Photo Adventures with Wild Horses

Ok, I know some might quibble with me calling them “wild” rather than “feral,” but whatever. They’re one of the oldest herds in America and have been surviving hurricanes and island living for centuries and I’m calling them wild. Nnnyaaaah.

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I’m back from a trip to Beaufort, NC where I spent a week photographing the wild horses that live at Rachel Carson Reserve. The workshop was led by Jared Lloyd, and was a triumvirate of fun, informative, and exhausting, but in a good way. I heard some interest about prints, and I have a bare-bones website (https://jaimeomayer.smugmug.com) up if people would like to peruse some of the “picks” I’ve accumulated.

There were two other lovely ladies on the workshop with me, and we were fortunate to be based out of a house on Front Street, which runs right alongside a narrow creek that separates “Carrot Island” from the residential area. Several times you could look across the street and see horses out grazing. It also meant that we had a nice and short walk from the house to the boat. Jared is a fun guy and is both an excellent teacher and photographer, and all four of us got along well. Which was great, because those 5am jaunts out to watch the horses sleep all morning could’ve been really awkward otherwise!

There are around 40+ horses at Rachel Carson, with what seemed like half of them being what I came to think of as the “waterhole herd.” There are several spots on the island where the horses have dug down for drinkable water (the photos of horses in water is actually saltwater from when the tide comes in and floods a big section of the island), but the waterhole herd tended to hang out around an area that has fresh water on a (relatively) consistent basis. Jared had referred to the waterhole herd as a bit atypical for wild horses, and after being around them (and the others on the island), you can see it. There were three separate harems in the waterhole herd, but they’re all more or less ok with living in close proximity to one another and hang around as one big herd. There were still squabbles…

…especially if one of the stallions decided to test his luck and try to get too close to one of the other guys’ mares, but overall they live together with a weird truce in place.

They dig down pretty deep!

Contrast that against the more typical, “fringe” herds, who tended to have much smaller harems (2-4 others compared to anywhere from 5-8 of the waterhole stallions), and kept their distance from each other as much as possible. The fringe groups were much more watchful and on alert if they saw other horses, and tended to keep to themselves. However, they all need to drink water daily, and that sometimes meant coming into close contact.

One of the fringe stallions is Wavelength, who lost his mares to a stallion called Cyclops (he only has one eye) last year. Wavelength is interesting because his staked out territory is along the coast all the way across the island from where the waterhole herd tends to hang out, and he swims out to grazing areas rather than walk the long way around.  For him, we did all of our photographing from the boat, which made for some cool shots with high key water/sky backgrounds.

We got excited because near the end of our trip, Wavelength appeared to have gotten one of his girls back from Cyclops. Yay! But, wild horses, remember? We also had the sad privilege to see him lose her the following day. They headed inland for water, and by the time we zipped around in the boat and got out to try and photograph them at their waterhole (a different one from the waterhole herd), Cyclops had reclaimed her and Wavelength was far off, swimming back to his marshy area. Hard to say what happened for certain, but we were guessing that the mare got too far in front of Wavelength and at some point he decided it wasn’t worth it to fight Cyclops again and headed back. Cue the David Attenborough narration about the instinct to breed being a constant struggle, and one that this little horse has lost.

HoofprintsWhat you can’t really tell from the photo without something better for reference, is that these horses (ponies really, 11-maybe 15h (I didn’t see anyone on Carrot Island that tall)) have huge hooves for their size. They’re short, stout, and built to last for island living.

We had a bit of a slow week compared to Jared’s previous workshops, as the horses tended to hang out around the waterhole for most of the morning. They got a little friskier in the afternoon, but not as much action as one might have hoped for. Then again, that’s how we knew we were photographing wildlife. Getting up before sunrise and spending the next few hours out sitting with the horses was a nice change for me from sitting behind a computer for most of the day. Crouching in the water when the tide was up, fighting off the evil little snails that have a sneaky way of getting into your shoes…yea, not so much. But being in the water and photographing the horses moving through it is what makes these particular herds so unique.

I have another photo workshop at the Palouse with the folks behind Muench Workshops in early June, so hopefully I’ll have some nice landscape photos to show y’all in a few weeks. I thought I’d have more time to write during the off-hours on the photo workshop, and I guess I did have the time but lacked the energy. Very little progress was made on the novel. I even took a nap! I hate naps. However, I got a lot of reading done. Perhaps Palouse will be different. Meanwhile, I’m trying to churn out some words while I’m home.

 

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