Rantings Of An Equine Competition Photographer

IMG_0230“That’s an awesome picture!  That must be a really nice camera you have?”  If you’re a photographer, either professional or non pro, I’m sure you’ve heard it or at least read it and laughed.  This comment is similar to, “Since cameras went digital I bet that sure made your work easier.”  It seems like technology improved therefore the skill set to accomplish what we do has become much less important.

I specialize in cutting, reining, working cowhorse and rodeo events but have photographed them all at one time.  These events I “specialize” in because I’ve shown these horses and to be honest I might spend some of my weekends watching these events even if I weren’t photographing them.  I love the horses and the talent I find at these shows that much.  My days at these shows are easy; I’m on my feet all day, I log thousands of footsteps on my Fitbit, I seldom get lunch and I can’t remember when the last time was I got to pee.  I get there before the show starts and I don’t leave till the last horse goes and I drive anywhere from an hour plus, one way.  Since 90% of our shows here in Colorado are indoors it’s easy to remember things like checking the white balance, changing the ISO, checking the shutter speed and keeping the F-Stop at 2.8.  One arena has light coming in at one end and dark on the other and another arena has windows at the top of the building so all I have to do is remember to change my settings when the horse goes from one end of the arena to the other or when the sun goes from sunrise to sunset.  The horses are only loping when all this is going on, so it’s fairly simple.  And all of this was self-taught!  I have yet to take any photography classes even online – mostly because I don’t have time.


After a 2 to 5 day horse show, the work is done.  Well, all but going through the thousands of images, getting rid of the bad ones, organizing the good ones, getting them up online so that competitors can see them, editing and posting the best of the best onto a website and then keeping up on Facebook.  The easiest part of this is probably filling orders.  Did I mention I have a 45 hour, plus a week, full-time job for a nationwide company?  That I also have 3.25 horses, 4 dogs and a pig?  One of the horses I’m wanting to show this year and riding him after work?

So then, why do I  do this?  Again, I love the horses, the talent, the sport.  I love the people I get to meet, some of who become friends that I cherish.  I love sitting and laughing with them at the horse shows.  I’ve been asked if I can change the color of a shirt, open their eyes or the horse’s eyes, and my favorites; can you fix my turkey waddle or make me lose about 30 pounds.  I’m a photographer, not a miracle worker.  But of course I’ll do my best at whatever I’m asked.


Equine competition photography is no longer about the “traditional shots.”  The photographers who are making it now are those who have had their foot in the door for years and not given up or those who are busting our butts to get in and be better than the best.  We go the extra mile, risk shooting at different angles from different locations, look for something that stands out and look for something nobody else has.  It’s no longer a full frame image of a sliding horse, but maybe just the horse itself or a rear shot of the slide.  It’s more of an art now than simply holding a camera.  It’s trying to find that one image that takes a person’s breath away, something that captures a special moment, something they can’t walk away from.

Other than that, equine competition is a piece of cake!

So the next time you feel like it’s okay not to pay for an order or “borrow” an image without permission (which most the time is completely done innocently), please keep in mind, to photographers like myself this is a job.  A full-time job I take to heart, that I put my heart and soul into and it isn’t easy.


First Adventure Back……….


About 5 weeks after fracturing my skull one morning I woke up not feeling really well; I didn’t think too much about it, figured it was due to stress but I noticed my back was really hurting.  When I hadn’t been able to move by 3pm from the couch which is not like me at all, I again visited the emergency room.  Several of the nurses remembered me and we talked about them giving me my own office and frequent flyer miles.  This time they kept me over night because my gall bladder had decided it no longer wanted to call me home and we parted ways.  The doctor came back and asked if I was sure I hadn’t been sick for weeks; he said my gall bladder was rotted and that I should have been sick for at least 5 weeks.  Other than the headaches caused by the skull fracture I had been totally fine.  After the surgery I was out the very next day and feeling better than ever and had actually started walking within a few hours after the surgery; walking is the best medicine as far as I’m concerned.

During these two weeks off I spent some time going through some of my images from past adventures.  I came up with a plan to organize and label my Sand Wash Basin Wild Horse images so that I could identify the individual horses and what bands they were part of on that day.  Things change so quickly in the wild that just when you think you have the herds figured out, they are not what you saw.  I also developed a website for some friends of mine who raise and train some very nice cowhorses.  If you’re going to be sitting on your rear, no sense in wasting valuable time!  By day three I was bored.  By day five I was out hunting moose and found 7.  By day nine my house was completely unpacked, cleaned and organized.

This past weekend a friend of mine asked me if I felt up to visiting the Little Bookcliff Wild Horse herd.  I had to think about it for about 3 minutes……………Yes!!  Let’s go!  We drove out Friday night so that we could be on the HMA bright and early the next morning.  The week before I checked with friends to see if they would help with information on what to do, not what to do and the possible best places to see the horses.  All of them said the same thing; this is a difficult place to see wild horses and they have had no luck in several recent trips.  This HMA is not only big and home to rock cliffs, rolling hills and obscure areas but it is also covered in scrub oak, pinion, sage brush and pine trees.  I’ve wanted to visit this HMA since I moved to Colorado and I decided not to let this stop us.

