Saturday, July 29, 2017

Wildies


I was thrilled as my friend Debra Garside invited me to join and co-lead her Wild Horses workshop last month in Sundre, Alberta. Not only is Debra an amazing horse photographer, please check out her work on the Sable Island Horses, she also is a horse woman inside and out! Thus she can read horses better than any photographer I know, which is invaluable when photographing WILD horses.


Mare with foal
Being almost a local to the area where the wild horses roam led Debra to many outings and photo session with them, hence she knew where to find them...another big plus.

Same mare with foal leaving with the herd
Although I did know all this, the actual workshop exceeded  my expectations by far. Had I hoped for maybe one or two encounters during the three days, we actually had so many I couldn't keep track.

Advances...
We could see all kinds of behavior, some all understood, some were more subtle, then Debra would explain to the participants what was actually going on. Except the stallion in the above maybe, most horses were so clean and shiny as if someone had just groomed them with show shine...amazing!

Mare peeking through tree branches
Now you are probably wondering, just as I did, how "wild" are these horses? Runaways from the sixties, more feral than wild? Far from it! The first round of genetic testing revealed that these horses could be more closely related to the Mongolian Horse.
Let's go a bit into the natural history of horses in North America. I would like to quote an article from the June 2013 issue of Canadian Horse Journal:
"The first equids appeared about 56 million years ago in North America. Over millions of years they went through vast changes as they adapted to profoundly altering climates and habitats. Species arose, disappeared, or merged with others. Ultimately, the genus of the modern horse Equus (which also includes asses and zebras) appeared in the fossil record some four million years ago and gave rise to a branch of caballine (true) horses that appeared about two million years ago.
Around the same time, some Equus species dispersed into Eurasia across the Bering land bridge, and some return migrations back and forth followed. But in North America, the caballine horses diversified into separate species leading to the appearance of today’s modern horse Equus caballus exclusively on this continent about 250,000 years ago. Over millennia, a wide variety in size and type of the modern horse continued to evolve throughout North America, and some populations migrated to Asia and spread to Europe.
But in North America, horses became the victim of the disappearance of large mammals between 13,000 and 7600 years ago. Fossils of ancient horses have been unearthed in the Dawson City area of the Yukon (Equus lambei), a small caballoid horse carbon dated to 10,000 years ago, and in southern Alberta (Equus conversidens), dated to 11,300 years ago and killed by early hunters."(1)


Very handsome stallion
It is believed that all the horses on the American Continent are descendants from the horses that the first Spaniards "reintroduced" in the early 1500.
Hence one would expect that also the wild horses genetic findings would show the Spanish heritage. Finding genetic traits from Mongolian horses could mean, that the horse was NOT "extinct" and is truly a native wild animal of North America. Even if this can not be validated, even the "Spanish horse" would be a reintroduced wild species, as the wolf in Yellowstone or the bison in Banff.

Bff's
Ok, and why would that matter? Well, as everywhere where nature and humankind are close together, there are opponents. In this case opponents that argue that the wild horses are "feral, alien, or an invasive species. They [...] overpopulate ranges, compete with wildlife and livestock for grass, and impact tree regeneration and the health of habitats." (1) and hence propose major culling of the wild horses.

If the genetic testing can proof that these horses are from Mongolian heritage or if one accepts that they are a reintroduced native species, the alien and invasive species argument is invalid and the wild horses would have to be treated as what they are: Native wild animals!

 Flyswatter aka Mom's tail

Two organizations are trying hard to promote and protect the wild horses in Alberta: The Wild Horses of Alberta Society (WHOAS) and Help Alberta Wildies.
On our third day of the workshop we visited the headquarters of  WHOAS and met some of the leading volunteers and 'rescued' now geldings. The wildies most often come under fire when the young stallions leave the herd, or get driven out by the head stallion, and now are looking for company or mares to breed. Sometimes they then jump into domestic horse pastures and havoc breaks loose. Or they harass riders that happen to be the misfortune rider of a mare...
Repeat offenders get caught and brought to WHOAS. Here they get gelded and handled, so that they can be adopted. This is not always easy as this post from Debra shows: The true wild horse story of Cody

Bachelor group play-fighting
WHOAS also supports the wild horse mare contraception project, a long term study to show wild horse populations can be safely and humanely managed by 'birth-control'. WHOAS is a completely volunteer operated organization that relies on donations.....I know, I know...but this is a matter close to my heart and I saw how well the rescued horses were treated and handled. And I also know how much work even two horses make in our climate, not to think how many horses are at the WHOAS at any given time.
You can donate via paypal...it doesn't get much easier ;-), just click here: Donate to WHOAS

Another bachelor group, if you enlarge the image you will see two birds "chasing" them
The cherry on the cake? We not only saw wild horses....we also ran into this Black Bear momma...


