibility tape around it to keep the horses out of it.  Momma and Papa fox are well aware of it being there.  They know when I am in it too.  The way Papa fox acts in a nonchalant way, I would venture to say that he was raised here.  He is probably one of the young from a previous year’s litter.  Momma fox isn’t as comfortable with our presence as her mate is.  That is fine.  I want her to teach her young to stay away from people.  I have no desire to habituate these beautiful foxes to humans.  That would surely be a death sentence for them.

Ember and I watching as Terry rides Lady Gray

We all know the famous saying that April showers bring May flowers. And we all love the beautiful flowers that appear in Spring, bringing a fresh splash of color to the drag browns of the fading winter. The rains of April were heavy, with little to no relief.

rain quickly fills one of Embers hoof prints

The ground was over saturated and soon the steady rain had no place to go except out of the creek banks and into the pastures. Knowing God’s promise not to flood the earth again was a great comfort to me as the water kept rising.  I knew it would stop eventually.  The majority of our pastures are on the other side of the creek from the shelter of the barn. As I have mentioned several posts ago, we keep our horses in a free roaming environment. The barn is always open should they decide to come inside. Or they are free to stay outside if they so choose. Our pasture and creek banks have plenty of trees to take cover from downpours.

During the first heavy rain of the season all of the horses except for Touchy made their way to the shelter of the barn.  Touchy is our 30 year old who only has one eye and the sight in that eye is probably only about 50%.  She relies on her memory of where everything is to find her way.  Abi has been a wonderful leader for our little herd.  She rarely ever lets Touchy out of her sight.  She protects Touchy in a way that only a good leader would do.  On this occasion though, Abi left Touchy behind.  That was very odd of her to do so.  As the rain continued to fall, the creek began to rise.

Touchy, on the pasture side of the overflowing creek

As  the water overflowed the banks, Terry went out to get Touchy.  We needed to get her on the barn side of the creek before she got stranded over there all alone.  Terry called her name and she perked her ears up.  He called again and she followed the sound of his voice.  She soon came to the place where they cross the creek.

Terry continued to talk to her, to let her know where he was.  She did not hesitate to cross the rushing water that had risen quite high.  The current took her a little off course, but with Terry talking to her the entire time, she changed her direction and came straight to him.  The rain continued for days.  The barnyard became a huge muddy mess as the horses had very few places to go.  We opened up the small paddock above the barn so they could graze and have some room to roam.

When the flood waters finally subsided enough for the horses to cross to the pasture side of the creek again, we coaxed them over with hay.  We knew they would be happier on the pasture side, with the new spring grass growing and much more room to run and play.  Being cooped up on the barn side of the creek was wearing on them all.  They needed their space.  So we took some hay over to the pasture.  We walked across our ‘foot bridge’ to get to the other side.  Ember was the first one to brave crossing the creek that was still quite high.

Ember crossing the swollen creek

Ember finding her footing to get to the other side of the creek

Image and Lady Gray

Image, as he crosses the creek

Lady Gray follows Image's lead across the creek

Once on the other side of the creek, the horses enjoy some hay that we put out for them.  I was proud of all of them for facing the rushing rapids of the creek water to get to the other side.  Image, Ember and Lady Gray had never seen, let alone crossed, rushing water such as this.  They all handled it quite well.

Ember and Abi

Ember

As the horses enjoyed the hay, the sun finally came out.  I think we only had about 2 days of sunshine until it started to rain again.  Once again, the rain water overflowed the banks of the creek.  Only this time it was much worse.  Thankfully all of the horses stayed on the pasture side of the creek.  The grass was growing quickly now, so there was plenty of grazing.  As long as they were all together, we were not worried about them being over there.  They had plenty of water and grass.  And we were still able to carry hay over to them.

Our 'foot bridge' started to float as the creek water floods the pasture

Sadly, the family of foxes didn’t fare as well.  Their network of dens runs along the creek banks.  We watched as Momma fox rescued 4 of the 6 kits from the den and moved them to a different location.

