Viewing wild horses …

19 01 2008

Kiowa and Reya

Kiowa and Reya move away from me after I walked up a ridge to look for Ceal and Shadow. This photo was not cropped but was taken with a 100-400 mm lens at close to the 400 mm setting. Taken Dec. 16, 2007. 

A good article about wild horses is in the February 2008 issue of Western Horseman magazine. The author, a WH senior editor, attended a photography workshop last year with photographer Lynne Pomeranz, author of Among Wild Horses. Lynne is a fine-art photographer and wild horse advocate who lives in New Mexico. I was fortunate to meet her during a book-signing in Craig last May. The article contains some tips about wild horse viewing that I would like to reiterate and expand upon.

Wild horses are wild. Would you expect to walk up to a bison in Yellowstone National Park with your Kodak point-and-shoot camera? (Please, answer no.) Do not expect to be able to walk up to a wild horse. Horses are a “flight” species and have evolved as prey – for mountain lions, wolves, coyotes … humans. They would rather run away from you than fight you, but keep in mind that a mama with a foal and a stallion with a band of mares and foals are going to do whatever they think is necessary to stay away from you.

Keep this in mind: You can try to get so close that the only photos you get are of horses’ butts as they’re running away from you, or you can respect their space, stay a fair distance away and get photos of them interacting with each other. Some bands will give you some benefit of the doubt and just stand and watch you – as long as you don’t approach too closely. But when they decide to leave, count on them running far and fast away from you.

Vehicles can often be used as a “blind” from which to shoot. Also keep in mind that the road through the herd area is not maintained, and you travel at your own risk. The road is usually fine from late spring through fall, depending on the weather, but four-wheel drive is usually recommended because of the soft sand and creek crossings through some arroyos.

Please do not harass horses, especially pregnant and/or nursing mares. (By the way, harassing wild horses is against the law.)

Do not yell or flap your arms around the horses to get a better expression. I’ve seen horses seemingly napping, hind leg cocked, tail lazily swishing at flies, but do not for a second think that they’re not following your every move. On the other hand, do not act like a silent predator and stalk them, then suddenly spring up out of an arroyo. I do use the arroyos quite a bit to get around, but I try to do it in such a way that the horses never know I’m there.

A bit about equipment: I use a Canon digital SLR camera with a 100-400 mm lens. I don’t HAVE to get right up on them to get a good photo. The crop tool in your photo editing program is a lovely thing. I also use a monopod to steady the camera and lens.

Seven’s family in the snowy basin

The above photo is a good example of the power of the (long) lens. It was taken at the 100 mm end of my lens’ capability.

Seven’s family, closer 

This photo was taken from a little bit closer as I walked parallel to them following a road, closer to the 400 mm end. It also was cropped.

Bottom line, the key word here is respect. If the horses “tell” you you’re too close, back off (or watch as they leave). In the snowy environment that is now the basin, I am particularly careful to stay away from the horses. The only reason I took these photos of Seven’s family was opportunity; I didn’t know they were there until I suddenly saw them below the road – at the same time they saw me. I saw 24 horses that day, but these were the only ones I was close enough to photograph. When they moved on, I did not pursue them.

When taking the photos of the pintos, I pushed my lens to its limit and later cropped judiciously. I was farther from the horses than the photos indicate, and when they trotted away through the snow, I let them go. A benefit to that was that if I HAD pursued them, I would have missed the opportunity of seeing them trot across the far ridge against the stunning backdrop of the La Sal Mountains! Only because I was looking for the very thin mare Ceal did I go even as close to them as I did.


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13 responses

22 01 2008
T Poling

I am an avid advocate of the wild horses. The Pryor Mountain site is one of the few places that I frequent. There are some very special horses there that I yearn to hear about on a regular basis. I go on vacation every year and just last year I learned of the plight of the horses that so many of us have learned to love and respect. Since then I have decided to spend my vacations learning and seeing these parts of our past. I would love to know how I can see these horses that you have taken such an interest in. Like I said I have seen the Pryor Mountain horses and the McCullough horses and would dearly love to see other wild horses. I can only hope that you are near the Pryor Mountain horses that I love so much. I fully intend to see as many horses as possible next year

22 01 2008
Lea Williams

Love your blog. Found it from the Pryor Mt’s blog. We ride Oregon mustangs. Would not have a domestic horse anymore. Thanks for all you do. I love your pictures.

22 01 2008
mtbgrrl

Hi, T and Lea,
Thanks for your comments on my new blog. I’m very new to this, but I take inspiration from Matt’s blog on the Pryor horses. I visited that herd last September for the first time and hope to make it at least an annual visit. I am so in awe of Matt’s dedication to the horses, and I hope to carry that to the horses of Spring Creek Basin. Unfortunately, “my” herd is nowhere near the Pryors – we’re in Southwest Colorado. But if you’re in the area, let me know; I’d be happy to show off our horses!

25 01 2008
Linda F

You site is both helpful and interesting. I’ll be checking back often. Your pictures are impressive, and I like the stories of the families. I hope you have continued success with your project.

25 01 2008
mtbgrrl

Thanks! Because of our weather, I’m not sure how long it will be before I can get back to the area, and writing about my “viewing tips” makes me even more loathe to go bother them in the snow, but I can’t wait to see them again! I’m very much anticipating the foals this season!

27 01 2008
Billie

I enjoy reading about “your” horses. I know how you feel, I am the same way with “my” horses on the Little Book Cliff Herd Management area outside of Grand Junction. Keep up the good work, it is so fullfilling.

30 01 2008
ponygirl

You are doing something that I would love to do! We visited the Sand Wash horses in 2005, and I’ve wanted to go back ever since. There was a handsome black stallion and a white mare that I hope weren’t rounded up during the last gather. I’ll be following your stories closely. Hopefully I can visit “your” horses this year!

31 01 2008
mtbgrrl

Hi, Billie and ponygirl,
I attended the first day of the gather last fall at the Little Book Cliffs herd area, and I was so impressed at how gently the horses were treated and how soon they were released. It didn’t take me long to realize part of that reason is that all the horses are known. You guys seem to have a super-involved group there – the horses benefit! I’m planning to go to the Sand Wash Basin gather this fall; we’re supposed to get some young mares to boost the genetics of our herd. I might try to visit up there before the gather. If you’re in the area, let me know!

3 02 2008
Billie

Is it okay with you if I put your link on my blog too. Also, if you are in my area I would be happy to show you around too.

3 02 2008
mtbgrrl

Billie,
Absolutely – and I will add a link to yours! I really enjoyed reading your entries – you’ve been out recently! I am so eager to get back to the basin to check the horses, but we keep getting dumped on with snow. I would love to visit the Little Book Cliffs with you. My visit during the gather was limited to just parts of two days. You mentioned “Marty” in your blog; I think I met her at the gather.
Thanks!

7 02 2008
Nathaniel

Your photographs are fantastic. Also, there should be more blogs like this one, and fewer of the other kind.

8 02 2008
mtbgrrl

Nathaniel, my friend, I hope you visit often. 🙂

12 03 2008
T Poling

TJ,
I only hope that you realize how much we appreciate the work you are doing. I have so much to say to you that I wiah I had your e-mail address so I could talk to you,

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