Thank You For The Lessons


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!


Are You Crazy Enough………..?


“People who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” – Steve Jobs

I spent yet another great weekend with a friend out at Sand Wash Basin searching for and photographing wild horses. Along the way we spotted 8 moose which delayed the early morning we had hoped to spend with the horses but it also allowed us to spend about 30 minutes with a gorgeous badger when we arrived. I’m not one to complain when the wildlife seems to want to be photogenic. Watching 2 young moose play and jump around each other was well worth being late.

This friend had never seen wild horses so I was hoping that she would be so impressed with the horses that she would become an advocate and join so many who have been changed by these horses. As we drove up the first road I was stunned when up on the hill I saw Picasso. About a year ago he was the very first wild horse that another friend and I had ever seen and he had changed how I would fight and think about wild horses from that point on. My friend asked if he would be flighty. Every day is a new day in the wild and it’s hard to say, we started walking toward where Picasso was on the hill about a half mile away and I smiled when I saw him actually walk our way, slowly grazing on the way. I thought to myself that there could not be a better advocate for wild horses than this stunning, aged, wild band stallion himself. Of all the horses that a new visitor could see, this was one that could change the world.

We spent all day in the 100 degree heat in Sand Wash Basin and spotted nearly 50 to 60 horses; some I haven’t seen or photographed before and some like Picasso and Corona who I’ve been blessed to see a few times. I don’t take these opportunities lightly; each and every one of them, each horse, is special. We didn’t see as many foals as I expected to see since there have been so many born out there this year and some of the ones we did see were actually missing parts of their ears – these horses are so tough and endure so much. A couple herds would not allow us within 200 yards of them and others like Picasso almost allowed us to feel as if we were a part of his band for a short time. I think the most shocking thing of the day was when Star who was with a couple other bachelor stallions, called out to us as we were walking away and trotted to a hill closer to us as if he didn’t want to be left out of the photo shoot.


On the way home I received word that several trucks loaded with wild horses were on their way to the slaughter houses from Nevada. This news is disappointing to say the least. We as a society have let down the wildlife we greedily take the wild lands from and claim as “ours.” I can honestly say that the HMA’s I have visited I have no desire to “own” and I’m not sure who in their right mind would want to. The “normal” human being wouldn’t survive, or want to live there. They are desolate, remote, lonely, have extreme weather conditions and although pretty in their own way not what I would consider the greatest of landscapes. The only things that can live out there without assistance are rattlesnakes, badgers, mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes and wild horses. Yet we continue to want and take and force the wild animals that belong there off.

Since my first encounter with wild horses last year I made the decision that I would advocate for them along with several others (some photographers, some horse lovers). When I sold my wild horse images and jewelry I would donate the profit of the sales back to the wild horses; hoping to help groups maintain the HMA the horses were on, help somebody with possibly adopting one, etc but the money was to go back to the horses. I was surprised when I inquired on donating the money I was saving that the groups and people I spoke with didn’t want the money and couldn’t point me in any direction where I could donate the money to help. I’ve never had anyone turn money away before. So I continued to save this money hoping that one day somebody could answer me; there had to be a trustworthy group out there that were making a difference for the horses that I have come to love. After all, if it weren’t for them I wouldn’t be selling these images to begin with.

While doing my search I contacted other photographers and asked where they donated money to in support of the horses; crickets. I was a bit surprised. I recalled asking several photographers when I moved here about viewing the different wild horses questions like the best way to get there, the best herds to visit, best times of the day to see them, etc. At the time only a handful responded to my emails, the ones who did respond were very helpful and I thank them for that. They obviously love these horses so much that they realize that the only way they are going to survive is to get others to love them as much as they do. I didn’t let the crickets scare me. They actually made me more determined and I did a lot of research on my own and since then I have met many, many more great people who are good advocates for the horses. We may not win every battle but we try very hard and we may not win at all like this recent Nevada horse slaughter issue makes us feel but we are trying and we care. We care for every one of those horses and deep down I believe those horses know that.


I’m a year into this fight now and like an elephant I do not forget. The wild horses have blessed me with more friends than I ever imagined from all over the United States and the world. They have also taught me a lot about humanity and exploitation. These lessons hurt as I feel if you use a wild animal to help promote yourself you should, in turn, support that wild animal. Support comes in very many forms; donations, your time, education and much more. I’m asked often what we can do to help and what we can do to keep these horses free on the land they run on. I’m saddened because a few thoughts come to mind and I’m not sure that I like them.

1) Together we can move mountains but alone we will not move a pebble. I think many of the wild horse advocates feel this way often. There are many days I feel like I’m alone and talking to myself. If so many people out there love these horses (and there are thousands) then why aren’t we making a difference? Why can’t we stop the horrible events?