...and got almost run over by these curios Bighorn Sheep ewe's with their kids.


The sheep came running at us with what felt like 100 km/h, but as I slowly and cautiously stepped out of  the car, kind of hiding behind the car door, they slowed down and one after the other came and checked me out, cautious and gentle, to the point where even my wide-angle lens couldn't handle it anymore.


I fell in love with this posing "newly-born", if you click on the photo to enlarge it, you will see that the shriveled up umbilical cord is still tangling from it's belly,


The light was most of the times rather challenging as horses are late risers and when they are tucked down they are a.) not so photogenic if you b.) find them at all. On the first evening though we got lucky and saw a herd in the last rays of the day.

Last rays


Best of all? Debra offers these amazing 3 day workshops ongoing. As I happen to know the next one will be around Mid-October. If you are interested, please shoot Debra an email and mention you read this blog.

(1) The Canadian Horse Journal, June 2013

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Kelpies!


As a horse woman and art lover the visit to the Kelpies in Falkirk, near Edinburgh, was a must.
But I truly believe this amazing sculpture boggles everybody's  mind....


The Location:

The Kelpies are part of a newly designed parkland, called the Helix, which connects 16 communities within the Falkirk area. The sculptures are a landmark at the eastern entrance to the Forth and Clyde canal and a new canal extension built as part of The Helix park. To get a better idea of their unique location take a quick peak at the Mayflower website, their aerial image about the project gives you a good idea.


The Vision:

The Kelpies are designed by the Scottish sculptor Andy Scott. With strong ties to the Falkirk area,  "Falkirk was my father's home town and that inherited association to the town has been one of my driving inspirations. A sense of deep personal legacy has informed my thinking from the outset, with old family connections anchoring me to the project." (1) his artistic mind created the perfect sculpture to express his vision.
Here in his own words:
"During the conceptual stages, I visualised the Kelpies as monuments to the horse and a paean to the lost industries of the Falkirk area and of Scotland."
"The original concept of mythical water horses was a valid starting point for the artistic development of the structures, but from the original sketches of 2006 I deliberately styled the sculptures as heavy horses. In early proposal documents I referred to Clydesdales, Shires and Percherons, of the fabled equus magnus of the northern countries." (1)
In the end it were two Clydesdale horses, Baron and Duke, who stood model for the famous sculpture.



While photographing the sculpture near sunset I was fascinated about the many angles and views...if you look closely in the above image the horse is about to eat the moon, in the below image it looks like a dragon spitting fire. The light playing and reflecting on the steel plates lets you imagine the muscles playing in the horses neck and face.
"The mosaic effect created by the flow of the plates and the view through the openings capture the horses as if in motion." (2)

The mosaic effect created by the flow of the plates and the view through the openings capture the horses as if in motion.


What's in the name:

In the Scottish legend a Kelpie is a shape changing water spirit which haunts rivers and streams, mostly in the shape of a horse. They are wicked creatures who may appear as cute pony to lure children on their back, but once mounted the children were unable to get off and the Kelpie would drag them in the water and eat them!
Well, no wonder Andy Scott preferred Clydesdales...


This sketch I photographed through the window of the giftstore at the park, which unfortunately was already closed. I would have loved to buy it. Click on it to see in in full size and see the relation of people to the sculpture! We were standing in front of the Kelpies and after having seen this sketch I almost was waiting for the moment they would stomp out of the water and run us over.


This image of the Kelpies under construction I photographed off a recycling bin. For a real insight of the construction of this massive statue I highly recommend watching the The Kelpies -Time Lapse , it will give you goose bumps!





Some Numbers:
  • the Kelpies were built in only 90 days (see time-lapse) starting in June 2013
  • they are 30 meters/98.4 feet high
  • the foundation consists of 1200 tonnes steel-reinforced concrete per head 
  • each horse head weighs 300 tonnes
  • the sculpture is made with 928 unique steel-skin plates



Reflections


"The artistic intent of (the Kelpies) is built around a contemporary sculptural monument. Water-borne, towering gateways into The Helix, the Forth & Clyde canal and Scotland, translating the legacy of the area into proud equine guardians."  Andy Scott, Sculptor  (1)



During the evening and night the Kelpies are illuminated with ever changing colored light, which inspired me to create this poster.


Although we spent hours there, I can't wait to go back...after all they are Kelpies...they will lure me back.