I let my friend who was driving lead the way Saturday morning; we had great light and weather as we headed out.  As we drove down the narrow dirt road and over cattle guards we spotted fresh signs of a horse but after about 5 miles in we were unable to find him.  When the road ended we turned around to head back out.  She was a bit discouraged but I reminded myself that I had other directions in my hand and the day was really young – not even 10am yet.  As we neared the place where we started as we scanned the hills, red rocks and tall sage brush we saw the first horses.  Luckily the white pintos stood out!  They were what looked like a quarter mile up on the hillside and easy to get to.  After about 30 minutes of climbing steep hills and over rock formations I came to several conclusions; I was out of shape, I’m not a mountain goat and horses have a great sense of humor and tolerance.  After spending an hour photographing this small herd of five horses we slid on our rear ends over a mile back down the steep terrain we had climbed up, proud of ourselves for being able to scale the hillside to begin with.


We left that access area without seeing any other horses and I pulled out the information my other friends had sent me hoping that it would provide us better luck.  As we drove in from the east entrance I was stunned at the landscape and how it changed the further into this HMA.  If you ever want to see things to take your breath away, things that other’s will never be blessed to see and experience, you have to be willing to get off the paved road, willing to take the time and chance.  I’m glad that we did.

The landscape alone turned to different shades of red rock cliffs and rock formations.  We drove from the tops of the mesas to the bottoms.  From the sage brush and scrub oak trees to the pinion and pines.  From no water to streams.  In both areas it was obvious that finding any wild horses here was going to be difficult at best.  It would be easy to miss them in the sage, the pines and the shadows.


As we turned onto another road where the road forked I spotted our next small herd around a bend; a herd of 6, 3 mares and 3 stallions.  I was excited to see an appaloosa in this small herd, the first I’ve seen in the wild.  We spent another hour with this herd which included a gorgeous blue roan stallion, a pretty grey mare, a curious chestnut mare and brown stallion that I found stunning although I’m not normally a fan of that color.  His personality ended up winning me over and by the time we left he would become one of my favorites.

We went past a cabin and turned around to come back to another road when we had no luck there.  At the next fork in the road I spotted a pinto in a meadow which led me to a black mare tucked up under the scrub oak trees.  As we walked toward the small herd I stopped when I heard horses calling out and the thunder of hooves running.  I scanned the tree line but couldn’t see any other horses but it was very obvious they were there.  Suddenly a gorgeous bay pinto stallion appeared in the trees and ran directly into a bay stallion that had charged down the hills that I didn’t see until they ran into each other.  We watched as the herds confronted each other, mares and stallions, squealing and striking out at each other and then the pinto ran off the bay stallion, chasing him back up the hill and then returning to gather up his mares.  We stood in the meadow and photographed several more attempts from the bay stallion in taking the pinto’s small herd and as I scanned back through my images I noticed these confrontations must have been going on for more than a day or two as the pinto had a bloody gash across his shoulder.


Weather was starting to roll in and it was hard to pry ourselves away from the action we were observing.  The horses finally helped us.  The pinto stallion ran the bay stallion and his herd off once and for all and then he took his small band and forced them back deep within the trees until we could no longer see them.  We decided to try one more road to see if there were any horses before racing off the HMA.  As we drove to the last mesa top it wasn’t looking as if we’d see anymore horses and as we came around another bend I saw the hip of a red dun.  We stopped and walked in the rest of the way to find a small herd of bachelors – 2 black and one red dun who was breathtaking.  From their vantage point it seemed that they could see for miles.

The rain drops started to fall after about 20 minutes and we decided to head out.  We were hoping that maybe we would see more horses on the way back to the highway.  We missed a fork in the road and ended up coming out a different way than we had come into the HMA and saw different land.  As we left I realized how great I felt; we’d hiked a few miles, did some rock climbing and spent hours with some very pretty and strong horses.  On the 4 hour drive home my friend told me how lucky she felt to have me as a horse magnet.  I’m not so sure that is true.  You see the wild horses because they want you to see them, not because you want to see them.  It isn’t luck, it’s a blessing.   A mustang blessing; a strength, a determination and a spiritual blessing that when they feel the timing and person is right they will share.  I’m blessed.


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


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.


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.


Four Gals and a Wild Horse Herd

Cosmo's band

Cosmo’s band

What happens when you mix a BLM meeting in Craig, CO with the Sand Wash Basin Wild Horses near Maybell, CO, winter weather in February and 4 gals who love wild mustangs?  You find strength you didn’t know you had, friendships that will last forever and adventures you have to experience yourself to appreciate.

Since I was able to finally share the meeting notes regarding the Sand Wash Basin horses recently I thought I would also add in some details about the trip out to Craig, CO.  You honestly didn’t think we would drive all that way and not attempt to see the horses did you?  Snow?   What snow?  We had a couple of weeks back to back before the 2/2/2013 meeting that dumped a few feet of snow.  I was contacting friends that lived out there or who were already there right up to the moment we were leaving.  They reported that roads weren’t too bad all the way to Craig, CO but that wasn’t what I cared about……………….what about the roads to the horses?  Every report that came in wasn’t good but there was a chance on our way out there Saturday that it would warm up and melt a bit.  Would it be too much to ask for 2 feet or more of melt in 8 hours?

Vogue, pinto mare from Cosmo's band

Vogue, pinto mare from Cosmo’s band

Deb met at my house, she doesn’t have horses but she has worked in the animal industry her whole life and loves all animals, especially the horses.  We picked up Megan who is proudly owned by a mustang she adopted a couple years ago and from Megan’s place we picked up Kriszta who has owned mustangs and horses and actually spends weeks in the back country re-enacting buffalo camps; like the cowboy and Indian days.  They spend weeks in the back country with no phone service, no internet and no bathroom.  Just so we are clear – that’s too much uncivilization for me and I’ll be staying home on her next trip out there wishing her well and much fun!  I’m happy to live that excitement through her eyes.