2) The “What’s In It for Me?” disease. It’s a horrible sickness and consuming and selfish. If this is a question you ask yourself then I’m not sure you should be an advocate because there is a simple answer. What is in it for you is that you’re saving a life, a living breathing animal, a species. If this isn’t enough than I’m not sure what is.

3) I’ve seen several people be “turned off” or pushed out of groups. I’m not sure why that happens but it seems like favorites are chosen and others are tossed to the side. I think that is something to be careful with; what if those people are millions of dollars strong? What if they could make a difference? If they aren’t given the opportunity to be involved, if they aren’t included or allowed to grow then these groups maybe shutting the people out that could truly make a difference for these animals we claim to love so much.

After I met Picasso last year I made up my mind and decided I would fight for the wild horses. I didn’t know at the time what I would do or how, but I was determined to make sure that others fell in love with the wild horses so that more advocates joined the plight of these wonderful animals. I knew that to do that I had to do my part. I can share my images all day long with people but it helps to really get them to fall in love when they see the horses for themselves. So I take people out to visit the horses who have never seen them before and if I can’t go with them, I do my best to give those directions and helpful hints in experiencing the horses. I’m never let down; the looks on their faces and the comments I receive when they do get the chance are so rewarding. I’ve seen people cry and seen people laugh when they see their first wild horse and it’s worth every minute. We all own these horses and they are here to be shared, we have no right to keep them to ourselves and not sharing them only makes it harder for us to save them.

Don’t give up; we won’t win every battle. Don’t let others discourage you. Not everyone is going to share the same opinions or feelings that you have; that is what makes the world so interesting and difficult. But don’t give up. There is no such thing as a bad or crazy idea and I’ve seen many ideas that others may have counted out that were shared with somebody else become the ideas that made great changes.

I’ve worked in the veterinary medicine field my entire life; my verdict on PZP is still out. There is as much bad information as there is good. What I can say is that the herds that have been on PZP have fewer round ups happen and therefore less stress on them. From what I’ve seen they are healthy, they don’t seem to be starving. The ones who are not on PZP seem to have more and more round ups, are sickly and seem to be dying of starvation and harsh environments. Do I miss seeing foals running around and playing and growing up? Yes. However, with over 33,000 wild horses being in holding pens with a very limited chance of finding a forever home that now may be going to slaughter I would much rather miss a couple years with no foals than knowing these horses are going to slaughter. Until we have a better solution to manage these horses, until every horse is healthy or every wild horse is adopted I think we need to be a little more understanding on the PZP topic.

We have so many “excess” horses in the United States without counting the wild horses. These days’ horses are a luxury and/or business and a very expensive one. We can’t even find homes for domestic horses that irresponsible owners bred that have great bloodlines, some of which are pretty decently trained horses. How are we to find homes for over 33,000 wild horses that require “special handling?”

In addition to my promise to myself of sharing the wild horses with people who want to see them and know more about them, I wanted to help even more. I still have some money to donate to the cause, but there has to be more. I am a horse owner after all and have been since high school. I know that wild horses are very smart and need facilities that have to be far more secure than a domestic horse. Not only can they hurt themselves but they could destroy property if not taken care of properly. I’ve been thinking of all this for awhile now and now that I’m in my own home again and I’ve built the facilities I want I had planned on adopting a young mustang and starting from the ground up. However the other day I was asked if I’d be willing to take a 10 year old Adobe Town mustang who is broke already and just needs some work. The current owners can no longer keep him, they have too many horses. As soon as I saw him I liked him. No need to ask twice, he’ll be picked up on Saturday. Now I have to re-think Plan A and the young wild horse I’d like to adopt; I’m not giving up.

I have a crazy idea. If anyone out there is in a position to adopt a wild horse, now is a great time. If you can’t adopt, think about donating what the average adoption fee of a wild horse is to a group that you trust, that adoption fee is $125.00. Start talking more about these wonderful horses and spread the word; they now need us more than ever since the slaughter houses are opening up again. If anyone out there wants to learn more about these amazing horses and would like to see them, I’m willing to share and take groups out often; all you have to do is ask.


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 (  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 ( 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 (  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/

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.

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.

I Was Rescued Today………….

What in the world happened to this poor baby?  Photos by Taylor James

What in the world happened to this poor baby? Photos by Taylor James

Ever have those days where things just seem to push you down from above?  There is so much horrible news regarding wolves, wild horses, wildlife and the whole world in general these days that I wonder if there is ever any good to report anymore.  Many times I have wondered why we seem to be losing this battle and then I’m reminded about what Mike Cavaroc had written and I press on.  There surely has to be good people in places we need them to be to help make a positive difference for our animals.  Maybe we aren’t losing and because of that that is why we see so much negative stuff?

