No Leaf Too Sharp

When times get tough, the horses get tougher. I don’t observe leaves such as these sharp oak tree leaves usually being on the menu, but options for grazing are scarce at this time. I took this picture as I watched several horses munch on the branches of this tree. They did not appear to notice any discomfort connected to their selection and repeatedly gathered another mouthful.

wild horse photography of a young horse eating sharp oak leaves
The horses become very resourceful at finding grazing options.

The Strength of Wild Instinct

This mare, lovely though she may be, is only rarely recorded in a relaxed attitude; she is quite put-off by any human proximity. She has a ranch brand, and indeed, for years, was a useful but uncooperative working horse. She found a new home with That Herd, and has not once allowed a human hand touch her since she was released. She took to free range life readily and this is her first foal, which was dramatically stolen from her just after birth by a wise old mare longing for her own baby. (Previous posts document some of those moments). I like this image not only because it’s a pretty scene, but because it might be the only time this black mare didn’t sprint past me in a wide arc to guarantee I could not get close. Even in this image, you can see her raised tail, her head held low nervously mock-grazing, eyes and ears alert to my position, before she can’t stand it and dashes away. After numerous encounters such as these her filly has learned to be suspicious of visitors as well. This black mare, formerly known as Tehachapi, seems suited to her new life. She’s a fine example of the strength of wild instinct still residing in domestic horses.

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.

Out of Sight

If these horses don’t want to be found, they know what to do. They know when to stand still and when to flee from space to space. Even a sighting like this can result in failure to see a horse up close by the time you trek down (or up) to their location. No ditch is too wide, no hillside is too steep to hinder the route and determination of these horses when they travel.

wild horse photography of horses hiding in brush
If these horses don’t want to be found, they know what to do.

Resourceful Grazing

After a few years of heat and drought, the horses have learned to be resourceful at finding grass to eat. In this series of images you see a young horse inserting her head deep into rugged sagebrush to find hidden grass. Protected within the perimeter of this large bush, several mouthfuls of grass have grown all summer undiscovered. The horses know to search for feed in such protected places and are rewarded for this strategy.

wild horse photography of a horse burying it's face deep into brush
A filly presses her head deep into brush seeking grass after a long summer season.
wild horse photography of a filly rewarded with a mouthful of grass
A mouthful of grass is this filly’s reward for searching deep within a rugged bush.
wild horse photography of a filly searching for hidden grass
A filly searching for hidden grass in and around the sagebrush.

Leaving What You Know

A sweet picture taken in the days before they will be separated. It is time to wean the foals. The oldest foal is about seven months old while the youngest is about five months old. They are weaned as a group and will continue to experience their world together, in familiar territory, counting on each other’s strengths. It is bittersweet when the young leave their mothers and become independent. The newly independent fillies and colts will have many highs and lows of confidence as they mature. The mares, even after months of self sacrifice, have continued to show devotion to nurturing and the protection of their foals. The constant vigilance employed to raise a baby in a free roaming environment, the rude demands of the older foals, the unending search for food and water, all wear on the mares, sometimes you can literally see it in their faces, but then there are also lots of moments of tender camaraderie and evidence of a bond that is as old as time. It takes only a short time for the mares to quiet and accept the coming months, now devoted to the new foal growing inside them. The youngsters, moving forward, lean on each other and their own innate qualities of survival bloom.

wild horse photography of a mare and foal comfortably together
A mare and her foal graze, faces pressed close together, in a gesture of comfort and trust.

Yearlings Being Yearlings

It has been many months since I have seen the yearlings. I had been assuming that they were all sticking together, like yearlings often do. These two were spotted, though, recently. They seemed to be alone, or the others could not be spotted nearby; the landscape would be easy to hide in. Only one other yearling has been seen in the last few months but he is running with a band of older horses, he being the only yearling in the large group. This makes me think about a study I read about where the social behavior of young feral and wild horses was observed. The main study was Przewalski horses living in a wild environment. The study found that when living in a herd dominated by horses under four years of age, the yearlings stayed segregated from mature horses and more closely bonded with each other. The fewer adults there were, the more the young horses avoided interacting with them. Conversely, when living in a herd of mature horses, no matter the gender, the young horse’s behaviors changed. The adults played pivotal roles in channeling the aggressive and rowdy behaviors of the immature members in the group. The immature horses bonded more closely and found comfort with an adult rather than their young peers. Perhaps the That Herd yearling group, as a whole, is purposely avoiding running with any older horses, therefore have been harder to locate. Also, it is not uncommon for horses in a natural environment to bond closely with a herd mate born the same year. That seems to be the case for these two colts. The grey colt has been discussed in previous blog posts when he was a foal because of his notable social-awkwardness moments. So, there you have it, yearlings avoiding adults, a yearling influenced by adults, and two closely bonded herd mates, all supporting the conclusions of previously studied equines.

