I recently had the opportunity to travel to Colorado and one of the highlights of my trip was traveling to a remote area to search and find some wild horses to photograph.
Growing up I was a country girl, horse loving kid who found a peaceful connection with animals and especially horses. I think the combination of grace and being fierce at the same time resonates with some part of myself. Anticipating my travels I imagined what it would be like finding the horses, having to quietly try to move closer by vehicle traveling across terrain that felt old, dusty and rich in color. I saw the horses gathered, then acutely aware of my existence and alert ... ears pointing up.. a slight nervousness and they grouped together in acknowledgment of this stranger in their environment. I could see eyes wide, nostrils flaring... as raised awareness to my presence flourished. I could feel how still I'd have to be, how silent, gradual with my motion as I moved close enough to get some good photos. Quick, before startling I intended to snap a few images as far as my 70-200 lens would allow me to zoom in, then in a fleeting moment I'd have only seconds to capture more shots as they raised heads, started to move away ending with shots of dust under their hoofs as their backs turned they bolted away in a choreographed dance with the earth pounding from hooves like thunder cracking in a storm. I could feel the complete satisfaction from embracing the beauty and wildness in their natural surroundings, so much so that I saw myself cupping my hand quickly over my lens as I protected it from the falling particles of dust.
The morning of our departing to find the horses we packed a lunch and some water as we'd be many miles from anything. Good old fashioned peanut butter and jelly sandwiches seemed somehow fitting for the adventure. Driving out to the area that we'd find horses it was incredible how landscape changed. The closer we got to the desitanation the more like a dessert it felt. The hills were now less covered in Aspens and the sand was more prevalent in some places the dirt was a brilliant clay red color and I felt like I was traveling through canyons in Arizona. The one lane road winding up into the terrain were at times very scary and made my belly do a flip-flop as I held my breath. As we drove on scouring for any signs of movement, my anticipation was growing along with an inner sense of calm. I was happy to know that I was "here"... ready to see my friends and admire them if only from a far.
Finally, we see a small group of horses. They must have been about 500 yards away. Their heads were down, they muzzles busy searching the earth for blades of grass. It appeared to be a group of three or four horses, strangely not too close together. As our guide stopped I quickly bolted out my door and headed for them, knowing my precision had to be spot on and they'd probably bolt as soon as I got close. As I started darting through the sage grass and sand, I was reminded by my companion that he needed to stay close, pistol on his side and that I had to be aware of my footing because this was not only a home native to wild horses, but rattlesnakes as well. For the first hundred yards or so I tried to get pictures swiftly every few feet him case the horses moved. Most of my shots were of the horses towards the edge of a slope, heads down or rumps facing me. As we got closer I grew increasingly aware that they were unalarmed of my presence. Maybe all my child-hood days of dreaming of my special connection with animals was real.. maybe that is why I was able to do this.... keep moving.. don't forget to look for snakes.. oh I hope they don't move... steady.. grab a few shots ... ok.. now.. I'm close enough... I'm certain that they will look up and smell me differently and run.. my heart is beating faster. My steps are calculated a few at a time stopping as if to allow them a moment to accept me.. safe.. they haven't moved I advance further.
The grouping appeared to be a few mares and a yearling. They were sideways to me first, then as I was able to maneuver around for better shots. I snapped snapped snapped forgetting the basics of making sure my exposure was where I wanted it. After the first round of pictures I stopped. I realized something was off. The horses not only were not preparing for departure, they were not even lifting their heads much from the grazing. Hmm.. this didn't seem like what I had imagined at all. I continued to take pictures and make a bit of noise at this point just to get them to lift their heads long enough so that all my photos weren't of horses with their heads down, which seemed very tame. I continued to take photos and they heard my companion say, here comes another one. As I turned to look the most magnificent horse I think I'd ever seen was coming up from over the hill. I snapped a few shots. The guides we were with were back by the road calling us in because we were too close. I was not afraid at all, I felt like I was standing on solid ground roots coming from my boots and I was mesmerized by this Stallions tremendous stature. He was grey in color with some dapples, a black mane and a coat of fresh yellow sand on his back. His nostrils were large and definitely reflected his perception to his surroundings.. and me. As I took a few more pictures we started to sink back, it was time to be safe and I also felt time to end my intrusion.
Back at the truck I was watching them as we departed, that stallion just swept me away in delight and beauty. I wanted to bring him home with me. We continued on to other areas and found several more groupings of horses, many of the young stallions were vividly covered in both healing and fresh wounds. It was hard to see, I wanted to heal them. I felt bad they were rejected, I wished a giant load of fresh sweet grain would drop from the sky so they could have a short-lived moment of relief in their constant search for enough grass to eat. Each new group of horses we found, I'd get out.. try to get close and there was another slight disappointed by the reserved nature they seem to have. Don't get me wrong I was very happy, excited to be there and thrilled that I was having this experience, however, there was a slight sadness to the experience that I equivocate to seeing deer in city areas. At first you are so excited to see them, then an overwhelming sense of them being adapted to "us" is there and a similar sadness in the awareness of how much less "land" they have to roam upon. The horses were out there in the middle of no-where.. on miles and miles of land and yet didn't feel free anymore.
As we were leaving, we saw many other vehicles coming in.. stopping to gain photographs of whatever herds they could find. I was glad a few of the areas we had ventured to were not as well known it gave me a sense of satisfaction that for at least a few herds they were still undiscovered.
On the journey back and still to this day, no matter what pictures I look at this Stallion resonates with me and carries my heart. He is "the" memory for me. I can't explain it any better but then to say if you had to take a "snapshot" of life in each experience and pick one to remember it by.. well this would be mine.