Saturday, January 13, 2018

Why we do what we do.... Ben's Chase

The air is beginning to cool after 95°F (35°C); dusk is settling over the Basin. Karen and I saw horses heading to the waterhole just below the Pony Express Cabin at Great Desert Basin, HMA in Utah. We had just finished photographing another herd way out on the plains and returned to the campsite. The Pony Express Cabin is very close to our campsite, so we immediately hopped back in the truck and arrived ahead of the horses.  Observing most of the horses heading to the far side of the pond, we parked the truck on the north side of the pond and walked up the hill to get an unobstructed view.  We did not see the horses arriving over the hill behind us until they startled us with their proximity. We were surrounded, and the truck was parked a distance away…

Why we do what we do…

There’s the thrill of photographing horses living free. There are no retakes, there are no ‘do-overs’ out on the range. We must be swift, precise, and always alert. Rarely, such as that evening at Great Desert Basin when we are tired from a long day of shooting under a hot August sun, we become less attentive, but those instances are rare. There are rattlesnakes out there and help is far away.

The horses do not pose, there is no handler guiding an impeccably groomed horse towards the photographers. We don't mean to disparage our colleagues who do photograph domestic horses. They take extraordinary photographs but I have done those (horse shows, outdoor photo shoots, on location photo shoots etc) and I feel something vital is missing.

There are no amenities on the range, we eat reconstituted food, we bathe out of basins, there is no WIFI, no cell service, and no air conditioning except in the truck as we travel from herd to herd.  We spend weeks on the range living with the horses. The temperatures can range from 40°F (4.4°C ) on Pryor Mountain to over 100°F (38°C at Sand Wash Basin in Colorado. We miss refrigeration; cold drinks are a luxury we don’t have very often. There is no electricity, so we charge our devices via the cigarette lighter in the truck as we travel. We carefully gauge our gas consumption, often travelling nearly an hour to refuel.

There’s a freedom out there on the range, an unpredictability, and a heightened sense of anticipation. We never know what we will see each day, sometimes we witness stallions sparring, or perhaps a new foal on shaky legs. We watch the sky and wonder whether the storm clouds will bring thunderstorms or pass by harmlessly. We must always be ready and vigilant. Once, my daughter Abby was nearly trampled out on the range. A stallion was chasing another away from his mares.  He had a huge open plain and he chose to head directly towards us.  We had nowhere to hide because safety is a car and horses seldom stop near the road.  We had to do our best to predict which way they would turn… we were lucky, a few feet to the left and they might have run over her. My son Ben captured the entire incident while I was in the process of a small nervous breakdown...

Ben's chase
McCullough Peaks, Wyoming 2013 
Abby was ten years old, and Ben was eight.
Click on the image and it will open a larger version-simply click each image and it will scroll to the next...

Peacefully grazing in the distance

The Chase begins


A bit closer, we can tell they are probably cutting between myself & Ben and Abby

Even closer

They pass in front of Ben and I

Abby appears, on the right

Shes dashing out of the way...

Abby disappears...

You can just make out Abby's leg just behind the second horse's foreleg

She appears, we all breathe a sigh of relief

They continue the chase

Abby, ever the professional, continues shooting...

  These are my photographs of the same scenario.

You can see how close Abby's purple boos are to the hooves of the stallion

It’s intense out there and it is challenging.  The horses don’t pay much attention to us, so our photos are raw and natural. For myself, I want the viewer to feel as though they were standing next to me when I took the photograph, so I do not use artificial filters. Because of the unpredictability of the photographing, they are not always perfectly focused, but the power and energy are undeniable. For Karen, she has learned to paint with astonishing speed and accuracy. She can paint without interacting with the horses, effectively capturing their natural essence.

We give up creature comforts for the privilege of photographing wild horses. There is a vitality and unrestrained passion that flows through the horses; we try our humble best to bring that life to you.

