Horses in the Snow

Believe it or not, it does in fact actually snow here on the Outer Banks. Now, this doesn’t happen very often, maybe once a year, but snow we get none the less. Well this weekend weather systems lined up just right to dump about 5 inches of the powdery white stuff across our barrier islands. The further north you went on the island the deeper the snow was of course, and so I headed straight for Carova to photograph the horses.

My original idea was to photograph the horses in falling snow. This is something I have done with other large mammals – bison, elk, deer – with great results, but had not yet captured what I was looking for in this regard with the horses. I wasn’t the only one who was drooling over the idea either. As the storm began to line up and it became obvious that we were going to get snow, my phone started ringing. Richard Bernabe and Jerry Greer were doing a workshop on the Outer Banks this weekend and wanted me to take them and their group up to see the horses as well. Unfortunately we weren’t able to work this out do to vehicle issues.

At the same time, I also had Doug Gardner on the phone Friday looking to turn around and come all the way back to the beach just for some horses in the snow. Now this guy had just spent the last 2 weeks away from his wife and kids shooting and leading workshops out here and had returned home just the night before. Wouldn’t you know it, the very next day he’s down in South Carolina sweet talking his wife to try and convince her to let him come right back. He had a birthday while he was up here and so his family and friends were to throw him a party that night. Well despite all of this, Doug left just as soon as the party was over. How he convinced he wife to let him do this, I have no idea. I think he should give workshops on that!

Leaving out at around 8:30 he was due in to my house around 2 am. Well as the snow continued to fall and conditions in North Carolina deteriorated as the night drew on, 2 am turned into 5 am as he pushed on through a virtual blizzard. Talk about dedicated! Despite waking me up at 3 am, 4 am, and then finally 5 am I was feeling generous and let him crash on the couch for a full 2 hours before I woke him up to go shoot. Since things had fallen through with taking Richard and Jerry’s group up to photograph, I ended up with the whole day to shoot with Doug.

Shortly after finding horses however, the snow tapered off and turned to sleet and the typical Southeastern wintry mix of crap. No worries though, by then we had around 5 inches and I knew once the funk stopped falling from the sky, things had the potential of getting good. Well the mix continued all day finally turning back to snow that night – too dark to shoot of course. The following day however, gale force winds prevailed off of the ocean dropping temperatures down into the low teens and freezing the previous days snow into a hardened sheet of white across the landscape. Food was scarce now for the horses. With the powder, they could easily manage to paw down through the snow. However, with the snow iced over, their food was locked beneath. Therefore activity was practically non existent as the horses tucked up into the thickets and forest waiting out the deadly cold winds.

Not to be beaten by changing weather patters, uncooperative horses, and a failure to obtain my original goals, I simply switched tactics. When the horses tuck in, its simply time for a more intimate approach – as is the case with any large mammal. With the snow blanketing the sand dunes I also wanted to create environmental portraits as well. However, all of these photos turned out looking like they were made in Wyoming! The top one is an example of this. Funny how with a little bit of snow, groundsel bushes suddenly take on the appearance of big sagebrush.

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