I attended what I considered a positive BLM meeting this past weekend.  I heard a ranger and BLM officer explain how they were committed to the wild horses we were discussing and to working together with us to protect and manage them.  They also explained that if there is anything that we don’t agree with or understand from time to time to please ask them about it in hopes they can help us to understand.  They really want this to work between us and them for the benefit of the horses.  I reminded myself that these officials aren’t any different than us; they have families to feed and support and bosses to answer to higher up the food chain.  If they are willing to put in an effort to make this partnership work why shouldn’t we give them the chance?

I started to think about how perfect it would be if this BLM office were to start a new trend.  What if they were to work together with our group of volunteers to successfully manage the numbers at this HMA and keep them where they wanted?  What if when a gather and adoption were necessary they worked together and bait trapping was used rather than helicopters and these horses were adopted before the auction even happened, for higher prices than normal and none of the horses were sent to holding facilities where tax dollars were spent to take care of them for years?  It honestly doesn’t seem that farfetched to me or that difficult honestly.  How funny would it be to see all the positive media about this partnership and how great it was working?  Maybe other BLM offices and groups would want to change how the public perceived them and be able to change their policies as well?  A perfect, impossible dream you’re thinking……………….I know.

Consider this however for a few moments; we have been placing everyone in the same category or bucket and ‘assuming’ they/we are all that way.  For example when we say “BLM” that includes everyone associated with them, working for them, in all offices at every level, in every state however as I wrote in a prior blog ~ if the BLM were to call and ask me to assist them with the PZP darting of mares or they would all be sent to holding facilities I would drop everything and go.  This doesn’t mean I agree 100% with playing Mother Nature or even that I’m working for the BLM.  What it means is that I don’t want to see all these horses sitting in holding facilities where far more horrible things could happen to them and that I’m volunteering my time to assist in order to avoid far worse consequences for the horses until we can find a better solution together.  I’m not the BLM, I’m not being paid.  I’m doing this because I love these horses, love seeing them free and I want the best for them and we would continue working on better ways to make this a better system.  Again, this doesn’t seem like a difficult concept to me.

What in the world happened to this poor baby?  Photos by Taylor James

What in the world happened to this poor baby? Photos by Taylor James

Rather than lumping all things appearing and smelling like BLM we might want to be sure to call out the individuals or areas on their own; as of right now and until they prove me wrong, I want to believe the BLM office I met with last weekend is different.   They are better, they are great individuals and those individuals want to work together to preserve these horses.  I’m sure they have their own opinions on what has and is happening in Nevada and I’m hoping that they are working on ways to avoid that happening here.  If they do that and we can turn these stories around to become positive management stories I think it would be very important that these individuals are not lumped in the “BLM bucket” but individually recognized as the great management officials they are.  After all, if our volunteer group is successful and we make this work, wouldn’t we want the same?

I made the choice a few months ago to help the wild horses and wolves anyway that I could.  I’ve had to break this down into a smaller chunk (more on that later) in order for it to be more manageable for me right now.  My focus for the moment is Colorado and Wyoming since it’s where I live, these HMA’s are closer to me so that I can hopefully get to them within a day’s drive and I can be valuable.  I’m in no way trying to discredit what has and is going on in California and Nevada and it breaks my heart.  Seeing these animals treated this way, scaring them, pursuing them until they want to drop and what is happening to the foals is horrible and not acceptable.  We are suppose to be ‘stewards’ of the land and it should be done with respect and understanding.  To those who chose not to do this humanely, I pity you.  You will get what you deserve.

Her little face is so swollen.  Photos by Taylor James

Her little face is so swollen. Photos by Taylor James

On Tuesday night I saw an image of a wild foal in Nevada that ripped my heart out.  A photographer (Taylor James of Up Close & Personal Photography) out in the field had seen her; she is extremely thin, her face swollen, she had what appeared to be coyote attack wounds on her hind quarters and her hind legs were injured.  Worse than all that she was alone, no mother and no herd.  Nobody knows exactly what happened but residents in the area had heard of a stallion and foal falling from the cliffs and the herd leaving them; was she the foal who fell?  We would love to know but the only thing that really matters was that she was alone, injured and I’m sure scared and confused.  I don’t think any photographer goes into the field prepared to do any type of wildlife rescue so Taylor did what her heart told her to and what she knew how to do; she came home and posted an image of the foal and asked for help.  It didn’t take long for several people to respond with contacts, ideas and information and people were on stand-by waiting for directions and updates.  When I saw it I re-posted it knowing my mustang friends would respond and somebody would know what to do.  Sadly it was all that I could do to help.

