Stories

It is the stories that keep me coming back to these hills.

This small band, for instance, was the most magical encounter. These two yearlings were just babies when my daughter and I met them last summer. On a warm July evening, we were gifted with several hours among a large herd of mares and youngsters; some of them also were foals I had met the previous spring. It is amazing to see them grow, not just in size and stature, but in the relationships they form with other horses.

So when we came across these two this spring, I was especially excited. They were not shy, however, and one came quite brazenly up to me, for several minutes nuzzling the end of my lens cover. I’ve had times where young ones in particular have come so close that it feels as though you might touch one another, but I’ve never experienced a wild horse actually decide to interact that deliberately. Normally, I would much rather watch from afar, and allow them to decide whether to allow our presence, so as not to disrupt them. I will admit that after some time it became too intense and I had to leave the space. My friends watching pointed out that the energy of encounter was starting to quickly feel like this young male was, shall we say, overly enthusiastic.

However, this was not even the most moving part of finding this small crew living together. The stallion these young ones were accompanied by was instantly recognizable. I gasped audibly when I saw him, for it had been two years since I first sighted him, far higher on the mountain than they were now. He was the stallion who gave me the first story I wrote after one of my solitary trips, a piece I titled, ‘The Stallion With No Ears.’

He and I had trekked up a trunk road together, and climbed several hills. It was the peak of a hot summer day. I would never forget how he constantly turned back to watch me, as though he were inviting me to follow along, while I was confused by the fact that it seemed as though he was pinning his ears. It was only when he gave me permission to come close enough that I had realized it appeared both his ears were at least partially missing, damaged in either a vicious battle or by some deep freeze.

He was alone, and I had not seen him since.

Seeing him here, with his own family band now, brought me more happiness that I could have imagined. He was shy, and wanted no part of the interaction with us, so I gave him his space. He remains a mystery to me.

This kind of story, of resilience, and common bond, is what makes these horses such a special part of our landscape. It is exactly the kind of story that keeps me coming back to these hills.

Thoughts on being wild:

Lately, I have been doing a lot of thinking about my purpose behind the journeys I undertake, in order to spend time gathering these images with the wild horses. As much as I love the photographs that result, with each trip it becomes more apparent that the pictures are just an added bonus. They are a way for me to remember the feelings in that moment, the connection that arose from quietly sharing space with the horses. I share the images, not just because I want people to be aware of their place in our landscape, but because I believe there is a unique kind of communion between wild horse and human; one that brings us back to a deep-seated knowledge that gets lost in the busy hum of our daily lives.

To me, horses are more than just a tool or a means to a prize, they are guides on a soul journey. When we visit with that intention, to be led deeper into ourselves, the messages they carry are powerful. My hope is perhaps one day, looking at these photographs will lead someone to see that these animals are a place where we can revisit our connection with the land, and how we are living with it; a way we can celebrate the intrinsic value of our mutual existence.

Wild Horses of Alberta

It had been a longtime dream of mine to see and photograph horses in the wild, and I spent months researching a visit to find Alberta's own wild horse herds. From my very first encounter, I had a new passion. For two years now, I have been visiting and documenting the bands I manage to connect with, capturing with both images and words their unique beauty, as well as their relationship with the landscape.

Each time, I increase not only my skill at photography in the wild, but my knowledge of equine language. Family bands, lone stallions, foals grown into yearlings; all of them have their own unique personalities and lessons to share. Every moment holds its own magic, and I feel that the images I receive are gifts being given, so I always come away full of gratitude.

Alberta is a place of contradictions. We are connected to the land, financially and spiritually. The weather is simultaneously extreme and beautiful, the geography dramatic and diverse. Our history encompasses both cowboys and social movements. These wild horses, all at once rugged and graceful, embody the province they live in. To me, they inspire, and this collection will continue to grow as I continue to return to be witness to their existence.

Ghost River Remains

Ghost River, renamed Morleyville by settlers, is the site of southern Alberta's oldest pioneer settlement. This portion of land in the Stoney reserve has always felt haunted to me, and is even more so now. I visited the ruins of last spring's fire on a cold, very windy day in January, during a drive home from Banff. The entire site is now surrounded by a tall chain link fence, and I felt grateful for my horseback riding practice as I straddled the wooden fences and fought strong gusts of wind, in order to capture the skeletal remnants. There were many voices there that day.

The church was constructed in 1875 by the Methodist mission, guided by John McDougall, at the same time that treaties were being planned for the Blackfoot territory in southern Alberta. Two years after the church was completed, Treaty 7 was signed, and under its terms approximately 130,000 km2 of land was surrendered to the government. The treaty negotiations are widely known to have been fraudulent, and due to the lack of land management by the government, many of its signatories wound up witnessing the very last bison hunt in the area. The Stoney-Nakoda, traditionally Ĩyãħé Nakoda, were assigned to the reserve nearby the church. A residential school was located in the nearby town of Morley from 1886 until 1949.

The Morleyville church was declared a provincial historical site, and is surrounded by undisturbed native prairie. It burned down in May, 2017.