Sunday, August 1, 2010

Sacred Hooves On Sacred Stone ~Living with Spirit Horses

Equine Photographers Network "Horses in Need Project"
Rachael Waller Photography 2010

One year ago I wrote two pieces about horses in need for the Equine Photographers Network project. One was about my journey photographing rescued souls for the past decade and the other was about a herd called the 3 strikes survivors from the Nebraska 200 titled "Saving the Wild Flowers" that had been rescued by Lifesavers Wild Horse rescue in CA.

When I realized it was time for another story for EPNET I sat and I thought about how this past year has changed all of our lives. I have photographed horses in need and as hard as it is not to give every one a loving home, every once in awhile a few do come home with me. Little did I know 3 of the "3 strikes survivors" would come live with me.

One year ago I was still in CA working with various folks and their horses. My own horses; young, those that were getting old, going blind, partially crippled were in CA with me and the economy became worse and worse and the feed bill went higher and higher. There were so many others in need that I knew I needed to change my life to help more horses.

Nearly twenty years ago I had purchased a little spot near my Mom’s ranch in the heart of the Big Bend in far West Texas. At the time a very small place of 400 acres surrounded by large working ranches and cowboy lifestyle in a place called Alpine- "home of the last frontier." I kept it while in school and grad school in LA always thinking I would return to the beauty that was there. I would yearn for the fresh air and hassle free life for years of California living, I missed the deer, the fresh breeze and quiet moments on the ranch. The CA wild fires gave me panic attacks and the threat of evacuations was just over the top for me.

It was there, in Texas, I could pull shoes and let them go, so move I did with dogs, cats, and in time came the horses, "good luck babies be safe- run free" I would say as load after load would come from CA with my babies, for they were loose, free, grazing and encountering all the ranch had to offer, from wild animals, the longhorn cattle, trails up mountains, rolling in a spring fed pond. Some I returned to their birth place Mothers and babies all together and others had to learn what it meant to be a HORSE. No more stalls with shavings, no more blankets, no more rotation of turn out, back to a healthy lifestyle and in return they gained a freedom unlike most horses ever know and more feed then they could ever consume.

As the "California Kids" settled in I knew I had space for a few more souls and I knew just who those souls were- The 3 strikers I had documented and fell in love with the year before.

After a call to Jill Starr at Lifesavers and figuring out travel and all that good stuff, three beautiful wild survivors who have a piece of my heart came to call my place home. Canon Girl, the little mare I documented who left a pile of hay to smell my camera and look at me with those loving eyes, Lazarus the blue colt that was left for dead and broke the case against the owner of the 3 strikes ranch, and my wild card, American Beauty,I didn't care who it was, well Canon of course, but I told Jill you pick the other two and both were good choices.

Almost a year to the day they were hauled away from the 3 strikes ranch they came home to me.
Wild as wild is, they unloaded and snorted threw their heads up and smelled the fresh clean air, they knew, I could see it, a sense of peace was all around.

Right away the little mare that had touched us so came up and smelled my daughter, needless to say, a mad love affair began and Canon and Cheyenne bonded.

I have always said that Canon has a way of looking and reading ones soul it is like she is scanning the human for her own data base it is the most intense connection eye to eye I have ever had with a horse.

After a day we kicked open the gate and off they went. "Holy crap" I thought, I hope they don't end up down the road somewhere! For a month they roamed separate from the rest, rogues and were known as “the three”, it was common for me to say “oh good the “seven are near the three” in reference to the herd dynamic.

Horses are curious by nature and it wasn’t long before bonds were made. I was surprised to see our 18 year old horse Spider become the representative to bring the three closer to the seven.

Spider, who is a crippled rope horse that was a legend in his day and had broke down around 2004 was sent to auction for human consumption at the age of 13, as my path seems to cross with lost souls, Spider was ours for below market price. Spider is a gentle soul who lost his side kick a young colt named Fin and mourned the loss for years.
Here was Spider making a move for the first time in over 3 years to make friends, I would sit on a rock watching him often weeping as his old crippled legs would struggle over to them, but he did it and is stronger every day with room to roam. He grazed with them, getting closer over time, and soon brought the three to his herd of seven and now today 6 months after their arrival they are the ten beauties.

I never tire of watching them and learning all they have to teach me as each one has over come a horrendous series of events in their lives. I have spent hours upon hours hiking, observing, laughing and crying tears of joy to see a herd that by all means should have been dead come back from extreme abuse, starvation, and various illness to blossom like wild flowers after a spring rain, they truly are an inspiration. From ages 2 to 24 they pass before me like moving paintings, stoic beings with the biggest hearts I have ever known.

I guess it is obvious they have been my therapy too, I am grateful to all of them for teaching me everyday how amazing life is and that fear is not a part of the program of life.

