A Better Horse

Without the noise and control of a domestic lifestyle, horses manage to get along just fine. This first-time mother had an early fall foal. Born practically on the vernal equinox, she is months behind her young herd mates, but that won’t matter. The fall and winter months here do not have harsh weather and these are free range–not wild–horses so they are not without help when it is needed. Like many birthing mothers in a natural environment, this mare secluded herself for a period of time then rejoined the increased safety of the herd. This image was taken nearing the end of their first day together. The filly is a duplicate copy of her mother, which is endearing. Directly before this captured moment, a group of wild turkeys and a black-tail buck appeared into the same frame as the mare and foal, they were all mere feet from each other. It reminded me that the horses live in direct closeness with a wide range of wildlife and natural rhythms, which contributes to a natural horse, a better horse.

free range horse photography of a first-time mother and her newborn in scenery
A first-time mother and her newborn literally walking off into the sunset.

The Shortness of Time

free range horse photography of a filly romping with the mares and foals
A grown filly romping with the mares and foals. July 2022.
Carpe Diem – an exclamation used to urge someone to make the most of the present time and give little thought to the future.
Roman poet Horace used the full injunction, “carpe diem quam minimum credula postero,”
which can be translated as “pluck the day, trusting as little as possible in the next one”,
recognizing the brevity of life and embracing the inevitability of death.

Hiding in Plain Sight

free range horse photography of a filly in an oat field
Curiosity peaked, this filly approaches stalk by oat stalk.

In an open meadow, with no place to hide, one does the best one can.

 

Fleet of Foot

free range horse photography of a mare and her new foal on a hillside
No hillside is too steep to make your escape when this is your mother  

Are they wild? No, but they live as if they were wild. That Herd horses are free range horses. They are privately owned and lightly managed. The horses mainly exist with no assistance quite well. When there is a need, the rancher steps in to administer care or support.

Can you pet them? No, but they are often approachable. For the most part, consider them wildlife with all the considerations that goes with encountering a wild animal.

Do I cue them, use rewards or treats, or try to alter their behavior in any way to get the shot? No, but there have been occasions when I intervened when a newborn foal was in danger.

Do they roam freely? Yes! Their territories are fenced, but most of the spaces they live in are hundreds, or thousands of acres bordered by private ranches or federal lands.

Do the mares live with a stallion? Sometimes, but the stallion is not part of the herd year-round.

Do they spread wonder and joy to anyone who is fortunate enough to observe them? Yes, always.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Impatient Circles

free range horse photography of a newborn filly impatiently circling her lying mother
Impatient circles from her newborn do not sway this mother from her much needed resting.

 

free range horse photography of a newborn filly encouraging her mother to stand
This foal is not so much encouraging mother to stand as performing an instinct that forces the need to press the face and find milk when newly born.

After a morning of labor and birth, this mother needs to lie down and pass the placenta. Freed from her internal burden of several months and the bright morning sunshine, she is not easily roused. The foal, a filly, was energetic and bouncy right away and persistently and almost comically circled, nickered, and leaped about in an effort to unlock the mystery of her low mother.

Periscope Moment

free range horse photography of the moment a newborn pops his head up to see the new world
The moment a newborn pops his head up to see the new world that he has arrived in.

I cannot seem to put into words how beautiful these little moments are. His journey has begun.

Jim Blossom

free range horse photography of a newborn filly and mare on hillside
The anticipation for the successful arrival of a 2022 newborn foal has ended. She is here.

Like a lucky omen, this filly has lifted our spirits and excitement for what is to come.

True to That Herd form, she has already crammed a lot of living into the few hours since her birth.

Cactus Garden

free range horse photography of coming two-year-olds
More of the rowdy coming-two-year-olds between me and a cactus garden. 

I think they would rather run me over than the cactus if it came to that.

With Her Explorer Hat On

free range horse photography of a fancy filly strolling
A fancy filly strolls through a sunny field with her purpose set on exploring squabbling birds.

“To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and water exhilarating;

to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter; to be thrilled by the stars at night;

to be elated by a bird’s nest or a wildflower in spring–

these are some of the rewards of the simple life.”

–John Burroughs

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.

Nostalgia Pose

free range horse photography of a striking filly
A stand-out filly strikes a pose.
free range horse photography of a favorite filly grown to six years
The after version of before and after poses with this filly/mare.

