Photo Manipulation

Unaltered photograph. The brilliant sky was a results of a fire just outside of Sand Wash Basin.

I had a lot of time sitting beside my husband’s hospital bed after his surgery; a rare moment to surf the Internet and take a look at other wild horse photographers. I found some really outstanding photographs and some that appeared to defy the laws of nature and physics. I’m referring to the trick of “Sky Replacement”. It occurs when a photo subject, in this case horses, is wonderful, but the sky is kinda ‘blah’. So the photographer simply inserts a background that makes the subject really stand out against a panoramic sunset worthy of a Western Hollywood finale…

Unaltered photograph

There’s nothing wrong with enhancing photographs. I do it every day. Tweaking the focus, bumping the saturation up just a little, or cropping a photograph for maximum impact. Even replacing the sky is fine… except when you are entering the doctored photograph in a photo contest, or selling wild horse tours. In those instances, it’s underhanded, especially the wild horse tours. People look at the photos taken on wild horse tours to decide if they want to pay this individual to show them around a wild horse management area. If that tour guide is displaying significantly altered photos to make the tours look better, that’s simply wrong.

Unaltered photograph. Most photos taken in low light (no flash) tend to be a bit out of focus.

As for photography contests, it depend upon the rules and regulations of the contest. Personally, I would never enter a photo contest with a photo I manipulated heavily as I consider it unethical. The vast majority of contests do not allow significant manipulation; some even ask for the RAW original photograph. However, many contests have categories for photo manipulation which are usually more abstract, and not normally landscapes. Some photographers combine photos and some make mosaics for gorgeous outcomes; these are clearly altered, and not being presented as actual photographs. (Raw refers to the photograph file that came directly from the camera and was not altered in any way).

Unaltered photograph

There is a reason photographers such as myself, get up before dawn, or stay until dark to capture the horses against a dramatic sky. Sometimes we get the perfect shot, and sometimes Mother Nature decides it should be overcast. Nevertheless, when we nail the sunrise, or the sunset, we really earned it. In the words of Dr Ian Malcolm “… it didn’t require any discipline to attain it… You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could,”. It literally takes three clicks of a mouse to replace a photographic sky. It takes weeks, days, hours of sitting and observing horses to capture photographs. Using a Sky Replacement in Adobe Photoshop, or a third-party sky replacement plug-in cheapens that dedication and effort.

Unaltered photograph

Art is a funny thing. The above statement is my opinion, and my opinion only. I would venture to say other photographers would agree that extensive photo manipulation is mendacious, especially if you’re using the photographs to sell something. Claiming “come on my wild horse tour and you’ll get photos like this (fake) photograph…” is just plain wrong. As for selling manipulated photos, I honestly don’t have a problem with that because the buyer makes the decision. I personally would not buy a photo that has been clearly altered to pass for ‘au naturel’, but that’s my choice. My goal as a photographer is to present the photographs as authentically as possible without artifice or manipulation. I want you to feel you’re standing next to me at the actual moment I take the photo and not what I can do in Photoshop months or even years later.

In conclusion, be discerning, especially when you are paying for something.

How to manipulate a photograph…

All the photographs are mine

It’s as easy as Edit=> Sky Replacement


Presented below are the fakes and the original photograph beneath. They are easy to spot for the most part, usually the horizon line will give it away. There’s something odd about how the mountains meet the imposter sky- the distant mountains are out of focus, the sky looks hyper-focused, and there is a faint pale line at the horizon…

Additionally two strong light sources are another clue that they replaced the background. We cannot, as of yet, disobey the laws of physics. If the sun is behind the photographer in the photo, you cannot have a anther sunset in front of the photographer- it doesn’t work that way. We live on Earth, not Tatooine, and so we have only one sun.

The sun is shining on the horse’s face, yet the sun is also setting behind the horse… Be mindful of shadows, they usually point to the real sun’s location
The real sun os on the photographer’s right

The sun is shining from the photographer’s right side, and thus the second sun over the hills, is clearly faked
Corona and his band

The real sun is off to the photographer’s left (note the shadow on Cimarron’s tail), so it cannot be behind the hills as well

The real sun is off to the photographers left, so it cannot also be behind the hills. Also the horses would not be brightly lit if the real sun was behind them, they would be silhouetted/darker.

This photo manipulation is more plausible. The clouds are a little off, but otherwise this isn’t too terrible

This one is acceptable, and probably no one would know. The sky is appropriate, as are the shadows

This one is awful, note the horizon line

Another moderately acceptable photo. The sky is more indicative of later afternoon, but it passes

Note the odd horizon/mountains- there is often a fine light line where the mountains meet the fake sky

Pretty terrible

Two strong light sources, the real sun is off to the left

Note the pale line at the right side of the horizon. Not to mention the real sun is behind the photographer- off to the right

Things aren’t always what they seem… Enjoy!

