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Mother horse and foal

Wild Horses of the Wild West

 Words & Photos by Haley Pope

It was 4:30 a.m. on a Saturday in May—the wind was biting cold and the sky a deep royal blue. All bundled up, I hoist my heavy camera case into the truck and my husband and I head straight west out of the small town of Meeker, Colorado. The sun wouldn’t rise until 5:50 a.m., so we had plenty of time to get into position. But first, we had to find them.


We drove along isolated dirt roads following the old-fashioned paper map I had picked up at our local Bureau of Land Management (BLM) office. I had gone to gain insight into where we might find them during that time of the year. Three spots were circled on the map. With our windows rolled down, we wound through the hilly terrain as the light began collecting along the horizon. Sagebrush, pinion pines, and juniper trees covered the landscape like moss. On the breeze was the pungent scent of sagebrush. Except for the crunching our tires on the earth and an occasional bird chirp, all else was silent.


We crossed over a dry riverbed and rounded a hill passing through a narrow valley when I spotted movement on the right. A large brown animal was moving through the sagebrush within 50 feet of us. Then another animal came into view. And another. We had found them: the wild horses of the Piceance-East Douglas Herd Management Area—right before sunrise. Coasting to a stop, we saw ten individuals with long, tangled manes and shiny coats grazing. When they caught sight of us their ears pricked forward, eyes opened wide, and they stood motionless.

A mother mare and foal are approached and greeted by the herd's stallion in the Piceance-East Douglass Herd Management Area near Meeker, CO.

The landscape of the Piceance-East Douglas Herd Management Area near Meeker, CO is covered in sagebrush, pinion pine, juniper trees and red buttes. We wove our way through this landscape in search of the wild horses. (This is a panoramic shot consisting of two horizontal photographs.)

Horses in sage brush

The horses introduced by Europeans, successfully adapted to the rugged terrain, flourished, and became iconic symbols of the Wild West.

We worried the herd would bolt, so I began taking shots. My Nikon D7500 camera and NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR telephoto lens was stabilized on a beanbag perched on the open window of the truck. Using a full-frame telephoto lens on an APS-C camera allowed me to achieve a maximum zoom of 700mm. That difference would help me get super close shots of my subjects without being physically so and further isolate my subject from the background creating a pleasing blur.


Luckily, they didn’t bolt, and after fifteen minutes of observing and photographing from the truck, the horses calmed down enough to graze and we stepped out of the truck. Moving cautiously and pausing every few steps allowed them to get accustomed to us. It was just after 6:00 a.m. and the sun was beginning to peak over the hill casting its signature golden glow. I mounted my camera to a tripod and continued to monitor and photograph the horses.


In this herd, there were three foals, a few weeks old, with long, gangly legs who were glued to their mother’s side. I locked eyes with the stallion—a gorgeous jet-black horse with a flowing mane calling to mind the famous Black Stallion. He stomped his front hoof a few times, as deer often do as a warning not to approach, and I halted.

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