Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Horses in the Wild
It was a cold morning, but the sky was clear and you could count the stars with the greatest of ease. The sun was rising, but all we could see was the glow behind the mountains off to the east. The Red Desert at five o’clock in the morning is something that cannot be justified with words or rarely even with photographs. It is amazingly quiet with a freshness to its being. The desert is honestly in its prime, in this moment.
Driving down the blacktop towards the entrance to the desert floor, I am looking off to the east and then glancing to the west. I am amazed at the difference in the dark and light of both directions. This is very much the yin and yang I would like to know. Without the East, we cannot have the West and the reverse. They are equaled but yet still very different. Dark and light exist together at this moment; we are experiencing them both. Side by side we have the welcomed warmth of the rising sun just over the horizon, and off to the West, we still have the cold dark of night as if we are staring into frigid ocean waters with the threat of falling in. The light brings out all that we wish to see, and at the same time all things reality throws our way, just as the darkness offers excitement of the unknown as well as the feeling of walking with your eyes closed. These are the parallels between two worlds that exist just north of the Little Snake River Valley and Baggs, Wyoming.
If there is truly a heaven on earth, then at this time and in this place…….it is the Red Desert, home of the antelope, the prairie dog, the massive golden eagle and my friend, the horse. We enter heaven as we hit the cattle guard and head west on Standard road in the desert, twenty-five miles north of town. When you live in this part of the world, there are no distractions for man or for Mother Nature. The sun is on the rise and we are doing our best to get deep into the country before the sun is above us. Cecilia and I had been out the previous afternoon walking amongst the horses and we wanted to come out before sunrise to film and photograph during the pre-dawn. We knew the horses would be there, everywhere, but not sure how many groups. We almost needed blinders because we were eager to find the white stallion we spent time with the day before. We practically had to wade through horses in order to get back to his area while we still had time before el sol.
A little back story: Sunday afternoon, we drove out to the desert to look for horses so we could take some photographs, video and to just plain look at them. If we could’ve, we would’ve jumped on them bareback and ridden around the desert looking for more horses, or chased antelope across the sage flats! Anyway, we came upon a small group of horses near the road that were rather accommodating and very much not afraid of us, the truck, the cameras, or even Luli (our dog). We literally had the chance to get to know this young stallion and his family whish consisted of an old grey mare, three of her offspring and one on the way. The stallion was so clean and healthy and very kind. He appeared as if he belonged to someone. It was as if he was brushed daily, blanketed at night to keep his coat slick, and reminded daily of what his manners should be as a stallion amongst people. We had a great time with him and his clan. They even thought well enough of Luli to walk up and give her a once over. We had made friends of them and at that moment it made me realize something…….these are not wild horses, these are horses living in the wild! They do what they have to to survive and they accept us for who we are. I believe we shared a mutual understanding and respect for one another that afternoon. This stallion displayed enormous potential as a sire as well as a performance horse in the equine industry. It was as if his potential and his chance to show the world what he was made of could never be known. Yes, he is majestic out in the wild and he shows wild beauty that so many people think of, but when does it become a side show display of folklore and mystic tale? The fact that we are fighting over gathering or not gathering horses from the wild only cheapens the actual living, breathing west. These horses are sons and daughters of horses once owned by men and ranches who respected horses, who took care of them, who bred them, who loved them. It is as if now we have the Wild West Show all over again for all to see. The West is all bottled up in the wild, and no one is looking; but I am. These horses are legitimate and real. They deserve respect and honor, and between horse and man, we can share a legacy.
We did find the white stallion where he had been the day before and he and his brood were again very good to us. These horses did not act wild as animals do in the wild. They were curious and kind and friendly. They showed patience in us being there and when they had enough they simply walked away. When we think of wild animals in the desert, we think of deer, bear, lions and all of the other creatures that we read about. Do you think of horses when you think of wild animals? When I think of horses in the wild, I think of an evolution of horses from the time when our society truly relied on horses. We needed horses of every shape and size to help us in establishing a foothold in this great country of ours. Like so many things, once we used them up or simply found another way (sometimes not a better way) to do things, we just threw them away. We basically littered the West with unwanted material. If one has to place human characteristics on horses, then this is mine: Imagine how it feels to be laid off from your job, imagine sitting the bench and knowing you are never going to be used again……that is what happened to the horse! From the earliest of days, we dubbed the horse as the beast of burden; we used and relied on them for everything. They were created for our use, our enjoyment. We used them to pull our wagons, to gather maverick cattle from the depths of South Texas and trail them north. We used them in our coal mines and on our ranches and then we used them for our enjoyment as well. As if riding twenty miles to town horseback was not enough, we would spend the rest of the night in rodeo events on that same horse and then ride home! We worked with them, along side them and we enjoyed their company. Our worlds evolved around horses. Slowly we started downsizing and breeding and the horse world changed forever.
The horse world today is divided and specialized and full of many personality types and egos. Everyone sees an opportunity and they do whatever it takes to capitalize on what they see and what they dream of. I see an opportunity to take an endless supply of horses coming out of the wild and giving them the chance to comeback. We turned our backs on them so long ago and I do believe we owe them something, I believe we owe them a great deal! The white stallion is not a mustang, or a wild horse, he is a horse living in the wild. He represents horses coming out of the wild. He is not a side show attraction or a zoo exhibit, he is real and he represents something that can be very real.