“In photography, there is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.’ 
-Alfred Stieglitz

“Painting is the representation of visible forms. The essence of realism is its negation of the ideal.”
-Gustave Courbet

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Welcome 2018

As 2017 ends, I can’t help but feel incredibly grateful. Gratitude for our fans first; we celebrated one million fans this past October. Without you all, we would be just another photography studio instead of the largest exclusively wild horse photographers on social media. We are grateful for the wild horse advocates who work tirelessly to keep these magnificent animals living free on the range.

We are especially grateful for the opportunities to see wild horses, and we share that every year at Sand Wash Basin in Colorado. 

We have an informal ‘Meet & Shoot’ where we take people out to see horses and help them compose the best shot whether they have a top of the line camera or a simple smartphone. This is completely free- and last year we had a dozen people who had the privilege of seeing over two hundred wild horses.

Trying to get all of us to pose
The Lowders & Picasso
This year was also very special when my whole family joined Karen and me at Sand Wash Basin. The Lowder clan got to meet Picasso and spend two days shooting photographs.

Next year we have two trips planned out west. In early summer we will visit McCullough Peaks and Pryor Mountain- with a possible side trip to Spring Creek Basin (get ready TJ!). At the end of the summer, we will be in Sand Wash Basin, Great Desert Basin, and Cedar Mountain. Following that, in October, we will be at Assateague Island teaching photography & painting en plein air…

Karen paints at Great Desert Basin
Meredith plays her harp
We have no New Year's resolutions for 2018 except to continue to bring wild horses to you regardless of where you call ‘home’. Please keep sharing our photos so people can appreciate the beauty of these splendid horses. We wish the best for all of you in 2018, healthy, happy, and filled with joy.
Meredith & Karen
Ben, Abigail & Bruce Lowder

Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Roan Modifier

We will begin with an in-depth description of the Roan Modifier including genetics. Examples of roans will be provided in as many colours as we could find in the wild horse herds. We will conclude with other types of 'roaning' as well as confusing colours.  As with all the horse photographs presented here, we do not know the genetics of the animals; we rely solely upon the phenotype (physical appearance) of the animal.

The term roan or roaning refers to any horse with white hairs intermixed on a base coat.  It can be applied to horses going grey, sabinos patterns, Rabicano, varnish-rain appaloosa, or the dark-headed or ‘classic’ roan.  The classic roan modifier acts on any base coat colour and changes the body to varying degrees of white; leaving the head, mane, tail and lower legs the original colour in most cases. The colour does not change after birth; these horses are roan from birth or after their first foal coat sheds. Grey horses get progressively lighter as they age whereas some roans actually get darker as they age. This darkening appears in some roan lineages and mares seem to darken more than stallions or geldings. Hereafter, "roan" will refer to the classic roaning patterns which are nonprogressive and heritable (Sponenberg, D, 1996).

A bay (left), and a bay roan (right)

The Roan Modifier acts upon an existing coat colour. It causes the intermingling of white hairs amongst the base colour except on the mane, head, tail and lower legs (points). In the image above, we have a bay horse on the left and a bay roan on the right. You can easily see how the colour is lightened by the presence of white hair. Some horses have nearly white body colour, while some have just a dusting of light hair along the back and flank. The amount of white can be quite variable. Additionally, any scars that are acquired in the roan area grow back in the base coat colour (Gower, 2016).

The genetic control is autosomal dominant which means if one parent has the trait, the offspring will have the trait. If both parents have the trait, then all the offspring will have the trait. Roans tend to become common in populations where a dominant stallion has a large harem. He will pass the roan trait to his offspring. For a long time, 'dominant roans' were thought to be associated with a lethal gene similar to the Lethal White Syndrome found in. Homozygous roans, or those with two genes for the roan trait (RR), were believed to die in utero because homozygosity was linked to a trait incompatible with life. Since the discovery of, and the mapping of the equine genome, there have been several homozygous roan stallions discovered (Bailey & Brooks, (2013). (See also: 

