The great “family bands” saga continues. I received a fair number of comments suggesting I don’t know anything about wild horses or that I don’t know anything about rescues. Neither is true, but that’s not the impetus behind this post. The sanctuary in question blocked me within an hour of the original post. So much for transparency or any attempt at civil discourse. I decided to change the horses’ names back to their real ones on the original post, though the rescue shall remain nameless.
I received some interesting remarks and posts regarding “The Myth of the Wild Horse Families” on other pages where it appeared. Here is my take on this based on an actual rescue and the bidding that went on for the assumed relatives of Picasso from Sand Wash Basin. This is my opinion, but I believe their aspirations have become a bit clouded. Additionally, they are allowing the horses to live free with minimal interference as they did on the range. This is incredibly dangerous for everyone involved in their care. Any rescued horse needs to be familiar with a halter, and lead rope, behave for the farrier, and administration of medication or general care. You don’t have to ride them, but they are no longer wild. Again, a wonderful idea to let them be free, but their judgement is rather questionable and harmful for everyone involved, including the horses (or they send a bill to the general public for a squeeze chute when an emergency arises…).
It’s disingenuous to presume any of us know the true motives of a given wild horse rescue. We can only base these assumptions on their social media posts and observable decision-making. However, obliterating your entire operating expenses for the next two years on one horse is indefensible. That fiscally irresponsible decision is even worse when these rescues are dependent almost entirely upon the public’s goodwill. In effect, they decided for every one of us that it is a good idea to spend $21,000 on various horses under the premise they are a “family” and, therefore, deemed more valuable. Then they hand us the bill for their reckless improvidence. Based solely upon this scenario, I firmly believe they are insincere in their efforts because they’re acting without judgement, solely on emotions, and basing their decisions on mythical ideology. They want to save mustangs, but primarily the most beloved and their entire extended family under the presupposition the public will gladly pay for this marvellous opportunity.
Two direct quotes from the sanctuary are presented below. I am never, ever suggesting that these horses do not need homes. They do, and I feel that must be stated unequivocally. I also understand well-known horses bring attention to a rescue or sanctuary. It is a sad state when the public appears to favour the support of primarily popular mustangs, but that can be overcome. We can try for equality over popularity and to recognize the intrinsic value of all rescued wild horses. Mustangs are resilient; they form new bonds, and old bonds may fall in disfavour. There are plenty of rescues that do wonderful work; I am involved with several. I am asking the sanctuary, and similar ones, why the focus is based on hypothetical genetic relationships? In a world where we don’t know the true relationships especially given Picasso’s death and that his body was never found. We will truly never know if any horses are related to him or even each other, so why spend the time and enormous sums of money on that assumption? It all comes back to money.
Banking on sentimentality and the popularity of a particular wild horse is not a guarantee any rescue/sanctuary will continue to receive donations. I honestly don’t object to a rescue that adopts a family of wild horses or a known bonded pair. My issue is the postulation they assume the public will be willing to pay for any exorbitantly priced animals and their upkeep for the remainder of the animal’s life. It’s a lot to ask.
“Researchers have found that, as with humans, individual bonds within bands may be more important than group identity. These bonds are sometimes based on family ties, but often they are just based on individual preference. These preferences can and do change: friendships come and go, foals grow up and depart to live elsewhere, male-female relationships sometimes work out and sometimes don’t. As a result, the social lives of horses are nothing if not tumultuous. Indeed, long-term observation of these animals in the wild is like following a soap opera. There is a constant undercurrent of arguing, of jockeying for position and power, of battling over personalspace, of loyalty and betrayal” (Williams, 2015, p.3).
The marketing of wild horse rescue groups is a multimillion-dollar industry. As of late, there have been a lot of rescues pushing the “keep family bands together” narrative to part you from your hard-earned money. Nature does not work this way… ever.
There was a lot of interest in the Sand Wash Basin wild horses. I will preface this by stating that anyone who offers a home to a wild horse or rescued domestic horse is wonderful. I owned two rescued off-the-track Thoroughbreds myself. However, the concept of keeping mares with their sons and daughters, or stallions with mares in their former band, is absolute horse manure.