Equus ferus- Wild Horse Photography

Glossary of Terms: Genetics

Corona’s Band, Sand Wash Basin 2016

Cheyenne (in memoriam), Laramie, Can Wakan, Chipeta, Poppy (light chestnut front), Maybell (liver chestnut behind), Corona

Genetic diversity: Depends upon mutations, natural selection, gene flow, and genetic drift.

Genome: The complete set of chromosomes for an individual

Chromosome: a thread-like structure found in the nucleus of living cells. It contains deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA)

Gene: segments of DNA which are contained within in chromosomes

DNA:  Segments of base-pairs (adenine-thymine & cytosine-guanine). The order of these pairs form the structure of DNA

Allele: Two or more alternate forms of a gene. Examples are coat color modifier such as the Cream Gene. Horses can be dominant (CC & Cc), or recessive (cc). Some are more complex such as human blood types in which four possibilities exist (A, B, O, AB)

Single nucleotide polymorphisms: These SNP (also called ‘snips’) are changes within a single nucleotide. As an example, a SNP may replace the nucleotide cytosine (C) with the nucleotide thymine (T) in a certain stretch of DNA. These variations may be unique to one individual or they may be found in many individuals; scientists have found more than 100 million SNPs in human populations around the world. Most commonly, these variations are found in the DNA between genes. They can act as biological markers, helping scientists locate genes that are associated with disease.The SNIP’s are important in establishing genetic variability 

“An important part of the horse genome project was the identification of over a million SNPs, which directed the development of genomic tools for mapping in the horse. The SNPs were generated from the diploid genome of Twilight and by partial sequencing of seven additional horses of diverse breeds. The reference assembly and the SNP map marked a turning point in horse genomics by providing resources for driving subsequent molecular, clinical and evolutionary studies in the horse” (Raudsepp, 2019)

“Twilight”, a Thoroughbred mare, was the first horse to have her entire genome mapped in 2006-2007

By Doug AntczakBaker Institute for Animal HealthCollege of Veterinary Medicine Cornell University –, Public Domain,

Genetic diversity: The range of different inherited traits within a species.

Mutation:  Changes in the sequence of DNA. They can be a tiny as one nucleotide change (adenine-thymine & cytosine-guanine) or consist of a larger part(s) of the gene. They occur frequently (1 per 1,000 nucleotides) which equates to 4-5 million per genome (the complete set of chromosomes per organism). Most are benign and cause no problems (disease or disability) for the organism, but some can be lethal (lethal white [foal] syndrome).  Some mutations can be advantageous such a gene coding for harder hooves in wild horses. Soft hooves could potentially render a horse lame which might make them more susceptible to predation (an example).

Natural selection: The process in which certain genes occur in better adapted horses. Individuals with mutations that are better adapted for survival pass these traits to their offspring. The mutations are inherited characteristics that allow a horse to adapt to the environment more successfully . Presently, there is no significant difference between the genome of wild horses and their domestic counterparts.

Gene flow: This refers to the migration of organisms, and the genes they carry, from one population to another. It can occur by physical movement (migration), or human mediated translocation of some horses from one management area to another.

Genetic Drift: The totally random process which changes the numbers of gene variants in a population. Genetic drift takes place when different forms of a gene, called alleles, increase and/or decrease by chance over time. Allelic frequencies measure the presence of these variations. It is common for genetic drift to occurs in small populations, because infrequently occurring alleles face a greater chance of being lost because they occur rarely. During the process of genetic drift, rare alleles are lost and the common alleles become the only allele at a particular locus. Both possibilities decrease the genetic diversity of a population. Genetic drift can result in the loss of rare alleles and decrease the gene pool.

Microsatellite markers:  These are repeating sequences of DNA (or microsatellites) and are distributed throughout the genome and passed on to the organism’s offspring. They are useful in determining paternity, as well as measuring the relatedness between individuals of a population and useful for determining genetic variability.

Patrilineal: Kinship derived from the male or father lineage

Matrilineal: Kinship derived from the female, or mother lineage

mtDNA (Mitochondrial DNA): This form of circular DNA is found in the mitochondrial cells (the ‘powerhouse of the cell’… shades of high school biology class). mtDNA is passed from mother to offspring of both genders and is very useful in determining ancestry by following the maternal lineage back in time. It plays a role in the controversy surrounding wild mustangs and the Spanish Colonial horse type.

