I’m Still Here

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I’ve had plenty of encounters with wildlife and I value everyone of them that I’ve had.  There are “encounters” and then there are those special moments that you will never forget.  Ones that stick with you and years later you can recount the entire moment second by second.  Those kinds of encounters are the ones that will change your life and sadly they don’t happen as often as some of us wish they would.

May 2014

I thought I saw something on the way back to town, the night before there had been a gorgeous cinnamon black bear in that area and I was hoping that I might see him again.  I was scanning the hillside, driving slowly and I thought I saw something so I stopped.  I was actually in disbelief; there you were starring right at me, down at me, right into my eyes.  You didn’t move and neither did I.  I wasn’t even sure I was seeing what I thought I was seeing because you were backlit by the sun and were actually glowing.  The sun through your coat was on fire and outlining your body.  I was afraid to breath much less move for fear you would vanish or I would wake myself up and I wasn’t sure I wanted to wake up.  The girls in the car with me kept asking what I saw and I was afraid to say anything because if they didn’t see you then I would know that I was dreaming.  I finally whispered to them that you were there and they both saw you at the same time.  I was on the wrong side of the vehicle to do anything and told them it was up to them to get the photos because I knew the moment I moved you would disappear.  Sure enough you did but the girls managed to get a few images, none of them were ones to brag about but we could see you in them and that was all that mattered.

You were gone.  I tried to follow you but you had vanished just as quick as I saw you and not even a print left behind.  I heard your message, it was clear, but at the time I wasn’t sure what it meant.  There was no urgency in your movements, your eyes never left mine until you turned to walk away.  The moment was familiar.

We quickly discussed that this moment was ours and we wouldn’t share specifics with anyone.  We didn’t want you pursued and hounded like the others.  Once we got more information we found that you weren’t listed so we decided the next day if given the opportunity we would ask an expert; although the images weren’t the best the expert said they didn’t know you, hadn’t seen you.  That was enough for us.

Your message still didn’t become clear until talking to a friend of mine a few weeks later.  She reminded me of a few things from before and it made sense.  I’ve thought about that moment over and over again since then especially when things start to fall into place.  Your right, things are going to be okay, your still here.

I should be excited as there is good news coming from the valley.  Most of my heart is very excited however I’m also concerned.  Part of the reason I hesitate to talk about this special encounter is because I want her to have peace.  I want her to be allowed to live wild, be herself without being pursued and followed.  Do I want to know she is okay, how she is and where?  More than anything, but at what cost?  It’s not worth the price.  I also know that we, as photographers and advocates, set examples.  If onlookers with less experience and a lot of excitement witness our behavior or hear about something we do because we wanted a closer look and even if we are granted permission it now sets an example that it is okay for them to do so as well.  Eventually all the attempts to catch a glimpse, get an image, causes these animals to change their behavior, causes them to move away.  Where will they move to?  Possibly in a direction that can bring them great harm.  Or even worse, we habituate them, we leave footprints on them because they are young and either it costs them their lives because they approach people and it’s threatening, or worse, they become trusting and allow the wrong person in too close because they have lost the natural fear they were born with.

I have been following you since 1995 and in 2009 my dreams finally came true.  I have planned numerous trips around you because I would love to have the opportunity to see you again however in 2010 I learned how destructive people’s love of you can be.  It puts you in a very dangerous situation in many different ways.  Those are situations that I do not want to be responsible for nor a part of.  I decided if I were blessed enough to be chosen by you that you would present yourself to me and then I would cherish that moment forever.  I’ve been chosen twice now and I remember every second of these moments and I’m happy to say they were on your terms without incident and un-noticed.  I’ve had plenty of other encounters with you that have torn at my heart because of the behavior of others, people who care about you too but don’t realize how much influence their behavior has on you and those encounters only bring me sorrow.

I learned long ago to trust you, the messages you have delivered have come to be each time.  I trust it will be this way again.

Your still here.

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Thank You For The Lessons

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I’ve been so busy the past 7 to 8 months that I haven’t even had time to think about this blog that I started; the horse show photography has taken off, new adventures have come along, more animals have crashed my barn and so much more.  We are gearing up for another wonderful trip and really looking forward to the wildlife, the hiking, the friendships new and old and the adventures.

This has been a relatively hard week for me, it’s been a year now since you’ve been gone.  They say time heals but I’m not so sure that is true.  I think about you nearly every day, I share your stories and the wonderful things you taught me, I think of all the things that I’ve accomplished this year and I want to share them with you but I can’t.  On the other hand I know that you know all that has gone on and I know you’re proud – if not for you none of this would be possible.

