By Lauren R. Giannini
Photographer Patrick Brennan – who has a passion for photographing wild mustangs – entered a photo in the Professional Photography category of the Sidelines Photography & Art Contest and won! His photo appears in this issue with the six runner-ups. Our contests turn up some great stories. This is one of them.
Patrick Brennan of Denver, Colorado discovered a renewed zest for life, thanks to meeting fellow photographers Joe Tosh and John Wagner on Facebook. They, too, live in Colorado and introduced Patrick to the wild horses of Sand Wash Basin. “They took me out there about three years ago for the first time and I fell in love with the mustangs,” said Patrick. His interest in photography started as a child accompanying his reporter-father and escalated in the mid-1980s to serious amateur before he turned professional in 2007.
Going with John and Joe to photograph the mustangs turned out to be “spirit medicine”: Patrick had survived surgery to remove a brain tumor; but they didn’t dare touch the half located close to his brain stem. That was eight years ago and anyone who knows Patrick will testify to what the mustangs have done for his life-force.
“Everybody we take out there falls in love with the horses,” said Joe. “We took a group from Denmark who wanted to see the mustangs – people from Florida, different parts of Colorado, Arizona. We give them instructions on what to do, what not to do. The people aren’t in any danger. We stay with them and we give the horses at least 100-200 yards for their comfort zone. Patrick gets a little out of breath and tired; but we drive as close to the horses as possible.” Getting close, however, still means hiking for a mile or two. Even though it can take Patrick several days to recuperate from a trip to Sand Wash Basin, he insists that it is always worth the effort.
“The mustangs have meant so much to me with this tumor,” admitted Patrick. “I’m stable. I live each day so much differently than I ever did before. I have connected with this herd, with these individual horses. They’re like family.”
How It Began
It started with John. He was just a kid when his father took him out there, years before the wild horses were put under protection. Now he lives relatively close to Sand Wash Basin with his wife Sarah and their daughter Megan. John’s interest in photography got stoked several years ago when Joe, his father-in-law, gifted Sarah and him with a digital camera. Before long John acquired a sophisticated digital SLR with a 70-200mm telephoto lens.
“I used to go up there quite a bit and I told Joe about the wild horses and he wanted to see them,” said John. “About four years ago we went out there and we’ve been going once a week ever since. I have at least 500,000 photos of the mustangs.”
John’s passion for wild life photography resulted in two books: First Flight: Journey of a Man and an Eagle and The Magnificent Wild Mustangs of Sand Wash Basin.
“Patrick wanted to do a book on the mustangs and asked us if that was a good idea and I thought it was,” recalled John. “There’s a difference between my book on the mustangs and this one, Three Amigos and the Mustangs of Sand Wash Basin. We knew we wanted people to learn more about the mustangs and in this book Patrick is showing both sides. I used to work on a ranch. You really can’t let them keep breeding; but you also can’t take them all. Right now the mustangs are really healthy looking. There just isn’t a lot of grazing this year because of the drought. If we get snow, they’re going to be in trouble. Some of the herds are already starting on their winter feed areas.”
This year’s crop of foals will number about 55, all told. The three amigos identify each one in terms of sire and dam, name them and, of course, take many photos. They have met with people in the Bureau of Land Management, rangers and other concerned horse lovers, including those who have adopted mustangs after herd reductions.
“It’s been five years and the BLM are about a year behind schedule to reduce this herd,” said Patrick. “We wanted to memorialize these mustangs. The book will be out on November 15, if all goes well, and I’ve been marketing it intensely. It will help to educate people about the wild horses. The book has some great adoption stories and we hope that it will lead to more adoptions.”
The three amigos are seriously involved. They know the wild horses – their names, personalities and habits. “I’m pro-Mustang,” said Patrick. “I see both sides and I understand the need for reducing the numbers of wild horses. It would be great if they could just live wild and free; but they keep reproducing. Efforts at birth control haven’t worked very well and the BLM are looking into other methods. Meanwhile, the BLM manage all of our public lands and they have to balance the needs of all the wild life – elk, a ton of antelope, the wild horses. I see the value of that and how resources go a lot farther if you manage them in an intelligent way. We have met some of the rangers at Sand Wash Basin. They do a great job.”
So do the three amigos. Their book comprises more than gorgeous pictures of the stallions, mares, foals and bachelor stallions: the documentation alone may someday be priceless. The photos are all captioned, offering insights into the various herds, their behavior and daily life amidst the fauna and flora of northwest Colorado near the Utah border.
Photos of Picasso, aka the Dean of Sand Wash Basin, tell stories about the life of a stallion: old scars, relatively new wounds and the ongoing fight for survival. The pinto mustang has only two mares at this stage in his life; but he hasn’t given up yet.
“Last year, I saw Picasso every time I went out, but only a few times this year,” admitted Patrick. “There are 162,000 acres for this horse management area – that’s small by BLM standards. On one of my first trips out to Sand Wash Basin, there were seven different family bands – about 60 horses grazing. John sat down cross-legged and said, “be quiet, be patient. I just sit here. They return to grazing when they know you’re not a threat.” It was unbelievable. I go back as often as I can.”
Fast Friends, Literally
The wild horses helped to forge a great friendship, another blessing noted by Patrick. Their collaboration on Three Amigos and the Mustangs of Sand Wash Basin has provided him with an incentive to wake up each morning and work on the book. Getting out to Sand Wash Basin adds even more icing to his cake.
“John, Joe and I have become the best of friends – the three of us have put together the best of our best photos from the last three years,” said enthused Patrick. “I’m so excited about it and I was there for a lot of the photographs. You get to know the horses and see their offspring growing up. It’s been such a joy for me.” Easy to see why they call themselves three amigos: they are in total accord about the wild horses of Sand Wash Basin.
“Patrick really enjoys these trips. He goes at least once a month,” said Joe, whose wife Wanda is equally crazy about the wild horses and taking photos. “John and I go at least once a week. The mustangs have been good for all of us.”
For information about the Sand Wash Basin Mustangs: www.visitmoffatcounty.com