Wild hoofbeats

 

Loving the

 

 

free

 

&

 

wild spirit

 

America’s vanishing, wild horses have become Carol Walker’s most treasured subjects to photograph. In fact, they’ve had such an impact in her life that she not only documents them – she’s also adopted three colts while she plans to set up a sanctuary in Wyoming and Montana.

 

By Camilla Alfthan, all photos by Carol Walker

 

“Adobe Town, Salt Wells and Great Divide Basin are home to the largest free-roaming wild horse herds left in Wyoming,” says Carol Walker who has photographed the southwestern Wyoming herds for 10 years. “Genetic tests link the Adobe Town herd to horses re-introduced to the America’s by the Spanish in the 1500s. Great Divide Basin wild horses are descended from Cavalry remounts. To lose the wild horses in this vast landscape known by local residents as the ‘Big Empty’ would be to lose touch with our western history, heritage, and the untamed spirit of the West.”

 

For how long have you been photographing wild horses? 

 

I have been photographing wildlife around the world for over 35 years, and in 2000, I started a business photographing horses. A friend of mine told me in 2004 that I should be photographing wild horses, and I did not know anything about them.  A month later I received an email from someone leading tours to photograph wild horses in the Red Desert of Wyoming. I immediately called him and signed up. He took me to the Adobe Town Herd Area in Wyoming, and the first day as we drove around the dramatic, dry high desert landscape we saw over 150 wild horses, very well adapted to their environment, and very skittish.  When we approached a wild family lying down to take a nap, and the older stallion ran toward me, then stopped and watched me, I fell in love with these horses. After that first trip, I went out to Adobe Town every month, and the horses in that area, who were used to seeing trucks fly by on the roads to oil wells but not used to people, several family bands became used to me and would allow me to watch them and photograph them. I would approach, then sit quietly and watch them. Most of the horses that I followed in 2004 and 2005 were rounded up and removed in August of 2005. It was heartbreaking for me to see these horses I had grown to know taken from their families and their freedom forever.

 

What are the differences between photographing wild horses as opposed to domestic horses? 

 

One of the biggest differences is that with domestic horses, I can tell the handler to move the horse in a particular place, and set up a shot.  I can get them to move the horse, or stand in a particular place and I can use a shorter lens because the horse is close to me.

In the wild, I have to wait sometimes for many hours hoping that wild horses will move to a waterhole, or will wake up from a nap, and much of it is being in the right place at the right time. I use a long lens so that I do not need to intrude upon them, and over time I get to know the habits of the horses, and can predict what their behavior will be, and so I can put myself in the right position to capture that behavior.  For example, I might see a bachelor stallion (a younger stallion usually, without a family) approaching an older stallion’s family, and in many cases, the older stallion will posture and strike and even fight to drive the intruder away, especially during breeding season.

I also like to sit and wait for a wild horse family to wake up from a nap, because the young foals might play, or go nurse after waking up.

 

What was your most difficult story?

 

The most difficult thing I ever captured on film and wrote about was the first roundup I attended, of the horses in Adobe Town who lost their freedom.  There was an older stallion I had gotten to know who I called the Red Roan stallion, the BLM aged him at 22 years. I saw him on every trip, he had a small family and was a gentle horse who was very loving with his mare and foals. When they decided that they would remove the older horses and he was loaded onto the huge transport truck, it was devastating to me. I could not look at the photos of that roundup for over four months. But I wrote about it in my book Wild Hoofbeats.

 

Which one are you most proud of ?

 

I am very proud of a story I did to help the horses int he Pryor Mountains of Montana. I was up there at the same time as Ginger Kathrens, and we heard from a visitor to the mountain that a foal had gotten separated from its mother and was stuck in a fenced area, called and exclosure.

 

“These horses are not starving to death –they are beautiful, proud, magnificent beings that deserve to live out their lives in the land they are so well suited for.” 

 

We immediately went down there, and got the fence up so the foal, Cloud’s son Mato Ska, could be reunited with his mother Feldspar. When I returned home, I did a blog post on my Wild Hoofbeats blog with photos about the rescue asking people to write and call the Billings BLM and have them remove this dangerous exclosure and the others on the mountain. Their office was flooded with calls and emails, and they removed the fence within a week.

 

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