Few people have studied the wild horses of North America in depth. One woman who has come to know them intimately is the remarkable Canadian artist and naturalist, Maureen Enns.
Maureen studies the wild horses of the Ghost Forest, a mixed marshland and boreal forest west of Calgary, which inhabited by wolves, deer, moose, cougar and sandhill cranes. The Ghost Forest is also home to around a hundred wild horses living in seven main herds – a stallion, with several mares, foals and younger colts and fillies – as well as some “bachelor bands” of young statllions – like the ones above.
The horses of the Ghost have truly returned to the wild – they have rich social lives, with strong emotional bonds that are based on loyalty, empathy and respect for one another, and they live in a network of relationships with the wolves, deer and cougar that also inhabit the forest. Like the deer, the wild horses have learned to protect themselves from predators by remaining very still and breaking up their outline between the trees.
Maureen has been studying their lives since 2006, often riding into the Ghost on her mare Hope, who was raised wild. She describes Hope as her teacher in the language of wild equus.
“Hope is my partner. I just think and she responds.” Maureen told me, when I interviewed her for Eyes of the Wild.
“One day she suddenly froze on the trail. I couldn’t see anything, but I trusted Hope, so I froze with her. I was looking into the forest when I saw some hairs from a horse’s tail flick out into the light and back again. I realized that the wild horses were right there. They were standing very still in the shadows and Hope had picked up on the signal that told the herd to freeze. Then I heard a blow – the sound the lead stallions make to tell the herd to move – and they fled.”
Maureen’s work with wild horses had begun some years before, when she was studying grizzly bears in Bannf National Park, in Canada. She was riding through the park on her gelding when she came upon a mother grizzly bear with her two cubs – a potentially life-threatening encounter if the mother grizzly felt threatened and feared for their safely.
Instead of panicking, as any rider might expect expect, Maureen’s horse stayed completely calm. He simply stood there, almost dozing, while one cub got under his feet.
“My horse understood the situation perfectly.” Maureen explained when I interviewed her for Eyes of the Wild. “My horse and the grizzly bear were communicating, and they understood each other. And that’s where it all began for me, the unraveling of the old negative mythologies about grizzlies. It was the horse that took me down that trail. And the horse is still taking me down that trail today because I’ve learned that I can trust my horse and I’ve learned that animals have the ability to communicate in ways that people don’t.”
Maureen is one of Canada’s outstanding wildlife artists and you can see her paintings and photograophy at www.maureenenns.com