What I didn’t mention yet is that we didn’t all know each other very well; I’ve known Deb for years from a distance.  I met Megan about 8 months ago from a distance and Kriszta I had just met at a meeting about mustangs a few weeks before.  Megan knew Kriszta but they didn’t know Deb.  Four women in a rented 4 wheel drive, driving 5 hours one way on icy roads to a BLM meeting – what could possibly happen?  The things we do for the animals that we love.  Although Megan and Kriszta owned wild horses, none of my friends had ever seen the Sand Wash horses and two had never seen wild horses in the wild.

Cowgirl from Cosmo's band

Cowgirl from Cosmo’s band

Our trip to Craig went well, we made it with about an hour to spare and although the roads were icy they weren’t too bad.  We went to the BLM meeting at 1pm and the first question we asked was how much snow was still out where the horses are and has anyone been out there?  Oh yes, we did ask how some of our other friends were doing, but after we asked about the road conditions.  The news wasn’t great, almost everyone refused to attempt getting out there.  The meeting was a couple hours long which gave us a couple hours left of daylight to get out to Sand Wash Basin to check the roads.  You honestly didn’t think we’d give up and head home with our tails between our legs did you?

We rushed out to the horses, as a matter of fact I think the highway patrol officer said I was rushing too much but we made it safe and sound anyway.  Our spirits lifted a bit when we saw tire tracks and the vehicle we were in fit almost perfectly in those tracks.  Did I forget to mention that I only recently moved to Colorado in July and this was technically my first off road adventure in snow?  Well, that’s okay, it really isn’t important; the girls had given me great instructions on how to make this happen more than once on the way out to Craig.  I did pretty well not allowing it to fish tail and slide and we made it in about 3 miles, up around the hill you zig and zag up but we hadn’t seen any horses yet and we were starting to worry.  When we topped the hill I noticed there wasn’t much snow there, as a matter of fact you could see the dirt and my heart raced……………..we can go further!

Cosmo trying to flirt with Cowgirl who could careless

Cosmo trying to flirt with Cowgirl who could careless

We sat on the hill scanning the land below us and still, no horses, so I asked if we should continue on.  The three of them have done this all their lives pretty much and if anyone knows about this stuff it is them.  They all agreed and said we should keep going.  I looked down the road, picked my track and gave the car gas and away we went.  It was amazing!!  I think we went another 50 feet and the car suddenly slid to a stop.  We all sat in the car and looked at each other for a few seconds and then Megan and Kriszta jumped out to see what had stopped us.  Deb and I tried to jump out with them too however our doors kept bumping into the snow that was over two feet up the side of the doors.  I think that was when I realized how we got stuck and what stopped us.  I looked to see where the sun was, we had maybe two hours of light left.  Deb and I had thrown a camping shovel in the car at the last minute and they went to digging.  After the first 30 minutes it was pretty obvious that unless a flash heat wave were to occur, we weren’t going to budge.



At the meeting Megan had spoken with a lady who gives wild horse tours out at Sand Wash Basin all year long and the lady gave Megan a business card.  Megan wanted to talk to her more about riding a captive wild mustang out with the wild horses and how safe that was.  I don’t think we intended to use that phone number so soon, but that was the only person we knew or could call at the moment, if you have cell service of course.  Four cell phones and only one had service, we’d take it.  A little over an hour later this wonderful lady and her husband showed up to rescue us!  His Dodge pulled this 4 wheel drive right out of the snow with the parking brake still on and made it seem easy!  They had us follow them back out to the paved road and once there we asked them to let us take them to a big steak dinner or pay for fuel – they refused.  They mentioned that it would be best to stay out of Sand Wash until after spring when the snow melted and the mud dried and we agreed they were right.  We followed them back to town, dodging deer, elk and two domestic cats along the way.



We went to dinner and when we got back to the hotel Megan and I tried to find a way home that was safe where we might be able to see other wild horse herds.  Sadly the roads through Wyoming were horrible or closed and going home along the I70 with weekend ski traffic didn’t sound like much fun.  We were resigned to simply heading home in the morning.

Kriszta’s husband called late that night and his comments about why we would go so far, why would we give up, we can do this – was what she relayed to us that morning.  We all looked at each other, loaded up the car, grabbed something to eat and drink and headed right back out to Sand Wash Basin!  We knew we could safely get in for at least 3 miles and from there we would walk till we found horses.  The day before I had learned a very valuable lesson; do not ask three very experienced Colorado girls how far you should go UNLESS they are actually looking at the road!  So as we left the safety of the solid pavement, I made them promise not to look for horses but to watch the road to tell me when to stop while I looked for the horses!  Far safer.

The handsome young boy, Milagro

The handsome young boy, Milagro

About a mile in we passed some teenagers in a Dodge pickup exploring along the road which made me feel better, worse case they could help us out.  In another mile I was looking at all the snow and sage brush where the hills came into the flat land and in the middle of all that white, about a mile out, I saw grey horses nearly blending perfectly with the snow.  I yelled “horses” and slid the car to a stop.  I carefully checked all my mirrors for traffic and since there wasn’t much we left the car right in the middle of the road, changed clothes, grabbed the camera gear and started walking.