Patrilineal Y Chromosome Analysis (Male Specific Region of the Y Chromosome- MSY): Every male horse inherits a Y chromosome from their father. Similar to matrilineal mtDNA, the male horses can trace their lineage back hundreds of years. Researchers look for mutations (which are found in many chromosomes, not just the Y chromosome). These changes in the genetic sequence are called ‘polymorphic markers’ and are useful because they are passed down from father to son on the Y chromosome to trace patrilineal ancestry.


Raudsepp, T., et al. “Ten Years of the Horse Reference Genome: Insights into Equine Biology, Domestication and Population Dynamics in the Post‐Genome Era.” Animal Genetics, vol. 50, no. 6, 2019, pp. 569–597., doi:10.1111/age.12857.

How to be a Mustang Photographer (updated)

Photo credit Michael Cody Mack

1. A job– This may sound like a counterintuitive statement but unless you are wildly successful, you won’t make a living solely upon your mustang photos. Most of the successful photogs in the mustang industry also do non-mustang horse photography. Horse shows, gymkhanas, private photo shoots, animals other than horses (pet portraiture) etc.

I have a wonderful job I adore outside of photography that allows me to pay for camera equipment, software, advertising, traveling to the horse management areas, printing… Plus my job also gives health benefits so when I cut my leg open on rusty barbed wire in pursuit of mustang photos (which actually happened in Arizona in 2020), I can go to the Emergency Room for a tetanus shot.  

2. Mustangs– another no-brainer. Use this book to find the mustang sites and I can offer suggestions for good hotels nearby. There are a lot of Horse/Herd Management Areas (HMA) in many states- some closer than you think. Also Google BLM, mustang, wild horse, management areas and you’ll find a lot of information, once you know the name of the HMA, try to Google that and you will be amazed at the sheer quantity of clubs and rescue groups affiliated with the mustangs!

3. Car with high clearance– four wheel drive is not necessary if you are absolutely 100% positive it won’t rain (being a weather psychic is useful too). High clearance is the most useful feature for your mustang-finding-vehicle but four wheel drive comes in handy and will offer you peace of mind. My husband loves to drive all over the place looking for mustangs… Four wheel drive is also good and I won’t go out to some of the sites without it…

4. SLR Digital Camera-like a Photoshop below, you need a DSLR camera (digital single lens reflex)- Canon, Nikon, Olympus- whatever is most affordable, start with used if finances are an issue. Lots of megapixels are great but beyond 10- the photos are just taking up space on your hard drive-unless you specialize in posters which require large files for the clearest printing but for most people, 10-12 megapixels or less is fine. Should you include video? Some of the newer SLR cameras come with video. I am a bit of a purist and I bought a GoPro camera so I can shoot video and photographs separately. When I am in the groove taking photos, the last thing I want to do is stop and switch my camera to video and waste tremendous space on my memory card for video… Save it for photos and find a friend with a sense of humor to shoot video for you. Try B&H Camera and Video in New York City- I have been there many times, they have excellent on-line used cameras and lenses and you can search by price. They are very knowledgeable and if you decide to visit, let me know-I will treat you to lunch.

5. Adobe Photoshop– Don’t accept substitutions. This is the industry standard in photography and if you want to be taken seriously, you need Photoshop. If money is tight, then you might consider buying it with a student license. There are restrictions with a limited student license but it is substantially cheaper. It is a rather complex program and it will take a while to learn Photoshop but there are plenty of books you can buy to learn this program as well as thousands of free lessons on line. Even video tutorials at Adobe’s website or You Tube. They have a new way to buy Adobe products called Adobe Creative Cloud where you pay a nominal fee each month  and you have access to ALL Adobe products and they have a vast library of programs for web design, video, photography and graphic design.

6. A spirit of adventure and professionalism– being adventurous is critical to mustang photography. When it is the fourth herd, located well over a mile away and it is 90F and you are already hot and sweaty…having that “okay, let’s hike through the sagebrush for the fourth time in the hot sun and photograph the mustangs” attitude is key… It is ALWAYS worth it. As for professionalism- be polite, respectful, avoid profanity both on your website, Facebook fan page and your personal page. People can see some of your personal page (regardless of friend status) and having questionable photos/content won’t bring people to your photography site in droves.   Utilizing your computer’s spellcheck and grammar are also pluses though I have been known to post some humorous comments when typing on my phone- granted the comments are spelled correctly, the just don’t make any sense grammatically.

Other non-essential but useful 

A friend– driver, video , companionship

External hard drive-always, always, always back up to an external source before you even look at the photos!

Cintiq board/tablet– I bought mine at B&H and this handy graphics tablets comes pre-calibrated for print. I never have to worry about my prints looking different than what I see on my monitor because of my Cintiq. If you don’t have a a graphics tablet, try calibrating your monitor so that the print will look similar to what you see in Photoshop. Also when doing fine work on a photograph, the pen is more comfortable to use than a mouse.

