Wild Horse Diary: Feb. 9, 2020 - How 1 Small Deer Can Alarm an Entire Herd of Wild Horses
In my Wild Horse Diary update today, I am going to share an amazing experience that I had on February 9, 2020 with the Shawnee herd.
If you want to learn about the back story of the wild horses, you can read about them and then continue with the article. If you want to know more about each of the herds and where to find them, you can read about that on my "Where To Find The Wild Horses of Missouri" resource guide.
Lesa and I decided to make our rounds early on Sunday morning to some of the normal places where the Broadfoot, Round Spring, and Shawnee herds are known to be and just enjoy whatever the day held.
First, I will share a brief update for each of the locations I visited and then I will provide details about an amazing experience with the Shawnee herd. Hang on to the end of the article because I know you will enjoy the story.
I get a lot of questions about what equipment I use to photograph the wild horses, so I will include that information for you here in case it is of interest to you.
First, I take a bold and different approach as compared to the vast majority of wildlife photographers today. I use black and white film versus the latest digital cameras. If you want to know more about why I made this decision, you can read about that in this brief article.
Based on available light, I use one of two films, Kodak Tri-X or Ilford FP4+. My primary film for photographing the wild horses is Kodak Tri-X. I use Tri-X because of its incredibly flexible exposure latitude and its contrasty nature that works very well with the white horses. I rate Tri-X anywhere between EI 250 to EI 1600, based on available light and my intended look and feeling of my platinum prints. I have thoroughly and formally tested my film and developer combinations so I know exactly what types of images are possible with each film. I develop both films in a custom self-mixed version of Kodak D-76 1:1 in my Jobo CPP-3 processor.
At a high level, I would characterize my platinum prints made with Tri-X as emotional and heavy images that are intended to tug at your heartstrings. The print to the left of this paragraph, "The Nomads", was made with Tri-X rated at EI 1600 and developed in D-76 1:1. The platinum print is wet in the clearing tray, so it isn't very easy to see the film grain in this iPhone snapshot, but I hope the emotion comes through.
My platinum prints made with FP4+ have a cleaner and lighter feeling to them. The platinum print, "Heavy Burden" to the left of this paragraph should look different to your eye as compared to "The Nomads" above. It has a much cleaner feel to it and this is what I wanted for this print.
I use all of this to my creative advantage while I am out in the field. Time and experience help craft and shape the creative process for me and this is one of the main reasons why I continue to use black and white film when everyone has abandoned ship. I continue to use the same camera (Nikon F6) with the same film and developers as described above and I have no plan of ever-changing this combination. My three most used lenses for the Nikon F6 are the 70-200 F2.8, 300mm F2.8, and the 600mm F4. My 600mm F4 lens is the older F/4 G ED VR lens that will likely continue to be relevant for another 10 or more years. I've had it for over 5 years already.
We started by making the trip out to Broadfoot first because we haven't seen this herd in a while. We were excited and hopeful that we could at least see them today.
This herd is a lot more aware of people and their surroundings than the Shawnee herd. I frequently can find signs of them, but more often than not, they are either deep in the woods or leave the area as soon as they sense people.
Often times the moment they sense or see a human being, they are either moving away from you or flat out running away. It makes it very challenging to photograph them, so when you do get that opportunity, it is always very special.
Today was a normal winter day with the grazing fields close-cut and very little grass as you can see in the image above. The river was up much more than I expected, and there were no fresh tracks down by the river. While it has been a mild winter overall, the horses don't tend to cross the river unless they absolutely need to do so. As you can see from the simple snapshots in this section, Broadfoot was very quiet and peaceful and still in its winter state.
GRASSY CREEK - ROUND SPRING HERD
After leaving Broadfoot we traveled north to head over to Grassy Creek. We've had a lot of great experiences at the Grassy Creek location over the years and we were hopeful that we would find the herd here today.
At this time, it is believed the wild horses in this area are a smaller band that formed from the larger Round Spring Herd. While there are no rules in the naming convention, most of the locals still refer to the wild horses at Grassy Creek as the Round Spring Herd.
Grassy Creek is a peaceful location tucked deep in the Ozark's with a lot of hilly terrain and a clean river running through the area. The water is clean and the terrain is very rugged and these horses are well adapted to the environment.
It is a perfect habitat for wild horses and I can understand why they frequent this area. I have hiked a lot of the area near Grassy Creek and words cannot fully relate how challenging it is to simply walk and navigate the terrain. I have personally watched the horses move through the terrain with seemingly no effort and with great ease. We spotted signs of the horses in some of the areas I know to look, but we didn't find them, so we headed southeast towards Shawnee Creek.
SHAWNEE CREEK - SHAWNEE CREEK HERD
After leaving Grassy Creek, we headed southwest towards Shawnee Creek with a hopeful heart that we would see this herd today.
While we never have the expectation of finding the horses during every outing, it is always a delight when we do.
When we arrived at Shawnee Creek, we spotted four of the horses near the edge of a field that is about 100 yards from Jack's Fork River. The area around the river is heavily wooded and I frequently find the horses in the woods.
As you can see in the photo above, four of the horses were grazing near the edge of the field and the rest of the herd was in the woods, but not too far from the perimeter of the field.
I was slowly working my way around the perimeter of the woods and I noticed a small little doe (female deer). She was working her way down the field towards the horses. Then, she decided to cut down by the river and I lost sight of her. I thought that was the end of the deer and I went back to my plan of working the perimeter of the woods so I could get closer to the horses.
Then, all of a sudden, I saw the deer come up over the river bank and run directly towards the four horses in the field. I knew instantly this was going to get interesting.
I share the events that happened next along with the corresponding photos in the section below.
You can see in this photo directly above that the deer was running full out near one of the mares. The mare immediately set off an alarm to the rest of the herd and started to run out of the area.
Within the matter of a few seconds, the boss mare started charging the deer as you can see in the photograph above. All of this unfolded in a matter of just a few seconds.
While the boss mare was charging the deer, she signaled the rest of the herd and within a couple of seconds, help arrived from the woods. I think you are going to be surprised by the help she received, so continue reading to learn about this interesting turn of events.
As you can see in this image, the boss mare had closed the gap between her and the deer within just a few moments. It was incredible to watch her work so quickly and protect her family.
You may be wondering where the lead stallion was during all of this?
He remained in the woods with a couple of the other mares from the herd and he didn't so much as move a step. I glanced over to see him and he was literally watching all of this unfold.
If you notice in the final image above there is a young brown yearling colt and the boss mare is leading the herd ensuring the threat has left the area. I photographed this young colt as a new foal last year right after he was born.
It was an amazing experience to see how much he had matured in less than a year. In fact, as soon as the boss mare signaled, he was the first and only horse the exited the woods and entered the field where the drama was happening. Referring to the image above, you can see he is nearly as big as his mother now.
It was truly an amazing experience and one that will likely never happen again in my lifetime. It all happened so quickly and I am still processing everything that happened.
It was an amazing level of coordination and teamwork that seems to be programmed into the horse's genetics. I was most surprised that the stallion remained still while the boss mare handled the entire situation.
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I made up F24 nonhardening fixer the other day. When I added the sodium bisulfite the solution turned a milky yellow color. Is this standard when making the F24 fixer?
Wow Tim what an experience with the deer interesting with then wild horses and their response! Thanks for sharing that with use.
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