wild horse photography of two yearling colts sticking together
Yearlings tend to stick together, often mirroring each other’s movements, especially when unsure of a new situation.

You Can’t See Me!

These free range horses are often curious about my visits, but just as often, elusive. In this image, I can see a little of both in this horse’s face. On this day, visibility was low due to fog, and the temperature was cool after a long hot spell. This seemed to inspire mischievous behavior from That Herd members. After an extended get-away run, the herd, including this fellow, responded with curiosity when I appeared a second time.

wild horse photography of a horse shielded by sagebrush
You don’t see me, you don’t see me. A mature member of That Herd is shielded by sagebrush.

Narrowly Escaping a Bad Ending

I was surprised this meandering mare even noticed this passing tarantula. She briefly lipped the spider, and passed over it, probably narrowly avoiding a painful bite. Once cast aside, sheer luck spared the tarantula a smashing from her stepping hooves. After this hoof, then another, the spider negotiates a few other passing mares, is spared again and again, and goes about it’s charmed tarantula life.

wild horse photography of a mare investigating a tarantula
A colorful mare investigates a passing tarantula.
wild horse photography of a tarantula nearly under walking hooves
After discarding a tarantula with a flick of her lip, the spider is in grave danger from this mare’s walking hooves.
wild horse photography of a mare nearly stepping on a tarantula
Oh dear, danger, tarantula, danger! A mare nearly steps on a passing tarantula.
wild horse photography of a tarantula under the hooves of passing horses
As many mares pass, this tarantula dodges hoof after hoof.


Cut off from the rest of the herd, several mares and foals took a detour to avoid passing near me. One by one, as their bravery and comfort level supported, they streaked by me, in ones and twos, down a steep hill and across a brushy side hill. Interestingly, these same horses, young and old, will allow me to walk among them while they are quietly grazing and moving about minutes later.

wild horse photography of a young colt galloping over uneven terrain
Streaking by, this colt gallops effortlessly over vegetation and steep inclines and descents.


The first day of life for a baby is a never-ending assault of sensory stimulus. The physiological and behavioral adaptations that come in rapid succession when presented with the (new) external environment must be exhausting. The expression on this face shows evidence of this reality for newborns. The added stresses of a free range environment only accelerate the need for a foal to interpret and master volumes of new abilities in a very short amount of time.

wild horse photography of an overwhelmed newborn foal
I cannot blame this newborn for looking overwhelmed. The barrage of sensory stimulus in the first day is an absolute assault.

As Wild and Reckless as Thunder

To tell a story from the heart of a horse, now that would be the best story ever told.

wild horse photography of a stallion looking sharp
Stallion postures are dramatic and inspire great daydreaming about the vitality of equines.

Dog Days of Summer

These September days drag by for human and horse alike. All of us, listlessly baking in oppressive heat and humidity, coated in dust, and finding no relief from the heat in the evening are tiring. To say there is a lack of water is a gross understatement at this point, quality feed is scarce, and the mares tire of mothering their demanding offspring. This filly has taken on her mother’s suspicious ways (I rarely see her with a welcoming eye), and has grown in independence daily. Even on this hot morning, she retains a spark of defiance and energy.

wild horse photography of an independent filly
The foals grow in independence daily; this filly is unconcerned that her mother is not visible.

Last Light Illuminates ZigZag

It had been many months since I’d laid eyes on ZigZag. I was happy to find him doing something athletic, validating the reason he received his name in the first place. He is a two-year old now. I found him on the morning he was born, only hours old, and he has given me many hours of viewing pleasure ever since.

wild horse photography of a young horse moving through a wooded area
As the sun slips behind the mountain, the horses march past me, then disappear into the woods.