I received a message about somebody commenting on my blog a couple weeks ago.  The things he said about wolves were far from nice but then again he’s entitled to his opinion.  I have to say I think it’s a bit funny.  For one thing, you know absolutely nothing about me or who I am.  And it’s people like you who continue to make finding a solution impossible; rather than being a real man and discussing things and seeing both sides you choose to make rude jabs.  For all you know I could be your neighbor, your neighbor’s girlfriend or wife, one of your friend’s girlfriend or wife or the person who saves your life one day.  Your quick to make your comments and run without even knowing anything about me and it’s funny, I’m not much different than you.  Well, I’m not rude or disrespectful and I’m not afraid to have a civilized conversation with “the other side” so with that we are totally different.

My grandparents who I spent a lot of time with owned a sporting goods store and gun range.  Oh my!!  Yes we not only supported hunters, but we also hunted.  We didn’t hunt for sport, the pure joy of killing or out of hatred – we hunted to put food on the table.  My parents taught me how to raise livestock and I still do.  Oh no!  I eat meat.  I can rope, ride and train colts.  I’m not afraid to grab a calf and push them into a chute and I have a great respect for that calf’s momma.  I’ve probably cleaned more pens and barns with my own two hands than most.

I’ve read the comments about how “city folk” don’t know crap about how you “real ranchers” live and need to quit interfering.  Well, I’m not a city slicker and I’m not a stranger to getting dirty and hard work.  I’ve been kicked at, kicked, stepped on, shoved aside, nearly ran over and bucked off with some of the best.  I didn’t go to college but I did finish high school and one of the things my dad taught me was is if I worked hard enough, treated people with respect, was honest and had integrity I’d climb my way to the top.  I’ve done that with 2 of my own businesses as well as the company I work for and call my “real job.”  And when I’m done there I still come home to the ranch and do my chores here.  I’ve stayed up with the sick ones and bottle fed the orphans while many walk away to let “nature take it’s course.”   Personally I think that’s an excuse for people to be lazy and not take responsibility.

I’d be willing to bet I can out shoot you with a revolver or a rifle any day, however I don’t shoot at live animals unless they have brought it upon themselves to harm my animals.  It’s a good thing that I take protective measures before I need to resort to this, that is called “ranch management.”  It’s not about tossing animals out onto green grass and hoping they reproduce, it’s about being responsible and foreseeing the future and what it takes to be profitable without assistance from the government.

My dad fought for your freedom and then came home and continued to “protect and serve” you.  That was another thing he taught me; when a person needs help regardless of who they are or how you feel about them you reach out to help them.  Might be something you might want to think about the next time your so quick to be rude and disrespectful to somebody you don’t know just because they support wolves and grizzlies being on the Endangered Species List and mustangs being left correctly managed on BLM land where they belong.  It would be horrible for one of us “city folk” to drive by you if your buddy shot you in the hip during one of your hunting trips on accident and waved as we drove on by just because we judged you as one of them “horrible, wolf hating ranchers” rather than a human being in need of emergency assistance.  I’m entitled to my opinion just as you’re entitled to yours; neither of them are any less important than the other.  I’m not that much different than you are sir.  I’ve busted my butt to get where I am today and to have the things I have.  I have seen and taken care of things that would make your stomach turn.  Thank God the people in my life have taught me about respect, courtesy and compassion not only for human beings but the animals we share this land with.  I was also taught to stand for the things I believe in and to do it in the right way and I will continue to do so.

So thank you for sharing your story by commenting on my blog the other day.  You have taught me even more very important lessons and I really appreciate it.  I’m more determined now to continue fighting for what I know is right.  The next time you are driving down the dirt road and you pass a white Dodge dually with a woman driving and she waves; that’s me telling you thank you!

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God Only Gives You What You Can Take………..

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Once again, I’ve been off line for a bit.  Just when I thought I had been given enough God added more to my plate.  So I wonder now, just how much does God think I can take?  I’ve devoted much of my life to fighting for animals.  The wild horses, wolves and many more who don’t have a voice, who can’t speak for themselves, who are being murdered or removed from the land that belongs to them.  So why does bad things happen to good people?

Those that know me know that I try to ride my own horses about every other night if not more.  I rush home after working an 11 hour day in Denver and if I don’t ride, I’m out walking, hiking or running.  Not only are my animals my top priority but in order to keep up with and photograph the wildlife I love, I have to be in good enough shape to get to them.

