Utah - a trip filled with high and lows, twists and turns, one which kept my head spinning and my heart bursting with emotions. I had to separate my personal feelings, from what I was truly there for - the wild horses. The aim, bring their plight to light and help in whatever way I can to promote their adoption. A task intertwined with good and bad moments.
My trip to Utah had a distinct purpose, to film a fundraising video for my upcoming docu-series, “Taking Back the West.” With the goal of exposing the remaining untamed, unfettered Wild West through the eyes of an American icon, the wild horse. We explore the elements of what makes the wild horse so unique and majestic, a real national treasure. TBTW also looks to raise awareness for the forty-five thousand wild horses currently in federal holding pens, desperately in need of homes. Their struggles unveiled to not only captivate the viewer, but to promote change in a situation in critical need of attention. You can find out more about TBTW here.
I was not alone in my journey, joined by fellow wild horse photographer and advocate, Deb Lee Carson. With an insight that seems to emanate naturally from her bones and a vast knowledge of all things wild, she was my perfect partner in this journey. Past all the flattery is her innate ability to spot wild horses far better than I. Crazy to believe, but I was not the only Baldanza on the plains; joined by my cousin Bobby and his girlfriend Brie, cinematographers who made the trip from sunny LA. It was not just my, but our voyage together over the next five days.
Day One had us meeting up with Utah local and expert in the surrounding herds, Robert Hammer of Wildhorsetourist.com.
Accompanied by our gracious pathfinder, Robert escorted us through the Cedar Mountains & Onaqui HMA. The incredible benefit of going out with locals - a colorful backstory for the herds we encountered coupled with an immense knowledge base of the area. I can think of no higher suggestion than finding a local that is knowledgeable about the herd you are visiting, it would paint a better canvas than doing it alone.
Unlike the magnificent weather, the first day was not all rainbows and sunshine, far different than I was hoping. After a last minute conversation with the BLM, they decided a permit was necessary for filming. Why? Because TBTW was considered "within a gray area" as they have recently been in the middle of changing policies. I was completely in shock, especially since I was told by many people who film frequently in HMAs that permits were never required. Even the several conversations I had with the BLM in preparation for filming a permit was never mentioned. In the end, we live and we learn from our mistakes (I should of triple checked). Heartbroken and angry, I applied for the permits - this project had too much at stake to let anything get in the way. Thankfully, the Salt Lake City BLM Office knew of my situation and rushed me a permit.
Soon after the permit issue the anxiety started to fade away, and I was able to enjoy what I truly love - the horses. Absorbing their peacefulness and beauty, I started becoming intoxicated with their presence. They have that effect on you, you know? And even though we couldn't film that day, it ended up being a good "prep" day for Bobby and Brie, allowing them to get a feel for the wild horse’s habitat and and filming challenges.
A bright new day rose above the horizon and we made our way down to the Delta Holding Facility Adoption Event, hoping to see some adoptions take place. As much as I hate the thought of these once wild horses crammed into small and crowded pens, the blow was softened *a bit* when I got to know the Delta staff taking care of the animals. I can say from the bottom of my heart, that the employees at Delta genuinely care for the horses & burros in their facility, they go above and beyond to get those horses adopted. I know I will get shit for saying that, but it's true. I hope Delta can be the facility that others aspire too and if they implemented low-stress herding (a girl can dream), then they would receive 100% of my support.
Unfortunately, my practical nature leads me to acknowledge that the government is slow and other offices/facilities have a long way to go to be up to par.
While at the facility we discovered a sick foal recently rejected by his mother. The sight tugged at my heart, pushing me to the brink of crying. A couple days prior, a Delta employee noticed the distressed foal and in an effort to get another mare to feed the little guy, moved him to another pen. Even in the new pen, it was obvious the foal was not doing well, being continually rejected by the other mares who had milk to spare. Deb & I kept an eye on him, and when it became apparent that the relocation did not help his situation informed the Delta team in hopes that something could be done. About two days later they moved him to a foster home to receive the veterinary care and fluids he so desperately needed. When I heard the good news I was immediately filled with joy and hope. Unfortunately, my hope was short-lived when I got an email informing me the little fellow did not make it. Rest in peace little guy, you were a true fighter, and such a beauty.
After the facility and witnessing a handful of successful adoptions intertwined with not so happy moments, we decided to go back to the Onaqui Range. We finally saw some action. It was the first time Bobby and Brie really experienced the horses firsthand and captured their beauty on camera. Watching them experience what I am so passionate about, made me really happy. And THAT is a huge part of why I'm doing taking TBTW. I want to bring people who would never find themselves on the range and immerse them in the thick of the action, stallions fighting, mares whinnying, and foals galavanting. Chances are most people may never have the opportunity to experience wild horses firsthand, but will have the chance to experience the beauty from the comfort of their couch.
The following day, it poured with no horses in sight, just *ahem* cows. Wamp, Wamp.
The fourth day, we experienced lots of action with the Onaqui herd! There is nothing more exciting than seeing two stallions posturing and sizing each other up, in this elegant dance.
The anticipation hits you and they go up on their back legs and start fighting, rearing and kicking! That is when you start to really see the untamed intensity of these wild horses.
Sunrises and sunsets are my favorite time on the range. Although we didn't get to watch any sunrises with the horses, we caught some exciting moments while the sun was going down on the fourth day. Prior to the sun’s descent we had scouted the perfect location to set ourselves up for a beauty shot during the onset of dusk. A little bit below our prime location was about 60 horses, endlessly creating commotion and excitement! Stallions fighting, babies frolicking, and mares, in heat, fighting off outside stallions. It was a magical moment! I never personally witnessed these many bands so closely together creating a scene of complete and utter chaos!
The final day was the first time I was completely relaxed. The crew had gone home to LA and Deb departed for a photography gig in Florida. It was time to experience the Cedar Mountains Herd with Robert Hammer
What was really cool about the CM herd was that they were much more “wilder” than other herds I have experienced, and what I mean by wilder is that they are still conditioned to fear humans. Previous wild horse herds I have encountered typically let you drive close and hike to a respectable distance without bolting for the horizon. All it took for the CM horses to run for the hills was the sight of our car! Instead of getting frustrated that I could not get close enough to photograph, I was glad; their first instinct was to run and stay wild.
Well, I hope you enjoyed some tidbits (there is so much more to share) of the trip because it was one I will truly remember!