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.

A New Energy

May the sun bring you new energy by day, may the moon softly restore you by night,

may the rain wash away your worries, may the breeze blow new strength into your being,

may you walk gently through the world and know it’s beauty all the days of your life. – Apache Blessing

free range horse photography of two big horses browsing
Christmas day arrived with the terrain still dry; no rainfall since last spring means no new grasses.

Goodbye, 2020. May we never revisit the tough times you heaped upon us.

Feeling Nostalgic

A few representatives of That Herd taken 2012. Eight years has come and gone in a heartbeat.

These horses are fully mature and in the prime of their lives now.

I love the oak tree in the background; sadly, it has since crumbled under the stresses of drought.

Photographs are a window into the past, be it one minute or one century. So many memories

flood back with just these two images.

free range horse photography of early members of That Herd with old oak tree
Incoming youngsters long-trot past a favorite oak tree landmark.
free range horse photography of a group of young horses on a hilltop
This squad includes some early That Herd members on a chilly February morning.

My Tribute

 

“You pray for rain, you gotta deal with the mud too. That’s a part of it. … ” –Denzel Washington

free range horse photography of a special colt at shoreline
A favorite colt on the shoreline at dusk; could his face be more inviting?

This colt.

tribute | ˈtribyo͞ot | noun 1 an act, statement, or gift that is intended to show gratitude, respect, or admiration.

 

 

Dartboard

free range horse photography of two young colts in scenery
Horses nurture relationships with herd mates, like these two young colts. Whatever the attraction, they often stuck close to each other.

For years now, I have been archiving the lives of this collection of free range horses. I cannot, with certainty, articulate why I choose the images I do to share. Sometimes I’m proud of capturing a certain expression or moments of behavior, sometimes it’s to honor my fondness for individuals, often it’s an random choice, and I will always share new foal pictures. At this point, I have such a collection of images I can simply “throw a dart at the board” and choose any random image from my files and recall a memory of when and where I interacted with those horses. For every single image I have shared across multiple social media sites, I probably have a thousand images I have not shared. I rarely share the same image across the different sites so check those out if you haven’t yet.

This image is from three years and two weeks ago, to be exact. These two horses were personal favorites of mine for different reasons. They had an amiable connection to each other, which was endearing. I wish they could have remained best mates forever, but circumstances lead to inevitable change for all of us. I enjoy the opportunity to capture beautiful moments of their time spent with That Herd.

The joy of recalled moments when finding forgotten photographs (of any subject) is one of life’s great connectors for all citizens of this world. Sharing captured moments is one of my missions with this photo archive and website. If you get joy from an image I have shared, that accomplishes a personal goal for me.

Dainty is Over-Rated

free range horse photography of a weanling filly with scenery
Not that this filly has a bad side, but this is her better side.

free range horse photography of a distinctive two-day old filly

Several months into her life and this filly is brimming with independence.

She seems serious but curious–sincere even–if a horse can be sincere.

The comparison between her two-day-old self and her seven-month-old self is impressive. So much growth in a short amount of time.

Her distinguishing profile has grown right along with everything else. Although her irregular white face marking creates a pleasing optical illusion for her large bump, she will never escape extra attention for her side view.

I love her face, roman nose and all, she’s a charmer.

 

Do Horses Experience Beauty?

free range horse photography of an eight day old colt on a scenic hilltop
An eight-day-old colt passes too close for his own comfort on a hilltop.
free range horse photography of a mare and new foal on a scenic hilltop
Early fog was just lifting as we all find ourselves on the same hilltop.

This colt is on high alert when I am nearby, as is his mother, but he pauses in this moment to get a good look at me. It has been an uncommon occurrence to to be on this hilltop while the herd is browsing there. Obviously, the view is amazing, but the opportunities for a shot are few for several reasons. On this morning, I had marched over hill and dale to photograph a different foal but these two unexpectedly arrived from a different direction. Neither of them were thrilled to see me there, and they moved on to more private grazing.

I wonder if horses are capable of appreciating a scenic view? I know they appreciate having the extended visibility from hilltops and they seem to like standing with the breeze in their face lifting their forelocks, but I don’t know if they experience beauty.

Growing Into a Name

I can imagine these images may be rather pedestrian to some viewers, but these little moments of horse life interest me. The simple act of walking through a gentle water shed stream, or what was likely the first time (or nearly the first time) for this young foal to leap valiantly over-obediently following his mother-feel like a privilege to observe. The horses get used to me hanging around, and because I don’t attempt to alter their movements or motivation, I get to join in on their adventures.