The next morning Taylor went back out searching for this foal hoping she hadn’t died during the night; she was armed with contact information, what to do, what not to do, her phone and her camera.  Technically even though this filly is a wild mustang living on public lands she is still considered to be owned by the government.  To have a citizen come out and pick her up even though they are helping would be considered stealing and all of that information was sorted out during the night in chats which was a good thing.  It would have been awful if caring people were to have arrived with only great intentions of saving this foal’s life and they ended up fined or worse.  For most of us, total strangers, miles away we could do nothing but wait and hope.

Drinking before the rescue.  Photos by Taylor James

Drinking before the rescue. Photos by Taylor James

One of my concerns was after seeing the poor condition of this foal was that if she were stressed (roped or chased) she would go down and never get up again.  When I received a message from Taylor later on that afternoon it was not what I was expecting.  Not only had she found the foal alive but there was a Department of Agriculture inspector there looking at the foal and helping.  I wasn’t sure if this was good news or bad.  Taylor didn’t seem distressed and didn’t scream for help so I was hoping it was good news.

Chris Miller guiding the foal with body language to the horse trailer.  Photo by Taylor James

Chris Miller guiding the foal with body language to the horse trailer. Photo by Taylor James

Later on that night we got another report and images of the rescue; the foal at the water hole drinking, images of her injuries and an image of her standing inside the horse trailer so she could be taken to the Carson City Prison where they have an inmate mustang program and they have experience raising orphan foals.  The little one didn’t seem stressed in the trailer even though her eyes were wide open.  My first thought was that if this foal had to be ‘captured’ she doesn’t look to be too concerned about it and not stressed.  Then I came across an image that really touched me, the image of Chris Miller (he works for the Department of Agriculture); his hands folded in front of him, him looking down walking next to the foal, no ropes, and no contact, just using his body language to take her up to and load her into the horse trailer.  They didn’t have to put a halter or rope on her, she loaded on her own.  I have my own opinions on why I believe this went so well, why there wasn’t much stress on this filly but they don’t really matter.

What does matter is that good guys, good employees who know and respect these animals DO still exist.  It is my understanding he responded when called to help and explained that since she is a wild mustang ‘he can’t give away what isn’t his’ regardless of who wanted to help her and I can understand and respect that.  I can tell by looking at the image that he cares about the horses, if he didn’t than this rescue would not have gone off as easily as it did and the foal might not have survived.

Loaded in the trailer without halter or ropes ~ looking for a safe haven.  Photos by Taylor James

Loaded in the trailer without halter or ropes ~ looking for a safe haven. Photos by Taylor James

Rather than focusing on all the horrible things that some people that work for government agencies do, I’d like to take a moment to recognize and thank an individual for taking the time to care for one of these wild horses.  Thank you Chris Miller for taking time out of your day to help in the rescue of this scared, wild foal.  It’s nice to know there are still great guys doing what you do; I appreciate it, that little filly appreciates it.  From what I’ve read since her rescue there will be numerous people in line waiting to adopt her and that’s a wonderful thing.

Taylor, thank you for working on documenting the mustangs and bringing light to the help they so need.  This little filly is lucky you spotted her that day and didn’t give up on her.   Seeing all the responses to your post were wonderful, to see all the people working together, networking to help you and her was amazing!  Things were done right and no laws were broken.  Great job!

Swelling has gone down, her eyes aren't so big and round and she isn't alone anymore.  Photographer unknown

Swelling has gone down, her eyes aren’t so big and round and she isn’t alone anymore. Photographer unknown

Many of us have written numerous emails and letters to government agencies to stop these inhumane round ups and taking public lands from the wild horses only to give them to corporations, industries and livestock where a profit is made.  I’m not asking that you stop by any means and I’m glad that you have.  I’m hoping that you will take the same time to write a positive note to the same agencies letting them know how you appreciate people like Chris doing what he does.  If we can find, recognize and appreciate more people like Chris and like the people at the BLM office we met with the other day than maybe we can find ways to work together to find positive solutions to wild horse and wildlife management.  Keep in mind that our ‘issues’ are not with most of the employees who are out in the field but rather the politicians higher up the food chain that are giving the directives and making poor choices depending on what is going to profit and benefit them.

 Nevada Department of Agriculture
405 S 21st Street
Sparks, NV 89431
Jim Barbee – Director

More info to follow regarding the meeting with the BLM and the Sand Wash Basin horses from last weekend, including notes from the meeting.  This seemed to be far more important at the moment.

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 ( 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.