Next week marks the annual Great American Horse Drive in Craig, Colorado.
The Sombrero Ranch has been hosting the Great American Horse drive for almost 40 years. The Sombrero Ranch is the home to the largest herd of saddle horses in North America. They lease most of the horses to ranches throughout the country every summer. Then every fall they release the horses on their land for the winter season. That means every spring they must all be rounded up and moved back to the ranch for their summer distribution. This American West tradition is offered as an extreme “city slicker” ride to people all over the world who want a taste for the western lifestyle or just wranglers looking for an experience of a lifetime.
The Equine Photographers Network has been given exclusive access for over 10 years to bring photographers in to document the event. I was fortunate enough to attend the Great American Horse Drive in 2009!
Photographing 700 horses for 60 miles is no easy feat.
First I had to get to Craig, Colorado from Prescott, Arizona. Craig is in the Northwest corner of the state. I took my shuttle from the Prescott to Phoenix. Then onto a flight from Phoenix to Denver. Then a car rental and a 4 hour drive from Denver to my hotel in Craig. The wranglers (riders on the horse drive) arrive early for lots of training and orientation. The Equine Photographers Network typically holds a workshop before the drive portion but I was just there for the three-day horse drive. Small groups of photographers are assigned to a truck and driver. The days start before sunrise and end at sundown. I packed and wore layers of clothing for the change in temperature as the day progresses. There’s no cell phone service and no place to re-charge so I made sure I had plenty of charged batteries and camera cards. Each morning we were picked up at the hotel and taken in the back of our designated pickup truck to the herd. The first day is more of a round-up off many herds. For days, they push the horses into even smaller pastures until they finally reach an 8,000 acre pasture where the sorting pens are located. For a lot of people 8,000 acres would be considered a good-sized ranch, but at Sombrero it is known simply as the “gather pasture.” By the end of the evening almost all 700 head of horses were in a holding pasture ready for travel. It’s amazing to see that many horses all together. So many different colors and breeds! It was fantastic! Time to get a hot shower, some dinner and of course download all my cards.
The Horse Drive just keeps going.
I recall arriving in the dark to the holding area on the second day. We couldn’t really see all the horses but you sure could hear them. At daybreak we moved out ahead of the herd so we could watch them approach. Our driver had done this for a few years so he positioned us in strategic locations where we could get the best shot! I’d shoot like crazy as the herd went by. Wide angle to show the seemingly never-ending sea of horses and zoomed in to show the real horse power and magnitude of so many horses filling the entire viewfinder. Then back into the truck and we’d drive slowly through the herd to get out in front again. He was a talented driver to maneuver his truck again and again through small gaps between the horses. Driving through the herd was just as exciting as watching them arrive. It was like parting a horse sea with a pickup truck. That day ended with getting the horses into another large fenced area with water running through it. We were allowed to get out of our trucks and walk among the herd and shoot freely. Horses-horses everywhere. They were drinking, bathing, jumping over the water-they were tired and hungry I’m sure. We stayed until we ran out of light.
Maybell, Colorado’s claim to fame.
Most of the final day is spent on a paved road. They wranglers have to work the horses through the flow of traffic too. Some folks who live on the route brings chairs and sit at the end of the driveway to watch the herd go by. Part of the horse drive takes us through a very small town in Moffatt County called Maybell. With a population of only 72, this is probably this towns biggest day. People from all over Northwest Colorado descend on Maybell Colorado to watch the horse drive come through town. Thousands of thundering hooves across asphalt is deafening and amazing. I had goosebumps the entire time. The day ends bringing all the horses into the corrals and then sorting them out.
It was a great horse drive to photograph.
It was so much fun! After weeks of sorting through my images I finally settled on quite a few images to represent the 3 day adventure. You can see several of those photos through out this site.
Jody Miller is a professional photographer specializing in Horse Photography, Equine Photography, and Equestrian photography. Her work can be viewed online here in her gallery section, and she is also featured at Arts Prescott Gallery, in Arizona.