It had been a long day of looking for horses with no luck. The high deserts of southwest Wyoming can sometimes feel like endless road after road after road. Rolling hills and sagebrush for miles. The occasional oil rig, hillsides covered with junipers. There are so many canyons and hiding places for horses it can sometimes feel hopeless to even try. But I do anyway because I love it! And I love being out in the middle of nowhere.
Me and my buddy Dustin, who I invited to go with me on this trip, were eating a late lunch of chips and queso and washing it down with a beer. When I go on these trips, the accommodations are not that great. Most of the time, I sleep under a truck shell in the back of my truck. I throw a piece of foam out and a sleeping bag and call it good. I don’t need much now, but I have long-term goals of getting more creature comforts. Maybe a camper and a side-by-side with heat. That would be amazing! The food situation is hit-and-miss at best. I would just much rather be taking pictures than worrying about cooking and eating. I eat a lot of beef jerky.
Part of the fun for me is looking for horses. Especially when I’m in new territory, which I’ve never been before. I like the excitement of not knowing what you’re going to see. For example, I had never been to the Salt Well’s Herd Management Area before, and I follow other photographers on social media who take images of the horses there. They are neat-looking horses; I had to go!
The downside of exploring new territory is I have no idea where to look for horses. When we pulled off the highway into the HMA we found a place to camp, which just happened to be next to a big water hole. We had a few hours of daylight, so we decided to see what we could find. I unloaded the side by side and headed east. No horses. The following day we got up and decided to go in the same direction but to take a different road and see where it took us. We must have driven around for seventy miles by the time we got back to camp. We saw some neat country, but no horses.
Back to eating chips and dip on the tailgate of my truck, I was hungry and focused on what I was doing when Dustin said to me, “Hover, look to your left.” So I looked left, and I couldn’t believe what I saw. We had driven all those miles the last few days looking for horses, and here they were, a massive band of them running into camp and the waterhole to get a drink.
It took me a half second to compute what was going on. Then I dropped the chips in my hand and ran for my camera! While they were watering for the next fifteen minutes, I took as many images as possible before they wandered back off to the range.
I hope everyone is doing well. I am always happy to be through the holidays and past the year’s shortest day. There might still be a lot of winter left, but at least it’s staying lighter longer! Winters are good and bad for me. On the one hand, I like them for the extra time I get in my office editing images learning new techniques in Lightroom and Photoshop. I read a little more and catch up on movies I’ve wanted to see. Drink a lot of coffee; The downside is I’m not much of a fan of cold weather. I think the biggest reason I’m not a fan is I don”t have anything I like to do in the winter. Winter sports aren’t my thing. I don’t have much interest if it doesn’t have something to do with a horse or a trout. Even though I’m not as active in the outdoors this time of year, the one thing I can still do is visit the Onaqui wild horses in Utah’s West Desert.
It’s a beautiful place in the winter I’ve been out a couple of times this month. I went out on the 2nd and the 17th. When I went out on the 2nd, Northern Utah had gotten some consistent moisture for a couple of weeks before. I’ve been going out there for the last five or six years in the winter and have not ever seen that much snow. I think it topped out at 10 degrees for a high. The horses were hard to find, I never did see the north herd. And it took me most of the day to find a little band of bachelors on the south end of the herd management area. As cold as the day was I had a good time. I love being in the middle of nowhere all by myself.
When I went out on the 17th it was still cold but it managed to get up into the 30’s and low 40’s. I was surprised that ninety percent of the snow that was out there two weeks before had melted. I was lucky enough to find the main herd early enough in the day I was able to spend a lot of time with them. They are still doing well. All the moisture the range got last summer and fall has sure helped them stay in good flesh this winter.
My goal this year is to go to some new herd management areas across the west. There is a significant advantage to sticking to photographing the Onaqui’s. I know where to look for them, know their tendencies, and know the horses as individuals better. And they will always be my go-to’s and the horses I photograph the most. But I want to explore and see as much of the American west as I can, chasing and photographing wild horses. I always want to see what’s around the next bend or over the next ridge. Hunting for cool-looking horses gets my blood pumping! I also plan to tell the stories from those adventures for content for these newsletters/emails.
Whenever I go out to photograph the Onaqui’s in Utah’s west desert I try not to have a preconceived idea about what kind of photographs I’m going to get. I never know what story is going to present itself. I’ve had days where I spend all day out there and only get a few keeper images, and other days where all day is a productive day.
This particular day took on a life of its own and was very productive! It was the first part of October. I like going out in the fall because it’s cooler. (But I am more than happy to go out any day I can no matter the time of year!). And if I’m lucky I will get some exciting weather to go with it! Bluebird skies are by far my least favorite conditions. And the more clouds in the sky for the sunset or sunrise the better!
When I first found the horses there wasn’t much going on. They were quietly grazing just doing what horses do most of the time. When out of the blue a lone stallion came running towards the herd whinnying and carrying on. He hit the herd like a bowling ball, scattering horses everywhere! The bachelors circled him and pretty soon he was fighting any horse that would fight him! I’m not positive where he came from, because I’ve never seen him before. And neither has my other photographer friends. There are other wild horses in other Herd Management Areas around the Onaqui’s but they are not very close. But that doesn’t mean they can’t venture off looking for other herds.
As far as the behavior he was exhibiting, I can only assume it was his way of coming into the herd and establishing himself amongst them, and putting them on notice that he intends to steal mares and create his own band. I’ve decided to call him Conner, after the MMA fighter, Conner McGregor. He’s one of the toughest horses I’ve ever seen out there!!
I don’t always get to see things this exciting all the time. It’s unique to have something like this happen when I’m on the range.
“It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.” ~ J.K. Rowling
A couple of weeks ago, I posted how I was going to start sending out a newsletter/blog again on my social media. I don’t have any good excuse for why I haven’t been sending one out the last couple of months other than I have been swamped. My aspiring photography career has to battle it out with my farrier business for the time. And at the end of the day, there is only so much!
My goal with it is to provide you with content that will give you an out for a brief time during your day when you’re looking through emails. I have emails I get throughout the week that I am excited to read when I see them. It’s a nice respite from the daily grind. It will be a lot like my posts on social media, Images, stories, updates on what I’ve been up to. I’m sure it will evolve over time. So we’ll see where it goes.
I’m not real good with the names of the Onaqui’s. But I know the horses pretty well. The buckskin in the Image was trying to be what I like to call the Lieutenant stallion to the black horse’s band. Most wild horse bands have more than one stallion in them, but there is always a dominant stallion who is in charge and gets the right to breed the mares.
The buckskin was helping fight off an attempt from another stallion to steal mares from the black horse’s band. Then he would come back to the band and get in a fight with the black horse. I’m not exactly certain of the dynamics of what was going on between all of them. But since then the buckskin has not been with that herd. In fact, he had gone missing for a period of time. Now when I see him he tends to be off by himself and not with the big herd.