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.

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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.

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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.

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I’m Still Here

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

May 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your still here.

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First Adventure Back……….

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Fight for Wolves………….

2382I was really happy when I saw that another very active wolf supporting Facebook page shared my blog last week. It really helps keep me inspired and motivated and it lets me know that the work I want to do has not been for nothing. Due to last year’s wolf hunt and the loss of several of our valuable Yellowstone wolves in addition to wolves that we don’t know personally I made the decision last week not to share posts or images that give current locations of the Yellowstone or Grand Teton packs. I have to say that I believe that by the time we get that information and it is shared the wolves have moved on and are no longer there but it is just something that concerns me a bit. I also believe that the murderers who are after the Yellowstone wolves most likely know their location far better than we do and that the way they are choosing to hunt is not a sport; shooting an animal that has become habituated to people and lost fear of them is not a challenge and therefore not “hunting.”

Yesterday I received a message that a wolf hating Facebook group had gotten the support of the PBR (Professional Bull Riders) and that the PBR would be placing their stickers of hatred on the PBR trucks. I know many bull riders and rodeo people and I thought this was an odd thing for the PBR to be a part of. That’s a pretty large association for a small group of hateful people to claim to be a part of so I contacted PBR and asked. I was relieved to receive a quick response that confirmed what I thought and PBR is in the process of having that mis-informed statement made by that group removed. I have to say thank you to PBR. I can understand individuals having their own thoughts and opinions and that is their right but for an association like PBR to take that stance I was a bit concerned.

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Knowing that group has mis-informed the people that follow them makes me wonder what else that group has been mis-informing people about where wolves are concerned. I really believe if you are going to take a stand on an issue that you need to do your own research and seek your own knowledge and not be led by a group who is doing something based on hatred and spite. I do my best not to speak about something unless it’s a topic I know a lot about, something I’m passionate about and have done my own research to learn about; both the goods and the bads. If this group is willing to be dishonest about something like a large association supporting them what else have they mis-informed people about? That is really something important to think about.

Out of curiosity I visited their Facebook page and website; it is full of wolf hating products and comments which is what I expected. I was hoping to find a first and last name of the person behind it but it only had a first name so that I couldn’t find out any further information on them, that didn’t surprise me either. Of course the page goes on about elk hunting in Idaho and how the wolves are responsible for the population of elk declining since they were reintroduced; blah, blah and blah. I wonder if these same people believe that what the elk herds have done to the ecosystem in the Rocky Mountain National Park is okay and how much longer these herds will have food and will stay healthy when there are really no predators within the park to manage it? It isn’t a secret that there is already a serious problem and yet the park is hesitant to reintroduce wolves here and at the same time the public freaks out when the word “hunting” is tossed out. At the rate the elk population is growing it is obvious that something needs to be done it just depends on what makes more sense and sits better with the people. Keep in mind when the herds start to die of starvation or disease the blame will be placed on the ones who were not allowed to make a decision and no decision was acceptable.

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I visited Rocky Mountain National Park last week; I went moose hunting. I have to say I understand the adrenaline rush that hunters get and the excitement they feel when they find that big bull elk they are looking for. When I found the big bull moose I was looking for I was pretty excited, I took a few shots but sadly the willows were in the way and I missed the shot I was looking for. Then I realized I was surrounded by about 20 other people all trying to get that shot too and the excitement quickly ran out; this moose was habituated to people and really there was no challenge. I decided to leave and try to find a big bull who was more of a challenge. A little later while hiking I got the shot I’ve been wanting for awhile; my blood was racing, my heart pounding! I raised my arms for the shot! It was right there in a green open meadow, walking across, stopping occasionally on its way to a stream. It doesn’t get any better than this. It was so quiet and peaceful. Once it crossed the meadow I could barely stand still! This was going to be a winning shot. I quickly looked around and there was nobody there. This was perfect. When it jumped off the embankment and into the water my heart lept into my throat and I took the shot. Now it was a fair hunt; this moose was not habituated to people, wasn’t posing and was more of a challenge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thank you Legend of Lamar Valley

