Arts | Fish & Wildlife | NW Life | local | Oregon Field Guide Extras

Photographers Find Wild Horses in Oregon Ready For Their Close-Ups

OPB | Feb. 12, 2014 midnight | Updated: Feb. 13, 2014 2:38 p.m.

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Maggie and Farrel Rothauge could have felt threatened by a wild horse that seemed to be following them down a desert trail. But a larger herd walked nearby too.

A herd of wild horses follows Farrel Rothauge down a trail.

A herd of wild horses follows Farrel Rothauge down a trail.

Maggie Rothauge

Farrel Rothauge says, “We had two stallions greet us, right beside us, with a new foal on the ground. The stallion could have pushed us off. No, he went right down the trail. We just stepped off the trail and he went right past us and body checked the other one that was following us up the trail.”

They’re certain the stallion had protected them from the other horse. Their hearts were sealed.

“Those two bought us,” he says.

The two had come to southeastern Oregon to photograph wild horses. They never expected to have a wild herd follow Farrel down a trail while Maggie took pictures.

The Rothauges are part of a small and devoted group of photographers that has discovered one of the easiest places to take pictures of wild horses.

They go to the “Hollywood pasture.”

Maggie Rothauge

The land is really just the arid corner of an expanse of high desert just west of Steens Mountain where a band of wild horses frequently comes to graze. It’s also easy to find, sitting right next to Highway 205 south of Frenchglen.

The South Steens Herd has been nicknamed the “Hollywood Herd” for the horses’ seeming willingness to pose for pictures and take gawkers in stride.

“If I would have known going out and seeing them in the wild was this easy, I would have been out here many years ago,” says Maggie Rothauge.

The couple drives six hours from their home in the south Willamette Valley to visit the horses. They make the journey six to eight times a year and spend several days at a time watching horses.

“They’re so fun to watch for hours and we do,” she adds.

Maggie Rothauge has seen them so often she knows them as individuals and has named them.

She watched a colt she named Cruiser from his first week after birth until the day three years later his band drove him away. 

“You become attached,” she says. “It’s like extended family and these guys are.”

Cruiser’s banishment astonished Rothauge. She realized this was an event in every colt’s life that humans hardly ever get to see. At the moment a colt grows mature enough to become competition for female attention, the stallion drives him off.

Photographer Maggie Rothauge has documented wild horses in southeastern Oregon for four years.

This particular herd of mustangs seems unfazed by cars pulling up, people hopping out with camera lenses aimed at them. Maggie has learned she can approach the animals, cautiously. Frequently they pay little attention to her.

“It was a lifelong dream of mine to be in the middle of a herd of wild horses,” says Rothauge. “And that’s a dream come true.” 

However, she’s not foolhardy. She knows not to treat them like the horses she keeps at home.

“Always watch their ears,” she says. “If the ears go back I turn around and walk away.” If a horse appears aggressive or comes towards her she’ll snap a walking stick up high over her head. This flash of motion startles the horses and they often sprint away. Rothauge never walks out towards the horses alone and she never walks among them during spring breeding season.  

“You’re not going to touch them. They’re wild animals.”

Maggie Rothauge with one of her seven adopted former wild mustangs

Maggie Rothauge with one of her seven adopted former wild mustangs

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The Rothauges have been so struck by the mustangs they have adopted seven of them. Farrel gentled and trained them at home.

Their ultimate goal is to find more adoptive homes for the mustangs removed from the range. Maggie Rothauge has become a self-appointed PR agent for the herd and hopes her pictures will strike a chord with others who want to get a horse.

“That is our goal,” she says. “I don’t make a lot of money selling my photographs.”

Majesty, a stallion

Majesty, a stallion

Maggie Rothauge

On that very first day, Majesty was one of the stallions they met. The Rothauges learned recently that Majesty is gone.

“He died last year from an injury,” says Farrel, with a choke in his voice. “But they’re in our heart. You know, they own us.”

Visit the full digital story on mustangs and join the online conversation: Wild Horses in Crisis.

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