Living with Wild Horses by Bev Pettit
He was big and fast! And he could turn on a dime in a split second. The black Onaqui wild stallion shows his sense of survival through the display of his many battle scars over his entire body. And those fiery eyes could speak –no, SHOUT – at you without hesitation. This big guy made darn sure that I would keep a good distance from his “stolen” band of mares and their foals. And any other stallion that may encroach upon his territory to threaten his place in the herd would witness his wrath even more severely.
I’ve enjoyed photographing horses, both wild and domestic, for many years. But I had never “lived” with them, out on the range, day and night, observing them and watching their behavior so closely as I did on a recent trip to Sand Wash Basin in Colorado and to Utah on the Onaqui Range.
In September of 2016, I left the comforts of my Arizona home for a 2,000-mile journey in my trusty 4-Runner … traveling north to where the wild horses live. After two days of travel I arrived on the range at night, under a pitch-black sky, which added to the adventure. Slowly trying to find any sign of “civilization” I came upon a trail off to the side of the road. I slowly pulled off onto the trail, turned off the car engine and climbed in the back for a “good” night’s sleep. Waking at daylight and looking out to where I had just spent the last six hours in total darkness was an eye-opener! Here I had parked, perched high on a grassy bluff, along the edge of a 500 foot drop off, down into a vast valley. My jaw dropped as I witness more than 100 wild horses spread out peacefully below.
This is where my journey began. A journey into the lives of wild horses that few others have the privilege of experiencing. I securely fastened on my back pack with camera and lenses while cautiously scaling the hill down to the herd below. I followed their every movement for the next five days as they grazed, fought, protected each other, watered, and slept.
I watched in awe as they moved in such precision and calm order along the edge of the watering ponds, taking turns to drink, mares and foals first, stallions casually keeping a watchful eye close-by. I relished every moment of this journey, while absorbing their majesty, freedom, independence, camaraderie, survival and grace.
One thing to remember …these are our wild horses. They graze on public lands out west. We pay the taxes on these lands. So I feel that it is up to us to make sure that the herds are “managed” well. I would encourage anyone who has an interest in seeing these majestic wild horses to add to a trip out west to their bucket list, real soon.
The Charreada is a competitive sporting event developed in Old Mexico on the Spanish haciendas. Today, the Charros (Mexican cowboys) and the Escaramuzas (Mexican horsewomen), gather together to honor this age-old tradition by competing in rodeo events on horseback as well as on foot. They wear traditional clothing and use traditional saddles and gear for their horses. The Charreada has been a part of Mexican culture since the colonial period.
To view more of my work please visit www.bevpettit.com
Sagebrush Photography Show: July 6 though August 23, 2016. To view more of my work please visit: www.bevpettit.comI am so honored that my photo of Navajo matriarch of Monument Valley, Susie Yazzie, Looking Back, has won first place in the 2nd Annual Juried Photography Show in Sheridan, Wyoming. This prestigious gallery showing was judged by the esteemed western photographer Adam Jahiel.
I always love to support local art shows and small town galleries in their efforts to promote the arts. The Sagebrush Community Art Center has one of the largest fine art galleries in Sheridan Wyoming. Sagebrush Art Gallery
To view more of my work please visit: www.BevPettit.com
Photographing in the Esteros de Iberá, Argentina
On horseback with the Gauchos
By Bev Pettit
As I ride horseback, thigh-deep through the marshy waters of Esteros del Iberá I become startled by the sight of an 8-foot long caiman swimming too fast for comfort, straight toward me and my trusty mount. I am quickly reassured by my Argentine guide’s raising of a wooden bat that the menacing reptile poses no serious threat to me or to my horse. The Black Caiman slowly and quietly retreats. He swims back to his group, circling in the near distance. I was happy to learn later that the caiman is not carnivorous. Ahhhh, relief!
I am in northern Argentina riding horseback on a cattle drive with two Guarani’ Indian gauchos and my Argentinian guide, miles away from my temporary “home base”, Estancia San Gará. The Guarani’s are native indigenous people of northern Argentina. Many sought out work on Estancias (ranches/farms) and became Gauchos due to their independent spirit and somewhat nomadic nature, much like the early cowboys of our American west.
San Gará is one of the oldest traditional Estancias in northern Argentina. The ranch dates back to the early 1800s. San Gará is a family-owned working cattle and guest ranch. It offers a variety of authentic gaucho experiences for its visitors. Luxurious vegetation, the extensive marshlands of the Esteros and an abundance of exotic wildlife throughout the property would offer any photographer a visual extravaganza not easily forgotten.
The seldom-visited nature preserve, Esteros del Iberá, represents one of the most critical biological areas in Argentina. Iberá is an extensive freshwater system of lakes and rivers that are extremely vital to the environmental balance of South America. These are the second largest wetlands in the world, just after Brazil’s Pantanal.
On my third day during a weeklong visit to the Estancia I was invited on a daylong horseback ride with the Gauchos and one of the ranches’ Argentine guides out to gather a herd of cattle that grazed Monkey Island. The island is a patch of lush vegetation surrounded by marshlands as far as the eye can see. As we navigated our way through a network of deep water trails marked on either side by tall grasses, we passed through some of the most beautiful scenery I have seen anywhere. The purple, pink and green hues of the exotic flora were exquisite.
