Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Hee Haw Gang

I love mules and donkeys, how could you not! They are such characters and so full of personality, and those long ears are just begging to be petted. Years ago we had a mule in our family named Dan who was a fixture here for many years until he died well into his thirties. After he died I knew more long ears would eventually come back into my life and it finally happened this past September when a long time client asked me if I would be interested in taking over the care of five donkeys, affectionately known as The Hee Haw Donkey Gang (yes, they have their own facebook page!). How could I say no!

The gang arrived in September and have been entertaining us ever since with their silly antics and (loud) and funny singing. The gang consists of two jennies, most likely sisters as they are very hard to tell apart, and they are called Minnie Pearl and Barbi Benton. Then there are three boys, their sons, and probably all by the same jack. They are called Junior Samples, Roy Clark and Buck Owens.

We have come to learn that donkeys are much different from horses in many of their behaviors and are fascinating to watch. I understand now why they are so valued for guarding herds of sheep and goats as they are always on alert and do not tolerate dogs in their pasture. They seem to be much more reactive and flighty than horses when out in pastures and there is not much that escapes their attention. They also seem to really love the more coarse vegetation such as blackberry brambles and tree branches that horses never touch. Their extra sensitive ears also make them react to music as you can see by this video from when my daughter was home and she and her friend Ryan serenaded them with violin and saxophone! We had a lot of laughs creating this video, and I am inspired to try it again. As you can see Roy is the outgoing on of the group!
The gang is a fun addition to our farm and also a good subject for me to photograph. Donkeys are always bound to bring you a smile!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Delaware County Fair

Today I am going to share some images from an event that takes place in my own back yard. The Delaware County Fair is one of the oldest agricultural fairs in the country and well known for it's farm shows and exhibits. Our little town gets visitors from around the world during fair week!

The fair barns are full of all types of livestock from rabbits and poultry to cows, goats, sheep and of course horses. My own daughters showed goats and chickens through the 4H program at the fair and it is a wonderful experience for kids to learn the responsibility and joys of animal husbandry. They are now grown up but I know fair week has a special place in their hearts with many special memories.

I return every year to the fair to see the horses that come from around the state to compete in the horse shows that run every day of the week. From miniature horses to team penning, gymkhana and barrel racing to draft horse hitches and pony pulling there is always something horse related going on.

Here are my galleries from the horse show and draft horse show.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Wild Horses of the American West

These lucky "Three Strikes" geldings have found
the end of the rainbow at the Deerwood
Wild Mustang Sanctuary where they
will safely live out their lives.
Last week I shared some of my galleries from my travels to the wild horse management areas in Colorado and Wyoming. While there is a lot of controversy surrounding the BLM and their management of the mustangs the facts are that many horses are being removed from public lands every year. Right now there are approximately 49,000 horses and burros on BLM land, but this does not account for horses on non BLM land: state land with wild and feral horses, Indian ponies that run wild on state land, domestic horses that have been turned loose and now are feral and often reproducing. It is a very complicated and emotional issue with no easy answers or solutions. Many of these horses do not have access to adequate forage or water, especially during times of drought.

The horses that come off the ranges in the BLM gathers are held in short and long term BLM holding facilities such as this one in Rock Springs, Wyoming. Ironically, the White Mountain HMA literally overlooks the Rock Springs holding facilities.
The long and short term holding facilities house around 50,000 wild horses and burros, with only a small percentage of these being successfully adopted.
 In 2012 I visited the Palomino Valley Wild Horse and Burro facility north of Reno and wrote the following entry in my blog after my visit there.

A lovely mare awaiting her
fate at the Rock Springs,
Wyoming BLM corrals.
One of the many
quality horses
available at the Mantle
Ranch, Wheatland,
The sad fact is that there are more horses in the holding facilities than there are people willing or qualified to adopt them. The BLM holds adoption events around the country as well as online adoptions, however I find that they are not well publicized and many potential adopters are sometimes not even aware of them. Raising awareness and getting the word out about adoptions and available horses is critical.

Horses that have been at three adoption events and have been passed over are then considered unadoptable and tagged as three strikes horses. These horses have special brands that designate them as three strikers and are then shipped to long term holding facilities in the mid west, or to sanctuaries that have room for them.