You ever have one of those weeks where when somebody says that “God only gives you what you can handle” makes you want to scream that God needs to find somebody else to pick on? I’ve had about 3 of those months now back to back. I really had to wonder what God was thinking when my father passed away in April; really!? Enough was enough. I’m more than happy to share the stage with somebody else. Add that to everything else that has been going on and saying I’ve had writer’s block is putting it very gently. Things have slowly been coming back around, and I do mean slowly. I’ve sat and stared at a blank paper for weeks now and nothing has come to me.

A couple of good friends and I took off to Yellowstone and the Tetons in May; a trip filled with mixed emotions but it is where I go to heal, a place my dad shared with me when I was a teenager, a place I love and a place I consider home. We had the trip of a lifetime. To say we saw wildlife is an understatement. Our days were filled with moose, grizzly and black bears, cubs, badgers, coyotes, bison calves, wild horses and most importantly……………wolves. I’m not sure what the reasons were behind such an amazing trip but we left feeling like three of the most blessed people on the planet. They had never been to the parks before, never seen wildlife like this and seeing the expressions and being able to share stories about these wonderful animals in the parks was wonderful.

A couple of days before we left the important, heart breaking news was the report of Daddy’s Girl (831F) being murdered by Bill Hoppe in Gardiner. I’m sorry if you feel “murder” is too strong a word to use but it’s true. Anyone who would knowingly leave out decaying animals in an area close to a national park known for grizzly bears and wolves so close to a tourist area is either a complete idiot or he knows exactly what he was wanting to do and how to do it. The fact that he forfeited the second permit he had was most likely simply because it occurred to him what he had just done to his business; after all it is mostly tourist money that sustains businesses in that area and most tourists there year round are there for one thing – to see wolves. I hate math, not a strong talent of mine, but even I can add this up.

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Daddy’s Girl (831F)was a Yellowstone radio collared wolf, I think it is safe to say that the biologists and wolf supporters know more about these wolves than most parent’s know about their teenage children. The data from the radio collar showed that she was nowhere near his livestock the night they were killed and since Mr. Hoppe decided to leave decaying carcasses lying around during some unseasonably warm weather pretty much promises that anything that eats meat, including domestic dogs, were sure to become curious and come around. If this isn’t “baiting” than it is irresponsible livestock management. Not only does it attract predators who have behaved like this in this area for hundreds of years longer than Mr. Hoppe has resided there, but it is also a breeding ground for disease which no responsible rancher would want to subject their healthy livestock to. Sadly Daddy’s Girl was in the wrong place at the wrong time, brought out by natural instincts to check on a decaying carcass where Mr. Hoppe had declared that anything resembling a canine was guilty and he murdered her. Lucky for his neighbors their family dogs weren’t out roaming that night or they would have been the guilty party.

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Hearing this news a couple of days before leaving on our trip was heart breaking. After seeing several images of her that photographers and wolf supporters posted I became very concerned that it was the wolf that I had encountered that changed my life a couple of years ago. I contacted several friends of mine and after doing some research we concluded that the wolf I knew was 831F’s sister, a year older. I was a bit relieved however it was short-lived. One evening we were on our way back to town when the Blacktail Pack was spotted. We watched them for over an hour, into dark, and we met a supporter who has done a lot of research on Yellowstone wolves over the years. We stood and chatted with Barbara once the Blacktail Pack left the area for a long time; out of the 60 or so remaining wolves in the park now only 27 are what they consider “visible” wolves. The remaining wolves are in remote sections of the park and seldom seen or noticed. To some that may not sound alarming but here is some additional information; Yellowstone is over 22 million acres. Place 27 wolves inside the park and calculate what sort of chance you have in being able to see a wolf. When there were over 200 wolves within the park boundaries the odds were greatly stacked against seeing wolves 3 years ago, now your chances are even far less. Everyone knows how much money wolves bring in to this area from wolf supporters who come to the parks just for them each year; it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that when people start to become discouraged because they can’t see wolves and after a period of time they will stop visiting. They will stop bringing their money and the only people this will hurt are the businesses that rely on them in the area (hotels, gas stations, restaraunts, etc). Bill Hoppe does not solely rely on livestock to make a living; he is actually an outfitter and owner of a guest ranch. Part of his livelihood was already affected by the ‘mistake’ he made. Imagine what not having visible wolves will do in a couple of years to these other business owners. It is sad that people like Mr. Hoppe who hate wolves for whatever reason, are so selfish and so wrapped up in that hatred, that they haven’t thought about what they are doing to other hard-working families who make a great deal of their livelihood taking care of visitors there to see wolves. Sadly they will start to lose revenue and start shutting their doors all because a few selfish people who they may not even know wanted revenge.

