Horses in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Horses are not native to North America, they were brought to the continent by the Spanish in the 16th century.


In the late 19th Century cattle ranching began to take over the Great Plains where ranchers simply turned horses out on the open range to live and breed.


These stray horses became known as mustangs.


The word is derived from the Spanish mesteño, indicating that these horses had no true owner. Today the meaning has changed to mean wild and for almost 300 years large herds of mustangs roamed the Great Plains.


These great herds of wild horses were seen as a nuisance by the cattlemen and for about 150 years there were attempts to exterminate them until "The 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act" designated them as a “national heritage species”.


Today wild horses typically range in small bands of 5-15 animals. Each group has it's own social hierarchy, consisting of a dominant stallion, his mares, and their offspring. Once these bands are formed, they remain very stable and range within the stallions established territory.


Photographing these icons of the west was an amazing experience. Having been around domestic horses for years I was thrilled to be able to see them in this wild, wide open place.

After following them for a few days I was able to observe three separate bands, and they became completely comfortable with my presence. Each morning when I located the herd it was almost as if they looked as me and said, "oh its you again" this familiarity allowed me to observe them in a relaxed natural state where I could pick my shooting location and wait for the animals to move toward me.