At the age of 1-2 years for colts, and 1.5-2.5 for fillies, the dams and stallions kick these horses out of their natal band. The stallions do not want their sons around to compete with them for mares, and mares are generally expecting their next foal or even have last year’s foal and a new foal on the way (Goodwin, 2010). Mares rarely tolerate their two-year-olds (and older) nursing, although there are exceptions, such as Echo, Cloud’s son. He stayed in his natal band long past the usual time. If the young horses remain, there is a risk that these young horses will eventually breed with their fathers, mothers, sisters, or brothers (Berger, 1986).
The horse that created one of many controversies was a horse named Snip, the son of the famous mustang Picasso. He had a small band of mares and two colts in 2020. Two of his many mares are Amber and Marina, and Marina is also Snip’s presumed daughter. A wild horse rescue was/is hell-bent on getting the two colts (Sheridan &. Toma) reunited with their mother(s). They have Marina at the moment. This would reunite Marina with her son Sheridan who is now two years old. In spite of being in Snip’s band, we don’t know that Marina’s foal is actually Snip’s foal. We do know that Marina’s sire is likely Snip, which would mean he might have bred his daughter. Marina also could have snuck off and was bred by another stallion or bachelor nearby. Also, Snip may not be the father of Toma… do you all see where this is going?
There are no guarantees that the so-called ‘family bands’ are related. Also, Sheridan is an unmarked bay colt. There are many unmarked bay colts on the range, and the rescue stated the horse they wanted to bid $7,000 on was “believed to be” Marina’s colt. That’s a lot of money for a maybe… Marina would have kicked all two-year offspring and older out of the band; few parents want their 28-year-old child living in their basement. Finally, Snip is gelded. His interest in the mares may have shifted because he has lost the desire to breed.
Keeping family bands together is a lovely sentiment, and I won’t deny that some horses form very close bonds with one another, related genetically or otherwise. The concept of ‘wild horse families’ is a myth, not based in reality whatsoever. There is a very good statistical chance the horses in a band are unrelated except on the matrilineal lineage. The statistics are as high as 33% that the band stallion is NOT the sire, a Jerry Springer-sque situation common on the wild horse ranges. Parents routinely breed with their offspring, and genetic relationships are a jumble of guesses.
Owl, the dam of Michelangelo (Picasso’s grandson), had already kicked him out of the band. or he left of his own accord. Why would a rescue want to try to reverse what Mother Nature deems best and put those two back together? It goes completely against Nature. My guess is over-anthropomorphizing. Complete families are something we, as humans, believe to be stable and desirable. These are horses where mares change bands routinely, stallions take over bands weekly, mares are not faithful, and incest is prevalent.
There is no denying that rescued horses need good homes. Why do rescues who rely on donations insist on tricking the public into thinking paying enormous sums for specific horses is a wise choice? If wild-horse rescues truly believed in the welfare of the horses, they would not spend thousands on famous horses. They would put that money towards the upkeep of ordinary horses who need homes. Sadly, having well-known horses or their progeny drives their price up considerably, but what about future care? Once the excitement of having one of Picasso’s, Cloud’s, or another well-known mustang’s offspring wears off, who will pay for food, and vet care, not to mention the labour that goes along with all of this?
We need to stop exploiting, anthropomorphizing, and romanticising wild horses and simply provide decent homes for all. They are all beautiful, and they all deserve fair treatment, especially the ordinary ones.
Berger, J. (1986). Wild horses of the Great Basin: Social competition and population size. University of Chicago Press.
Bowling, A. T., & Touchberry, R. W. (1990). Parentage of Great Basin Feral Horses. The Journal of Wildlife Management, 54(3), 424–429. https://doi.org/10.2307/3809652
“ I do not need to tell you to curry the Godolphin Arabian,” he smiled with his eyes. “Already his coat is the color of honey when held in a jar against the sunlight.”