Telephoto lens– most cameras come with a 35-110 or 200 mm lens as a package deal. I love my 18-200mm. For mustangs, you will probably want to invest in a 100-400mm and IS is best. (Image Stabilized). I had a 500mm Canon lens- it was a moose, weighed a ton and was utterly useless in the field. Great for photographing hummingbirds at my feeder at home but that was about it. You want the most portable lenses you can carry- literally.

Digital watermark– this is a process that places an invisible ‘digital watermark’ on all your image (you choose which). It tracks these images throughout the Internet and will find if your image is being used somewhere else even if it has been altered. I use DigiMark.

Nik filters for Photoshop – amazing filters I can’t live without!

Alien Skin Filters– also phenomenal 

Adobe Lightroom– an amazingly useful program to preview, catalog and do minor editing- also will upload to a website as a gallery- very cool!

Monopod– like a tripod, this handy item comes as a single cane-like support for your camera. It has only one leg but if you find your images are blurry, try using a monopod or tripod. I find them cumbersome and I have learned how to steady my camera but I carry a monopod in my uber-cool photography vest. Once in a while they are great for panning a running herd or if you find yourself parked next to a waterhole… 

Photography vest- a slightly dorky but rather useful article of clothing. It has about 15 pockets of varying sizes. Make sure, if you don’t have a driver friend, put your car keys in a very safe place- zippered pockets are nice and secure. You don’t want to search through sagebrush for your cars keys. The nice thing about the vest is it holds extra lenses, water, monopod, memory cards and lens cloths without a backpack. Useful for hot summer days especially when you have to hoof-it for a mile…. 

Memory cards– I use smaller cards, about 32 MB and switch frequently. If I manage to get an amazing series of photos, I will remove that card, stash it someplace safe and continue with a fresh card. This way you don’t ever run the risk of losing precious photos. My cards are labeled 1,2,3,4,5… And A,B,C,D,E… This way I remember which are used and which are blank. I keep the cards as backup, even after I upload to an external hard drive. The photos are uploaded to my laptop, and then transferred to my external hard drive which I carry on the plane with me. Only then do I allow myself the pleasure of looking through that day’s adventures in mustang photography on my MacBook.

Cell phone with car charger– this is an obvious one

GPS– might be useful, I have never needed one myself – most phones come with some sort of location function. Try that before you buy a Garmin

Water– especially in the warmer weather

Have fun and be safe!!!!

-Meredith & Karen

The Dun Dilution Factor

Dun foal “Luna” (second) belonging to Connie Rivas of HP Quarter Horses

The Dun Dilution Factor works on all horse colours. It can appear in black, bay, chestnut, palomino, buckskin, cremello, roan, and even appears in grey horses prior to the horse greying out. Like the Cream Gene, the Dun Dilution lightens the base coat colour, adds primitive markings, but leaves black colour alone. There are so many different shades of dun and the nomenclature varies between horse breeds and regionally. We will describe them related to their base color. Black horses are unique because the resulting dun horses have a specific name called grullo/grulla. Dark bays and blacks can be almost impossible to distinguish.

A black horse with a Dun Dilution turns the horse a lighter shade, with primitive markings, and guard hairs (lighter hairs on the outside of the mane and tail). The head is usually darker. The resulting horses have a slate-blue with less red present although some can have a warm tone. They generally have a very dark head. Without genetic testing, we are only guessing at the actual chromosomes of these horses. .

Primitive markings are named for markings found on ancient horse breeds such as the Przewalski or Tappan horse. They include a continuous line from the withers to the dock (top of the tail). Other markings include wither and/or neck stripes, cobwebbing: faint stripes on the face, zebra stripes on the legs, chest stripes, and darker ear tips. Zebra stripes are the colour of the underlying coat color, so a chestnut horse has darker chestnut stripes and a bay has black zebra stripes. Lighter hair on either side of the mane and each side of the tail, called ‘guard hairs’ may also be present.

The management are with the most Duns relative to the population is Pryor, they are plentiful there. Sand Wash Basin has many as well, and they are present at the Salt River. Little Book Cliffs has them, but McCullough Peaks does not have many. Great Desert Basin also does not have a large population. The Dun trait is autosomal dominant:

From UC Davis (they do genetic testing in equines)

Alleles: D = Dun dilute, nd1 = Non-dun 1, nd2 = Non-dun 2

Horses with nd2/nd2 genotype will not be dun dilute and will not have primitive markings. They cannot transmit a dun dilution variant to their offspring.

Horses with nd1/nd2 genotype will not be dun dilute, but may have primitive markings. They may transmit the non-dun 1 variant to 50% of their offspring.

