Friday was perfect. Calm winds, blue skies, comfortable temperatures, and a general sense of euphoria prevailed. Standing upon the bow of the boat I watched as thousands of dogfish (smallish sharks) swam into the estuary to breed. Even a loggerhead sea turtle made its seasonal debut to the region right beside our boat. Thus far from what I could gather back in town, this was the first one to be seen this season. The object of our interests this day however were wild horses.
With each workshop that I conduct, especially those off the Outer Banks or ones that require logistical planning such as boats or pilots, I will typically spend a couple of days scouting out the area ahead of time so that way when the customers arrive I have a solid two days worth of personal knowledge of the exact locations and conditions that we will be photographing. This of course saves time, and allows me to put folks right where they need to be in order the get the most out of such trips.
Despite photographing the Shackleford Banks horses numerous times before, I make it a policy to scout before hand. This workshop was no different. After a 30 minute boat ride across Back Sound and up through the notoriously treacherous shoals of The Drain, the horses where exactly where I expected them to be. With the immense strength of the tides around this area, shoals and channels have a tendency to change on a regular basis, and you can pretty much go to the bank on the fact that the winter storms will have dramatically reshaped some aspect of these inlets and the surrounding areas.
Witch a check of the tides and a slow cautious approach we throttled up in between several shoals that were now exposed about 3 feet above the waters edge. Hundreds of horseshoe crabs had stranded themselves upon the shoal to keep from washing out with the tides, and had begun to bury themselves in the sand to save themselves from baking to death in the relentless heat of the sun. Horses stood on one of the islands gorging themselves with the fresh spring growth of the spartina while other bands could be seen throughout the area following suite.
Upon beaching the boat and throwing out the anchor onto dry sand, we preceded to make our way along of the shoals across from the horses. The better part of the day was spent chest deep in the water, lenses and cameras on tripods, photographing horses walking the precarious banks of oysters and browsing their way two and from the waters edge. At last, what had been waiting so patiently for, and what these horses are so notorious for, the harem began the arduous swim across the swift moving channels to greener pastures.
As luck would have it however, over night everything changed dramatically. Winds that were blowing out of the Northeast switched around to the Southwest and came barreling down on us with 20-30mph and gusts up to 40. NOAA issued a small craft advisory for the area and the pilot of the boat that we were using made decided to err on the side of caution and informed us that it was just too windy to accomplish our goals for Saturday. Well the last thing I wanted was for my customers to have to sit around for an entire day with nothing to do and pay for an extra nights hotel room. Thus, we switched plans to photograph a different population of wild horses in vicinity. Just a short hop by boat from Beaufort we were put off onto Carrot Island which is part of the Rachel Carson Estuarine Preserve and home to around 50 or so horses. Though these horses have a completely different linage, history, ancestry, etc, from the Shackleford horses, they are quite the stunning and regal in physique.
The situation to change locations proved to be fantastic. I have explored Carrot Island both by foot and by kayak before and therefore had a pretty good idea of where some of the better locations for find horses would be. A short hike of about a mile down the beach led us right to a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. In the interior tidal flats we found roughly 40 or so horses grazing in one spot. As wild horses making a living on islands, harems generally consist of only one stallion and 2-4 mares. Thus, we were looking at probably 7 – 10 separate bands. This of course being spring time and therefore breeding season, the air was electric with the nervous energy and tension between the stallions being in such close proximity with each other. Action was an inevitability.
Here are a couple environmental portraits from the days shoot at Carrot. The beauty of the day in my opinion though actually turned out to be the wind – the very thing that threatened to kill the day for us. Without the wind, we would have bypassed this great situation all together. Most of all, the wind added a whole new dimension to the photographs that just weren’t there before – that is manes, tails, sand, and water all a drift in the near gale force winds. This extra dimension adds a more dramatic touch to the photographs. Though I created quite a few great action shots of horses fighting and intermingling, I am posting these due to the fact that they captured the essence of the wind, which of course, is indeed the grand orchestrator of life for all of us who choose to live by the edge of the sea.