Marguerite Henry’s description of Sham, the Godolphin Arabian, stayed in my mind from the moment I read the book ‘King of the Wind’ as a little girl. Bay horses: a combination of fiery red, and coal-black have captured the imagination of people for millennia.
Colour in animals serves many useful purposes such as ‘concealment, communication, and regulation of physiological process’ (Corbin, et al, 2020). Horses were domesticated approximately 5,500 years ago and selective breeding resulted in the vast array of horse types and colours we see today.
All horses receive two alleles from each parent that determine the base colour. An Allele is each contribution by parents- denoted as EE (each parent contributed one E), or Ee (one parent contributed E, the other parent contributed e). These alleles are located at specific locations on a chromosome called a loci/locus.
Base colours are red or black. The horse begins with the MC1R, or Melanocortin 1 Receptor locus. This determines black or red and is designated by E.
EE Black Ee: Black ee: Red
Next, the locus that contributes to colour is called the ASIP or Agouti Signaling Protein which determines where the black will appear, either all over, restricted to parts of the body, or only the points (lower legs, mane, tail, tips of ears). There are several subtypes (A, At, A+).
In order to control black, the horse must have at least one E gene (EE, Ee), otherwise, the ASIP has no effect, so no black appears with ‘ee’ and the horse is chestnut.
AA: Black restricted to points, red body (Bay) Aa: Black restricted points, red body (Bay)
AtAt: Seal Bay (black is less restricted, resulting in a dark horse with reddish areas on the ‘soft areas: muzzle, over the eyes, elbow, flanks, in front of the stifle, back of buttocks).
Ata: Seal Bay (black is less restricted, resulting in a dark horse with reddish areas on the ‘soft areas: muzzle, over the eyes, elbow, flanks, in front of the stifle, back of buttocks).
aa: Black all over, it turns off all red when EE or Ee is present (ee only results in chestnut colour).
A+A+: Wild Type Bay (Mane and tail are black, may have some red. Black on points is limited to the fetlocks, or has red hair mixed in, not solid black lower legs)
A+A: Wild Type Bay (Mane and tail are black, may have some red. Black on points is limited to the fetlocks, or has red hair mixed in, not solid black lower legs)
A+a: Wild Type Bay(Mane and tail are black, may have some red. Black on points is limited to the fetlocks, or has red hair mixed in, not solid black lower legs)
*Wild Bay are uncommon to rare
Other coat colour modifications:
There are links to other coat modifications we posted for the Equine Genetic Series (they appear as live links when you wave your mouse over the word).
SHADE: There is a gene responsible for how light or how dark the colour appears. It is not well understood, but researchers found an independent locus close to the ASIP locus. A different gene called the sooty gene can cause a coat to appear very dark, and dilutions such as the Cream or Dun gene lighten the coat of horses. But ALL horses have a base coat of Red or Black or the absence of both (white).
SOOTY: Some horses have the ‘sooty factor’ which can darken the coat of any horse. The genetics are not well understood (link to sooty).
PANGARÉ: Some horses have pangaré also called mealy where the soft areas (muzzle, over the eyes, elbow, flanks, in front of the stifle, back of buttocks) are light, or pale. (Link to pangaré)
FLAXEN: Commonly seen in chestnut horses, this gene lightens the mane and tail to a pale blonde color. Again, genetics are not well understood. Two bay horses can produce a chestnut with a flaxen mane, so it is possible it is present in bay horses genetically, simply not expressed (visible).
We hope you enjoyed the Bay Horses. Stay tuned for more exciting posts in the Equine Genetic Series brought to you by Karen McLain, Meredith Hudes-Lowder & Equus ferus Wild Horse Photography
References Corbin LJ, Pope J, Sanson J, Antczak DF, Miller D, Sadeghi R, Brooks SA. An Independent Locus Upstream of ASIP Controls Variation in the Shade of the Bay Coat Colour in Horses. Genes. 2020; 11(6):606. https://doi.org/10.3390/genes11060606
Gower, J. (1999). Horse color explained: A breeder’s perspective. North Pomfret, VT: Trafalgar Square.
Henry, M., & Dennis, W. (2017). King of the wind: The story of the godolphin arabian. Aladdin Paperbacks, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, Division.