Trainer Steve Mantle at his ranch in Wheatland.
While the facts and the future look bleak for the wild horses there are many programs and people working to find solutions in both the care and management of the three strikers as well as making the horses more adoptable. The Mustang Heritage Foundation has launched a trainer incentive program (TIP) to bridge the gap between potential adopters and the mustangs in addition to the very popular Extreme Mustang Makeover gets horses into the public eye.

There are also many pages and groups on facebook such as The Modern Mustangers who network to get horses seen, adopted and shipped. Please check my link list below to visit the many sites and pages that are all working to help the horses.

In August of 2014 I spent a day with Steve Mantle at the Mantle Ranch in Wyoming. Steve is one of the original trainers to work with the BLM to gentle and train mustangs and get them adopted. I also visited the Deerwood Ranch Wild Horse EcoSanctuary in Wyoming where three hundred three strikes geldings live together on 4700 acres. There are also other sanctuaries such as Cimarron Sky Dog, Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary, Return to Freedom to name a few. These places usually welcome visitors and can always benefit from donations to support their work.
Often overlooked,
don't forget there
are also burros available
I found these in the Rock Springs,
Wyoming BLM corrals
The BLM also has a program that works with prison inmates to gentle and train mustangs.

From what I have seen during my travels and learned from the people who are on the front lines I feel that the best we can do to help the wild horses is to work on networking to help the horses that are in the holding pens, as well as support the sanctuaries. I would also like to see more use of birth control as well as gelding the older stallions and then turning them back out to live out their lives in freedom. The older stallions that wind up in the pens have a very poor chance of being successfully adopted and with the life span of 30 years that is a long time for a horse to live in the pens if he is not lucky enough to wind up at a sanctuary. While the sentiment to "let them all run free" is a nice one it is not realistic. Instead of demonizing and attacking the BLM and their practices we all need to work together to help the horses most at risk, and those are the ones that for whatever reason, be it too old, not pretty enough or just slipping through the cracks have now become an "unadoptable" three strikes horse.

Please visit these links to learn more and get involved. Thank you for reading and helping!
A stallion enjoying his freedom on
the White Mountain HMA, Wyoming

BLM Wild Horse and Burros
BLM Adoption Schedule
Wild Horse Inmate Program

Mantle Ranch, Wyoming
Deerwood Ranch Wild Horse EcoSanctuary, Wyoming
Cimarron Sky Dog Sanctuary, New Mexico
Return to Freedom, California

Mustang Heritage Foundation
The Cloud Foundation
Wild Horse Preservation Campaign
Canon City Mustangs

Facebook Pages
The Modern Mustanger
Adopt a living Legend
Wild Horse Mentor Program
Mustang Classified
Full Moon Rising Badlands and Nokota Horses
Mustang Meg
Canon City Mustangs

Friday, December 26, 2014

Photographing Wild Horses

Stallions scuffle in the Sand Wash Basin
I have been visiting the wild horse ranges in the west since 2006. It is impossible for anyone to really understand the scale and grandeur of these places unless they have visited, photos just don't seem to do it justice! Even more amazing to me is how healthy the horses look on such seemingly barren and dry landscapes. These horses are incredibly tough and hardy and it is truly survival of the fittest in this harsh and unforgiving environment.

A Mcculloughs Peaks stallion with wind knots
and a desert flower in his mane.
Every year when I go to Colorado I make a point to get out to the Sand Wash Basin at least once. This area is well documented by many photographers as it has fairly easy access and the roads are passable as long as it is dry and you have a high clearance vehicle. Maps of the area will keep you from getting lost! Plan to spend the day, bring plenty of water, snacks, sun screen and comfortable footwear. Because you will be many miles away from civilization a spare tire and the ability to change a flat is also useful!

A battle scarred stallion on
White Mountain
As with most HMA's (Herd Management Areas) you are never guaranteed to see horses, sometimes they may be way off in the distance, but the water holes are always a good bet. In the spring when the babies arrive and there is stallion action and lots of dynamic herd behavior is always a good bet for exciting photos. Long lenses are called for here, as well as staying a good distance away and not approaching them is critical for your safety and their survival.

