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.

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 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.

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.

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.

How Sweet It Is

free range horse photography of a golden morning, big bay mare and newborn colt
A glittering spring morning, air abuzz with insects and the promise of a warm day, presents a new prince to That Herd.

This is not the image I intended on sharing.

I chose a recent image of this colt, nearly four-years-old now, looking impressive on a hilltop. I thought I might also post an image of the colt early in his life as a comparison (because people like to see before and after imagery).

Seeing this image, in the moment I opened it, stopped me in my quest. Not because it was what I was looking for, but because it so beautifully illustrates a thousand of my favorite moments. I have logged a thousand early spring mornings with wet feet, breath ragged from a brisk pace, with electric energy fueled by mares so close to foaling, burdened by the weight of camera and lens, and before the ruthless foxtails have come to head.  To then fall upon the discovery of a brand new life, such as this, in a glorious setting after days of nervous anticipation is a gift. Knowing a favorite mare is ready to give birth, to find them alive and well is a great moment of joy and pride (for the mare’s maternal success and fortitude). Seeing this image makes me ache to know my ability to duplicate this experience often this spring is not possible. I have a million captured moments such as this but it is in the entire experience within nature’s quiet brilliance that heals all that ails me.

The rare early hours of brand new life and nurturing are soon lost to the realities of the daily routines, lessons, and trials. How sweet those first hours are and what an honor it is to witness it.

 

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.

 

A New Energy

May the sun bring you new energy by day, may the moon softly restore you by night,

may the rain wash away your worries, may the breeze blow new strength into your being,

may you walk gently through the world and know it’s beauty all the days of your life. – Apache Blessing

free range horse photography of two big horses browsing
Christmas day arrived with the terrain still dry; no rainfall since last spring means no new grasses.

Goodbye, 2020. May we never revisit the tough times you heaped upon us.

Feeling Nostalgic

A few representatives of That Herd taken 2012. Eight years has come and gone in a heartbeat.

These horses are fully mature and in the prime of their lives now.

I love the oak tree in the background; sadly, it has since crumbled under the stresses of drought.

Photographs are a window into the past, be it one minute or one century. So many memories

flood back with just these two images.

free range horse photography of early members of That Herd with old oak tree
Incoming youngsters long-trot past a favorite oak tree landmark.
free range horse photography of a group of young horses on a hilltop
This squad includes some early That Herd members on a chilly February morning.

My Tribute

 

“You pray for rain, you gotta deal with the mud too. That’s a part of it. … ” –Denzel Washington

free range horse photography of a special colt at shoreline
A favorite colt on the shoreline at dusk; could his face be more inviting?

This colt.

tribute | ˈtribyo͞ot | noun 1 an act, statement, or gift that is intended to show gratitude, respect, or admiration.

 

 

Dartboard

free range horse photography of two young colts in scenery
Horses nurture relationships with herd mates, like these two young colts. Whatever the attraction, they often stuck close to each other.

For years now, I have been archiving the lives of this collection of free range horses. I cannot, with certainty, articulate why I choose the images I do to share. Sometimes I’m proud of capturing a certain expression or moments of behavior, sometimes it’s to honor my fondness for individuals, often it’s an random choice, and I will always share new foal pictures. At this point, I have such a collection of images I can simply “throw a dart at the board” and choose any random image from my files and recall a memory of when and where I interacted with those horses. For every single image I have shared across multiple social media sites, I probably have a thousand images I have not shared. I rarely share the same image across the different sites so check those out if you haven’t yet.

This image is from three years and two weeks ago, to be exact. These two horses were personal favorites of mine for different reasons. They had an amiable connection to each other, which was endearing. I wish they could have remained best mates forever, but circumstances lead to inevitable change for all of us. I enjoy the opportunity to capture beautiful moments of their time spent with That Herd.

The joy of recalled moments when finding forgotten photographs (of any subject) is one of life’s great connectors for all citizens of this world. Sharing captured moments is one of my missions with this photo archive and website. If you get joy from an image I have shared, that accomplishes a personal goal for me.

Dainty is Over-Rated

free range horse photography of a weanling filly with scenery
Not that this filly has a bad side, but this is her better side.

free range horse photography of a distinctive two-day old filly

Several months into her life and this filly is brimming with independence.

She seems serious but curious–sincere even–if a horse can be sincere.

The comparison between her two-day-old self and her seven-month-old self is impressive. So much growth in a short amount of time.

Her distinguishing profile has grown right along with everything else. Although her irregular white face marking creates a pleasing optical illusion for her large bump, she will never escape extra attention for her side view.

I love her face, roman nose and all, she’s a charmer.