Momma fox taking her young to a new location

She came back time and again searching for her 2 youngest.

Momma fox frantically searching for her young

Momma fox

We fear the flood waters were just too much for the 2 smallest of her litter.  It was interesting to watch the change in her behavior as she went from ‘search and rescue’ mode to ‘survival’ mode.  After an hour and a half of searching each den over and over again for her youngest, she switched gears and began unearthing every bit of food she had cached near her den, taking it to her new location.

My photography blind under water

Momma fox looking for the food she had hidden away

Momma fox taking her cache of food to her new location on higher ground

It was difficult to stand back and watch this happen without interfering and trying to help her.  I kept telling myself that this is what natural selection is all about.  It didn’t make it any easier as I watched Momma fox search in vain for her missing little ones…..

Since the flooding, our sightings of the fox family have been few.  The remaining young will visit our pastures occasionally, but only to stay for an hour or so.

As April faded into May, the ground began to slowly dry.  May held it’s own showers of rain, but thankfully it was not as much as April.

Image is still infatuated by Lady Gray.  She will tolerate his advances for a little while and then she tells him to back off.

Lady Gray and Image

Image, Ember and Abi grazing in the rain

Ember and Image running

Ember and Image running to me

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28 comments

  1. So sad about the other two kits. Lovely story to read. I’m so happy and blessed to have visited so that I may picture everything perfectly as it all happened! Thanks, Deb!


    • Thanks Nancy. I am so glad you were able to come out and meet the kids! You will have to come out again soon!


  2. Deb, are you, your family, Image, Ember, Abi, Touchy, and Lady Gray ok? Do you think that the two smallest fox kits drowned? At least the mother fox has 4 remaining kits


    • Hi Jonathan,
      We are ALL doing great! Thank you for asking. Well, I can’t say for sure, but it does look like the two smallest fox kit probably got caught in the inner workings of their den and were not able to get out in time.

      Thank you for your support of our wild horses,
      Deb


      • How’s Ember and Lady Gray doing now. Are they still the best of friends and have they been hanging out alot


        • Has the foxes returned yet and did the creek stop overflowing?


          • Hi Jonathan,
            We have seen some of the foxes over the summer. But not very often. Their mom has taught them how to move quickly and quietly, so no one sees them.

            Our creek did get back to it’s normal height and flow in time.

            Thanks,
            deb


            • Hey Jonathan,
              I just thought you would be interested to know that while I was playing some games in the round pen with Ember, momma fox was sitting out in the pasture sunning herself watching us. It was a beautiful moment.


        • Hi Jonathon,
          Ember and Lady Gray are doing fine together. Image, Ember and Lady Gray are often found grazing together. The three of them have really bonded together.


          • How old is Lady Gray? When I heard that Velvet and Feldspar couldnt accept the new mares of Flint and Cloud then left them, I didnt know why mares cant accept a new member.


            • Do you think that the BLM is going to contuct another helicopter roundup?


  3. Thanks for your great photo story of rain, loss, and renewal. Keep us posted.


    • You are certainly welcome Linda. I will try to be a little more diligent about keeping up with the current season! I can’t believe we are in Autumn already.

      Thanks,
      Deb


  4. I love the story of Touchy, & was amazed of the trip across the swollen waters by voice guidance. Then seeing Ember & the others go back across later. Beautiful pix, beautiful story. Thanks for sharing it!


    • I am so glad you liked the story Deb. Touchy had a rough first four years of her life. She was cooped up in a stall, never let out. It was only when Terry rescued her from that abusive situation that she started to live. She bonded to Terry immediately and they have shared a very close relationship ever since. She relies on Terry and her herd alpha, Abi, for quite a bit now. It’s all about trust. But that is a topic for an entry yet to come…..

