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The Plight Of The American Mustangs and The Role of Wild Horse Photography

two wild horses horses walking together in the desert

Photo Credit: Maria Marriott Photography

As a passionate equestrian and photographer, my journey into the world of wild horse photography was both serendipitous and deeply personal. From an early age, photography was one of my pursuits, and somehow I ended up in the United States with not much more than what would fit in 2 suitcases and my degree in Journalism.

Horses, too, have held a special place in my heart for as long as I can remember. Eventually this convergence of two interests led me to explore the fascinating world of wild horse photography, and what I discovered was a story of resilience, freedom, and the ongoing challenges faced by America's mustangs.

The Call of the Wild

As you may have read before, my journey with wild horses began with a simple Mother's Day trip to the Pine Nut mountains of Nevada, a place where nature's beauty unfolds in the midst of wilderness, dust, sage brush, and snow-covered peaks. There, amid the rugged terrain and vast expanses, I encountered mustangs for the first time.

Spending several years following wild horse herds across the Western states gave me life changing insights into a different kind of beauty based on their ability to survive the hardships of the wild. Their untamed spirits and grace left an indelible mark on my soul and led me into a new body of work portraying the reality and meaning of America’s wild horses.

woman in the desert walking down a hill carrying a tripod

Iconic Symbols of Freedom

As discussed before in a previous blog "Freedom In Wild Horse Photographs", wild horses hold a special place in the American identity. They are seen as the embodiment of freedom and a living legacy of the Old West.

These incredible animals, descendants of Spanish horses brought to North America by explorers, have roamed our lands for centuries. They have become iconic symbols of the brave spirit that defined the American frontier and drove the building of our nation.

As Charles Preston puts it in Unbroken Spirit: Wild Horses in the American Landscape, “Perhaps the wild horse has come to represent a vision of how many Americans would like to see themselves: a rakish renegade, choosing the delights and challenges of freedom to the reins of control.”

And from my own experience as a parent, the sight of a wild stallion leading his band of mares and foals evokes a deep sense of admiration. These stallions are not just protectors; they are leaders, guiding their families through the challenges of the wild. In their strength and resilience, I believe we actually can see a reflection of our own determination to overcome adversity and protect our loved ones.

stallion and his offspring facing each other

Photo Credit: Maria Marriott Photography

The cultural significance of wild horses extends beyond their historical role in this country. They have inspired countless artists, writers, and photographers (including myself) to portray their strength, beauty and grace. Through art, literature, and storytelling, we celebrate the enduring spirit of these animals and their role as iconic symbols of freedom.

Through them, we celebrate the legacy of the American West.

Challenges for Wild Horses

However, the very freedom that defines them in our popular conception is under threat.

Wild horses face an array of challenges in the modern world, each one posing a significant threat to their continued freedom. These challenges include:

1. Habitat Loss

The expansion of urban areas and agricultural activities has encroached upon the natural habitats of wild horses. As more land is developed and urban areas expand, their living spaces shrink and the mustangs face increased competition for resources. This forces them either dangerously close to civilization or into the most desolate lands of the West.

2. Roundups and Removal

Government agencies conduct roundups and removals in an attempt to manage the population of wild horses. These are stressful and traumatic for the horses, to say the least - especially roundups with the use of helicopters and what follows next - hundreds of horses are placed together in holding facilities causing many injuries and death. Advocates argue for more humane methods of population control, such as natural fertility control. Bottom line, helicopter roundups are an inhumane method of population control, ineffective and costing millions of dollars to tax payers.

wild horse herd in the desert in monochrome

Photo Credit: Maria Marriott Photography

3. Competition with Livestock

Wild horses often share their habitat with livestock, leading to resource competition. Advocates for wild horses argue that this competition is not fair, as livestock often receive preferential treatment on public lands. Since they are seen as competition to cattle or sheep, wild horses are frequently chased off the better grazing areas into more remote wilderness. This balance is further skewed when the BLM offers below-market grazing rights for livestock on public lands.