As we got closer to the horses I was able to see that it was Cosmo’s band and on the other side of a gully was Hoot, Kiowa, Juniper and another young stallion.  We stopped about 200 yards away as Vogue and Cowgirl watched us and as we were standing there the expressions on my friend’s faces made the whole trip worthwhile, tears of happiness at just being in the presence of these horses were on everyone’s cheeks.  We discussed the horse’s personal comfort zones and how each horse is different and that same horse might be comfortable with you being so close today and it might change tomorrow.  Cowgirl was a bit more concerned than the others but she did allow us in pretty close to the herd.  I scanned the hillside for any other horses that I may have missed and was stunned to see two other warmly dressed creatures with cameras on the opposite side of the gully!  We hadn’t passed any other vehicles coming in but the kids with the Dodge.  I finally spotted Robin’s truck on the top of the hill where we had gotten stuck the night before.

When ignored go roll in poop so you smell more attractive?

When ignored go roll in poop so you smell more attractive?

Kriszta headed across the gully to get closer to the four horses on the other side while Megan, Deb and I stayed with Cosmo’s herd.  We discussed the dynamics of the herds; the lead mares, who appeared to be very much in foal, how healthy they all looked and we watched as Rounder provoked Cosmo into proving who the official band stallion was here.  We marveled about how even though sorrels are not our first choice on the color list, how Milagro didn’t just have wonderful conformation but he had a wonderful disposition as well and if not able to remain free would make some lucky person an amazing horse.

Megan quickly filled an 8GB card with images as we watched Kiowa curiously approach first Robin and then Kriszta on the other side of the gully.  Hoot had his hooves full trying to prove he was the main stallion over Juniper and we watched him snake her around and spar with the other young stallion that followed behind them.

Three hours never goes by as quickly as it does when you’re standing in the middle of nowhere, in God’s country with God’s wonderful animals.  When you see wild horses that have been adopted and are now living safely with new owners you can’t help but notice the wildness about them and wonder what their lives were like.  Being out here with them, seeing them how they are meant to be, living free and watching over each other can bring you so much more joy than you can ever imagine.  It was difficult to pry ourselves away knowing we wanted to be close to home when the roads started to become icy again.  We still had to make it back to the main road which after seeing Cosmo’s band seemed so far away.

Our tires hadn’t even hit the pavement leaving Sand Wash Basin when we were all already planning on when we could return.  Of course it should be after the snow melted and the spring rains dried up and it would be safer when the deer and elk headed back to the high country.  How does next week sound?!

Cowgirl and Milagro

Cowgirl and Milagro

To my friends; Deb, Megan and Kriszta – thank you for sharing this adventure with me!  I couldn’t imagine anyone else I’d have as much fun doing this with as you guys!  I look forward to our next adventures and can’t wait!

Little Snake Field Office and Sand Wash Wild Horse Meeting Minutes 2/2/2013

Cosmo's band

Cosmo’s band

I had promised friends and follower’s that I have made since starting to photograph the Sand Wash Basin Wild Horse Herds that I would attend this meeting and post minutes from it.  Sorry for the delay but I’ve been trying to juggle a more than full time job, 2 of my horses, my photography business, another aspiring business and my life all at the same time and I’ll be darned if I don’t run out of time at the end of the day!

Since these horses have so many followers and supporters and many of you live all over the US and wish you could be here but cannot, I think this is the only way to keep everyone in the loop.  Your support is very much appreciated; these wild horses as well as others need people like you and I think this is a great start.  With that said, these are the meeting notes I myself took.  They are from my writing and my thoughts at the time during the meeting.  I’m as accurate as I can be, if there is emotion included, that is my emotion and I try to approach things with a sense of humor.  Please, if you have a question, feel free to ask me – I’d rather be asked then to have questions posed to others who may not have attended or didn’t perceive things the same way I may have.

My first impression – the Little Snake Field Office is gorgeous!  Aleta Wagner Wolf worked with this office in order for us to hold this meeting there on a Saturday afternoon which I felt was very accommodating.  Normally meetings with government agencies are not held when the public can attend.  Although I was prepared to take time off work it was nice not to have to do so.  The doors were open and welcoming!  As I looked around the room there were about 25 people in attendance.  A few I knew because of our conversations on Facebook; social media is a wonderful thing when used to gain positive results.

Cowgirl from Cosmo's band

Cowgirl from Cosmo’s band

The meeting was facilitated by GEMS ~ Great Escape Mustang Sanctuary which is located in Deer Trail, CO (http://greatescapesanctuary.org/).  They have established a 900 acre eco sanctuary where they have adopted and are taking care of Spanish and American Mustangs.  More information can be located on their website as far as how many horses they have been able to rescue and/or adopt but it is my understanding that all of the Sand Wash Basin horses that were rounded up in 2008 that were still remaining at the Canon City BLM facility were adopted by GEMS and are now calling Deer Trail home.  They have some wonderful videos on- line and can also be found on Facebook along with a trainer who is assisting them with training some of these horses in order to find them forever homes; his name is Sean Davies (http://www.coloradoreinsman.com/)and from what I’ve seen so far, I like!

A few of the people from GEMS along with the help of Aleta and many others have established SWAT ~ Sand Wash Basin Advocate Team (www.sandwashadvocate.org).  Aleta is monitoring this website and emails and fielding questions in regards to the team.  They are attempting to establish the Sand Wash Basin horses as a “Treasured Herd” therefore gaining them more protection.

Why care or why become a member of SWAT?

The horses need a solid group of advocates to work together with the BLM and the HSUS.  Many people who live within a reasonable (okay, define “reasonable”) distance of the Sand Wash Horses have spent numerous hours with them; documenting and photographing them.  Nancy Roberts has spent endless amounts of her own valuable time cataloging and documenting these horses on Facebook and her Blog bringing many of us closer together and these horses into our families.  Since this group of very dedicated wild horse lovers has been out there more than anyone else they know the horses better, are more familiar with them and know what is best for them.

