When you are tracking wild horses, look for well-worn pathways through the scrub and grasslands. Horses, likeelephants and antelope, prefer to follow trails they know – these are easily spotted from a high ridge or a waterhole.
Look for stud piles where passing stallions will pooh on top of the pile year after year. It is a territorial statement and usually the most dominant stallion will defecate last. Perhaps when stallions sniff the pile, they test the testosterone level of their rivals or determine when rivals last moved through the area.
Where you find fresh dung, scan the horizon and the scrub with binoculars looking for bright color or any movement. Just a whisk of a tail can alert you to wild ones.
Watch for dusty areas cleared of scrub where horses roll to get rid of biting insects. Now that is a picture to get! Quickly have your camera ready because rolling doesn’t last long and as soon as they are on their
feet, horses give a quick shake – that dust cloud is gorgeous especially if the sun is behind the wild ones.
Learn to read wild horses’ signals and you can get some stunning action shots – or quickly get out of the way of danger.
Band members communicate with subtle sounds and postures. A soft whinny may call in scattered band members or rambunctious foals at play. A snort can be a gentle warning or protest. A scream will instantly alert the whole band to take action as one body.
Wild horses – like all prey species – have great hearing and sense of smell. If you see one or two horses lift their heads and flare their nostrils, look in the direction of their ears are pointing. You may spot an intruding stallion or a predator like a bear – that is just enough warning to get your camera ready for explosive action.
Wild horses may appear to ignore you, but watch their ears. One ear will be cocked in your direction, while the other ear points elsewhere. Unlike domestic horses, they’ll keep an eye or ear on you until they prove that you are no threat so don’t chatter to your fellow humans. Stay quiet like a wild horse.
Do not approach wild horses directly because they will instinctively move away. Flight is their best weapon against a hunter. So meander toward them indirectly.
Predators stalking horses & burros lock their gaze on their prey so don’t stare at a wild horse’s eyes. Look somewhere else and keep your head low – submission please.
If a band of horses looks nervous, you might sit or kneel down until they relax.
A stallion may circle around to get a good look at you and can charge if he feels you are a threat. Usually he will pull up short in the nick of time, but meanwhile the band will disappear and your photography will end right there so don’t push it.
Always carry good binoculars and use your camera’s telephoto lens so you can enjoy their behavior without getting close enough to frighten them off.
Always keep a comfortable distance from wild horses. By law that is 10 feet in the heavily visited Chincoteague herds on Assateague Island in Maryland & Virginia. Even a simple camera has a good telephoto range so rely on it to get safe shots.
Do not feed wild horses. If you are foolish enough to offer a wild horse a treat, a senior or dominant mare may punish it with a kick or bite – and your body may be in the way. Don’t meddle in their social structure or the alpha horse may teach you a painful lesson.
Wild horses don’t normally behave dangerously toward people. However, they do startle easily and may suddenly kick out or run. Over a thousand pounds of frightened horse can hurt you without meaning to.