Friend or Foe?

Surprise encounters initiate this familiar “friend or foe?” horse face. I am a familiar visitor, so I rarely inspire a flight response. These horses are curious and because they are lightly managed, they can be approached. In this case, the horse left his wooded area and came to investigate, bringing nearby herd mates along with him.

wild horse photography of a vigilant horse
My approach has been spotted by a vigilant horse.


As the sun set, something unseen and unheard triggered this large group of horses to move away from their quiet grazing on an open hillside. They filed up and into the woods, traveled single-file through brush and over a tree-lined hilltop, then disappeared into the coming night.

noun |ˈinstiNGkt|
• an innate, typically fixed pattern of behavior in animals in response to certain stimuli
• a natural or intuitive way of acting or thinking

wild horse photography of a group of horses traveling in steep terrain at sunset
Sunset triggered something in a large group of horses to file up and over the mountainside and disappear.


Anything Green

At this point in the summer, anything green catches the attention of the horses. This small oak sapling is not in any real danger of being eaten by the horses, but it’s fresh green leaves are worth investigating.

wild horse photography of a foal investigating fresh leaves
Something green catches the attention of a passing foal.

Lion Tamer

I have observed this mare raising three foals, so far. She is a good mother. She is protective and seems to really enjoy the company of her foal(s). This particular colt is a few weeks old in this picture. Not long after this picture was taken, he survived what was certainly an attack by a mountain lion. He had slashes and puncture wounds, but somehow, he escaped. Though he was not a newborn foal, and had some size and speed, it is still remarkable that he evaded certain death. I have to wonder if his mother, who is always nearby, came to his aid and fought off the lion. She is a scrappy sort of horse, and it is easy to imagine her taking on a lion in defense of her baby. It’s not possible to know the circumstances of this colt’s survival but I’d bet his mother was involved.

wild horse photography of a mare standing protectively with her colt
A good mother, this mare bonds strongly with her foals and stays in close proximity to them even as they get older and more independent.

Motherly Influence

I has only been in more recent decades that horse breeders recognize what a great influence the mare has on creating a superior foal. Greater even, than the stallion, some would argue. Obviously, the foal receives 50 percent of it’s genetic information from both the stallion and the mare, but more emphasis and attention, traditionally, has been credited to the stallion choice in regard to the foal’s inherited traits. Because stallions typically produce far more offspring for consideration than individual mares, there is a greater percentage of evidence to ascribe to a stallion in a given lifetime. Conformation, athletic ability, disposition, and lineage are all strongly evaluated when breeding horses; many of these traits have been more heavily attributed to the stallion’s accomplishments and physique. It is the mare, however, who spends far more time influencing the behaviors, disposition, and social experiences of the foal in addition to the genetic contributions. This extended contact impacts the success and attitude her offspring. This fact, specifically, relates to horses bred, born, and raised wild. It is the mare that teaches the foal, through longterm, constant contact, what successful horse behavior looks like. Quality stallions contribute good genes and quality mares contribute good genes and raise quality foals.

wild horse photography portrait of a mare and her foal
This mother and filly paused to consider my presence which gave me an opportunity to take a casual portrait.
wild horse photography of a mare and filly showing social dominance
A young filly takes a dominance cue from her mother toward another mare.


Smarter Than The Average Horse

Horses raised in a free-roaming environment are smarter. They adapt to change and unexpected events. They are constantly tested by their surroundings and as a result feel rewarded or learn a lesson. Traveling over uneven terrain and learning to keep their footing on slick or hazardous landscapes is a daily occurrence, and their ability to negotiate any obstacle, even at high speed, is impressive.

wild horse photography of a horse galloping down a hillside
Up, down, over, through, horses raised in a free-roaming environment gain skills other horses miss.

The Old and the Young, Alike

Mature horses filled with youthful behaviors and an old, old mare who manages her energy all live together within That Herd.

wild horse photography of an old, old mare
I’m told this old mare has to be over thirty-five years old but she still manages to live a healthy life.
wild horse photography of two mature horses in mock battle
Young and strong, these mature horses are filled with feel-good energy and engage in mock battles.