Vogue and another mare from Cosmo's band

Vogue and another mare from Cosmo’s band

The group would help the HSUS with PZP documentation; which mares were treated?  When?  Did they foal since?  When?  And how often?

 This group also knows almost exactly how many horses are out there and have been able to track and account for them – approximately 362 horses.  At the meeting the BLM officers said they were unable to get accurate aerial accounts and they know that this group has more accurate numbers from the ground.

 We discussed ideas of annual foal counts done via horseback, camps, rides and clean ups in order to keep the horses safe and safely monitored.

 Heidi from the HSUS will be out in Sand Wash Basin for one more year in an effort to collect data and then that project will be completed.  There is currently a seasonal position open for a field tech to assist in this study which includes the monitoring, documenting and darting the horses with PZP.  I have to warn you, I considered applying for this position as it sounds like a lifetime dream of mine.  Then I read “camping in remote locations” ~ I immediately envisioned cramped spaces, no internet access and worse!  No shower!  It became quite obvious that this is not for me; with no way to enjoy my photography, share it with others and keep my camera sparkling clean it is not meant to be.

 Ed Hendricks is the ranger who oversees Sand Wash Basin and the horses, one man to over 160,000 acres.  I’m not sure why, but he doesn’t feel he can be all over Sand Wash at one time and that we can help him help the horses.  He asked that if we come across an injured horse or suspicious activity to please contact him and he will gladly do his best to respond to assist or investigate.

 Tim Wilson with the BLM advised us that the BLM is getting ready to re-write new Herd Management Plans.  Jerome Fox is the writer of these plans, they are starting fresh and will value any input.  Jerome is open to ideas and ways to help.

As of the day of this meeting, 2/2/2013, Tim and Ed shared with us that the week prior all herd gathers were placed on hold due to too many horses in holding.  They do not foresee the Sand Wash Basin horses being gathered until possibly 2014 unless the environment made it necessary.  They did ask us to realize that this could change at any moment but that they were committed to working with us.

They also asked us to please work with them and if there are any questions, to please ask and be understanding.

In order to keep information organized and not bombard the BLM office the SWAT team is taking all questions, input, thoughts, ideas and comments and will do what they can to get the information back to everyone in a timely manner.  They are also a 501 (c) non-profit group.  Please visit their website and see where you might be able to assist; they are seeking members with all sorts of skills and strengths and even if you’re a distance away you might still be able to help!  If nothing else, contact them, let them know what your talents are and they will find something for you.  I’m not very good at math but if I were to take some beads on a string and ride my horse or drive around Sand Wash Basin I’m sure I could count new foals!  And just a hint, they are about a quarter the size of the large horse standing over them.

There are also a lot more than just wild horses in Sand Wash Basin as well; there is a lot of history, archeology and paleontology and all of that should be preserved as well.

I left this meeting feeling pretty optimistic.  There are a lot of people who want to do wonderful things to support these horses and they can use all the help they can get.  If we can work together to keep this herd safe and managed respectfully, who’s to say that we stop there?

Please be sure to check out the ID cards that Nancy Roberts is working hard to create on the horses of Sand Wash Basin in order to raise money to support them.

I have listed several websites above for more information on the wild horses and you can find more here as well, and don’t forget to follow most of this ongoing, hard and dedicated work on Facebook:





Vogue, pinto mare from Cosmo's band

Vogue, pinto mare from Cosmo’s band

All images are copyrighted by Laura Tatum-Cowen/Performancehorsephotography.com

Please do not copy or reproduce without permission.

Portions of the proceeds of all sales from my wild horse images are donated back to the wild horses for without them then my photography would not be possible.  Sales of my images are what allow me to continue my efforts of documenting the wild horses and volunteering to see that they remain wild and free where they belong.  Please join us in these efforts.

Wildlife Photography ~ How Close Is Too Close……..?

Cow elk and calf crossing the river in Estes Park

Cow elk and calf crossing the river in Estes Park

A friend of mine and I were talking about a photo we saw this morning of 4 photographers running away, one of them leaving their tripod with the camera as fast as they could; approaching the camera was a younger grizzly bear.  The bear wasn’t running at them, it actually appears like it’s on a Sunday stroll.  We were laughing and he said that bear spray may have prevented this.  His next comment was “Stupid photographers!” and then he said, “Ohh wait!  I’m a photographer!”  We both laughed.  The photo was sent around and it was meant to be funny and it was.  Of course this led us to even more conversations and memories.

I normally don’t like photographing animals when there are fences in the back ground or houses but if I see wildlife I will stop regardless of where they are just to take a look.  One afternoon a few months ago on the way to the Rocky Mountain National Park to hike in the snow; the snow hadn’t arrived yet, it was nice out and as we drove through Estes Park near the golf course, we spotted a herd of elk.  Of course we stopped.  We walked out taking in the herd and noticing who the big bulls in charge were and how far away they were.  The rut was over but that doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t react if you were to get too close.  We stopped after we noticed 2 pretty large bulls about 200 feet from each other, they were still singing away and we didn’t want to be in the middle if they wanted to discuss who was boss.