Horses with nd1/nd1 genotype will not be dun dilute, but may have primitive markings. They will transmit the non-dun 1 variant to all of their offspring.

Horses with D/nd1 or D/nd2 genotype will be dun dilute and will display primitive markings. They may transmit the dun dilute variant to 50% of their offspring. Matings with N/N genotype will results in a 50% chance of producing a dun dilute foal.

Horses with D/D genoytpe will be dun dilute and will transmit the dun dilute variant to all of their offspring. Matings with any genotype are predicted to produce dun dilute offspring.

(Click on all the photos to enlarge them)

A typical dun

Black horse becomes a “grullo (male) or grulla (female)

Bay horses become a yellow-tan shade with their points (legs, mane, and tail remain black)

Normal bay on the left. The photo on the right shows a dun in front, and a bay to the right. Note the reduction of red, resulting in a more warm golden colour

A solid chestnut horse becomes a lighter, golden horse with deep red points

A chestnut horse with a flaxen mane and tail becomes a lighter Dun -note the reduction of red

A liver chestnut horses becomes a deeper, darker Dun

Some dorsal stripes have marks perpendicular to the stripe like hatch marks. Also note the prominent wither marks and some neck marks

A nice example of a line-back dorsal stripe in a grullo mustang

Well marked wither and neck marks in a bay dun

Duns can be very pale such as this “buttermilk” dun. A grullo is the second from the left.

A nice red dun, and pale dun to the right

Duns can occur in buckskin horses- they are usually tan and hard to distinguish from more yellow duns. Genetic testing may reveal their genes. In this photo we have three shades of Dun. The horse in the top right may be a Dunskin

A family of Duns. The foal is a red dun (chestnut base) the Stallion is a red dun, and the mare is a bay dun

Bay dun mare with a red dun foal

The same pair as above- note the dark ear tip on the foal characteristic of duns. Other colors may have dark ear tips, so this alone is not a way to determine a dun

Two duns, a bay, and roan bay peeking a head over the last horse…

This foal looks like a dun, but never trust a foal coat… they change constantly

This is a dun that is greying out. Eventually the dorsal stripe, and zebra stripes will fade as the horse whitens with age

Feeling confident about you ability to spot Duns? There is one Dun in this photo

And one Dun in this photo… This might be a Dunskin

A dun, a chestnut, a bay and a roan

A dunalino, a red dun pinto (note the zebra stripes on the front legs, and a dorsal stripe), and a chestnut

Two Grullos/dark bays of different shades…

A warm dun, base coat is a most likely a dark chestnut

A pale dun, bay base (because it has black points)

A gorgeous red dun stallion on the left- probably liver chestnut base and a dark warm grullo/dark bay. Grullos tend to have very dark heads

Some call this shade a peanut butter dun

Warm grulla/dark bay mare- gravid

A pale grulla, often referred to a silver dun

Dark grullo/dark bay- may be a lobo dun

Dark grullo and a bay roan

Corona from Sand Wash Basin is a Dunalino, or a Dun Palomino

One red and two pale duns

Two handsome red duns, note the slightly darker red zebra stripes on both stallions

A Dun Bay Roan- with a red roan foal. Dun roans often have paler dorsal stripes (the stallion off to the right is a blue roan)

You can appreciate the zebra stripes and how they reflect the underlying color in the dun bay roan. She also has faint spider webbing on her face in a diamond shape around her forehead

Bay dun roan

Bay dun roan

A roan in fron, with a bay roan dun behind

The stallion at the top of this image demonstrates the guard hairs as they travel down the mane, across the back, into the tail. Three bay duns, and a blue roan

A grulla in front, a bay dun, and a normal bay- you can appreciate how much red is reduced in the dun when compared to a bay

An interesting dun from Onaqui.

Same horse from the back

Horses that look like Duns, but aren’t…

Two buckskins- they resemble duns but lack zebra striping and a dorsal stripe. The mare looks like she has a dorsal stripe, but it is fuzzy and incomplete

Same pair from the side

The roan looks like he has a dorsal stripe, but it is pale and incomplete There are also no zebra stripes

A beautiful buckskin mare(yes, this is a mare) with a similar yellow-tone coat

The bay roan in back (top) is normal, the buckskin roan may be a dun- roans are sometimes hard to distinguish from dun roans because the roaning pattern may obscure the dorsal stripe and create a pattern similar to zebra stripes.

A buckskin greying our resembles a warm grullo- there are some faint zebra stripes, and perhaps some wither and neck marks… only genetic testing will confirm

The first horse is bay, the second horse might look like a dun, but he is a pale buckskin, the third horse is a roan, and the last horse is a grullo/dark bay

Same group as above with a bay roan at the back

Sometimes wild horses make identification of coat color a challenge…

Answers to the who’s who…

Gower, J. (1999). Horse color explained: A breeder’s perspective. North Pomfret, VT: Trafalgar Square.    