This colt quickly earned the name of Rasputin when I observed his aggressive and cranky behavior towards the other foals from his first days. He looked like a teddy bear but his aloof, single-minded solidarity to his mother and his demanding ways made him seem a bit wicked. He has since been quite unremarkable in any of his interactions when I am near, so I feel confident in knowing he was unfairly judged by me and has redeemed himself. Someday he will have a new name that defines any first impressions to all that would hear it in a more positive way.

free range horse photography of a mare making a stream crossing with zen-like style
Spring rains have given us a seasonal water flow; the horses seem to like the serene flow.

 

free range horse photography of a young colt leaping a stream
A brave effort by this young colt gets him across the seasonal stream with style.

Attempted Maternal Coup

Early on a March morning I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. Two mares had given birth a couple hours previous to my arrival. I love observing newborn foals and their million discoveries about life on the outside. During my quiet jubilation at my good luck, a third mare laid down and gave birth to a notably large colt without moving away from the herd for solitude, which is unusual. A perfect morning, cool and sunny and a little breezy allowed for a serene birth and initial 20 minutes of terrestrial time.

The first image shows the colt’s first successful standing moment. Because of his numerous attempts to rise and sort his long legs out to stand, some curious herd mates approached to investigate. The other mare in the sequence is a sweet mare who has been a doting mother in the past. This year, however, she would not be having a foal of her own. She becomes instantly taken by the vulnerable newborn and won’t accept the fact he is another’s baby. Grievously, the orientation of the wobbly foal was directly in between the ensuing aggressive assertions. He was tossed about and when the mares squared off and spun to kick each other with deadly hind hooves I had to intervene. Risking the safety and kidnapping of the newborn was not necessary since I could interrupt the situation. Motherhood instincts are strong and especially so in nature. I have discovered this type of stealing behavior is not rare in natural situations. In the wild, and/or when unmanaged, the outcome for the foal is fatal. Because these horses live in a free range, natural environment they have heightened senses of survival and their innate abilities are strong, but sometimes behaviors can still go wrong.

free range horse photography of the first hour of a foal's life learning to stand
The first upright moments in a newborn foal’s journey.

 

free range horse photography of the first hour of a foal life
Another mare shows too much interest in the wobbly newborn foal.

 

free range horse photography of the first hour of a foal life
Intense bonding hormones are suddenly going haywire for each horse; the newly born is running on strong instincts to find it’s first milk.

 

free range horse photography of the first hour of a foal life
The intruding mare moves past mere motherly curiosity and makes a threat for possession of the new foal.

 

free range horse photography of the first hour of a foal life
The newborn is intent on connecting with a milk source and the rightful mother falters in asserting her motherhood over the larger, more forceful mare.

 

free range horse photography of the first hour of a foal life
The situation intensifies over possession of the new foal who is still only moments on his own unsteady four legs.

 

free range horse photography of the first hour of a newborn foal's life
In the heat of the moment battle stances are being implemented and the wobbly foal is tossed about.

 

free range horse photography of the first hour of a foal life
The foal regains his balance and a clear winner is unfolding.

 

free range horse photography of the first hour of a foal life
After a rare intervention by the observing photographer the mare regains possession of her foal and necessary bonding continues.

 

free range horse photography of the first hour of a foal life
Once peace is restored the mare appears grateful in this brief moment of acknowledging my presence.

 

Four Thousand Three Hundred Twenty Little Hours

free range horse photography of a new foal staying in step with his mother
A new colt who is diligent in his attempts to keep up with his high-strung mother.

 

free range horse photography of a ready-to-wean bold colt
A lot of growth has occurred for this big boy in six months.

With a little time, grass, mother’s milk and energizing sunshine this colt has bloomed into a uniquely handsome ready-to-wean lean machine. Notice how cute and determined he was from day-one to be a successful little soldier to his restless mother.

Whiskers on Kittens

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens, brown paper packages tied up with strings,

These are a few of my favorite things.

Cream colored ponies and crisp apple strudels, doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles, wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings,

These are a few of my favorite things.

… girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes, the snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes, silver white winters that melt into springs, …

Songwriters: Oscar Hammerstein/Richard Rodgers  My Favorite Things

free range horse photography of frolicking mares and foals in a summer landscape
The setting sun casts a golden hue on frolicking mares and foals.

and moments like this with That Herd.

This is one of my favorite things.

Big strong foals and mares, young and older, with spark and verve.

 

We Are the Champions

free range horse photography of three champion mares
A large mare by any standard; the mare in the middle looks small in comparison, but her herd mates are HUGE.

A graceful champion does not put on airs, she does not demand special treatment or crave supremacy. He comports herself with the utmost dignity, has benevolence, and sophistication. She gives and gives expecting nothing in return. She is awesome without attention simply because she can be no other way. Born with natural talent and a strong purpose, she is a champion with and without the trophies, ribbons, prize money, press, and fame. She boldly faces whatever is presented to her. Here’s to (a) champion female(s)! You make us proud.