After returning home from California and my dad’s funeral all I wanted to do was spend time with Blueper, the horse who has been there for me through all my hard times, my best friend, a horse I rescued from abuse.  I never expected him to have a flash back moment and jump out and away from me a few weeks ago.  I landed on my left side; the first thing I noticed was that I couldn’t hear.  After figuring out I hadn’t broken anything I walked over to him, lounged him for awhile and started to get back on when I realized I still couldn’t hear.  I put him away and went in to the house to sit for awhile.  The horse trainer I’m friends with always manages to call at just the right time and so he didn’t ruin that reputation, he called right on time.  I explained to him what had happened and that I couldn’t hear and after about 20 minutes of arguing I decided to go to the emergency room.  I wasn’t sure why.  I wasn’t hurt, I just couldn’t hear.

I drove myself to the hospital, walked about a half mile around to find the emergency room, signed myself in and waited about 10 minutes to be seen.  I waited another 20 minutes to get a CT scan and while waiting during that 20 minutes I got very sore and stiff.  The doctors really hadn’t even touched me yet, but I they had already hurt me!  They came back to my room after getting the CT scan results, 2 trauma doctors – I almost felt special until they told me that I had a fractured skull and bleeding on the brain and told me I had to spend the night so that they could observe me in case I needed brain surgery.  Up until then I had no stomach upset but when you deliver that kind of news to somebody like myself, you can bet it will make a person puke!   Lucky for the horses and dogs I have great friends who stepped up to not only run and feed them but they also rushed to see me in the hospital.

By the next morning the bleeding had stopped, I still couldn’t hear and I had a wonderful headache and over night I swear a semi truck hit me.  Amazing how sore a body can get when your allowed to sit and do nothing.  I walked into the emergency room just fine, I was leaving barely able to stand or walk.  Over the next 10 days or so the headaches were enough to drop me to my knees, my hearing still hasn’t returned, I found out I lost my sense of smell, my new house finally closed escrow and my landlord needed me out of the home I was in a week after landing on my head, I had horse shows to photograph and animals to take care of.  Again, thank God for friends and family.  Friends pretty much moved all my things while I shot a horse show one weekend.  Pretty amazing.

The accident was about 5 weeks ago now and my hearing on the left side and sense of smell is still gone.  I still have my sense of humor when my head doesn’t hurt.  The support of my friends and family has been the best blessing ever and I’ve even met new friends who make me appreciate life even more.  A very wonderful wildlife photographer emailed me a couple days ago and let me know she was thinking about me and felt my tenacity and strength was amazing.  It made me think of the things I’ve been “given” lately that somebody above thinks I can handle.

Blueper has now made me go through all the emotions; what did I do to make him feel he needed to hurt me, is he in pain and I’m not seeing it, does he have a mean streak horses with his breeding are known to have, did he do this on purpose or did I hurt him to cause him to do this?  Fear has set in.  I wanted to start riding about 2 weeks after the accident, not him but my other horse, Reno who I feel I can trust but the doctors said I’m not allowed to do anything that might jar my skull; sadly that includes riding, running and even leading a horse.    For my lifestyle this is pretty much not acceptable.  I’ve been on my best behavior, I haven’t ridden but I’m leading and working my horses from the ground and I’m not running but I am walking with my wonderful dog Drifter again.  Walking has helped reduce the leg cramps a whole lot and also reduces my stress.  Drifter was really missing our journeys and is again a happy pup; if my animals are happy, than I’m happy.

After the pain reduced there was a time when I was sad when I realized I couldn’t smell anything.  I love the scents of fruit candles, cake and cookie batter.  I was proud that my house always smelled good when you walked in.  I love the smell of horses and the barn.  It’s always nice to be able to smell a bear, something dead or where a mountain lion marked it’s territory before they see or smell you.  The next day I realized how much I would be saving by not buying these candle scents.  And although it has to be done I often can’t handle the smell of cleaning the dog’s yard, now it isn’t so hard to do.

A couple weeks ago we spent a weekend with some friends of ours at their ranch.  They raise and train some amazing horses and I got to spend the day sitting on the fence to watch them ride; I may be a little bit afraid but my heart wanted to be riding one of those horses.  They also have a month old fawn they found as an orphan they are taking care of.  As I watched her run and play it really lifted my heart.  So tiny, so innocent, so precious.  I could have spent all day with her.

