Meeting the Day

free range horse photography of a mare and newborn foal after a hilltop climb

It is common for the foals, from their first day, to traverse all of the rolling countryside where That Herd roams, even steep ascents and descents.

This duo popped up out of a deep canyon to an early sunny horizon. The filly is greeting her second day with sturdy determination.

 

Graceful Success, Luck, and Barely Skimming By

Every mother, no matter what species, no matter maiden or veteran, has the burden and gift of either extreme fierceness in the face of dreadful odds or crushing fragility.

I say it every year, and I’ll keep saying it, the miracle of bringing a new, healthy life forth is an enormous feat. Some mothers gracefully succeed and some do not.

May the blessing of safe journeys be a reality for each of us. May we be met with compassion if our journeys are tragic.

 

free range horse photography of a mare heavy in foal
A veteran mare, heavy in foal, strolls out of the morning mist and into a meadow. A truly beautiful sight.

In Admiration

wild horse photography of a mare and foal in a tree-lined clearing
A dark mare and new foal stroll through a tree-lined clearing.

A mare who is no longer with us and her first foal. She gave us many memorable moments.

Watching Me Like TV

There is a foal portrait on the Home page of this blog. I call him the whiskers foal. Well, the big horse in this image is the whiskers foal all grow up. I love that I have known many of these horses their entire lives. I am their biggest fan. These two horses found me in a wooded area at dusk just poking around. Their herd mates arrived right behind them and we mingled and marveled at how quickly the night chill closed in.

free range horse photography of two dark horse at dusk
Two dark horses in the woods at dusk, one skeptical and the other inviting.

Cantering Out of the Sky

free range horse photography of colts running on hillside
And just like that, here they came, over the top of the hill and toward the sunset in a headlong rush, manes and tails flying.

” … and suppose that a wild little Horse of Magic came cantering out of the sky, … ”

–Walter De La Mare

 

Quite Capable

free range horse photography of a mare standing vigil over her newborn
The last sunlight of the day touches a mare standing vigil over her newborn filly.

Wild horses and domestic horses are genetically the same. Roaming freely, living in herd groups, and foraging for feed and water are all

actions natural to horses. The majority of stabled and confined horses would adapt to a free range environment if given the opportunity.

Even the new foals that horse owners often over-protect are quite capable of stamina and social interactions from the first hours of birth.

The first day for this filly was filled with roaming surrounded by herd mates, and varied terrain. She is quite content after a full day of life lessons, resting on a hillside with her mother standing guard.

Picnic

free range horse photography of a yearling filly in a cactus garden
Greetings like this with such an open expression of interest and a complete lack of suspicion are my favorite.
free range horse photography of a yearling in a hillside cactus garden
Secure in her cactus garden, a yearling awaits my approach.

For years now, I have shared important emotional bonds with That Herd members. Present at a large number of their births and early foal-life days, I have become invested in their continuing success and maturity journeys. Each visit brings joy, wonder, pride, and a renewed sense of stewardship, if only in the eyes-on/peace-of-mind kind of way. Each horse is an individual with their own unique qualities, most endearing and inspiring. Their life strategies and strong wills are a testament to equine instinct and resilience.

This filly reminds me of her mother in all the best ways. Foaled near an old wooden picnic table in the middle of no where, she and her mother lingered in the shade of the oak tree that sheltered the table. When her mother chose to move back toward the broodmare herd, her newborn filly casually paused to inspect the picnic table as they passed by. A small observation, but one of the life events that we share; she will always be called Picnic in my mind because of this.

Spirits

“When I see a horse grazing on the skyline it seems a spirit. I think of it as ascending to the sun.”

–N. Scott Manaday, Earth Keeper

free range horse photography of hilltop grazers
A nostalgic image from six years ago of hilltop grazers.

Wild Turkeys in the ‘Hood

free range horse photography of a filly calmly observing a turkey parade as she grazes
A filly calmly observes her neighbors parade past.
free range horse photography of strutting wild turkeys with the horses
That Herd members live with lots of wildlife, including wild turkeys.
free range horse photography of wild turkeys being ignored by a passing mare
A passing mare ignores the spectacle of weird turkey behaviors.
free range horse photography of a filly keeping a keen eye on some animated turkey behavior
A filly and her mother keep a keen eye on some weird turkey behavior.

