Return to the Wild Ponies

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Photographer Lisa Cueman returns for another photographic visit to the Outer Banks.

I’ve just returned from my fourth trip in three years to the Outer Banks in North Carolina armed with thousands of images taken over a two-week period. The images selected represent a tiny selection of images that struck me in my preliminary edits of my daily shoots, some in color but most in the timeless sepia-like tones that I feel best represents an environment and equine lineage that has existed for some 400 plus years.

It was wonderful to return. Not much changes with the horses. Their existence is not under threat and as a result, there is much delight in returning and seeing familiar faces, some a little older and some a lot bigger after a year’s growth from newborn status.  There is something that gets to me about being at sea level and seeing these horses not only surviving but thriving.  It’s enticing. It’s liberating and it is more seductive than any place I’ve seen. The days were filled with memorable moments and not always ideal ones. The trip had its challenges. There was the boat motor that quit and needed repair. Given that this was my main form of transportation, it became a bit problematic. However, a kayak worked well in a pinch and the fifteen pounds of gear that is virtually attached to me at all times survived as well. Shortly after its repair, the local guide that I always work with—who not only serves as a boat captain but as a knowledgeable insider of the area waters and the horses’ habits—suffered a severe sprained ankle, limiting his mobility in accompanying me onto the islands.

I should mention I am directionally challenged and being left to my own devices on islands with vast oyster beds and thick bog-like footing all submerged from exceptionally high tides is never a good thing. However, I survived and more importantly, so did the equipment. There were many incredible moments in the company of the wild horses but the one real standout moment for me was the quiet and touching interaction between one of the dominant stallions and a young colt, only perhaps two or three-months old, seen in the seventh image of the collection. I would guess it was their first encounter with the hesitation and uncertainty by the young colt clearly visible in his tiny, slow steps and low outstretched head and neck. I watched as the dominant stallion with an inquisitive look, walked away from his mares and sauntered towards the newest arrival on the island. They both stopped just feet away, necks outstretched, eyes fixated on each other as they stood motionless, both accessing the other. Slowly, the distance between them closed as the stallion held his ground and the little colt with his baby steps and newborn curiosity, moved in closer until their noses touched. It was a very special moment of equine behavior to witness. In the years to come, the little colt, who is yet to know his place in the herd, will likely challenge this very stallion for at least one of his mares. That interaction will be much different.

Plans have been made to return in 2015.