      Thanks,
      Deb


  5. Thanks Deb for your story and photo’s! I’m so proud of you for your compassion and giving nature to let the fox family live in peace. Bless you
    Trish kerby


    • Hi Trish! Didn’t see you up on the mountain this summer. Did you make it up there at all?

      It will be interesting to see if the fox family will come back to den on our creek banks after such a traumatic experience. She did bring her remaining kits back to her original den after the flood waters subsided, but she moved them around quite a bit. I have just been captivated by the foxes. I can see their den from our upstairs room and have spent hours up there with my binoculars just watching their behavior.

      Thanks!
      Deb


  6. Thanks for sharing! So many great shots, but have to say I love the photo of Ember spotting the fox on the hill. It was so sad to see momma fox searching for her little ones. How fascinating and painful it must have been to watch her rescue and search and then retrieve her food supply. That is one together momma! Also, Terry talking Touchy across the rising waters was amazing!


    • Thanks Deborah,
      It’s amazing how much we can see when we take the time to settle down and just open our eyes. And yes, it was heartbreaking to watch Mother fox in her frantic search. We could see her lose weight over a few days time as she did go back to the den every day to take another look.

      Thanks,
      Deb


  7. Thank you for the updates, Deb. I feel so bad for the Foxes, but you are right…it’s Nature’s way, unfortunately. 😦

    Good to know that Image and Ember are doing so well!!

    Toni


    • Thanks Toni,
      Standing by and watching helplessly while the mom fox was searching for her young was incredibly hard to do.

      deb


  8. Wow your photographs in this story are wonderful. What a scary moment for all of high water. Image crossing the Delaware! lol

    One of my most vivid memories was of coming across a mother red fox and her cubs one spring on a countryside walk ‘once upon a time.’ An entrancing sight! (While it lasted as they faded quickly into the green leafy bowers.)


  9. OK I am going to say this: as a photographer you have a practiced eye. Have you noticed the difference in the appearance (body condition) of Lady Grey in this post vs. the photos of her in the previous (May 2011) post? Was she overweight then or is she under her target weight now? I guess if this was April they were just coming out of winter months, but she looks thin to me. Since I am not a horse expert I almost didn’t mention this, but want to be honest with you I feel she doesn’t look good in a couple of these current (April) photos. . . ?

    May 2011 post:
    https://deblittle.wordpress.com/2011/05/


    • Hi Janet,
      I appreciate your concern for Lady Gray. She did have a little difficulty in keeping weight on during last winters’ months. There were a few things that were not in her favor. The first is that she is a thoroughbred. Thoroughbreds are not bred to keep on weight. They are bred to race and win at the track. So her genes were working against her a bit. They also do not have ‘low bellies’ or ‘pot bellies’. OTTB’s (off the track thoroughbred) body structures are just completely different than mustangs, who are bred for survival. So Lady Gray does and always will look completely different than Image, Ember and Abi. Even Touchy (our 30 yr. old quarter horse mix) has a different body shape than the mustangs do. We did give both Lady Gray and Touchy some supplemental feed last winter to help them with their weight. As you can see Image and Abi especially have roly-poly tummies on them, even in winter. Believe me, none of our horses have ever lacked for hay in the winter months. Nor do they lack for grazing grass in the spring, summer and early fall months.

      Another thing that was not in Lady Gray’s favor was the time of year we brought her home. We brought her home at the end of Dec of last year. (If you read my last post, you know that we rescued her from a very uncertain future and the timing was completely out of our hands.) She did have some stress adjusting to her new herd mates. If we had brought her home in the summer months or even in the fall, she probably would have adjusted a little better without the stress of winter on top of
      everything else.

      Most horses do tend to lose weight during the winter months where there is a change of seasons.

      I hope this helps you understand Lady Gray a little better. As the temps warmed up in the spring and the grass started to grow, she did put on more weight. But she will just never be ‘heavy’ like Abi tends to get.