My herd has taught me to face my fears in life and that healing and a strong spirit can overcome any obstacle, I cannot explain in simple words what they have given me, especially the three strikers what a difference a year makes. From starving to healthy loving horses. To me they are miracles who I once described as like “ghosts passing before us as we convinced them to stay around a bit longer” I am sure glad they did stay and come to live with me.

At night I can hear them their sacred hooves on sacred stone calling to each other, I know each one and can tell who is “lost” and always Blue (self proclaimed head stallion even if he is a gelding) always gathers everyone up with the help from his trusty harem always with the most watchful eye on his 24 year old Mother and together they are whole. They are survivors, they are Spirit Horses teaching anyone who will listen that giving up will never do, we keep on keepin on, and renew our spirits everyday.

As I write this they are out grazing peacefully in full view- just me fresh air and a wild band of horses that some how as life’s road wanders, we found each other when we needed each other most and here we will remain with our brands, our numbers, our war paint and battle scars, together on a little peace of heaven in the mountains of far west Texas.

To follow the 3 strikes story and the Firelight Herd please visit or join the studio facebook page

Saturday, August 1, 2009

fə tóggrəfee réskyoo
By Rachael Waller –Southern CA

Just for a minute did you recognize it?
Did you stumble through it?
Did you ask :
“It sure looked familiar; I am not really used to seeing it look quite like that?”

Let the fə tóggrəfee réskyoo journey begin.

For so long rescue/rescues/rescuers/rescue’s have gotten a horrible stigma attached to them.

On this journey of photographing the lives & places that pass my lens I can say I have seen all kinds of rescues. From the high end that saves Dressage horses, to the backyard single Mom who loves them all.

Each horse was in need of being rescued and most likely so was the human. I have seen kind hearted people purchase at auction 98 horses and have them shipped to save them from the PMU industry.

There isn’t just ONE story, each horse represents thousands in the same peril. One horse, one photo can educate, bring awareness, communicate, invite, inspire, lift our spirits, save our souls, and yes often lead to an adoption.

Those of us who have been around have come home with a “Horse fresh off the track” a PMU , or a Mustang, or an “accidental breeding” producing a filly that no one wanted, the old Shetland that is meaner then sin but who cares it is grazing peacefully out back and besides that goat keeps in line.
Sound familiar?

There is more and more each day as this economy and slaughter debate buries us all. Those of us with tremendous bleeding hearts have been frozen by it. Now, we have to worry about feeding our families not saving so many horses. So what happens to the horses when the diehards can’t feed or donate to them?

All of these images are moments when the right person at the right time intercepted a bleak and horrendous journey they were on saving them from slaughter. I am grateful to all whom have done so and am honored to photograph each and every one of them.

My journey “Photography Rescue” is a look back at the souls I have meet through my lens.
Many souls are people who needed a horse in their lives, whether they knew it or not at the time, to save them in some way. Young and old are changed, moved, inspired by horses. I know they have giving me a lot of healing and beauty. Every morning I wake up I hear my mustang, or PMU Quarter Horses, or Pryor Mountain momma, among others, greet the new day with a pure sound of life and joy.

All the images in this article are of horses that should very well be dead if wasn’t for a human who held their hand high at an auction, or found it in their hearts to take in one more. There are so many missed opportunities most horse photographers don’t take, rather passing by that “sorry little rescue pony” in the corner when stopping to talk to him or her could make all the difference in its day and quite possibly yours.

For 5 years I have dedicated my photography business to rescued equines. I have received so much in return, whether it was a soft nuzzle of acknowledgement or a warm foals breath on a cold winter day, yes, I have won awards and accolades for my work, but it is all because of them and what they want to share with me. Some only give me their moment once, others are hams, but it never ceases to amaze me at who will allow me in and at what split second.

I can’t take all the credit; I donate back, because without them I wouldn’t have witnessed what I have in my life. The gratefulness that shows in their eyes, watching them blossom from sorrow to joy and yes, watching them load to up and go home to forever homes, often that is my own home.
I have had my knee deep in mud, in the middle of a wild stallion fight with no one else around except my good friend and photographer Lynne Pomeranz, asleep with hay in my hair, and learned to embrace the dust at a thunderous speed.

From wild mustangs on the range, to wild babies just saved from slaughter, they all have touched me. My 7 year old daughter received her first horse kiss from a rescued PMU colt who was untouched until she laid her hands on him.

Without taking this journey I wouldn’t have ever truly understood the true and raw meaning of the spirit of the horse. Some are gone now, no longer free, some have passed on, but all have given me a lifetime of smiles, tears, and memories, more then I could ever repay. Again, I am grateful and may my journey continue.

-Rachael Waller is a professional photographer in Southern CA & West Texas
To view Rachael's Online gallery please visit: