Red Lion

 

On a warm March afternoon in 2009, I was headed for home across a portion of the Great Basin Desert south of Dugway, Utah when I noticed a large cloud of dust to the south. I stopped and looked at it with my binoculars. Horses! A herd of 200 wild horses was running straight at me. I had never seen anything like it.

Some of the horses were kicking their heals up. Stallions stopped and rose on hind legs to fight rivals. Newborn foals were springing this way and that. The horses moved behind a small hill but never crossed it. A small flock of green-winged teal ducks flew up and I knew there had to be water over the hill.

I climbed up and saw a small pond and a magnificent chestnut stallion with a long flowing red mane. His large band was standing in the water drinking. He was keeping all the other horses away while his family drank. His power, spirit and long mane reminded me of a male lion. Red Lion.

I started coming out to see and photograph the Onaqui herd four or five times a month. I always searched for Red Lion and his band. Soon a powerful bay roan stallion was following Red Lion and his band. The stallions fought often. By the summer of 2012, the roan had managed to take half of Red Lion’s band.

Red Lion held off many challengers year after year and kept the rest of his family together. But time was catching with the aging stallion. During the summer of 2016, three younger stallions were fighting Red Lion for his band. By late September he only had two mares left.

By the first week of October 2018, he was left with only his longtime lead mare and she was limping badly. She could not keep up with the herd or Red Lion. He waited for her over and over. I returned two weeks later and the mare was gone. The magnificent stallion was alone.

Over the years Red Lion and his band were almost always near a band stallion named Ice and his family. Most defeated band stallions end up alone on the fringes of the herd.

But since the loss of his band, Red Lion has followed Ice as if his band was still with him. And Ice and no other band stallions have tried to drive him off.

Wild horses are always teaching us if we simply watch and listen. Their beauty and wonder are endless. I am going back to the desert soon. I will search the valleys and hills for the stallion I call Red Lion.

Kent Keller, Wildlife Photographer