Safe Distance

free range horse photography of a springtime mare and newborn foal
A new foal to dote over.

This mare is new to That Herd and so far accepting of my visits. She was, however, adamant that I would not get near her new foal.

I didn’t try hard but she did run away a lot which is why the foal looks tired. I took this image from quite far away.

I like to share images from the first days of the foals’ lives if I’m fortunate enough to get some because it highlights how quickly they change and grow.

This is the filly I call Dot from a post several days ago where she is shown with her constant companion Wheaties.

This was mid April and the meager spring grass had started to turn to brown. The succession from spring green to crispy brown grass was rapid this year.

All in a Days’ Travels

 

free range horse photography of a mare and foal easily climbing a steep hill
The mares and foals trudge up and down hills daily in search of the best feeding places.

Ah, the vitality of youth! The young foal easily lopes up this steep hill while her young mother digs in.

(Now that I’m posting this, I think I took an image of this same pair climbing shortly after the foal’s birth.)

free range horse photography of a mare and foal cutting across a steep hill
Sometimes the switchback method is the best for extended climbing.

In the daily wandering of the mares and foals they will access a wide variety of terrains in search of the best grazing.

I have climbed many hills and scaled many banks to follow or find the horses in their chosen environments.

Even the newest foals are equal to the task of keeping up and navigating tricky footings.

No Water. Not Romantic.

free range horse photography of some That Herd members in mountains at dusk
Dusk falls and the rest of the horses have been spotted; all is well.
free range horse photography of three tough mature horses
Still handsome but not cute; these brutes are not pets.

The American West is steeped in romantic imagery and nostalgia, horses being a big part of that. The lack of water in the American West, however, is not romantic in the least. The drought in the western states is no joke. Almost a decade without adequate rainfall and yearly watershed, with only a year or two of replenishment in the mix, has created a real danger to free range horses, livestock, and wildlife. With extreme roaming prohibited by fence lines, and viable sites for digging for a trickle of water or seep few and far between, large herds of horses present a formidable task in regard to supplying water. Much of their territory is inaccessible to equipment with the capacity to supply hundreds or thousands of gallons of water daily or even weekly. Connected to this dilemma is wildfire dangers and animal responses to such events. Let the hand wringing and problem solving begin.

These images were taken in late spring, which was dry earlier than usual again this year.

Composure and Growth

free range horse photography of a newborn colt at late day
Several hours into his first day, a newborn colt gazes toward the setting sun.
free range horse photography of a colt showing lots of growth at six weeks
At six weeks old, this colt has grown a lot even with tough dry spring conditions.

In a few short weeks the foals grow at tremendous rates. In this environment, their courage, and analytical thinking make great strides as well as their physical development. Twenty-four hours a day they are exposed to a never ending sequence of decisions and behavior patterns that develop into sure-footed, quick thinking horses. They travel many miles each day and are constantly exposed to lessons in life. This colt is composed and alert, given to bouts of joyous romps. His mother is a gem.

Seeing the World

free range horse photography of a splendid horse in late day light
A poetic moment in late light for a deserving horse.

“Magic isn’t somewhere else. It isn’t a series of distant rituals, ancient texts and expensive courses. Magic is turning to the world, and seeing it, … ”

–Alice Tarbuck, A Spell in the Wild: A Year (and Six Centuries) of Magic

The Sheltering Oak

free range horse photography of a newborn filly adjusting to her new world
Adjusting to her new world, a newborn filly takes in her surroundings.

 

free range horse photography of a mare sheltering under a massive oak tree
A massive sheltering oak was the foaling place chosen by this mare.

 

free range horse photography of a newborn filly wakes from her first nap
A bit more rested after her first nap, a newborn filly takes in her new world.

 

free range horse photography of early bonding moments between a mother and foal
Early bonding moments between a mother and her new foal.