 

Growing Into a Name

I can imagine these images may be rather pedestrian to some viewers, but these little moments of horse life interest me. The simple act of walking through a gentle water shed stream, or what was likely the first time (or nearly the first time) for this young foal to leap valiantly over-obediently following his mother-feel like a privilege to observe. The horses get used to me hanging around, and because I don’t attempt to alter their movements or motivation, I get to join in on their adventures.

This colt quickly earned the name of Rasputin when I observed his aggressive and cranky behavior towards the other foals from his first days. He looked like a teddy bear but his aloof, single-minded solidarity to his mother and his demanding ways made him seem a bit wicked. He has since been quite unremarkable in any of his interactions when I am near, so I feel confident in knowing he was unfairly judged by me and has redeemed himself. Someday he will have a new name that defines any first impressions to all that would hear it in a more positive way.

free range horse photography of a mare making a stream crossing with zen-like style
Spring rains have given us a seasonal water flow; the horses seem to like the serene flow.

 

free range horse photography of a young colt leaping a stream
A brave effort by this young colt gets him across the seasonal stream with style.

Attempted Maternal Coup

Early on a March morning I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. Two mares had given birth a couple hours previous to my arrival. I love observing newborn foals and their million discoveries about life on the outside. During my quiet jubilation at my good luck, a third mare laid down and gave birth to a notably large colt without moving away from the herd for solitude, which is unusual. A perfect morning, cool and sunny and a little breezy allowed for a serene birth and initial 20 minutes of terrestrial time.

The first image shows the colt’s first successful standing moment. Because of his numerous attempts to rise and sort his long legs out to stand, some curious herd mates approached to investigate. The other mare in the sequence is a sweet mare who has been a doting mother in the past. This year, however, she would not be having a foal of her own. She becomes instantly taken by the vulnerable newborn and won’t accept the fact he is another’s baby. Grievously, the orientation of the wobbly foal was directly in between the ensuing aggressive assertions. He was tossed about and when the mares squared off and spun to kick each other with deadly hind hooves I had to intervene. Risking the safety and kidnapping of the newborn was not necessary since I could interrupt the situation. Motherhood instincts are strong and especially so in nature. I have discovered this type of stealing behavior is not rare in natural situations. In the wild, and/or when unmanaged, the outcome for the foal is fatal. Because these horses live in a free range, natural environment they have heightened senses of survival and their innate abilities are strong, but sometimes behaviors can still go wrong.

free range horse photography of the first hour of a foal's life learning to stand
The first upright moments in a newborn foal’s journey.

 

free range horse photography of the first hour of a foal life
Another mare shows too much interest in the wobbly newborn foal.

 

free range horse photography of the first hour of a foal life
Intense bonding hormones are suddenly going haywire for each horse; the newly born is running on strong instincts to find it’s first milk.

 

free range horse photography of the first hour of a foal life
The intruding mare moves past mere motherly curiosity and makes a threat for possession of the new foal.

 

free range horse photography of the first hour of a foal life
The newborn is intent on connecting with a milk source and the rightful mother falters in asserting her motherhood over the larger, more forceful mare.

 

free range horse photography of the first hour of a foal life
The situation intensifies over possession of the new foal who is still only moments on his own unsteady four legs.

 

free range horse photography of the first hour of a newborn foal's life
In the heat of the moment battle stances are being implemented and the wobbly foal is tossed about.

 

free range horse photography of the first hour of a foal life
The foal regains his balance and a clear winner is unfolding.

 

free range horse photography of the first hour of a foal life
After a rare intervention by the observing photographer the mare regains possession of her foal and necessary bonding continues.

 

free range horse photography of the first hour of a foal life
Once peace is restored the mare appears grateful in this brief moment of acknowledging my presence.

 

Whiskers on Kittens

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens, brown paper packages tied up with strings,

These are a few of my favorite things.

Cream colored ponies and crisp apple strudels, doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles, wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings,

These are a few of my favorite things.

… girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes, the snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes, silver white winters that melt into springs, …

Songwriters: Oscar Hammerstein/Richard Rodgers  My Favorite Things

free range horse photography of frolicking mares and foals in a summer landscape
The setting sun casts a golden hue on frolicking mares and foals.

and moments like this with That Herd.

This is one of my favorite things.

Big strong foals and mares, young and older, with spark and verve.

 

We Are the Champions

free range horse photography of three champion mares
A large mare by any standard; the mare in the middle looks small in comparison, but her herd mates are HUGE.

A graceful champion does not put on airs, she does not demand special treatment or crave supremacy. He comports herself with the utmost dignity, has benevolence, and sophistication. She gives and gives expecting nothing in return. She is awesome without attention simply because she can be no other way. Born with natural talent and a strong purpose, she is a champion with and without the trophies, ribbons, prize money, press, and fame. She boldly faces whatever is presented to her. Here’s to (a) champion female(s)! You make us proud.