Abused by the BLM, now forever free
It is with great sadness I report to you the death of the magnificent band stallion, Conquistador. We were shocked to learn of his passing from our dear friend, Effie Orser, who noticed that she did not see him while visiting the scenic pasture where the three bands (Conquistador, Trigger, and Shane) live just outside of Wilsall, Montana. She searched and found his body in a small, grassy gully.
Several days later, Lauryn, our vet, Lisa Jacobson, DVM of Big Sky Equine Veterinary Service, and I went to see if we could tell what might have happened. There were no marks on his body or any wounds of any kind. The ground was completely undisturbed around his body ruling out colic or any other painful struggle. Lisa concluded that he died suddenly, but it was impossible to tell why. It could have been lightning. There was an electrical storm the day before Effie found his body. He could have had an aneurysm. When we looked in his mouth we could see his teeth were quite worn down, causing me to wonder if he was older than we might have imagined. His birth date is 1990 on the BLM roles. He was an adult bachelor stallion when I arrived on the scene in 1994, so I never knew exactly how old he was. He was in great condition, and he had stolen Trigger’s yearling daughter, Josie, just last month, so his drive to expand his family still burned in his stallion heart.
There are several memorable film moments of Conquistador, both of which are in the first Cloud film, Cloud: Wild Stallion of the Rockies. Near the beginning of the film, there is a sequence of Raven rushing out to confront bachelor stallions, one of whom was Conquistador. I remember thinking how much bigger he was than Raven. Of the bachelors, it was Conquistador who did not back down and he and Raven went toe-to-toe and then butt-to-butt. Despite the difference in size, the older, more experienced, Raven made his point. If Conquistador wanted to win a mare, he’d have to look somewhere else!
The second sequence in which Conquistador is a major player is near the end of the first film. I did not know if Cloud had made it through the winter when he was four going on five. He had worn himself out fighting and running in an attempt to steal Mateo’s band. He was thin and lame going into winter. Then, in late spring, I saw him on the meadows below Penn’s cabin fighting with Conquistador. The two were bent on stealing mares from the blue roan band stallion, Plenty Coups.
Cloud had to back Conquistador off to have a chance to win a mare and he did so. During the racing and fighting Plenty Coups injured his leg but gamely tried to run Cloud off. The end of this drama is unknown to me as Plenty Coups and Cloud disappeared in the fog. Only the birth of Bolder to Plenty Coups’ black mare, Pococeno, revealed that something significant happened during the stormy days that followed.
Later, Conquistador successfully started a family and he did so out in the Custer National Forest where the competition for mares was less intense. I called him our “explorer” for he would travel with his family far down on Crooked Creek and then out toward Sage Creek and I wondered if he had been born out here. For years he lived in peace with his mares and foals in the Forest Service lands, taking up permanent residence on a vast Forest Service ridge called Commissary. His band and the bands of Trigger and Bo lived there year around. Shane ventured onto Commissary Ridge in 2009 shortly before the roundup. The ridge is a cattle allotment and I believe this is the reason all the wild horses that lived there were captured in the September helicopter stampede and removed.
We had no idea that BLM intended to permanently remove all of them, young and old alike. This included 19 year-old (or older) Conquistador and 21 year-old Grumpy Grulla. We pleaded with BLM to, at the very least, spare these two older animals but our requests fell on deaf ears.
With the help of wild horse supporters in the area and donations from individuals and organizations around the country, the Cloud Foundation was able to acquire all the older horses and keep them in their original family bands. These are our Freedom Families. Two bands of the four remain. Shane, the younger dun band stallion, stole Bo’s band in early spring 2010. And now Conquistador’s mares, Cavalitta and Josie are also with Shane. We hope to create a “young” band with Pistol, Trigger’s nearly two-year-old son; Augustina (Conquistador X Cavalitta, a coyote dun); and Lily, Shane’s dun daughter. We remain committed to giving them what they value most—their freedom and their families.
Conquistador’s legacy lives on, not only through Augustina, but also in his homeland, the Pryor Mountains. Two of his sons, Garay (Conquistador X Mariposa) and Grijala (Conquistador X Cavalitta) became band stallions within the past year. Grijala stole Lakota’s band after a clearly vicious fight last summer. He also has another son, Hernando, and a grandson, Hamlet, who may also carry on the Conquistador line.
No human, other than the BLM people who freeze branded him, ever touched Conquistador. His indomitable spirit had long left the body I stroked that rainy late May afternoon. I choose to remember him in life—proud, regal, ferocious in battle, but patient and kind to his mares and foals. He was unforgettable.