My prior post, Wild horses Part 1, took you into the wonderful natural area of Harney County, in Oregon, where cattle, horses, and other creatures, large and small, roam and fly free. I had told you that we encountered horses not only from the South Steens Mountain Herd, but also the Palomino-Buttes Herd off of Highway 20 between Burns and Ripley.
Before I continue on with that, I wanted to post a couple of photographs I captured of another horse I saw on my way to look for the Kiger Mustangs (which I never saw). This horse was in the general area, but outside the boundaries. At first I thought he might be wild, but he ran towards me, although this could have been a protective move as he was with a mare that looked pregnant.
One thing about photographing these horses, is that you really aren’t that close to them, so many of the photographs I took (with a 100-400mm zoom lens on a full frame sensor) are unable to render a sharp closeup. As soon as they see you, they usually start to move away. This photo is a composite of this horse’s movement, which is beautiful.
The Bureau of Land Management in Oregon actively adopts many of these horses out, so after viewing the one prize photograph I got, he could have been one of these adopted horses. These horses, mares as well as the stallions, do show a lot of battle scars from living out in the harsh natural environment. The areas are very rocky, and in the winter, there is snow and not much to eat. Also, they tend to get into scuffles with each other.
I named this photograph “Resilience.” These horses are beautiful, and I love seeing them free, but it’s also important to acknowledge how tough their lives must be at times. When I zoom in on the photo above, for instance, (the original of the horse in the foreground), you can clearly see some type of sore above his knee. I doubt it is from a fall since it is above the knee. I thought it was probably the result of a horse kicking him.
What amazed me about the Palomino-Buttes herd is how well the horses are able to camouflage themselves into the background. We thought with the flat terrain spotted by sagebrush, it would be easy to spot them as we drove down the gravel road towards Harney Lake, but we almost passed them. A truck was coming towards us with a plume of dust behind it, meaning I rolled up the windows to protect the camera gear. I had slowed down, and as the dust settled, suddenly they were there by the side of the road, perhaps 20 yards in. But by the time, I had brought the car to a slow stop and rolled down the windows, they had moved back.
There were three adults and a foal. Perhaps because of the foal, they were very alert. One horse seemed to be in charge and stayed back while the other three moved off first. I got out of the car and tried to follow them, but they disappeared very quickly into the sagebrush. When we returned we did see that they had returned to the same general area but were further away from the road.
We also saw two more horses further down the road – they seemed less skittish – the stallion taking his time to pee, before nonchalantly moving off, and again, disappearing very quickly into the brush, although they were moving at a slower pace then the previous horses. One thing is that the sagebrush does seem to provide good cover. You don’t see them if their heads are down to graze, but again I couldn’t figure out why the cattle were so easy to spot, and the horses seemed much more difficult.
This is the stallion (just after he relieved himself). He’s a beauty. He looked a lot alike one of the other horses we had seen earlier, except for the marking on his face. He seemed in very good shape.
We kept expecting to see a herd of horses, but it seemed we just ran across the smaller group or pairings. Perhaps, they come together in the herd at night. The Palomino Buttes Herd has 71,000 acres to roam and the herd is estimated to number only 32-64. (The South Steens occupy 130,000 acres with numbers between 159-304). This area seemed like it offered much less in terms of grass for the horses.
The final picture of the mare, also shows that she has a number of scars, an especially large old scar from a gash on her hindquarters.
I found myself really longing to go back a day or two after I had returned home. I would like to be able to observe them for a longer amount of time. Others might find it boring, but I’m fascinated and love just being able to watch them interact with each other.
More photos from my trip on the next post, including some of the birds and a few landscape pictures. hope you enjoyed!