If you have had the opportunity to see our film, WILD BEAUTY: MUSTANG SPIRIT OF THE WEST, you might recognize a familiar equine face among the featured Onaqui herd. Stargazer, a bold buckskin pinto stallion and his dark gray mare, Nora, have touched the hearts of thousands after their rescue story was shared on popular animal media outlet, The Dodo. Once roaming wild and free in the mountainous landscape of Northern Utah, Stargazer and Nora experienced the cruelty of BLM roundups firsthand. Fortunately, they were rescued from the grief-stricken holding facility and given a new life in the gentle hands of their adopter, Melissa Tritinger.
“Their lives took an abrupt turn when they were forcibly captured, torn apart, and taken from the only home they knew. But their story is one of resilience and hope, as they’ve managed to find each other again in their forever home.” says their adopter, Melissa.
Stargazer has been the muse of many nature photographers and artists alike since his birth on the Onaqui range. Kim Newman, a remarkable wild horse photographer, captured this photo of Stargazer and Nora during their time of wild freedom.
Much like his family, Stargazer’s striking color and flashy pinto pattern represent the unique, natural beauty of the wild horse. His sire, King (OQ103zdS)1*, an impressive grulla stallion, was captured in the 2021 roundup but has since found a home at a mustang sanctuary. Stargazer’s dam, nicknamed Mama G (OQ583upM)*, was a beloved pinto mare that lived and died wild. She also gave birth to Moondrinker (OQ107upS)*, Stargazer’s older pinto brother, famously earning them the nickname “The Pinto Brothers.” They were a popular pair that caught the eye of those who visited the range. Remarkably, Moondrinker managed to avoid capture in the 2021 roundup.
In the spring of 2020, Stargazer (OQ10bdpS)* came across Northstar (OQ259zM)*, or Nora for short, on the range, who had been reportedly left behind due to an injury she had sustained. From that day forward, Stargazer became her steadfast companion. Nora, distinguished by her beautiful wind-knotted black mane, was the first and only mare in Stargazer’s band. She was affectionately given the name “Northstar” after the guiding star in the sky.
Stargazer (left) battles a herd member in the Onaqui HMA (A still from WILD BEAUTY: Mustang Spirit of the West)
WBF founder, Ashley Avis, and the crew of WILD BEAUTY followed Stargazer, Nora, and the rest of the Onaqui herd as they documented the elegance of wild horses across the American west. The opportunity to see these horses showcase their strength and beauty in the wild was truly once in a lifetime, and something that we are so proud to share with the world in WILD BEAUTY.
Stargazer and Nora’s wild life took a turn in the summer of 2021 when a helicopter descended into the Onaqui Herd Management Area. WILD BEAUTY shows the events of this roundup, including the moment the horses were run into the trap site at terrifying speeds. During the chaos, Nora was separated from Stargazer. Stargazer knew he had lost her as videos and images depict him running frantically, as if in search of her.
“However, he did manage to elude capture, remaining wild for one more night. Yet, the following day, when the helicopter returned, he too was trapped. Did he come back for Nora? The truth will never be known, but what’s clear is that once captured, their paths would never cross again unless something was done. Their story, which seemed written in the stars, had to continue on.” says Melissa.
Stargazer and Nora in Holding (Photo Credit: Melissa Tritinger)
After nearly six months of separation in the off range holding facility, Stargazer and Nora were reunited as they were adopted, together, by Melissa.
“When the time came to load them onto the trailer, to finally close this horrible chapter, a man on horseback guided them through mud and a series of panels into the open trailer. Uncertain and nervous, they hesitated at the entrance but took the brave step into the unknown together. They had no idea what lay ahead, but at least they were together.” she explains.
Both horses proved tired, and a sense of defeat plagued their wild minds. Fatigued and covered in months of dried mud and debris from their time in holding, they were finally able to decompress in the quiet safety of Melissa’s farm.
Stargazer and Nora’s BLM Tags are Removed (Photo Credit: Melissa Tritinger)
Stargazer and Nora gradually realized they were no longer in danger. They began to accept the presence of the new humans who showered them with attention. In their new home, they had a dry space, food they didn’t need to reach through bars, clean water, soft voices, gentle touches, and most importantly each other.
“Every day, these remarkable mustangs display curiosity, openness, and trust, even though some days are more challenging than others. They listen intently, their dark, soft eyes always following. They are willing and forgiving, eagerly anticipating the adventures each new day brings. They are deeply loved in this new chapter, and are gently guided into the domestic world at their own pace” Melissa humbly boasts of the pair.
Stargazer and Nora at Home (Photo Credit: Melissa Tritinger)
Stargazer is relishing his retirement. He enjoys the quiet life with Nora and his favorite equine friend, Rueben, by his side. His pace is slow, steady, and thoughtful. Stargazer delights in showcasing his tricks, walks in the woods, and is even learning to paint. But, most importantly, he loves meeting new people as they bring him lots of treats, scratches, and attention.
Northstar, in contrast, is an eager learner who fearlessly tackles new experiences. She’s currently being trained under saddle, displaying impressive aptitude and adaptability for anything presented to her.
“Nora’s endearing combination of sweetness and sass makes her a true standout and a rising star in her own right. This little lady is destined for great things–not to mention has the best hair around!” says Melissa.
While we all prefer that wild horses remain in the wild for the extent of their lives, their forever home is dedicated to ensuring they have everything they need in this new domestic chapter. Stargazer and Nora will never be subjected to coercion or fear of humans again. They have left behind the dark chapter of dirty holding facilities, where injuries were frequently overlooked, to embrace a domestic life that’s free from fear, neglect and uncertainty. They will spend their days together, continuously learning until they decide otherwise. Their voices will be heard, their well-being assured, and their days filled with love until they eventually reunite back with the stars.
Stargazer and Nora (Photo Credit: Melissa Tritinger)
Stargazer and Nora’s journey, from the freedom of the open range to their heart-wrenching capture and subsequent separation in a government holding facility, serves as a powerful illustration of the ongoing tragedy faced by America’s wild horses and burros on our public lands.
It is important to know that Stargazer and Nora–while they had a happy ending…their story is the exception. Thousands of other wild mustangs and burros in holding do not have the same fortunate outcome.
We give our sincere appreciation to Melissa for sharing Stargazer and Nora’s story with WBF, as well as giving them a wonderful home to spend the rest of their days in. If you would like to read more about Stargazer and Nora and keep up with their domestic life on social media, you can follow the links below.