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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

Wild Horses‏

May 27th, 2010 · No Comments

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Photographing wild Spanish mustangs in South Dakota was easy this week. Getting there was hard.

Driving more than 500 miles from my home in Boulder, Colorado, I arrived at the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation on Sunday. Attracted by the opportunity to participate in a photo safari to some of the purest wild horses in America, I stayed in a motel in the town of Eagle Butte at the center of the reservation.

These mustangs are descendants of the horses that the conquistadors brought to this continent 500 years ago. Feral for so many years, they are truly wild, never domesticated. They are also closely related to the prehistoric horses that had gone extinct on this continent thousands of years ago.

The mustangs live on the 680-acre ranch of the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros, 14 miles west of Eagle Butte.  We spent almost all of our time there photographing a band of mustangs rescued from the Gila River area of central Arizona.

“The combined historical and genetic evidence points to the fact that the Gila horses are the descendants of the true Spanish mustang,” concludes the society’s record of the horses that we photographed. Karen Sussman, the society’s president, told me that the band, which numbered 31 when they rescued them a decade ago, has now grown to 88 horses plus seven foals born in the past two months.

Weldon Lee led the safari. He is a professional specializing in the photography of wild animals. I had heard him speak twice to the Colorado Nature Camera Club, of which I am a member. Those talks convinced me that he knew how to photograph wild animals and to teach us some of his expertise.

Weldon’s photo safari was expensive, but gave me everything that I hoped to achieve. I wanted to learn from a master and did. And I also wanted to get some fine photos of wild horses and did. The key was learning patience in photographing wildlife.

We met in Eagle Butte on Sunday and left on Thursday morning after spending about 25 or 30 hours photographing the mustangs. In that time I took 1,000 images.

We were a small group of dedicated photographers. Three of us came from Boulder, including my friend Marge, who I know from church and from the Colorado Nature Camera Club, and her friend Connie. Two women friends from Minnesota, one of whom has been a lifelong friend of a woman from Eagle, Colorado, comprised the rest of the students. Weldon and his partner and co-leader Lori Huff brought the group size to eight of us.

The hardest part about getting to photograph the mustangs was the last mile of mud. Heavy storms just before our arrival and on Monday made the track treacherous.

A Big Storm Arrives on the Plains as We Left the Mustangs Monday

A Big Storm Arrives on the Plains as We Left the Mustangs Monday

Click on the picture above to enlarge

But even before this storm hit, the track through the ranch to the mustangs was barely passable. We went in a convoy of three vehicles, including Weldon’s Jeep, my Toyota Highlander SUV, and a van that one of the women from Minnesota owns. The van got stuck in the mud.

Weldon drove back to the ranch and found a ranch hand who brought a truck to try to tow the van. But the wheels just kept spinning and digging in deeper.

Stuck in the Mud with the Mustangs

Stuck in the Mud with the Mustangs

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Then we all helped by pushing. That worked, but got us rather muddy.

Evon and Connie Got the Worst of the Mud

Evon and Connie Got the Worst of the Mud

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The mud caught me too, but not so much. That was the last day our party took the van to the ranch. After that, the eight of us piled into the two four-wheel drive vehicles for the final four trips we made there. My SUV slide around a lot in the mud and is now covered with mud splatters up to the roof, but never got stuck.

A Better Sunset on the Plains Near the Mustangs

A Better Sunset on the Plains Near the Mustangs

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And fortunately the weather improved on Tuesday and Wednesday, and most of the land dried out. The six hours that we spent watching the mustangs on Tuesday afternoon was in fact one of the most perfect days out in nature that I have ever enjoyed. I spent much of my time sitting or lying on the grass watching and photographing those magnificent creatures.

I was able to get all the photographs that I wanted of the mustangs doing their thing, whether it was eating grass, standing around, sniffing the air, running, mating, suckling, or fighting. The herd had been largely peaceful until our evening photo safari on Wednesday when the stallions got a lot more frisky and fighting broke out again and again. I had earlier despaired of getting the iconic shot of two stallions facing off on their two hind legs, but my first photo safari reached an appropriate crescendo.

Now, I have a little more hard work to do in reviewing the photos that I took and select the ones to show you. Soon.

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Posted in: Photography, South Dakota

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