Jacobs LN, Staiger EA, Albright JD, Brooks SA. The MC1R and ASIP Coat Color Loci May Impact Behavior in the Horse. J Hered. 2016 May;107(3):214-9. doi: 10.1093/jhered/esw007. Epub 2016 Feb 16. Erratum in: J Hered. 2016 Sep;107(5):479. PMID: 26884605; PMCID: PMC4885240.
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.
For myself, it is a scholarly inquiry, curiosity, and the desire to learn more about the world. I want to be able to discuss issues in the mustang community in a voice that is backed by as much scholarly research as I can find.
Research is not perfect, scientists aren’t always truthful and falsify, skew, or fudge their data (read up on the Fat vs. Big Sugar issue, a recent discovery that changed the way we view the relative nutrition of fatty foods.). A lot of research is funded by grants (money) and some grants come from big companies. The companies, in turn, have agendas and sometime scientist may tweak data to please their benefactors to get more grants. There are also predatory journals which publish articles that are not scholarly or scientific so just because you see someone “published,” it may not mean much (more about those journals later). This is why reputable journals are peer reviewed, or examined minutely by experts in the field who are good at spotting false data and questionable analyses.
If you find a lot of studies that say the same thing over and over (vaccines are safe and not to linked autism) and one study that conflicts with those studies (vaccines cause autism). It might be prudent to err on the side of the majority and conclude vaccines do NOT cause autism (and the author of the ‘vaccines cause autism study ‘admitted he made up his data; he lied). Most data is scientifically rigorous, subject to strict rules and regulations including behavior regarding human and animal subjects in research. This committee that oversees research is called the “Institutional Review Board”.
The IRB: Every University or college that conducts research must have an Institutional Review Board (IRB) which oversees the subjects in research whether human or animal. The rules are very strict and this group reviews EVERY proposed study. If you want to know more, Google the university name and IRB. You’ll find a ton of information regarding animal handling, care, and what is acceptable and humane. They have links to report studies you think are behaving in an unethical manner, however you must have first hand knowledge of the behavior and you need proof. You can’t use a recycled photo of a horse with sutures/staples along the animal’s flank claiming this study is harmful. Remember, a university may not agree with your definition of ethical, however the IRB is in place to ensure the research is generally regarded as ethical, and is conducted in a manner protecting the welfare of the participants. I picked Montana State University as an example, please take a look. (http://www.montana.edu/orc/iacuc/).
How to conduct research
First, you must begin with a question. We will look at the lethal white syndrome as an example later. The best place to start is Google Scholar. You can use plain Google, but if you’re looking for research studies, it’s a better place to start your search. Go to Google and type in Scholar, this will take you to Google Scholar https://scholar.google.com/
Now you need keywords– words that will help refine your search on your topic. You’ll need to be as accurate as possible to narrow the search field. Sometimes the keywords are terms you may not agree with such as the keyword “feral” for wild horses, but it is a scientific term used to describe undomesticated, unowned horses. Use different but similar words like horse, stallion, band, herd, mare, foal, wild, feral, mustang, equine, equid, behavior, ethology; you get the idea. Once you get an article that deals with your topic, the authors often provide keywords for their article, and this can help you find better keywords to refine your search efforts along with the titles of the articles themselves.
Remember, all you need is one or two decent studies published on your topic in the past five years or so to seed your research studies. From those studies, the reference list at the end of each article is a treasure trove of other articles related to your search. Other useful types of articles are systematic reviews, meta-analysis, or an integrative review. These studies are reviews of a lot of other studies. A “Systematic Review of the Temperament of Chestnut Horses” would be a study examining a lot of other studies on chestnut horse temperament. It’s a summary of the available research and very useful to find. Some of the journal publishing groups will allow you to view the abstract AND will list all the articles that used that article in their study. The “cited by…” is an excellent tool and is often a springboard to other articles related to your topic. Sometimes the web page will ‘suggest’ other studies based on your search terms/keywords. (See the research example below). Use systematic review, meta-analysis, integrative review or open access in your searches.
