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.

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.

 

The Butterfly and the Freight Train

free range horse photography of a mare and new foal romping by
In fits of energy, this new filly gallops along, her bodyguard of a mother right in step.

 

free range horse photography of a new foal racing straight ahead
With her mother in hot pursuit, a new foal races straight in my direction.

Floating like a butterfly, this two-day old filly gallops full throttle to-and-fro while her mighty mother worries and charges along behind.

Parading and Posing

free range horse photography of a proud mother and her foal
It’s awesome when two dark horses create a chestnut; genetics are a fun puzzle.

 

free range horse photography parade of a mare and her newborn foal
A parade of two; a mare and her newborn, hours old, stroll by.

The foal has added a good amount of mass in just two days. They present a charming matched set.

Each year it is a great privilege to see the result of eleven months, more or less, of baby making. Observing the entire

cycle or courting, mating, gestating and birth for a year or more allows me to feel quite connected to That Herd members.

It’s so exciting when the new foals finally arrive!

Tail Lights

free range horse photography of a spirited mother and her new foal
Two days old and I can finally see her face; it’s been nothing but their backends as they run away since the foal was born.

I admit my feelings are a little hurt. Last year this mare foaled right in front of me late one morning and I helped her out of an attempted kidnapping by another mare.

This year, she won’t let me near her. I cannot even ease myself close enough to tell what the sex of the foal is. I have way too many pictures of her running away with her foal. I don’t pursue for the foal’s sake; it is brand new after all.

I’m fifty percent sure it’s a filly.

Full Attention

free range horse photography of a mare noticing a big gopher snake
Her full attention is on a gigantic snake.

I wondered what was inspiring the snorting and animation in this cherished mare. She’s always amusing me with her bright expressions and amiable manner. One this occasion, she had every right to be on alert. She had noticed a large snake; it was as big around as my arm and at least six feet long. I didn’t see it’s head but I saw the rest of it and the tail as it disappeared down a hole. I’m guessing a gopher snake.

On the Move

free range horse photography of a beefy newborn filly
When they are this big it’s hard to assign them a newborn, but she is indeed less than 24 hours old.

When I arrived, mother was on a hilltop with the new foal sleeping on a slope. In an effort to put distance between me and her she roused the foal and marched away, navigated a dry creek crossing, and wandered away. All the while the foal stuck like glue and never hesitated over complex terrain. I am forever impressed at what these sturdy babies make look normal in their first day(s). I keep my distance from hot-blooded new mothers so I don’t cause undue anxiety.

I Would Never

free range horse photography of a beautiful new foal
We’ve only just met and such a pleasant curious expression from this filly.
free range horse photography of a new filly experimenting with the flora
She’s only one day old but already quite interested in tasting the greenery.

I would never name anyone Number Two (for obvious reasons), but in fact, this filly is the second foal born to That Herd in 2021. She is a delight and a welcome addition.

I appreciate a horse who takes the time to observe me in return and absorb all the new situations that come to them.

Soldier Pose

 

free range horse photography of a new spring colt
Welcome the first colt of 2021 to That Herd.

I missed his first hours and days but I have met the first colt of the year. A beautiful painted bay, he’s about a week old and has blue marbling in one eye. He strikes quite the soldier pose here. I chose this image to share because it’s different than the usual cuteness overload of new foals. His intense scrutiny of me lends me to believe he will be quite keen but cautious in the days to come.

No worries, I have cute overload pics too.

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.

They Just Run

free range horse photography of young colts and fillies running toward the camera
A mix of young colts and fillies run with no destination. They are not running away from anything to to any place in particular. They just run in small groups darting and turning, sprinting and slowing, almost like a school of fish in the sea.

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.

Hard Can Be Soft

“Just because you are soft doesn’t mean you are not a force. Honey and wildfire are both the color gold.”

–Victoria Erickson, Edge of Wonder: Notes from the Wildness of Being

 

The soft expression in his eye proves he is golden inside.

free range horse photography portrait of a favorite black horse
Don’t let this soft eye hypnotize you: he can be a real bad-mo-fo.

Or in this case black can be elegant or villainous. He gets along, nice and amiable, but he can shut you down when he needs to.

 

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.