Horses are beloved creatures around the world, and we’re fortunate enough to have a thriving wild horse population here in the United States. However, many people are not aware of how to safely and respectfully behave around these animals. As skittish as they are majestic, wild horses are flight animals and easy to spook. To avoid causing panic or disrupting the very behaviors you want to witness and capture, here are some of the best tips for safely photographing wild horses.
Keep Your Distance
Always—always—keep your distance. Horses are anxious animals that react to stressors. If a horse panics while you’re too close, it can easily kick you with its powerful legs or bite you. Keep in mind that wild horses are not accustomed to humans like domesticated horses, so they won’t be able to intuit your intentions—they may just assume you’re a threat.
Each wild horse management area offers guidelines for safe, respectful distances. They vary from 25 to 100 yards. Check with the local management office when planning your time in wild horse areas. If you’re far enough away, you are much safer from harm, making this the best tip for safely photographing wild horses.
Make Your Presence Known
While maintaining your distance, you want to ensure the horses are aware of your presence. As stated, horses are not aggressive or predatory creatures—they are simply flight animals.
Approach herds upwind so they can smell you, and speak in a normal voice so they can hear you. If you mistakenly come across a band and are too close, stop and give them time to adjust to your presence. If you are directly in their path, quietly move aside. Otherwise, turn sideways and look down so they don’t perceive you as a predator. If you are in a group, stay close together to avoid looking like predators. Once they return to grazing, you can move to a safer and more respectful distance.
Watch for Body Language
Obviously, horses can’t talk, but they can still communicate. It’s important that you understand what a horse’s body language indicates before you’re in the field. For example, if a horse’s head is low and its ears are pinned back, this is an aggressive stance, and you should back off immediately to give the horse some breathing room.
Similarly, if a wild horse moves away from you, you are too close. In highly habituated herds, some horses may approach you—do not allow them to. To discourage this, toss a small rock or clump of dirt at their feet.
If you’re hoping to be part of the next generation of wild horse photographers, following these tips is essential for safety and success and will help keep the wild in the very subject matter we are so drawn to admire.