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On the way home from the ranch I thought of my friend’s message.  If this is what I’m “given” then I’m lucky.  This accident could have been far worse; I can still see which allows me to see the things I love the most – the wildlife, my animals and the horses I love to be involved with.  I can still walk and hike so I can see the animals I so love in the places I love spending time.  I can still take photos and capture amazing memories.  For a moment I thought about what it would be like not to be able to see Hobo, Quad mom with her cubs, Spitfire or the wild horses.  That was a thought I wanted to erase just as quick as it came.  That wasn’t what I was “given,” thank God it was a lot less.  I have frustrating moments when I have to adapt to different ways but they are moments that go away.  I feel lucky.  I can still do the things that mean so much to me.  I’m hoping that as the fracture heals my hearing will as well and hopefully my sense of smell will return.  Time will heal the fear and I’ll ride again.

In the meantime I’m going to get back to working on the things that I want to accomplish; working on educating people and sharing wild animals with people who want to know more.  God wouldn’t give people gifts if He didn’t want you to use and enjoy them.

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What Is In A Name?

The intense expression of a wonderful cutting horse!

The intense expression of a wonderful cutting horse!

Do you ever wonder how famous or important people ended up where they are now? Was it luck? Due to their family? That they had enough money to buy themselves in? Or because they were actually really recognized for the talents they were blessed with?

We were out at dinner last night with a couple that we have spent time with in the past. I’ll be honest, I think the husband is a wonderful, caring and helpful person, but I have to admit I struggle with the wife. Deep down I think she means well but there are times when she opens her mouth long before she ever thinks about what is going to spew out and it really gets to me.

Last night the conversation started out with what happened to her starting on Friday. The weather has been great here in Colorado, in the mid 60’s, perfect for riding. She owns 7 horses, ages vary and she has Quarter Horses and Arabians. From day one she has made it clear to me that she believes Quarter Horses are stupid and slow to learn while Arabians are such over achievers. I believe anyone who thinks horses are stupid believe so because they have been outsmarted by one or more regardless of breed. Like people, all horses learn at their own speed, their own way. My own horses are Quarter Horses and I will happily admit that I have been taught many lessons by all of them, including what I thought I knew that I really didn’t!

Relaxed flexion

Relaxed flexion

Sadly, her horses are more like lawn ornaments than riding horses. Those she enjoys riding are all around 8 or younger and get ridden maybe 12 times……………………….in the past 3 years. They are gorgeous and in great health ~ okay maybe they are a little chunky. Since I’ve moved to Colorado she has ridden with me maybe 3 times and my heart has been in my throat every time. I put my heart, soul and complete confidence in my young horse who is 6 this year; we do everything together and go everywhere. As far as a reliable trail horse he has often times been the one to take the lead and bring older, more experienced horses through horrifying situations, including one of this lady’s horses. Am I silly in having this much faith in a young horse? I’ve been riding him since he was 3 and he has never let me down, not even when I’ve let myself down.

I’m also confident in saying after working and training with several trainers from western pleasure to cutting, I don’t know a whole lot. I can learn from almost anyone and I pick and chose what I like and will remember. I’m not above asking for help and looked for a trainer the first few months after I arrived here, I wanted one who worked with cowhorses that lived close by. I found one! A very nice man; he admits he has a lot of learning to do himself and we actually share what knowledge we do have. I’ve ridden with him several times and he helped me right from the very first day.

Back to the lady who we were having dinner with………………………. She decided that for the first time in over a month she would ride her 6 year old mare with maybe 60 days training in 3 years. In the last 8 months she has been stepped on and broken a bone in her foot when a mare ran by, pushed her and then jumped onto her, she got stepped on a couple months later when her mare wouldn’t back out of the horse trailer so she drug her around by her bit inside the trailer when “spanking” her didn’t work and a few other incidents. I’m not sure why but I dared to hope that this weekend would be so much better for her. She was unable to catch any of the horses who have never run from her in the past, for the farrier on Friday. When she finally caught her mare on Saturday the mare literally drug her, face first through the sand injuring her arms and hands and then to end the perfect weekend, stepped on her other foot. I sat listening to this in stunned silence; I have learned that talking to her doesn’t help. Then she spews out how Quarter Horses are so slow they never learn. I started to point out that working with a horse only once every 3 months is probably the largest part of the issue but was quickly interrupted, so I continued to listen.

Ranch horse loping quietly

Ranch horse loping quietly

She informs me she has asked around about my “trainer” and nobody has heard of him and rattles off several names of well known trainers all of whom I’ve never heard of. To this I sit with no response. It actually makes me very sad; these horses will continue to disrespect this woman until she is seriously hurt again and it isn’t because they are mean animals by any means they just simply don’t know and have no boundaries.