In 2014 I visited the McCulloughs Peaks herd in Wyoming and spent some time on White Mountain near Rocks Springs, Wyoming. This gallery is from my visit to the Sand Wash. To get an idea of where to find the HMA's you will find the BLM website to be a good resource. If you are ever out west and love wild places then make the time for a visit, and maybe you will be lucky enough to see the wild ones, it is an experience that you will always remember.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Arizona in Winter

Last winter I was lucky enough to travel to Arizona to take a break from the long northeast winter. This was the second year I stayed at the lovely Flying E Ranch outside of Wickenburg.

If you are looking for a perfect winter get away I highly recommend this guest ranch! If you are lucky you may spot a bobcat, coyote or owl, and can explore the desert on horse back. In the morning and evening the horses are run to and from the barn and the cowboys are always happy to accommodate requests! Cowboy Johnny Lucas (pictured above) has a great look as well as a wonderful singing voice that we thoroughly enjoyed as he serenaded us with cowboy songs one evening. Thanks to Johnny I discovered singer Dave Stamey and am now a fan!

The nearby Rancho de los Caballeros also runs their herd to and from the barn and pasture twice a day and their colorful herd is easily photographed and viewed from a handy viewing platform.

Wickenburg has become a mecca for team roping and at any given time during the winter there can be several roping events going on in the area. There are always so many photo ops when shooting this kind of event, and it is good to just soak up the winter sun for a while this time of year. While in the area make sure you also check in at this wonderful western museum!

Wickenburg and the state of Arizona are a great winter destination with plenty of blue sky and sunshine, interesting places to visit and lots of horse activities to enjoy!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Babies and the Big Valley

One fairly recent discovery I have made is the Big Valley in Pennsylvania.

I make an effort to visit this area at least once or twice a year, the Amish lifestyle is fascinating to me and it is always a treat for me to see this beautiful part of the world.

While most people think about the Lancaster area when the Amish are mentioned I have found this area far more unspoiled and picturesque. In the spring the fields are full of working teams planting and haying and the lovely farms and well tended fields are always a feast for the eyes.

 You never know what you may find around the next corner and I always feel like I have stepped back in time when I have spent some time here.

With more and more farms and all the accompanying land becoming abandoned and derelict it gives me faith that there are still people who steward the land and keep old traditions alive.

Here is a gallery of images from this year's visits to the area, and also a gallery of foal images (password: foalgallery). The Big Valley gallery has images of early spring (March) planting as well as June haying and field work. The password for the foal gallery is foalgallery.

For more information on the Amish this is an excellent site.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Year End Round Up!

Another busy year is almost behind us. It has been a busy one again, with some amazing trips, new friends and places discovered as well as some losses that are part of life and loving and caring for animals. As much as it hurts I could not imagine not sharing my life with animals, they enrich us in so many ways, make life worth living and remind us of what is truly important.

Over the next few weeks I am going to share my 2014 travels with you as well as galleries and favorite images from my trips. I hope you will enjoy them and please get in touch if you are interested in purchasing a photo (all my images are for sale!) or would like to discuss a visit.

Winter at the McCulloughs Peaks HMA, Wyoming

I am going to start with my winter trip to Wyoming last February. Wyoming is rapidly becoming one of my favorite places to visit with it's variety of amazing and unspoiled landscapes, friendly people who make you feel at home and no shortage of photo opportunities when it comes to spectacular landscapes and the western lifestyle, from rodeo and ranch work to wild horses. I always look forward to my travels there and know that I will be treated to a few new hidden gems and surprises.

In February I made my first trip to The Hideout Ranch in Shell, Wyoming to run a photography workshop for the Equine Photographers Network. Situated at the base of the Bighorn Mountains this ranch has stunning and iconic back drops wherever you turn and the hospitality, food and accommodations were first class all the way. The small group of women who participated were so much fun to shoot with and we enjoyed every minute of our time at this special place.

I have a gallery of favorite images from last years workshop here and look forward to returning again in February. Though it may be cold you will be treated to amazing winter light, blue skies and scenery that most photographers only dream of!