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.

Such Terrain

free range horse photography of a group of curious three-year-olds
Five intrepid three-year-olds make a handsome image.

“Getting dirty is the whole point. If you’re getting dirty, that means that you have traveled to where there is no pavement.

When you sojourn into such terrain, you greatly up your chances of experiencing some full-on wild nature.”

–Nick Offerman, Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living

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.

Fifteen Minutes

I owe this colt his introduction and fifteen minutes of fame. Born mid April he has a little over eight weeks “on the outside” at the time this picture was taken in late June.

Considering it takes about forty-four weeks of “life on the inside” he has lots of maturing and preparations for success ahead in the next several months to match his gestation time.

A million changes take place. Amazing.

free range horse photography of a curious colt about two months old
About eight weeks old and look how this colt has grown.

 

free range horse photography portrait of a newborn colt with an interesting blaze face
Look at that big white forehead and Yin-Yang muzzle!

Day One of the journey.

free range horse photography of a brand new colt and his flashy mother
Newborns spend a lot of their first days touching their mother for security and comfort.

Well done, flashy mom!

The birds hang around the horses because as they browse and graze they stir up the insects in the grass. The opportunistic birds use the horses as a perch and a meal ticket.

I think these birds are a variety of Starling. Around here, some people call them Cowbirds.

Warning Face

free range horse photography of a mare warning others to stay away from her new colt
Warning off any potential greeters of her new foal.

This mare has had a foal every year for many years. This is her first bay colored foal. Day one for this colt started foggy and wet in the first week of May. He was quite bold and active and kept his mother busy rounding him up and keeping him away from harm and too much distance.

free range horse photography of a newborn's fresh face
Much to his mother’s alarm this newborn was daring and running around doing his own thing.

Mission accomplished, no mother within several feet.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Peers in Curiosity

free range horse photography of a stallion
The intense gaze of a stallion free to come and go as he deems necessary.

When being assessed by a free creature you have choices to make about your response.

Though there is always a default to extreme caution, I try to allow for equal opportunity in the appraisal exchange between myself and the animal as peers in curiosity.

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

Hit the Ground Running

free range horse photography of a newborn who hit the ground running
Rarely leaving the sphere of tree shadow this new filly went round and round.
free range horse photography of a newborn running around an oak tree
Here she comes again! Another lap around the tree.
free range horse photography of a newborn galloping around her mother
Lap number ten for this new filly who looked like a veteran.
free range horse photography of a newborn exploring the branches of an oak tree
This new filly seemed to enjoy the sensation of touching the tree branches.

This new filly, likely born this day, entertained me with her joie de vivre. Free of her confines of the last year, she ran around and around a large oak tree rarely leaving the confines of the shadow. There were numerous obstacles to trip her up but she navigated like a champ hopping over branches and ducking low hanging limbs with ease. It was a delightful display of the very essence of a horse. You go girl!

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.

 

Those Eyes

 

free range horse photography of a foal with grey eyes
If her eyes stay the same color, she will be an unusual individual with grey eyes.

Six days old and she is fighting fit.

free range horse photography of an intense gaze from a foal
An intense gaze from this stout filly; no worries, she’s just a fun-loving kid like the rest of the foals.

 

free range horse photography of the first day for a new foal
Only half way through her first day and she’s strong and curious.

Day one and all is well.