Big bull elk in the golf course in Estes Park

Big bull elk in the golf course in Estes Park

As we stood taking a few shots from about 80 yards and watching the cows and calves move by one of the bulls stood to his feet and started walking the direction we were standing so we started backing away.  There were no signs of aggression on his behalf but I like my personal space and I wanted to keep his happiness just the way it was.  I turned when I heard something running up behind me just in time to see a younger blonde woman run right by us with her iPhone in hand yelling about how cool it was to see a bull elk up so close.  Don’t worry, it’s okay, she stopped probably about 20 feet from him!  My friend and I looked at each other, our mouths dropped to the ground and our eyes huge!  It was obvious to us that day that God does protect certain people out there in the world!  She stood for a long time photographing this big bull and occasionally even got in closer while my friend and I stood in amazement.  When we finally walked back to the car we were laughing about the whole thing; had we attempted to do that it wouldn’t have ended so nicely.

I was reminded about the time I was out photographing Mountain Goats about 8 months ago.  I love sitting down a safe distance from the animals I am shooting and watch behavior and how they interact with each other.  I had never photographed Mountain Goats before, they were so pretty, there were so many of them ~ I planted myself on a rock, took a couple hundred images and then just sat and watched.  One younger kid seemed to have lost its mother.  I sat on that rock and watched her over 2 hours as she approached other mother’s and was chased off, other kids didn’t play and she continued her search, crying.  That made me want to cry.  I would take some shots off and on and as I continued watching her I started taking more images as she got closer, I was using my 300mm lens at the time.  At one point I felt myself leaning backwards so that I could get more of the little goat in my frame and I even started scooting backwards on my rock to get a better shot as I kept trying to pull my lens back.  I finally put the camera down frustrated that I was missing out on decent shots because my camera wasn’t helping me.  When I did I realized the little girl was nearly in my lap!  I guess it wasn’t the camera after all.  She stood in front of me crying out a few times before she realized I wasn’t her mom either and moved on.  About 30 minutes later her mother and twin jumped down from a rock formation behind me; they were not there when I sat down!  I had never intended to get that close and personal with the goats, but through my excitement with having the opportunity to spend time with them I got closer than I ever expected.

Not cropped in at all, and this was my 70mm lens and it was still too close

Not cropped in at all, and this was my 70mm lens and it was still too close

My friend and I continued to laugh about the image with the grizzly bear but I can say I have been so intrigued with shooting certain wildlife and forgotten my surroundings while looking through the view finder at times.  Lucky for me when I do shoot bears I’m with a group who is very experienced and we watch out for each other.  Normally I’m the one who forgets to shoot the images and am watching and learning from new behaviors and can sound the alarm if they are getting to close for my taste.  My favorite animals to shoot are normally horses, wild and domestic.  The domestic horses have no concept as to what personal space is and as soon as they see a camera feel that you want them to come in closer!  And I still haven’t figured out what it is with wildlife sticking out their tongues!

Blueper's nose on a snow day.  Didn't see the tongue till I got in the house and looked at the images

Blueper’s nose on a snow day. Didn’t see the tongue till I got in the house and looked at the images

Wildlife Lesson #5 – Bring Your Sense of Humor

Smile like this?

Smile like this?

There has been a bald eagle sitting in a tree in front of my place for a few days now.  I had seen him around Christmas time but was too busy to slow down to try and get some images.  Now he’s been back almost every night this week.  Day 1 ~ I wasn’t even allowed to get my camera before he knew I was coming and soared away.  Day 2 ~ He waited for me to be about 30 yards out of what I consider a good range, watched me, fluffed up, stretched out, then he tilted his head sideways to look at me and soared away.   Day 3 ~ Not even risking walking, jumped in the truck, drove up in front of the tree, rested the camera on the window of the door and took 3 dozen shots in bad lighting before he soared away.

Just kidding!!  You mean smile like this!!

Just kidding!! You mean smile like this!!

I’ve had a few friends who are entertaining the idea of getting into photography and they have been asking me lately how I get those great shots!  Tonight reminded me and I had to laugh.  The gorgeous bull moose above I nicknamed Bruiser.  I had tried several days to find moose on my hikes without much luck.  Then one late morning walking through a deserted camp ground I walked right up on him and 3 cows bedded down in some tall brush.  Sounds easy enough.  Took an hour for one of the cows to finally get up and when she did, she got up on the wrong side of the bed.  I was far enough away to know it wasn’t me she was mad at and after she stuck her foot in her ear several times she went over and bedded down with the other cows.  An hour after that is when Bruiser finally got up.  I have images of him on two knees, one knee, stretching, stretching more, shaking his head, stretching some more, smelling the flowers and eating willow; close to 700 images to be exact.  Out of them there are about 40 that I’m happy with.  A total of 8 hours, 8 miles or more over 3 days ~ 40 good images.  Not bad!!

Ppppffftttttssstttttt!!  My daddy can kick your daddy's butt!!

Ppppffftttttssstttttt!! My daddy can kick your daddy’s butt!!

Another hoofed cow who tends to wake up on the wrong side of the bed.  Bison are gorgeous in their own right however to get that “perfect” image it is pure luck!  I spend 10 plus days in Yellowstone and the Tetons and when I see bison in good lighting, I will stop and wait and hope for that perfect moment.  I’ll end up with 2 images I am proud of; the rest are every day bison, I’m so bored with tourists and photographers, behavior.  A total of 10 days in God’s country, I managed not to be treed by a bison, I get 2 nice images and I’m excited.

She wanted me in the picture!!!No, she wanted me!! I'm going to tell mom!! MMMOOOOOMMM!!

She wanted me in the picture!!!
No, she wanted me!!
I’m going to tell mom!!