Early morning overcast skies and the protection of a senior oak tree shelter the birth of a new life. The mother, notable for her distinctive profile and gentle wisdom, is generous with me; she allowed me access to early moments with her new foal, which is often not the case in natural environment births. I reveled in her generosity with ample time to observe. I don’t stay long however, even horses need the same solitude and privacy humans do in life-changing events.

The profile of this new filly is nearly refined compared to her mother and last year’s sibling. Her face marking reminds me of tadpoles, so in my mind she will be forever associated with common childhood adventures and happy innocent memories. I’m being overly poetic but that morning was a welcome return to a favorite type of encounter with nature and welcoming new beginnings.

Their Journey

In celebration of the journey of a mare with her foal.

Whether it is a mare with her first baby or her fifteenth, may their days be trouble-free.

free range horse photography of a lovely moment with mare and foal
A spring time stroll in the late afternoon creates a magical moment.

 

View From the Old Oak

free range horse photography of a fancy colt with oak on hilltop
He’s pretty fancy. The old oak and hilltop view suit him. 

This image is of the the almost-four-year-old who appeared as a newborn in the preceding post.

He is a beauty, tough as nails, and has an interesting blue stripe in one eye to go with all that chrome. This image combines one of my trifecta ideals: Far away scenery, a massive interesting oak tree, and an amazing equine. The horses like to browse under the trees where the grass stays tender and grows taller due to the rich soil and shade. They will even step through, over, and onto the branches to reach the in-between places.

How Sweet It Is

free range horse photography of a golden morning, big bay mare and newborn colt
A glittering spring morning, air abuzz with insects and the promise of a warm day, presents a new prince to That Herd.

This is not the image I intended on sharing.

I chose a recent image of this colt, nearly four-years-old now, looking impressive on a hilltop. I thought I might also post an image of the colt early in his life as a comparison (because people like to see before and after imagery).

Seeing this image, in the moment I opened it, stopped me in my quest. Not because it was what I was looking for, but because it so beautifully illustrates a thousand of my favorite moments. I have logged a thousand early spring mornings with wet feet, breath ragged from a brisk pace, with electric energy fueled by mares so close to foaling, burdened by the weight of camera and lens, and before the ruthless foxtails have come to head.  To then fall upon the discovery of a brand new life, such as this, in a glorious setting after days of nervous anticipation is a gift. Knowing a favorite mare is ready to give birth, to find them alive and well is a great moment of joy and pride (for the mare’s maternal success and fortitude). Seeing this image makes me ache to know my ability to duplicate this experience often this spring is not possible. I have a million captured moments such as this but it is in the entire experience within nature’s quiet brilliance that heals all that ails me.

The rare early hours of brand new life and nurturing are soon lost to the realities of the daily routines, lessons, and trials. How sweet those first hours are and what an honor it is to witness it.

 

Rounding the Bend

free range horse photography of two colts on a hilltop
Horses on a hilltop will never cease to be a thrill for even the weariest hearts.

When searching for a band of horses, rounding the bend and having this in your sight is a moment of pure happiness.

The others cannot be far. Maybe we could even see some other ear tips if we were a tad taller.

Nature’s Water Cooler

free range horse photography of coming two-year olds hanging out at a tree branch
Chill time for a couple of coming two-year olds as they hang out at a favorite gathering place for their herd mates.

Our society is familiar with the office water cooler as a place to hang out and talk about work while not working. The same types of water cooler moments occur with herds of horses. Community hang out spots are normal for horses living in large territories. Even though there is lots of space to roam, certain places become a common area for groups of horses living together to hang out. Often, low growing branches are essential at favorite resting spots. As if at a hitching post or leaning on the top fence rail to observe or converse, horses congregate and pacify themselves by rubbing, chewing, and resting on and near these low oak branches. This image shows one of those places for That Herd. It also shows only two members, but normally the whole bunch (just outside of this shot) clumps together to swat flies and take turns rubbing on the branches. The large grey colt will be two-years old in March and the bay filly will be two in June.