Kathman, L. (2014). The equine tapestry: An introduction to horse colors and patterns. Charlotte, NC.: Blackberry Lane Press.  

Sponenberg, D. P. (1996). Equine color genetics. Ames: Iowa State University Press.

The Cream Dilution Gene (updated)

Two Palomino Stallions spar at Sand Wash Basin
©Equus ferus -Wild Horse Photography

The Cream Gene is a modifier, or a gene that acts on one of three base colours in horses.  The three base colour are chestnut, bay, and black. Some people classify brown as separate colour but for the purposes of this discussion, we will group brown with black since the inheritance is the same.


A band with Palominos and buckskin race across Sand Wash Basin

The Cream Dilution can either be expressed as a single dilution, or a double dilution. Every chromosome has two alleles that represent the way in which each chromosome is inherited and you receive one allele from each parent. Simply put, the chromosomes (usually represented by letters) appear in pairs. To review high school biology, these pairs are generally dominant or recessive. Dominant genes are represented by two capital letters or one capital and one lower-case. The animal appears the same (phenotype) whether they are EE or Ee. The recessive form is represented by two lower-case letters ee.

The cream gene in the single form acts upon chestnut, bay and black by diluting the red colour to cream. The Cream Colour may be light enough to appear almost white to a dark chocolate tan colour. The black is generally unaffected so bay horses horses retain the black points, and mane/tail. Black horses appear somewhat diluted- a mousey chocolate. Horses with a single Cream dilution generally have dark eyes (unless blue from paint patterns) and black skin except where there are white markings (paint markings, facial markings, and leg markings).

Corona’s Band
There are six cream horses
Sand Wash Basin, Colorado
©Equus ferus -Wild Horse Photography

The double dilution, or two Cream Genes acts upon both the red and black colours. The red become light cream/off white, and the black lightens to cream. In a bay horse with two cream genes, the body colour is light cream and the points appear as a darker shade of cream. Smokey Black Creams have a slightly over all darker shade but without genetic testing, it is impossible to determine what the base colour is in these horses. All double dilute Cream horses all have pink skin and blue or light green/hazel eyes.

The double dilute horses (Cremello, Perlino & Smokey Cream) are difficult to distinguish by appearance or phenotype alone. It is possible the double dilutes are all cremellos, or perlinos- or they are dirty. Google Perlino, Cremello, or Smokey Cream to see how they truly look- they are stunning colours.

The “Sooty” modifier is a additional genetic trait in which the horse’s coat looks like someone airbrushed darker colouration over the coat. In some extreme cases, the sooty modifier can turn a palomino so dark it appears ‘chocolate’ coloured- as in the case of Cloud’s son Bolder (photos below). Sooty can occur in any color and is believed to help break-up the outline/contour of a horse (countershading) and making it harder for predators to estimate the distances of the their prey.

Echo (Palomino) and his sire Bolder (Sooty Palomino) spar
Pryor Mountain, Montana
©Equus ferus -Wild Horse Photography

Cream dilutions can also appear with other dilutes such as Dun. The resulting horses are called Dunalinos (dun + palomino) and Dunskins (dun + buckskin). It can be a challenge to tell pale palominos from cremellos/perlinos horses, but look at the muzzle and other mucous membranes (grey in Palomino, pink in creams). Watch for facial markings which also appear pale-pink even on palominos. The eyes are usually dark in Palominos, and pale green or blue in Creams.

Bay- Base Coat

Buckskin (varying shades) BAY + ONE CREAM GENE= BUCKSKIN


Chestnut (BASE)

Black (BASE)
Smokey Black Dun (Buckskin behind)
Smokey Cream (Buckskin behind)


Chestnut with sooty- appears most prominently in the mane and tail, base colour is chestnut.     Cimarron Sand Wash Basin ©Meredith Hudes-Lowder Equus ferus -Wild Horse Photography    


Corona- Palomino + Dun= Dunalino
Note the primitive markings (black arrows) and typical palomino colouration
Sand Wash Basin, Colorado
©Equus ferus -Wild Horse Photography

Palomino- mid colour
Sand Wash Basin
©Meredith Hudes-Lowder
Bobby (2)
Sand Wash Basin
©Equus ferus -Wild Horse Photography

Palomino- Light
McCullough Peaks
©Equus ferus -Wild Horse Photography

  Buckskin Stallion with two light palominos in his band Buggs Band Sand Wash Basin
Buggs is a buckskin, and note the dark eyes on the paler palominos
©Karen McLain Studio
Cloud- a well-know Palomino (in memoriam)
His son is Bolder (sooty palomino below)
His grandson Echo (pale palomino below)
Pryor Mountain
©Equus ferus -Wild Horse Photography

