May 5, 2008


Seems like wild horse images are everywhere these days. It has become kind of a fad to pay money to a guide in Colorado or Wyoming for a chance to see and/or photograph wild horses being wild horses. I'm no exception.... well except for the paying money part of it. I'm lucky enough to have plenty of wild horses not too far away. The truth is, if you live anywhere in the western part of the United States, chances are there are some nearby. Often it's the feral horses of the reservations that are wild. While many may not consider them truly wild, for horse behavior's sake, they might as well be. Chances are they've been living wild for at least a few generations and it doesn't take very long for a domestic horse to figure it out or die.

New Mexico is just not that well known for it's wild horses, but they are all over the place. Most of them are on reservation land in the western half of the state. There are also a few herds of real government-managed wild horses. The herd I occasionally visit and photograph is on National Forest land and is one of the only herds managed by the National Forest Service. The forest also is on one of the largest Natural Gas reservoirs in the US so the horses see a lot of vehicle and heavy equipment traffic. They pretty much ignore all the vehicular traffic.... unless it stops to stare at them for too long! They thrive on all the extra grazing that the replanted pipelines and well pads give them and the soft ground for a good dirt bath is offered in the sand roads and well pads as well. Another thing that makes photographing this wild herd unique is that there are trees. It IS a National Forest, after all.

With the horses being in a forested area, it can make it a lot more difficult to photograph them well and get nice clear shots. You just can't break out the Really Big Lens and star blasting away over the usual sagebrush covered plains of the Colorado and Wyoming herds. While they are not very concerned by moving vehicular traffic, they are also not as used to being looked at by people as the popular Wyoming and Colorado herds so once you stop for more than a few moments or you get out of your vehicle, they are often gone in a flash. Occasionally you get lucky and find a band that isn't as shy. Well, that's if you can find a band at all! The trees and brush is thick enough that often you never see any at all.

This weekend I got lucky. I found several small bands, some in the open and some in the trees very close to the road. I was hoping to see some foals and I did find one. I saw 3 more mares in various bands that are getting ready to foal and at least 2 bachelor bands. The bachelors seem to hang in groups of two. One of the bands did allow me to get out of the car and walk a little ways towards them with the stallion making darned sure he stayed between me and his harem. I was careful not to press too much as I didn't want them to spook and run away. Another very shy band was deep in ponderosa pines. It was challenging to get a clear shot of them through all the trees.

I spent a little time also looking at their hoof prints in the sand roads. I have been studying and learning about horses feet and farrier work and I find it very interesting that none of these wild horses feet are shaped anything like what most of the domestic horse world considers ideal with their pretty oval, narrow-heeled, overly long hooves and toes. Even the bittiest of baby prints showed very round, not oval, hooves.