      Deb


  10. Thanks, Deb for your thoughts on Lady Gray.

    I guess it is like having a greyhound out with a couple of huskies or samoyeds!

    When our two family horses were about to make the transition from being stabled for a year to having free-rein on a 200 acre pasture, I was convinced (age 14) that the mare would kick the gelding to death on the first day. Horsekeeping is definitely not for the ‘faint of heart!”

    Happily, after several equine ‘double-takes’ with necks swiveling around in all directions like they couldn’t believe their eyes, the two set peacefully to grazing. lol


    • Great analogy with the greyhound and husky!

      Thank you for your concern,
      Deb


  11. Oh Deb every time I talk to Ginger she’s telling me how fat Trace is! Apparently we in the domesticate world feed and feed and feed. The wild ones just seem to graze here and there, summer is weight gaining time for winter. Look back at Image when he was eating snow at your place with a running creek right next to him! It’s hard wired into them! That’s not bad-just splaining is all.

    Now for question or two. Are they pasture ornaments or have you been able to gentle Image and Ember–so you can groom them? Will you ever be able to ride them–or do you prefer not to.

    I remember it was just over two years ago now that you took them home. Thank you. Because Image and Ember got to stay together and will have a forever home. Maybe it isn’t the mountain home they were born into but I know you’ve committed to giving everything you can to make up the difference.


    • Hi Margaret,
      Thank you for your kind words. There are some mountain habits that Image and Ember learned from their mothers that they will always have with them. The first winter they were here with us, Ember was the one who consistently ate snow as her water source. In time she grew accustomed to drinking the water in the creek, but it took some time for her to be convinced that it was an ‘approved’ water source! Ember is our ‘thinker’. She has a tendency to think everything through before just ‘jumping in’.

      Our first and foremost goal with Image and Ember was to give them a forever home. Within that goal was to get Image healthy. The little fella took quite a beating in the holding pens between the round up and the adoption. He had been in a pen with older horses. That was not a good thing. The long hard run down the mountain being chased by a helicopter did not do him any good either! One of the keys to getting Image healthy was to keep him active and to build up his muscle tone. Ember has been very instrumental in that part. She loves to run and play and always wants to run with someone. So many times I would look out in the pasture to see Ember run right into Image to get him to run with her. It took some doing and some time, but after he gained some weight and started to ‘heal’, he started to run with her. In doing so he was able to build up his muscle tone and confidence.

      While all of this was happening, Terry and I had been working with them both. Getting them used to our touch all over them, having their hooves lifted, etc. (They both do very well when we trim their hooves. I hold them while Terry trims them. One time Ember put her head in my tummy and fell asleep during the trimming!) Image was very easy to get close to and work with. He has always been drawn to people, even when he was still in the wild. He seems to crave our attention. With Ember, we have had to earn every little bit of trust she now shows in us. We had to prove our alpha status and prove ourselves worthy as her leader. We have been gentling them and working with them using some natural horsemanship techniques. They are both doing very well with this. I have been up on both Image and Ember, but that has been all. We are taking our time. I am not in a big hurry to get them saddled and riding. I suppose because I am not much of a rider! But I am loving the ground work with them. We are building trust and confidence. I am finding it challenging and very rewarding. I am also learning a great deal about myself when working with them.

      As for grooming them: Image will stand forever while I brush him and comb his mane and tail. It has taken Ember a little longer to accept the brush. At first, it was just one stroke of the brush and she was done. She does let me untangle the wind knots in her mane though. We have not washed or shampooed them. Their natural oils and the dirt they roll in is their protection against the horse flies and other critters. Having said that, we do use fly spray on all of our horses. This summer was particularly bad for horse flies. I’ll cover more of that in my next entry. Believe it or not, I am almost finished writing it! I hope to have it up by the end of the weekend.

      I hope this answers some of your questions on how Image and Ember are doing and what our plans are for them.

      Thanks,
      Deb



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