Palomino with Sooty Bolder Well known for changing colour as he aged, Bolder has the Sooty gene expressed almost to the maximum. Born lighter, each year he grew darker and darker.  Some liver chestnut horses that have a cream gene are called “chocolate palominos” and may be hard to distinguish from Sooty palominos but the chocolate palominos tend to be browner and the colour is more uniform and not scattered as we see here on Bolder.   Pryor Mountain ©Karen McLain Studio Equus ferus -Wild Horse Photography    

Palomino with sooty- Bolder and his son Echo, a light palomino Pryor Mountain
©Karen McLain Studio

(Left) Light Palomino Echo, (Right) Sooty Palomino Bolder
Sire -right, Colt – left
Pryor Mountain
©Karen McLain Studio
(Rear) Palomino with sooty restricted to the forelegs, face, and chest.
(Front) Tripod, a cremello- note the pink skin around his muzzle.  
Sand Wash Basin
©Karen McLain Studio Equus ferus -Wild Horse Photography    
Pale Palomino Foal “Isabella”
Sand Wash Basin
©Equus ferus -Wild Horse Photography
The pale cream color was so highly prized by Queen Isabelle de-Bourbon that they became known as Isabella Palominos. Only royalty were allowed to own this beautiful golden colour.
Elisabeth of France or Isabella of Bourbon (22 November 1602 – 6 October 1644) was Queen Consort of Spain (1621 to 1644) and Portugal (1621 to 1640) as the first spouse of King Philip IV of Spain. Queen Isabella gifted some gold horses to Juan de Palomino which is where this color gets its name. Note the grey muzzle and dark eyes indicating this ia a pale palomino.
Meteor – Palomino Tovero Sand Was Basin


Sooty Bay  
McCullough Peaks
©Equus ferus -Wild Horse Photography  


YELLOW ARROWS= Bay with Sooty PINK ARROW= Bay GREEN ARROW= Primitive Bay or Bay with Pangaré A Primitive Bay is a bay with paler colour and the black points of the legs do not extend above the knees/hocks- often paler in comparison.   McCullough Peaks ©Karen McLain Studio Equus ferus -Wild Horse Photography      

YELLOW ARROWS= Bay with Sooty   PINK ARROWS= Bay McCullough Peaks ©Karen McLain StudioEquus ferus -Wild Horse Photography TM

Buckskin Stallion Sand Wash Basin
©Karen McLain Studio
Buckskin Tobiano Yearling
In spite of a blue eye- her black mane, partial black tail and dark muzzle indicate she is a buckskin.
Great Desert Basin
©Equus ferus -Wild Horse Photography
A Dunskin, or Dun + Buckskin
Note the primitive markings (wither marks, zebra stripes on his legs)
Great Desert Basin, Utah
©Equus ferus -Wild Horse Photography

Buckskin Mare with her Cremello colt    
McCullough Peaks
©Equus ferus -Wild Horse Photography TM

Buckskin Mare- slight Sooty    
McCullough Peaks
©Equus ferus -Wild Horse Photography TM

Sooty Buckskin
McCullough Peaks
©Equus ferus -Wild Horse Photography

Always identify the cream variant before the mud bath
Echo (Cloud’s Grandson)
Pryor Mountain, Montana
©Equus ferus -Wild Horse Photography


Genotype at the agouti locusChestnut horsesPalomino horses
A+_Light chestnutCream palomino
AA_Red chestnut, with AAAA being the reddestGolden palomino
At_Standard chestnutSeasonal palomino
Aa AaLiver chestnutChocolate palomino

Gower, J. (1999). Horse color explained: A breeder’s perspective. North Pomfret, VT: Trafalgar Square.    

Kathman, L. (2014). The equine tapestry: An introduction to horse colors and patterns. Charlotte, NC.: Blackberry Lane Press.  

Sponenberg, D. P. (1996). Equine color genetics. Ames: Iowa State University Press.

Presented by Dr Meredith Hudes-Lowder

Walkabout 2020- Day Twelth

Water arrives, driving on some bumpy roads, and wild horses

Morning fun… before the water delivery

Water has become scarce in Sand Wash Basin. There are currently four natural and one man-made water sources. The Wild Horse Warriors for Sand Wash Basin were able to get permissions to provide supplemental water. They decided to augment three existing waterholes that are spread out to reduce impact on the environment. This is the waterhole on 126E.

Van Gogh- son of Picasso at Lake Pond (67). He looks so much like his sire.
Two bachelors at Oasis.
The road less taken… definitely need to have really good tires!!!

