Day 1: Outer Banks w/ an iPhone

I have recently arrived in the Outer Banks of NC to spend some time with the wild horses that populate the southern region of the Outer Banks. This is my fifth year visiting the region and I have become familiar enough with the bands to notice the changes that occur from year to year. Mostly, the anticipated changes are the highlights of seeing the newborns a year older, the yearlings from the previous year maturing and often play fighting and the ever shifting herd structures. On this visit, however, I was caught off guard.

As predicted, the inclement weather continued from yesterday but it is anticipated to push through today.  Eager to assess the changes since my last visit, we were able to get out for an hour and half this morning before this ominous cloud opened up and saturated the area with rains and thunder. In that very short window, I was granted a sighting of the once dominate stallion known as Wavelength, very much alone. The initial excitement of seeing him was quickly extinguished with despair as I began to visually register his weakened condition that I had heard so much about since I last photographed him.  An alpha stallion that commanded two to three mares, now alone and exposed. There could not have been a more disheartening reminder that life in the wild is not always the way  we desire or want it to be. I felt my eyes well up with moisture as we turned around to head back to shore. This might be a more challenging shoot than I could have ever imagined.

Tomorrow, however, is a new day.

Why the Outer Banks of North Carolina?

Some of you know that I grew up on the little island of Bermuda, some 700+ miles off the coast of North Carolina. On this sun-filled, tropical island, I learned how to swim and how to ride horses. My childhood memories are full of bareback riding adventures along the sandy pink beaches and into the turquoise Atlantic waters on those blistering hot summer days. I explored the water by boat and the ocean with scuba gear. Life with and surrounded by water was what I learned. Why I live in Vermont is, at times, anybody’s guess.

In May of this year, I experienced my first exposure to the Outer Banks of North Carolina and discovered an incredible landscape of two of my favorite things. Wild horses and the Atlantic ocean. I had never seen these two passions together before. I was beside myself with excitement as I jumped overboard from a skiff to wade through waist-high water with camera in-hand to photograph horses swimming or meandering around in shin-high waters as small herds of  wild horses moved from one sand bank to the other for grazing and let’s not forget walking the beaches after herds as they grazed the sea grasses. Is there any wonder that I was in my element?! The stories behind these horses are plentiful and the environment they live in, while seemingly ideal, present them with uniquely harsh challenges that they have adapted to and miraculously have managed to survive in.

I grew up with the story books of “Misty from Chincoteague” and “Stormy, Misty’s Foal.” Never in my wildest dreams did it occur to me that the stories depicted in Marguerite Henry’s classic tales were based around true events until I pulled out my childhood editions upon my return from the Outer Banks. While the location of her stories differ, they do take place in neighboring Virgina and many of the storm events that she writes of also effected the Outer Banks. Her tales of wild horses being relocated several miles away in the height of a hurricane actually still happens today and are something all the herds along the coastal shores contend with.

So now, I am returning to this very special place of sea, beach and horses that I feel an intrinsic connection to once again. My hope is that no hurricanes  will appear (it is hurricane season after all) so I can spend some time among the herds, learning a little bit more about these wild horses that have survived shipwrecks and hurricanes and human encroachment, all the while trying to create photographs that express the beauty and essence of these special horses that I fondly refer to as “sea horses.”



Island Life with a Horse

A late afternoon swim in the tropically warm waters of the Caribbean would feel pretty good right about now.