World famous #10.  He is retired from running Mammoth in Yellowstone this year.

World famous #10. He is retired from running Mammoth in Yellowstone this year.

This morning during a conversation with another friend I mentioned how I would never stand a chance in a photography contest or competing with other well known wildlife photographers and that I don’t have a name for myself. My mind quickly went back to the dinner conversation last night about one of my trainers that nobody has heard of. Several revelations came to light:

1) Everybody has to start somewhere! Bob Avila, Teddy Robinson and Trevor Brazile didn’t just wake up one morning knowing everything, with numerous horses in their barns, being asked to put on clinics all over the US and winning everything. They actually had to learn, to gain experience and practice long before great things happened. Granted some have to practice and work harder at certain things than others but they were not born this way!
2) Everybody has their own special gifts and talents. What might come naturally to one person may not be so easy for the other person. I know people who can create videos and have mastered Photoshop but when you hand them a camera and tell them to catch that horse turning a cow on the fence I am greeted with a blank stare and asked if the camera is even on.
3) Everybody has something to learn. You can be great at what you do, maybe even be considered a professional but if there is nothing else you desire to learn then what? I was once told by a Native American that once you have decided you have nothing else to learn you are dead. I guess I have no need to worry about being dead soon as I have a whole lot left to learn!
4) Just because you don’t have a “name” for your self does not mean that you are not great at what you do or that you are not “worthy.” A lot of things have to do with being in the right place at the right time and desire. Maybe my “unknown” trainer is happy doing what he’s doing in life and he gets great joy in actually knowing all his customers by name and the horses they own. Maybe that photographer who isn’t on the cover of Nat Geo actually finds more value in knowing that the mustangs they photographed 6 weeks ago are safe and sound because they were able to see them again and have been able to spend hours volunteering to make sure other mustangs aren’t being rounded up and potentially being driven to slaughter.
5) Just because you have a “name” and are well known doesn’t make you a happy person. Enjoying what you are doing each and every time you step out to do it is what makes you happy; even when the horse your riding is having a bad day and spends more time dragging your knee on the fence than standing on its own feet or the eagle you set out to photograph does nothing but poop on your backpack you set down before it chose to land on that branch above you and your too afraid to go grab it for fear it will fly off.

Bison cow in Yellowstone National Park

Bison cow in Yellowstone National Park

I spent most of my day yesterday going through images for an upcoming show; I have thousands of wildlife and wild horse images that I haven’t had the time to actually look at or edit and I was stunned over some of them that I found last night. Although I love all wildlife, from my images it is pretty clear that I understand wild horses the most. I have a long way to go in understanding my camera and Photoshop however; there are things I want to learn how to do and have yet to find the time to do it. It frustrates me to no end and then I see an image like the ones I saw last night and I’m proud to say “no re-touching has been done to this image.”

I still have a lot of images I want to capture! I have images in my head of certain scenes and feelings and I won’t stop until I get that. I pride myself for not being a “traditional” horse show photographer. When I shoot horse shows I’m looking for something unique, something inspiring and an image that tells a story and shows emotion. Traditional images are wonderful to have but I want more.

As far as my “unknown” horse trainer is concerned, I’m not sure who he aspires to become but I do know he has a wonderful wife and some great kids. He knows all of his clients and a little about their lives and they are at his barn a lot and I’ll be darned if most the time he isn’t smiling when I have been there. I’m also not being charged $150.00 for an hour lesson and being told my horse needs to be left in training for 6 months so he can fix what I broke. My horses are ridden or turned out nearly every day; they are respectful and trustworthy, talented enough to overcome the problems I hinder them with and forgiving. They may not be on their way to the AQHA World Show but in my eyes they are winners every day as they continue to learn despite me, they give me 150% and I’ve done the work myself ~ I don’t just get on at the gate.

So the next time I’m feeling a little “inadequate” or unworthy I’m going to do my best to remember that everyone has to start somewhere. I’ll encourage people to go after their dreams and wants but most importantly to pursue what makes them happy. Most importantly I’ll remind others that just because they haven’t heard of or about a person doesn’t make that person any less important, talented or valuable. Maybe they just haven’t been discovered yet! And depending on the choices that they make on how “worthy” that they decide that person with “no name”  will be whether or not they are talking about how well they knew that person before everyone else did and are able to call them a friend or saying how sorry they were that they didn’t give that person a chance back when they were nobody.

Femur's mares from the Sand Wash Basin wild horses.

Femur’s mares from the Sand Wash Basin wild horses.