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I finally worked up enough courage and asked Barbara if she knew anything about “my wolf,” the older sister to 831F. She said that she had left the park a few months after I had seen her. They won’t say that she is deceased, she has simply dispersed. Several members of the Blacktail Pack are also reported as “dispersed.” They have not returned to the park after another member of their pack was murdered out of the park boundaries. Last year this pack was relatively large and provided well for their family; now the alpha male and female are the only ones remaining and it looks like they will not have pups this year. One carries the blood lines of the Druid Pack. I hope and pray that those lines can prove to be strong enough to overcome the odds and next year they are blessed with all strong and healthy pups; pups that will make the Blacktail area come alive with singing.

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Losing ’06 early this year was devastating, again – murdered outside of the park. There is no sport in the hunting of a collared or uncollared Yellowstone wolf. They are so accustomed to seeing people and have lost their natural shyness and are far from allusive. ’06 was very visible and would hunt and feed close to the roads as well as raise her family there. I remember seeing her before they would call her pack an official pack when the pups were first-born. I remember watching the two black males bring food back to the den from miles away when several live elk stood right at the den entrance. I remember checking on them every morning before dawn for over a week, hoping I would be able to see them without the help of a scope and how discouraged I was when it didn’t happen. Following her the next couple of years was simply an amazing blessing. The things she shared with and taught so many that had come to visit the park can never be replaced. She was a brave and strong girl and after seeing Spitfire several times in May, I’m happy to report that she is her momma’s daughter. ’06 taught her well.

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I am also a daddy’s girl. My dad taught me to fight for what I believe in, be honest, fair and respectful. He was a lifelong firefighter and arson investigator; loved the outdoors. When I came home back in May 2009 and told him I was selling my gorgeous, brand new home in California and moving so that I could be closer to Yellowstone and the wild animals I love because of a once in a lifetime chance encounter with a black wolf, he smiled and said he understood. I explained that I want to be closer to them so I can work harder to see they are protected, that people are educated about them and I wanted to write about them he encouraged me. Losing my dad hurt and it is taking time to regain my focus and continue that fight. There hasn’t been anything to write about that was or is more important than him and how much I miss him. And then last night out of the blue, Jann with Legends of Lamar Valley who doesn’t know me at all nor have I ever shared my writings with, cross posted a poem I wrote after my encounter with the black wolf. It reminded me why I left my place in California and moved to a strange place so far away from all I knew. To fight for the animals I love; the wolves and wild horses. The ones without a voice who are facing the most danger right now. The ones we have lost who have given so many so much. I’ve always wanted my dad to be proud of me and he always challenged me to succeed.

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Some may have taken away from us some wolves we loved, it hurts and we have lost our focus. Be warned however, soon we will find that focus again and we will find a way to come together to protect these wonderful animals who have as much right to be here as you do. We will renew our fight and we will be stronger than ever. I know this because I know my dad and now I have an angel watching over me and the wolves and he will see that we succeed.  Miss and love you dad.  Happy Father’s Day.

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.

Megan

Megan

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.

Kriszta

Kriszta

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!

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.

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

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.