Yesterday I led another wild horse photography workshop up on Carova Beach. As the cold front came through the night before, temperatures went from a high of 76 to a high of only 44 the following day. These sort of weather changes can be both good and bad for photographing the wild horses, as they tend to get the animals up and moving – sometimes out in the open for warmth, other times deep into the maritime forest for protection.
Typically what I find is that on a cold, but sunny day with little to no wind, the horses will move out into the sun early in the morning to warm up. This can often times bring these guys right out onto the beach where the mornings first rays begin to warm up the landscape. Often times these horses will simply be laying down right up against a dune as they soak up the warmth and minimize the heat loss from being directly in the wind.
Yesterday morning, horses were feeding in the inter-dune habitat and along the areas of overwash first thing in the morning. The wind however began to pick up throughout the day and the horses began to move into the shrub thickets. Most of the afternoon was spent cruising the backcountry looking to make closeup intimate portraits of the horses as we waiting for conditions to change and some horses to move back out into the open.
As the sun sank lower along the horizon, alas this mare and her 2-year-old filly came wandering out over the dunes and right out onto the beach. This is not a normal situation. Typically, there are no single females as competition is so great on the island between the stallions and bachelor groups of young males. However this girl often manages to stray from her stallion for a while and has learned to use the beach for means of travel.
Except for in the late Spring horses are typically absent from the beach with only the occasional appearance a couple times a week. For this reason, any horse that utilizes the beach to travel can do so in relative peace and security. On Carova, this is not common. However down on Shackleford Banks, this is a daily occurence to and from watering holes. Traversing the inland parts of the island force horses to move through other dominant harem stallion’s territories and risk potentially being injured in fights or losing females to a more powerful stallion or aggressive group of bachelors. The beach in this regards becomes a neutral territory.
Back to Carova, we find this to be true as well in terms of the neutrality of the beach. In the Spring, when millions of biting flies will drive the horses in mass out onto the beach in times of strong winds to escape their torment, you may find as many as a hundred horses out by the surfline. The more horses that gather together, the more of a dilution effect in regards to the flies. Meaning, if there are X number of flies, than being around 40 other horses will limit the number of them that will be on you. The winds keep the majority of flies off the beach, but there are those that will brave the elements as well as the black flies who only occupy the beach.
The result can often times be a giant wreathing mass of horses, brushing constantly up against one another, twisting and turning, pushing and swatting. This is when times are desperate for the horses. You might even see a couple horses lined up nose to tail so that way each others tails can help swat the flies from the others face. This is when the stallions will tend to call a truce. Tempers still flare, and fights still occur, but typically they are just outlets of nervous energy and mares do not swap hands in the process.