Anya hiding from the heat

The final light of day isn’t good for photography- even with a tripod, the images aren’t very clear. We have fun with our iPhone which work surprisingly well…

A Walkabout tradition: S’Mores. Mmmmmm

Our light is flashlights or luminAID. It is a solar powered inflatable lamp-we have only charged it once. It will also charge a USB device if needed. It’s soft light is perfect as we unwind from a long day of photography.

Tomorrow is our final day in the Basin. We thankfully were able to stay in Colorado the entire time and really immerse ourselves in the Sand Wash Basin Wild Horse experience. We’ve taken nearly 25K photos, and there is still tomorrow. It has been an amazing experience. We are already planning next year’s Walkabout 2021.

Walkabout 2020- Day Eleventh

It was a busy one today- tons of horses, time with Cindy, new secret watering places, and some nice waterhole action. Also some art, cupcakes, and harp!

I have played my harp many times for wild horses. They like to listen!

Karen is a phenomenal artist. She paints en plein air- which means she paints live – paints wild horses… live and in the field. She paints phenomenally fast and accurately. it’s amazing to watch her set up her palette, and set up her field easel. Her paintings are internationally award winning.

Karen McLain Studio Website

Karen McLain Facebook

Strata easel
Practicing my harp
Horse models and musical audience

We moved to Oasis- another waterhole and found some more friends

We returned to our camper to find some bachelors hanging out and being bad… The video is located at our Instagram wildhorsephotography

The evening light glowed with remnants of the fire in Irish Canyon.

Good night from Sand Wash Basin

Walkabout 2020- Day Tenth

Another awesome day chasing wild horses… well not literally. We saw a lot of horses and the weather was beautiful.

Band of mostly grey horses
Same band in the water
Cooling off

We found some coyote prints

Coyote print with a quarter for size reference

We had a wonderful afternoon, the light was incredible.

Anya wore her Doggles during the bright day

It’s bright out!
Happy dog!
Ready to take over the world!!!

The end of the day brought an incredible sunset thanks to the fire (mostly out).

Horses make their way to evening grazing…

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Walkabout 2020-Day Ninth

Today was one of the best days so far in the Basin. We saw an astounding number of horses, and even watched a band change stallions. Eclipse’s band is now under the auspices of Bobbie -although Bobbie has his hands full with such a large band.

We started with a few horses right outside our camper

Sweet dun filly
We either stand still, or move very slowly so as not to spook horses when they are close to the cat. She was very curious.

We headed over to the other side of the Basin and found horses bear Lake Draw. We also ran into a car full of people from New York- naturally I was excited to see fellow NYC-ers.

Laramie- daughter of Cheyenne and Corona
Laramie and her two foals- last year on the left and a mini-me on the right
Karen and I both decided if Jason Momoa was a stallion, this lovely deep liver chestnut would be a likely candidate.
We ate lunch on top of the Basin- 7,000 feet up

The afternoon was spent at the Oasis waterhole. We saw a stallion named Bobbie take over another stallion’s band. Eclipse lost his band today, it it is a big band and there were many horses watching the two stallions interact.

Bobbie’s new band – formerly Eclipse’s band. It is a large band and they don’t seem to like the new management
Bobbie snaking (herding) the band. Stallions snake to show dominance. Bobbie is known for firm, aggressive band management. His track record of keeping band is not great.
Snaking again
Interested bachelors look on
Bobbie guarding his new band against Eclipse (horse and the end of the burm

It will be interesting to see how this turns out tomorrow. We’d love for horses to stay together as family bands forever, but Mother Nature decides in the end who it fittest to lead a band. Often it isn’t the strongest, sometimes it is the fastest, or the most clever. With such a large band, Bobbie has his work cut out this evening. Eclipse and other bachelors would love to run off with a mare from the large band.

Makeshift tripod to photograph the moon.
Where will the two-track take us next?
Goodnight from the Basin.

Walkabout 2020- Day Eighth

Grouse, coyotes, a fire, and of course, WILD HORSES

An interesting day- because it is so dry and there is limited water in the Basin, we travel a lot to find horses. There are only a few waterholes with water (Oasis, Avocet, 126E, and Lake Draw- a little remains at Outhouse). We travel from waterhole to waterhole and sometimes we get lucky… and sometimes we sit and wait and no horses show up.

We got lucky at Avocet this morning

After lunch we started out and noticed smoke on the hills at the southwestern border of Sand Wash after a thunderstorm. We called Cindy from Wild Horse Warriors and she called 911. They take fires in this dry climate very seriously. It was mostly contained by night and likely form lightning during summer storms.

We also saw a coyote and some Greater Sage Grouse today as well.

And we saw a lot of horses… 😊

Smoke from the fire did make for a lovely sunset