Sources:

(1) The Helix
(2) Engineering the Kelpies
Andy Scott Sculptor
Tata Steel, a case study
Mayflower Engineering 
Wikipedia - Kelpies
Time Lapse

Monday, May 29, 2017

Spectacular Scotland


If you are following me on Facebook or Instagram you probably have read that I was positively running out of positive adjectives during this amazing dream trip through Scotland. Well, actually only through a small part of Scotland.
Yes it was that good!
Over 7000 images later I'm now facing the editing....which is part overwhelming and part great fun as I can relive the trip!
There are more blogs to come, for sure one about Edinburgh, the Kelpies, the castles and maybe more.
For now a few highlights, following the route we took:
We flew into Edinburgh and stayed in Musselburgh, which gave us a good location to scout out East Lothian, Edinburgh, and, of course, some golf courses.

Please feel free to click on the images for a better view

 
 Tantallon Castle, with Bass Rock in the distance, East Lothian


The Kelpies in Falkirk, absolutely stunning sculptures. 
More about them in a dedicated Kelpie blog.


 The Edinburgh Castle sits high above the town, here seen from Princess Garden

We spent two days wandering through Edinburgh, and could have easily spent many more. Again, I will go into more detail in an Edinburgh blog. If you ever want to photograph in Edinburgh, I highly recommend checking out Tom Foster's website: Spectacular Edinburgh. His website and Facebook/Instagram posts were a great inspiration!

The National Monument on top of Calton Hill


Melrose Abbey


From Edinburgh/Musselburgh we drove farther north to THE "birth place" of golf....


St. Andrews! 
If I counted right, St. Andrews has 11 golf courses within a radius of a few kilometers.
But St. Andrews has not only golf courses, it is also a renowned University city and, of course, has a castle and an abbey. Plus a cafe with the best scones we had during our trip, the Gorgeous Cafe.

St. Andrews Cathedral


From St. Andrews we headed farther north towards Stonehaven. Scotland is known for it's wool and
the producers of this wool are everywhere. As it happened to be lambing season, I could not stop ahhing and ohhing at these cute lambs 

Scurdie Ness lighthouse on the way to Stonehaven.

As we finally arrived at our Stonehaven destination, the Dunnator castle, we found out that it was closed due to high winds. Some of the outbuildings in the castle area are covered with slate shingles. The wind had blown these shingles off before, so to be on the safe side, the castle had been closed. Makes me wonder though, how many days in the year it is actually open, since wind is more or less a given there.


From the Dunnottar castle we continued on to Inverness. Another good location to scout out the nearby attractions, as the Urquhart castle (above) and the Speyside distilleries.

Strathisla distillery is the oldest continuously operating distillery in Scotland, and also the most photogenic! Their 17year old whiskey is to die for!!

From Inverness we headed to Dornoch, paying the Mermaid of the North a visit on the way. This girl was hard to find, surprisingly as she is truly beautiful.

At the Royal Dornoch golf course my caddy services were asked for again. 
If only all golf courses were this breath taking.


And the reward came the very next day: The heritage tour at the Glenmorangie Distillery,
including a yummy lunch at the Glenmorangie house. More in a separate blog!


Wildlife and lighthouses are never far away in Scotland...

Chanonry light house

From Inverness we then headed towards the west coast, to a charming little town called Ullapool.


If you ever visit Ullapool, make sure you stay at the Ceilidh Place. Ceilidh stands for coming together, play music, sing, read and have a good time. And you will just have that as the restaurant offers the best coffee I had in Scotland, a great dinner menu, good music and...a bookstore.



Next on the agenda was the famous Eilean Donan castle, as we visited it in the afternoon we had rain, wind and low tide...as we came back for the night photography, the rain had just stopped, no wind and high tide....here just a teaser, more in the promised coming up castle blog.


Here a species I was surprised to not see more often, the Scottish highland cattle. When I found them they were either eating or sleeping and if you dare to call on them to get a front shot...they walk away...
I need to work on that next time we are in Scotland!


Oban was our last stop before heading back to Edinburgh. A cute little, bustling port city.
Obviously people here know how to travel....


...and how to live on the edge!


On the way back to Edinburgh we passed by Kilchurn Castle, another famous one...and indeed the only one where the rain persisted.


Back in Edinburgh, we had one more day to enjoy before we had to fly back home.

Victoria Street at night

I travel quite a bit and I have to say these two weeks in Scotland were one of the best trip I ever had! 
Hopefully you can enjoy and partake a wee bit in Scotland's splendor through my images, and as promised, there are some more detailed blogs already in the making.