Along the route we experienced visits from wild caiman (blunt-nosed alligators), capybaras or “carpinchos” (the world’s largest rodents), marsh deer, hefty armadillos, and many of the more than 350 species of birds that live in the area, which included colorful ducks, graceful herons and the endearing chaja, similar to giant flying chickens!
Once on Monkey Island we had the pleasure of being greeted by its namesake, a large family of black howler monkeys. With a lifespan of up to 15 years the wild monkeys are at home in their subtropical forest habitat. They have long prehensile tails acting like a fifth limb which allows them to grasp and even hold onto objects. But this limb structure also makes it quite difficult for them to move along on the ground. So they spend most of their time high up in the trees, coming down for water only during the very driest seasons. Most of the time they can get water by wetting their palms with the droplets that form on the large tree leaves and then licking off the water.
After we located our herd, it was time for work. The cattle were rounded up and driven into wooden holding pens where they were vaccinated and branded. I’ve been on a number of roundups on large ranches back home in Arizona and I must say, our American cowboy’s Argentine counterparts, the Gaucho, work in very similar ways. That is, I thought so up until it was time for lunch, which was entirely different than the “chuck wagon” style cowboy meals of home. Our meal here consisted of very fresh asado! (typical Argentine beef). A fresh slab of beef was skewered onto a cut tree branch and then stuck in the ground while being cooked over open flames. Fallen tree trunks served as sturdy chairs to sit on while we ate. The barbecued beef was sliced by the Gauchos’ handmade knife, the facon, which is always kept sharp and handy. Our meal was supplemented by yerba maté, a tea made from the leaves of the yerba tree. Yerba maté is the traditional Gaucho beverage poured into cups made of gourds and drunk through a straw.
Aside from photographing the abundance and variety of wildlife on this trip I thoroughly enjoyed photographing the Gaucho himself in his traditional garb of bombachas (loose baggy pants), wide-brimmed hats, alpargatas (rubber soled cloth shoes when they weren’t riding barefoot!), and the faja, a wide band worn around the waist which held knives and other tools. I was also intrigued by the gear that they carried for their work, including bolas or boleadoras (stones bound in leather strips used to trip animals by looping it around their legs), traditional lariats, hand carved wooden bats and long sharp knives, as well as the bridles on the horses, saddles donning thick sheep skin pads, and of course, as an equine photographer, the horses themselves.
Called the Criollo, the native horse of Argentina descends from the horses of the Iberian conquest. They resemble the ancient Sorraia wild horse of Portugal and Spain. Carrying a straight head and a convex neck the Criollo’s have strong, short backs and very sound feet. The herds of Criollos that live at San Gará are light caramel colored with thick black manes and tails and a dorsal stripe down their backs. They are strong, hardworking, intelligent, willing and sensible equines, and small to average in height. All of these qualities are important when having to endure the long hard days on the vast Estancias of Argentina.
Estancia San Gará is located in the National Route nº 12, Kilometer 1237, 18 Kilometers from Ituzaingó, Province of Corrientes. It stretches from the Paraná River to the marshy lands of Iberá. You can reach Estancia San Gará at their page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/estancia.sangara
It may take some creative planning in order to get to Esteros del Iberá as it is a bit off the beaten tourist path, but I have found it to be well worth the effort. A visit there is a chance to experience one of the last great ecosystems on earth, virtually untouched by man, offering astounding beauty, lots of elbow room, an abundance of wildlife to study and photograph and friendly people who care about their environment.
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Sable Island Wild Horses
Folklore has it that the horses were survivors from some of the 350 plus shipwrecks due to fog, storms and hidden sand bars off the shores of Sable Island since 1583. A less romantic story is more likely. Deported Acadians in the mid-1700s brought the horses to the island from mainland Canada when they tried to farm the harsh land and set up a community.
Crops could not survive and the settlers were forced to leave. When they left, they also left their horses behind to fend for themselves. In 1801 a life saving station was set up on Sable Island. Families soon arrived to live on the island and man the station. Some attempted to train the now wild horses to help in saving shipwrecked sailors.
The rescue station was closed in 1958 and again the wild horses were left behind. Today Sable Island is run by Parks Canada. The feral horses have thrived over the years. There are more than 500 horses living on this tiny sliver of an island, 150 miles off the east coast of Nova Scotia, today. They are protected by law and under a strict research regime, untouched by man. The horses are wild, but have no fear since they have no predators on the island. They roam in herds and family bands. Four or five horses will roam with a stallion as the patriarch, one mare and two or three siblings.
The horses eat the dense marram grass that grows naturally on the island (the only thing that will survive on the sandy surface). They find water in the scattered ponds created by rain and snow. If the ponds dry up they dig for water, which is generally quite close to the surface. Their only shelter against the ferocious winters is their own family. They huddle together between sand dunes to stay warm and increase their chances of survival until the next spring. The Sable Horse is one of the hardiest breeds of horses living today, anywhere in the world.