One very uneventful wildlife day I decided I would not call it quits until I managed to photograph some sort of critter.  I had never seen many marmots before and had never photographed them.  I drag out the camera and get everything prepared in a nice area with decent lighting and a background where you could at least see what type of critter I was photographing.  I had been watching them for over an hour so I knew I was in a decent spot.  My problem ~ I did not notify the marmots of my intentions and explain the importance for lighting and background.  Instead of hanging out where I wanted them to be, they insisted on playing in front of the grey rocks where they blend perfectly.  A wasted afternoon?  Ohhhh heavens no!!  If anyone ever needs 300 images of marmot camouflage be sure to contact me, I know I can help you!

What do you mean this angle makes my butt look big?

What do you mean this angle makes my butt look big?

Those amazing mustang images, those are easy to get.  The nearest HMA is 4.5 hours from me……………………….one way.  On any given day the horses will be right next to the road but not on the days I normally visit.  I love to hike and the horses know that and just for me they normally position themselves about 2 miles up on a hill where I can see them so I know which way to hike!  Most of the time they will stay in that spot at least until I manage to get within good camera range, set up and manage to get several nice images.  If they don’t feel I’ve had enough of a work out, not just one or two, but the whole herd will start walking away from me in order to assist the calorie burning a little more.  I find it interesting that they know how important it is to walk farther uphill and away from my car, not downhill toward my car.  I have even skirted and nearly missed rattlesnakes while out photographing wild burros, this adds the high jump into the daily workout routine.  Later that evening when I’m reviewing images I come across maybe 60 out of 1,500 that I find exceptional or emotional.

Ohh no!!  My hairs a mess!!  No pictures!!  No pictures!!

Ohh no!! My hairs a mess!! No pictures!! No pictures!!

To get this wonderful image I was standing with a couple dozen other photographers in the cold for a few hours one May day.  We played several rounds of “100+ yard rule weave,” the park rangers were our referees making sure that when she moved away we stayed far enough behind and when she turned to come towards us, we moved far enough the other direction.  At one point we watched her from the inside of our cars when she wanted to break the rules of the game.  Out of 600 images I think I found 60 with her head actually up.  It is obvious to me she is camera-shy and we made her nervous.

So now when somebody approaches me and is interested in photography I smile!  I tell them it’s very rewarding actually and has many benefits.  You will be forced to become healthier and you won’t even realize it.  You learn about patience and with each encounter you get better at it.  You learn to be creative and look for amazing moments.  You will learn who your worst enemy is ~ yourself.  Most importantly if your are lucky like me, you will find happiness beyond belief.

Yeah!!  I'm walking away from this conversation!

Yeah!! I’m walking away from this conversation!

The End!  Literally!  This is a bear butt!

Although this little story was told in a humorous manner, please be cautious when photographing wildlife.  Please be careful photographing close to roads as the animal could move into the road.  Be sure to give them enough space that they don’t feel threatened or alter their normal behavior.

Thoughts for Wolves and Wild Horses

Corona from Sand Wash Basin

Corona from Sand Wash Basin

I started my day watching a documentary that Jim and Jamie Dutcher filmed about living with wolves.  I wasn’t shocked by any of the wolf behaviors or how they managed to live with the pack and raised the pups, nothing about that surprised me.  What surprised me was the opening of the movie where Jim was wrangling horses.  In Wyoming around the 1980’s.  Years before the Yellowstone wolf reintroduction program.   There were no wolves in the lower 48 states but one afternoon while he was out looking for horses he came across one grey wolf, shy but curious, hiding in the trees.  A few days later he spotted another one in the same area.  Fear wasn’t something he felt but like the wolf he was curious.   That is how his story began when he brought the Sawtooth Pack to Idaho where he and Jamie lived for 6 years, living with and documenting these wolves and the pack.  I wish I could do that.  Everything was on the wolves terms, if they chose to socialize with you, they did, if not, they didn’t.

Salazar is leaving in March and going home to Colorado but now who will take his place?  I’m praying it is somebody who is educated and compassionate about animals.  Somebody who will hear both sides and won’t make decisions based on money and hatred.  Will base decisions not based on government statistics but statistics from independent sources that are honest.

Four years ago, there were reported to be 67,000 wild horses on public lands running wild and free.  Today there are less than 32,000.  I visited a holding facility back in October and it broke my heart to see these once proud, fiery and fun loving horses put in crowded pens.  There were week old foals in large pens of mares being chased by other mares, mares fighting between pens and stallions chasing each other.  Normal behavior for horses in captivity, but painful to watch these horses that were use to wide open spaces take out their frustrations on each other.

Four years ago there were 1,650 wild grey wolves in the Rockies.  This year alone 605 have been killed.  The Yellowstone wolves have declined by 25%, bringing the number down to around 80 within the park.  Of the wolves lost:  824M of the Mollie Pack, 829F of the Blacktail Plateau Pack, 754M of the Lamar Canyon Pack, 823F of the Junction Butte Pack, 762M and 763F of the Madison Pack, 793 of the Snake River Pack, 832F of the Lamar Canyon Pack – all collared wolves.  And in December of 2012 two collared wolves were found shot, killed and left decaying in the Grand Tetons.  These numbers are heart breaking and overwhelming.

This afternoon I read a blog posting by a wildlife photographer that I have great respect for who lives near the Tetons, Mike Cavaroc (http://blog.freeroamingphotography.com/) and he wrote some very valid points.  We can continue to wallow in our hatred and anger or we can find solutions.  I see both sides of the wolf issue but I will always fall on the side of the wolves.  Do some wolves predate on livestock?  Yes.  Those wolves should be dealt with appropriately.  Do I believe in hunting out of hatred, fear and revenge?  No.  Do I believe in hunting to put food on your table?  Yes.  Can wild horse populations get out of control?  Yes.  Do I believe in managing them?  Yes.  They can be managed properly through bait trapping and birth control.  Those are my opinions; many may not agree and that is okay with me.