Abstracts without the full study. As you perform research, you may find there is a fee to view the whole article. Some research is Open Access and the author/publisher posts the full version visible to everyone; some journals are private. Unless you are affiliated (work for a university, you are a student and have access to a university library), you may not be able to read the whole article. The abstract is an excellent starting point it’s a summary of the study and gives a quick overview of to what the researchers discovered in their study. If you can’t get the full article, the abstract gives you a general idea of the findings of the study and is meaningful.
If you are lucky enough to have an entire article to read, I usually start with the abstract, then the background and significance, followed by the discussion/conclusion. I like to know what the researchers found before I read through the methods, data analysis, and results sections. If you want to research and do a decent job, learn the basics of research. Invest in few good books on research and a beginner’s guide to statistics. Most data are analyzed using statistics, and a basic knowledge is useful. (Note that the word data is plural in scientific research).
Journals: Size does matter
Journals: How do you know if a journal is respected and scholarly? It is pretty simple, it is the number of citations and consistently publishing scholarly, scientifically rigorous research papers. A citation is a reference or footnote where the author of one article quotes or takes excerpts from another article. They are usually written as (Hudes-Lowder, 2016) or add a number to the sentence. Hudes-Lowder said all Thoroughbreds are great horses1 . This number or article referenced can usually be found at the end of the paper or the bottom of the page if it is a footnote. Unless a citation is enclosed in quotes, the author is paraphrasing the results of another research study.
If a research article is scientifically rigorous and scholarly, people will use it as a reference in their paper, so articles with a lot of citations are considered good research. How can you find this magic number? The impact factor is defined as the number of citations, go to Resurchify and you’ll be able to locate the journal’s “impact factor.” Type in the name of a journal and see the impact factor. The higher the number, the more citations found for articles in that journal. Most journals are between 0.5-5 although a few medical journals in medicine have an impact factor greater than forty. It is not a perfect system, but it does offer a way to quantify research. Be a research snob, only use the best journals and well cited articles!
What are peer reviewed journals? By strict definition, a peer-reviewed journal is one in which the submitted articles are reviewed by “peers” in your chosen field of science. For example, a nursing journal is reviewed by other nurses. The term “peer” is a bit of misnomer because the review board members are regarded as experts in their field and not necessarily on the same scientific or academic level as new graduate right out of a Masters level program who is looking to publish their research study. However, peer-reviewed journals are more scholarly, and therefore better than non-peer reviewed journals since the submitted articles are judged by a panel of experts. The exception to this type of peer review are the predatory pay- per-publication journals (see below).
Scholarly vs. Predatory Pay-per-Publication Journals
An infamous self-proclaimed ‘wildlife ecologist’ in the mustang community named Craig Downer published a paper (2014) in the Journal of Life Science call “The Horse and Burro as Positively Contributing Returned Natives in North America” . Curious, I looked up the journal’s impact factor but could not find any reference to this journal. I went to the journal’s website and found it was a member of the Science Publishing Group. Claiming to be peer reviewed, this group publishes journals, none of which were familiar. Immediately, I became suspicious that this was a predatory pay-per-publication journal. There is a website that tracks these journals called Beall’s List and these fake-journals essentially publish anything for a fee. The peers who review the submitted journals are often fictions or scientists with no standing in the scientific community. Mr. Downer could not find a reputable scientific journal to publish his study, so he paid the Science Publishing Group instead. Resorting to these predatory journals is a clear indicator that the study is poorly researched, lacks significant credibility, and has little value to the scientific or mustang communities.
These predatory journals have no credibility, no academic, or scientific value, and they are regarded as jokes by most scientists. Only very desperate scientists and people who were dismissed from colleges, universities, and research labs publish in these journals. To the average person who doesn’t know much about research, it looks prestigious to see an article published in a peer-review viewed journal but remember, not all journals are equal. They are called predatory because they prey on recent graduates who may have trouble publishing and may not know these journals are disreputable. Sadly, international student get roped into paying a lot of money to ‘publish’ in an American journal without knowing it is the scientific equivalent of the National Enquirer. While I was in school, I regularly received emails from predatory journals and my university warns students about them early in most programs. My daughter Abby published in the journal “Personality and Individual Differences” while in high-school and she still receives emails asking her to publish “for a small fee” and even to sit on the “peer review boards” of some of the more sketchy journals at the age of sixteen. (Link to Abby’s article) & (Click here for the Impact Factor of her journal).
