Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Ellen Feld is talking with Carol Walker, author of Galloping to Freedom: Saving the Adobe Town Appaloosas
FQ: When did you first consider photographer as a possible career path? What drew you to horses over other animals?
WALKER: In 2000 I was talking to photographers at the North American Nature Photographer's Summit, and realizing that if I specialized rather than just focusing on all different kinds of wildlife that that would give me an advantage, and horses are animals I know best, having ridden and owned them since age 12.
FQ: Are there particular challenges working with horses vs. more common subjects such as dogs and cats?
WALKER: Horses are big animals. They can hurt you if you do something wrong or are not careful, and it is usually harder to get them in places that you want - although a badly trained dog can be a tough challenge! Also horses are more of a project to take to a different location for a shoot.
FQ: Your bio mentions that you began photographing wild horses eleven years ago. What triggered that first wild horse ‘photo session’?
WALKER: I was at the North American Nature Photographer's Summit and a friend said "you should be photographing wild horses." I did not know anything about wild horses, but a week later a man in WY emailed me asking if I were interested in a photo tour in the Red Desert to photograph wild horses. I said yes and fell in love with the wild horses I saw in Adobe Town, especially an older grey battle-scarred stallion and his family that I encountered the very first day. After that I kept coming back, and when I heard that most of these horses were going to be rounded up and removed, I resolved to help them, and ended up doing my first book, Wild Hoofbeats: America's Vanishing Wild Horses.
FQ: What about the challenges of getting that perfect shot of a wild horse as opposed to a domestic horse? Is it harder to work with the natural landscape, lighting, etc.?
WALKER: Ha ha. With a domestic horse you can ask the owner to move him here and there, work on getting his ears up, turn him loose in a particular pasture to have a specific setting. However with wild horses, you cannot move or drive them, you can move yourself, and attempt to anticipate where they are going and get ahead of them, but I have waited many many hours at waterholes, sometimes with no result. I have spent hours waiting for a foal to wake up. Also with a group of wild horses it can be a challenge to isolate a horse for a good photo - rather than a blob of horses.
FQ: Would you share with our readers a memorable photo shoot with some of your wild subjects (traveling a great distance, weather problems, coming upon a foaling, etc. – I’d like to share with readers just how hard you work to get that perfect shot)?
WALKER: The first time I changed a tire was in zero degrees and snow. There was no one around for 50 miles.
A happier shoot - at Sand Wash Basin in Colorado, at the big waterhole, when over 70 horses all mingled and hung out at the waterhole for 5 hours - it was a photographer's dream - I found a good place to sit, out of the way and with the sun behind me, and watched the horses interact, and got some wonderful images.
FQ: Now, I’d like to ask some questions specifically about Galloping to Freedom: First up, how long had you been following the Adobe Town Appaloosas prior to the Checkerboard Roundup?
WALKER: I have been following the Adobe Town Herd, now thought to number about 500 horses since 2004. However, the morning I discovered the Appys was the very first time I saw them, two days before they were rounded up. Appaloosas are extremely rare in the wild and in 10 years I had never found one there. But keep in mind the area is about 500,000 acres and much of it is inaccessible by vehicle.
FQ: When you heard about the impending roundup, what was your first thought?
WALKER: Deep sorrow for the horses that would lose their families, freedom and home. And an intense frustration about not being able to stop it - Judge Frudenthal denied our temporary restraining order to stop the roundup.
FQ: I’ve frequently heard that cattle related ‘interests’ and lobbies are very powerful and are damaging both the land and the very survival of wild horses. Is there anything that the average person can do to help stop their onslaught?
WALKER: Yes. Here is what I say to people - write your Senators, Congressman. Become informed. Sign up for news and alerts from my Wild Hoofbeats blog, from Wild Horse Freedom Federation, American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign and the Cloud Foundation. Donate to a legal fund of one of these organizations. Tell your friends what is going on.
FQ: I loved reading about ‘Bronze Warrior.’ Do you know how he is doing? Does his enlarged knee cause him problems? How has he settled into life as a gelding?
WALKER: Bronze Warrior is doing great. I went to visit them at the Sanctuary two weeks ago. The three fills are big and very friendly, nibbling on my jacket. And I could tell Bronze Warrior was glad to see me - he came up about 5 feet from me and just stood, and even drove some other horses away that were bugging me as I was trying to take photos. I have never seen his movement impeded by the knee, and he remains a very dominant horse, protective of his family, and his behavior has not changed at all with gelding - he was 22 when rounded up and gelded, and very lucky to have survived it - many older stallions do die from it.
FQ: It’s hard to fathom stallions being put together in one pen. The fighting/injuries must be intense. How quickly are they gelded and, knowing that it takes a while for the stallion behavior to dwindle after gelding, do injuries continue long after all the stallions have been gelded?
WALKER: They usually geld them within a month of being rounded up and it takes several months. I heard from one vet it takes a month per year the stallion is old for the testosterone to subside. SunDance is much more docile but still keeps his mares together and tried to breed Flurry, the instinct is still there.
There are fights and sparring in the holding pens before the stallions are gelded, but worse than that is seeing the light go out of their eyes as they give up hope, stuck in those pens without their family and without even shelter from heat or from blizzards.
FQ: It was heart-wrenching to read about/see photos of Gwendolyn and her foal Xena. Is there no way to separate mares who are heavy in foal while in BLM hands?
WALKER: Normally they do separate them, but Rock Springs Corrals was so understaffed they were having the people in the office feed and water the horses, and anything more than that was not a priority. We will never know how many foals died - the BLM does not count them until they are freeze branded at 4-6 months. I do know through a Freedom of Information Act that was filed that over 100 horses died within 2 months after the roundup.
FQ: How are the Adobe Town Appaloosas doing now that they’ve had time to settle into their new home at the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary?
WALKER: They are doing great, they are much more at ease in their new home, allowing visitors to come closer, and they have put weight on. They look content and that is what I was hoping for - they are free to be together and no longer face the threat of being rounded up by helicopter.