Featured Article: Medicine Hat Horses

January 1, 1970

Today we are acquainted with many beliefs that have come to us from our Native American stories and legends.

Such is… the belief of the “Medicine Hat” horse.  The “Medicine Hat” horse is a horse whose body is mostly white with a colored patch or patches on the top of his head, giving him a unique appearance of wearing some kind of headdress or bonnet.

A horse carrying such markings was believed by many Native Americans to carry with him supernatural powers especially during warfare.

Trish Hatle, the BLM Wild Horse Specialist and I began nearly 3 decades ago to record all the wild horses that lived in the area. Along with this record keeping, we added our own personal search for a “Medicine Hat” horse of the McCulloughs. If only we could find one.

Week after week… bays, blacks, greys, and spots of all variations, kept being recorded, but no “Medicine Hats”.   As the days turned into months, disappointment started to tarnish our hope that the McCullough Peaks wild horses had any genetics that would produce a true “Medicine Hat” horse. Then one day unexpected events began to unfold…

The day was progressing along as a normal day with not much happening when we had a wonderful little surprise. While looking for horse sign at one of the small reservoirs along the Coon Creek drainage, we peered into a thicket of bushes and in the shadows perched on a branch was a baby Great Horned Owl. Our excitement soared and our attention temporarily drifted away from the subject of horses, as we busily clicked away with our saddle-bag cameras. The baby owl was all white fluff with two very round eyes that stared directly into ours as a kid would stare at candy in a candy store.

After a short time and many photo clicks later, we left the baby Hooter on his private branch and drifted on to continue our search for wild horses.

Luck was with us that day… it wasn’t long before we came upon a young stallion whose body was nearly all white just like the baby hoot owl. Sorrel colored round spots covered each eye giving him a unique google-eyed expression.  His foretop was sorrel against a shining white face. And to top it off, sorrel spots dappled his ears! You wouldn’t believe our excitement.

Staring back at us the horse was as spell bound as we and those sorrel circles around each eye accentuated his astonished look. “Another baby Hooter”, we both exclaimed! At the time, neither of us realized that this young stallion staring back at us…would wander the herd area for many years under the nomenclature of “Hooter”, even though the name was questioned by many as to its origin.

This is interesting, because at one time the area we call “The McCullough Peaks” belonged to the Crow people and the Crow people were horse people. They had thousands of horses roaming their lands. So…are todays Medicine Hats any relation to what could have roamed there years ago? The possibility is always there. And do these specially marked horses possess any supernatural powers as was once thought? That is something everyone should decide for themselves.

We can say, that certain individual horses do attract more favoritism from onlookers than others and the Medicine Hat horse is always a favorite. Even though I should mention that Hooter’s older sister “Okemah”…

(a black & white mare with a round pirate patch over her right eye) held a close second.  Today, both “Hooter” & “Okemah” have passed on into history, but the possibility of finding a Medicine Hat horse or a close 2nd still easily exists within the McCullough Peaks horses.

Loving adventure as I do, I totally understand how the thrill of ADVENTURE lives in us all. For some, it is to be the first in line at that new store in the mall, for others it’s a new hillside filled with grazing wild horses. That innate desire arises within us. It’s often so strong that we throw caution to the wind. Don’t fall victim to this desire when dealing with animals in the wild, even wild horses. The suggested distance of 300 ft. for horses should give you the chance to move out of harm’s way if a horse suddenly whirls and bites at another. Be aware of even sleeping horses, they too can move suddenly.

By adding a baby to the scenario (whether it be a baby horse, antelope, or even a hoot owl) could bring on different and unexpected consequences. With horses, foals are guarded by the whole harem. One should always keep a watchful eye, even behind you. The old adage that… “A horse can turn on a dime and give you change!” is certainly true…add that to a sudden burst of speed could easily make you swallow your tongue! Did you know that horses can easily move up to 45 mph? Stay at a safe distance and put to use those nice binoculars and camera that you purchased for the trip. And… while you are photographing or viewing….remember it’s up to you to decide which wild horse might possess that supernatural power!

Written by Phyllis Preator, Photos by Michael H. Francis