I do not want to see these animals hurt or tortured; I’d much rather be involved in bait trapping of wild horses and the use of birth control to keep healthy populations and make sure all the horses that are in holding pens go to good and caring forever homes than see them chased by helicopters, hurt, live out their lives in holding pens or sent to slaughter.  If the BLM walked up to me tomorrow and asked me to help them bait trap some horses and dart other mares with birth control or they will go out with helicopters and round up 250 next month and some will be injured or die and then they will be shipped to slaughter you can bet I will be the first one to show up before the sun comes up ready to help.  Is it the right thing to do?  I’m not sure.  Is it the best solution?  I’m not sure of that either.  Do I support this 100%?  No, not really.  But I sure don’t see any other great ideas falling from the heavens at the moment and I would much rather them include me in helping to do something that has far less harmful side effects than to do something kept in secret where wild horses I have grown fond of could be injured or worse.  A good short term solution would help us work together to develop a stronger, better, long term one.

I'm not ready to share this story just yet, but I will.

I’m not ready to share this story just yet, but I will.

I have wondered for months why with so many wild horse and wolf lovers we are quickly losing ground.  I’ve spent many nights crying myself to sleep wishing it would stop and wondering how I could stop it.  I have been furious and at times full of hatred.  Each time though I have come back wondering what I can do to stop it; it is one of the reasons why I started my blog.  I was stunned at some of the hateful and nasty things I saw posted by wolf lovers about the hunters; if we want to be heard and respected you cannot fight a battle by being one sided, closed minded and blinded with rage.  You can’t fight it alone either.  I have a deep respect for Wolves of the Rockies and WolfWatcher, as hard as it has been they have managed to stay calm and rationale and have been the voices of reason.  I wonder how much duct tape they have needed to use in order not to say the wrong things.  I have to believe they can do this because they are “keeping the end in mind.”  They are fighting to save the lives of the remaining wolves, what we all want.   We will lose some of the fights and as much as I hate to say this we will have to give a little to win the ultimate goal for both the wolves and the wild horses.

I know I’m not alone in how passionate I am about wildlife, mostly wolves and wild horses.  My life has been changed in so many positive ways because of them and many of the people in my life now I know because of them.  We are the majority and we should work together to find solutions to help the wild ones we love rather than allowing hatred and vengeance consume us which will paralyze us if we allow it.  There are many great advocate groups out there working for both causes as well as photographers and individuals.  I was recently at a meeting regarding wild horses but I had another interest there as well, wolves.  A question was asked; can you imagine if both groups were to come together the strength they would have?  I’m not sure but it sure wouldn’t hurt to try.

Yellow Man’s Band

Yellow Man watching us to make sure we are safe before he lets the herd move in

Yellow Man watching us to make sure we are safe before he lets the herd move in

Another herd we encountered out at Sand Wash Basin in September 2012 was Yellow Man’s band.  We actually came around a bend in the road and he was standing tucked up in the trees watching us.  His herd was a bit farther up the hill.

Yellow Man must have decided we were okay if he was starting to eat.

Yellow Man must have decided we were okay if he was starting to eat.

When Yellow Man finally decided that we were okay and not a threat he started to graze until the girls came along.  I was really excited to see a very young colt.  Even though it appeared that a drought was happening here, foals were still being born.

Dragon, colt born in July 2012.  Mom is Owl and sire is Yellow Man

Dragon, colt born in July 2012. Mom is Owl and sire is Yellow Man

He was escorted by his mom, Owl the pale grey mare, and his grandma, Crow.  The names are pretty fitting.

Owl & Dragon

Owl & Dragon

Dragon and his grandma

Dragon and his grandma

They didn’t stay long, they direction that they were traveling made it appear that they were actually heading to the water hole.



Yellow Man – Grey band stallion

Crow – Black mare

Owl – 2010, grey mare out of Crow

Dragon – 7/2012 bay colt

Hopscotch – 2012 filly out of Oda

Pearl – Grey mare with half an ear not seen on my visit

Owl & Dragon

Owl & Dragon

Wild Horse Images

Picasso looking off into the distance

Picasso looking off into the distance

People ask me quite often what they can do to help support the wild horses and the wolves, how they can be involved and stay connected. I have a full time job in the veterinary industry and photography is a side job that I love. Wildlife and equine photographers enjoy being out in the field with the animals they photograph more than being indoors. It isn’t uncommon for us to spend hours in freezing wind or out in the beating sun to photograph an animal. I’ve hiked miles looking for something special and there have been times when I’ve come home empty handed.

To photograph the wild horses I have to drive 5 to 7 hours one way, believe me I”m not complaining because the time I get to spend out in the field with them is the most amazing moments of my life. Watching the interaction between a new mare and foal bonding, seeing a band stallion keeping his mares away from another stallion or seeing a young bachelor torment other bachelors and practicing their best fighting moves is what keeps me going back time and time again. Each time I go out I look for something new and different.

When Picasso lowered his head a breeze swept and tossed all those amazing colors together.

When Picasso lowered his head a breeze swept and tossed all those amazing colors together.

We love doing this and want to continue bringing you the images and the stories from places like Yellowstone, the Tetons and Sand Wash Basin and by purchasing some of the images that you fall in love with really helps us to be able to do this! It’s also encouraging to hear your thoughts on our images. So please keep stopping by and saying hello!

Images are copyrighted by myself/performancehorsephotography.com To purchase copies of images please contact me direct via wordpress, on Facebook or my website.