Harmonious Neighbors

A glimpse at some of our neighbors for the American Thanksgiving holiday.

They do, however, seem to compete for similar forage. No matter, the birds mostly go where the horses are unlikely to travel.

Free range horses are part of their natural community, mares and foals browse with wild turkeys
Free range horses are part of their natural community, mares and foals browse with wild turkeys.
Wild turkeys live among the horses in a free range environment
Wild turkeys live among the horses in a free range environment.
Wild turkeys live among the horses in a free range environment, this Tom is showing off
Show-off Tom turkey.

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.

Cool Little Dude

free range horse photography of a mare checking on her napping colt
A good mother checks in on her napping colt.

Even though the colt is a few months old and capable of being quite independent, this good mare still keeps a close eye on him. The colt is one of only a few who have white markings this year. He’s a cool little dude.

Two of a Kind

free range horse photography of two half sibling colts
These two half siblings, born within hours of each other, spend most of their time adventuring together.

They look alike and share the same birthday. I often see these two browsing, grooming, and roughing each other up. I could not resist an image of their momentary interest in my appearance. Their side-by-side pose seems appropriate. This was taken several weeks ago, they have grown quite a bit since this image was taken.

Dance Like No One is Watching

Well, look who’s fancy today!

He has craters, lumps, scars, a survivor story to tell, and a heart as big as the whole-wide-world. He can’t help it; he was born to be an inspiration. (And he is.)

free range horse photography of a survivor colt
Dance like no one is watching!

All Good Guys, Just What We Need

“No, we don’t need more sleep. It’s our souls that are tired, not our bodies.

We need nature. We need magic. We need adventure. We need freedom. We need truth. We need stillness.

We don’t need more sleep, we need to wake up and live.”

–Brooke Hampton

free range horse photography of a group of two-year-old horses in scenery
Gangly, mountain tested two-year-olds.

From a Colt’s Perspective

free range horse photography of a mare and colt living their best life
Life is good in wide open spaces.

Hello horse lovers! From a colt’s perspective, I have a good life which is as close as nature intended for horses. I was born under a spreading oak in the dawn of a new day. My mother is an expert at protection and safety and keeps a watchful eye on me. She is heavy with fresh milk and takes me to rest in the shade on warm days. There are plenty of herd-mates to keep me entertained and trained in the social ways of equines. Unless the herd is on the move, I can rest when I want to, and buck and play whenever my energy is up. I rarely see a fence and California wildlife lives and moves all around me. It is rarely too cold or too hot. I can browse on a variety of native grasses and flora. Water is provided for me or I can drink from a lake reservoir. I was born sturdy and am learning to be resourceful. Uneven and varied terrain is no problem for my travels, I am learning to be brave and sure-footed in every circumstance. There is a never ending parade of wonders for me to observe and investigate each night and day. My mind and body are in constant training and I bring joy to each and every human that is lucky enough to visit my life. I will live and learn with constant equine relatives and companions for all my years with That Herd.

Life is good in wide open spaces!

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.

 

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.