Unseen by me for quite some time, I was happy to relive a familiar pose with this stand-out filly, now a mare of six years. She is and always has been independent and unflappable.

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.

Vigilant

free range horse photography of a wary mare and newborn filly
It has been a tough day for this new mother. She has concerns about the security of her newborn with the addition of a stallion to the herd.

After many weeks eagerly observing all the mares that foaled before her, this wary mare had reasons to be on alert this day. Finally, her foal arrived but it was a long day for the duo. Unlike the mares that foaled before her, she had the complication of a stallion being added to the herd. The stallion was quite eager and busy asserting his authority with the group. He was a reasonable stallion, behavior wise, but he kept the mares tightly bunched which left this mare and foal no room for seclusion or distance. Also, they were moving quite a bit and I could see the weariness in the new foal. Even in calm periods when the foal figured out how to lie down, she was quickly roused by the constant alerts from mother each time other horses got too close. This kept the filly on her feet and moving in anxious hastiness. The mare did her best to keep them both on the outside of the bunch so she could ease away from the activity of the other horses so her foal wouldn’t get stepped on or separated from her. Everything turned out just fine however, and within a couple of days the new filly was rough and ready as any other foal in the herd.

free range horse photography of a wary mare and newborn filly strolling by
Circling on the outskirts of the bunch, a mare keeps her newborn filly away from reckless or curious herd-mates.

Much the Same

free range horse photography of two young matching foals
Herd mate foals that look-alike and are buddies as well.

I secretly call them Wheaties and Dot.

Wheaties is a colt and Dot is a filly by the same stud.

Born within days of each other from mares that stick together, they spend a lot of their days together playing, grooming and roaming.

A Treasure

corker | ˈkôrkər | noun 1 an excellent or astonishing person (horse) or thing

free range horse photography of a new filly, only a day old
Only one day old and she shows all the signs of becoming a real corker.

 

free range horse photography of a new filly and her serene mother
Compared to a lot of other horses this mare is down-right serene.

I would bet you know a person who is completely cooperative and pleasant to be around.

The kind of person who you know will always be a team player and do the right thing.

Someone who never complains and always tries to be part of the solution.

A friendly face even when they’re not feeling their best. Well, that’s this mare as well. Meet Ruby.

She’s an amazing, resilient treasure of a horse and this is her ’21 filly at one day old.

 

Don’t Smile, I Dare You

free range horse photography of a newborn foal with curled ears
Her ear tips are still curled; how cute!
free range horse photography of a proud mare and newborn filly
Lookin’ good newborn filly; nice parade trot!
free range horse photography of a newborn foal with curled ears
Side portrait of curled ear tips on newborn foal.

Sometimes, fresh from the womb, foals have bent or curled ears. The ear tips straighten out in a day or two. Too bad, so cute.

Pride and Fortitude

After regaining her strength several days post giving birth, a veteran mother looks proud and calm in her motherhood role.

free range horse photography of a mare parading her new filly in late day light
Late day loveliness shower a mare named Iris and her first filly.

 

free range horse photography of mare presenting her newly born filly
I cannot help but see a hint of reserved fortitude showing in this mare’s body language; she takes the task of motherhood very seriously.

After many years without conceiving, and now several foals – all colts – later, she has a new filly to raise. With a history of giving it her all when raising foals I imagine I see a look of mental endurance-gathering this second day with her new foal. She has been known to hide away for weeks keeping a new foal all to herself. She is devoted; refusing to even lie down and rest when her foals are with her. This year she “hid in plain sight” avoiding the other horses as much as possible for the first days of May. She allows motherhood to drain away all of her reserves, her devotion is so great.

Matchless Moments

free range horse photography of an intrepid newborn filly
It has been a rare occurrence for a newborn foal to walk directly away from the safety of mother to investigate my presence.

In a pure moment of free-spirited pluckiness, this newborn filly toddled straight away from her mother-shield and investigated me without hesitation. This is such an unusual occurrence that I was taken aback, but delighted. I do love the new foals and to be noticed, and in this case greeted, by the newest arrival made me feel like I was doing something right. Don’t let the seemingly nonchalant mare fool you, she is as protective a mother as any in the herd. In this case she was no match for her foal’s enthusiasm to discover everything and anything within sight. In the following moments my lens was filled with mother’s inquiring and vigilant face and a few cautious snorts. Try as she might to coax and maneuver her filly to her off side, the filly returned to nuzzle me. It was truly a natural connection experience.