4. Genetic Diversity

Maintaining genetic diversity within wild horse populations is essential for long-term survival. Inbreeding can lead to health problems and reduced adaptability. Conservation efforts must consider genetic management to ensure healthy and resilient herds.

5. Policy and Political Challenges

Wild horse management is not just a matter of biology and ecology; it's also entangled with complex policy and political issues. Balancing the interests of various stakeholders, from ranchers to conservationists, adds layers of complexity to finding sustainable solutions for wild horse management.

Strong advocacy efforts, such as those by the American Wild Horse Campaign are helping to keep the message in front of lawmakers. However, it doesn’t appear that there has been much interest from lawmakers to touch such a hot button issue in recent years, especially with the competing financial interests involved.

Conservation Efforts

Amid these challenges, there is hope. Numerous organizations and individuals are dedicated to preserving the legacy of America's mustangs and putting the issue before the public to stimulate discussion and awareness. Conservation efforts include:

1. Advocacy and Awareness

Raising awareness about the challenges faced by wild horses is crucial. Organizations like the American Wild Horse Campaign and The Cloud Foundation work tirelessly to advocate for these animals. They engage in legal battles, public education campaigns, and grassroots efforts to protect wild horses.

website logo for wild horse help non-profit organizations

2. Fertility Control

To address overpopulation without resorting to traumatic roundups, fertility control methods are being explored. Pioneering approaches like darting mares with natural birth control aim to reduce reproduction rates in a more humane way. These methods offer a way to manage herd size without the need for removals. The Pine Nut Wild Horse Advocates is one such organization focused on providing fertility control for mares in a local area.

3. Habitat Restoration

Efforts are underway to restore and protect wild horse habitats. By preserving these ecosystems, we ensure these animals have the space and resources they need to thrive. Collaborative initiatives bring together government agencies, conservationists, and local communities to find sustainable solutions.

4. Adoption Programs

Other organizations run adoption programs to provide wild horses with loving homes. One I work closely with is Sweetbeau Horses. These programs help alleviate overcrowding in holding facilities and give the mustangs a chance at a better life than remaining in a holding pen. Many of the adopted horses find new purpose as riding or therapy animals, forging a unique bond with their human companions.

woman hugging a horse

Photo Credit: Maria Marriott Photography

The Power of Art

Art is one of the most powerful forms of advocacy. Art has the power to move hearts and minds. It can ignite passion, inspire change, and serve as a poignant reminder of the beauty and fragility of the natural world. Through my work in wild horse photography, I've sought to portray these animals and their natural environment in a way that resonates and causes people to establish an emotional connection. I believe it is these emotional connections that can be most effective at swaying public opinion.

My chosen approach to wild horse photography involves intimate and minimal compositions that emphasize the raw emotion of each moment and the production of artwork that will last for a lifetime. As my collectors know, production of my pieces adheres to the very highest standards, regardless of the medium.

This means an insistence on museum-quality, using archival fine art paper and ink to ensure that each piece stands the test of time. For more contemporary pieces, it means producing pieces using dye sublimation on aluminum with the best materials and quality control standards.

wild horse print laying on top of a desk

Although it starts with capturing an image, the process isn’t finished until an exceptional quality piece is hanging on the wall of a collector, telling a visual story, provoking thought and conversation.

Maria Marriott Photography

I invite you to visit Maria Marriott Photography and my collection of wild horse fine art.

Each piece tells a story—a story of freedom, resilience, and the enduring spirit of America's mustangs. As you explore, my hope is that my work will inspire you to get out and experience the beauty that is the American Wild. And that you will get involved with keeping the American wild horses free and wild.

Part of the proceeds from every sale is donated to non-profit organizations dedicated to the preservation of wild horses and equine therapy. By investing in my wild horse photographs, you are both bringing a piece of the wild into your home and also contributing to the protection of these iconic symbols of freedom.

Play Your Part!

The challenges faced by America's mustangs are real and pressing. Through advocacy, conservation efforts, and the power of art, we can ensure that these incredible beings continue to roam free for generations to come.

For more details, please reach out today.


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