Along with poor quality journals, avoid articles published in magazines like Time. Time magazine utilizes decent research, but you should review the reference list at the end of the article. The same applies to a newspaper, ANYTHING you read online, Wikipedia, people who quote or cite themselves, and always remember to question everything. Just because it is online, that doesn’t mean it is true and check citations. People can write anything and claim it came from a source, but you should check the actual source. Even reputable scholarly journals can be fooled by research so keep an open mind and be curious. It is surprising how much false information is on the Internet especially in the mustang advocacy.
Remember if an article you are reading comes from a journal that asks for money to publish and offers 50% off your first article; it’s best to ‘move along, these are not the journals you are looking for’. -Dr Hudes-Lowder
Books are available online or in libraries, and these can be used for research. For scientific research, it is best to avoid ‘self-published’ books from Blurb, CreateSpace, or similar self-publishers. It’s not to say these books are without merit, but they are usually not strong examples of rigorous scientific inquiry. If they had more scientific merit, they would have been picked up by a publishing house. Many represent the view of the author and not necessarily hard science, so it’s probably best to leave the conspiracy theorists on the shelf when conducting serious and scholarly research.
I decided to research ‘lethal white syndrome’ as an example because it appears in mustang populations and I am fascinated by coat colour inheritance. It is an inherited condition and as the name states, lethal in newborn foals. I did a blog post about this condition located here.
The PDF icon (also document or text icon) is great to find. This means the article is free and you can download it. I usually recommend downloading any article you can on your topic. The reference section at the back of each article is also an excellent resource. Create a folder with your research topic as the folder name and download all articles and abstracts to that folder. A good recommendation is to save the file with the title of the article rather than the alphanumerics that is usually the filename – otherwise, you’ll have fifteen articles with names like 1234569horsesaregreat.pdf, and you’ll end up having to open each one to find the article you are looking for.
The article “[PDF] The impact of the mutation causing overo lethal white syndrome on white patterning in horses” is in the journal American Association of Equine Practitioners which has a respectable impact factor of 2.888 (2020) and is published by Science Direct which is well regarded in the scientific community. As a reminder, you can find a journal’s Impact Factor at Resurchify. One of the authors has a PhD which is important because it means he worked for a minimum of two and as many as six years at a university performing research, evaluating scientific studies, and learning how to write for scientific publications.
CiteScore and Journal Impact Factor are similar in that they tally the number of citations a research article generates, but the CiteScore calculation is based on the Scopus database, while Impact Factor is .
Once you have the article or the abstract on a particular topic, print them out. Now, sit down with a large cup of coffee and at least five highlighters in different colors, a four color pen and read. Highlight things that make sense and get a feel for the study and what authors found in their research. Keep a legal pad hand and write the author(s)and the date of the study- then summarize. If you plan to publish your spectacular research online, download a copy of “EndNotes” (http://endnotes.com) and use it to format your word processor in a scholarly fashion It puts in your citations and formats your reference section. It’s free and wonderful. It will format for APA, MLA, and AMA as well as other recognized scientific formats
I sincerely hope this blog was useful, if you have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me: email@example.com
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…
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.
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).
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. Regarding replaced skies, 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.
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.
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
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.
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
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)
Horses that look like Duns, but aren’t…
Bibliography 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 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.
(PLEASE TAP/CLICK ON THE PHOTOGRAPHS TO VIEW A LARGER VERSION)
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).
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.
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.
ONE CREAM GENE
TWO CREAM GENES
Genotype at the agouti locus
Red chestnut, with AAAA being the reddest
Bibliography 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.
Water arrives, driving on some bumpy roads, and wild horses
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.
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.