The KIT region of the third equine chromosome is the site of several traits. The Roan trait, the Extension trait (which controls chestnut or 'not chestnut'- black or bay), Sabino 1 trait, Dominant white, Tobiano, and proteins used in blood typing. 
The roan trait effects the main coat, not the points (lower legs, mane and tail) as the extension trait effects the red coat of bays leaving the points dark. The roan trait also darkens the head. occasionally tobiano paints will have areas of roaning mixed within the paint pattern (examples below). Sabinos have a roan-like pattern with a frosted appearance to the patches of colour. All these traits are found on the same chromosome in close proximity, and the effects are similar although they may be caused by different genes (Hauswirth et al., 2013; Marklund, Moller, Sandberg, & Andersson, 1999; Negro Rama et al., 2016; Reissmann & Ludwig, 2013; Waud et al., 2009.).


Roans have many names and these names are often interchangeable. Blue roan, strawberry roan, red roan, sorrel roan and dun roan are some of the terms to describe roans. For the purposes of this post, we will use the base coat+roan to describe the horses. So a roan modifying a grullo coat will be called a "grullo dun" and a chestnut coat modified by roaning will be a "chestnut roan".).

Black Roan/Dark Bay Roan

A horse with a black, dark bay, or any other dark colour with the roan modifier.
A black roan from Great Desert Basin, Utah 2016
Here we have a normal Black/Dark Bay in front and a Blue Roan in the middle. In the back is a Bay Roan.

'Blue' from Sand Wash Basin (2014). A lovely dark bay/black roan

A grey and a Black Roan. Greys may be confused with roans because of the similar white 'ticking' appearance but the greys often have more white in the tail and lighter faces. This can vary from grey to grey but they generally get lighter with age. Great Desert Basin, Utah 2017

Close-up of the legs. The roan (behind) has a more colour on the legs than the grey stallion in front. Great Desert Basin, Utah 2017

The Bay Roan

Roan Foal and her dam. This foal looks more roan in other photos but it is still very subtle. Sand Wash Basin, Colorado 2014
Bay Roan Paint foal. Noter the tendency for even young foals to look distinctly roan. Great Desert Basin, Utah 2017

A bay roan foal, a grey mare, and chestnut roan paint foal behind. This chestnut roan may be a dun as they are several duns in the band. It is hard to see because the legs are white so we cannot see any primitive markings but there is a faint dorsal stripe.
A Bay Roan Paint foal. This youngster may have some grey in the mix as well as roan. The mane and tail are very dark, which is consistent with roan but the face is light. In the roans that have more white- it is usually distributed along the mane, tail, and face. It is hard to assess the points (legs) because there is a great deal of white present. Sand Wash Basin, Colorado 2016.

This is the same bay roan mare as the photo directly below and a good example of how lighting can alter the perceived colour of a horse.  If possible, try to view the horse with direct midday lighting with the sun behind you. Pilot Butte/Rock Springs, Wyoming 2013

A beautiful bay roan mare from Pilot Butte (Rock Springs, 2011). She demonstrates the inverted 'V' on the black points of her forelegs. She is very light with very dark points- this image was not enhanced in Photoshop but it was taken at dawn.

A beautiful mare from Great Desert Basin (2017). She has an interesting pattern of the 'corn spots' on her left flank. These marks can represent injuries that heal with the base colour replacing the white, or they can occur spontaneously. (Sponenberg, 2009).

This stallion has a very sandy base colour which may be a yellow-bay, or a buckskin/dun. The photo doesn't allow us to look for any primitive markings. Sand Wash Basin, Colorado 2014. Also, he shows minimal roaning. However, you'll see him again two photos below chasing another horse.

A handsome Bay Roan from Sand Wash Basin. He has a moderate amount of white as opposed to the stallion in the photo below (2015)

A dun  (?) roan chasing a light bay roan.- he does have a dorsal stripe which would make him a dun, but we cannot see any zebra striping on the legs in this photograph...
The Chestnut Roan
A chestnut roan- from Pryor Mountain.

Chestnut roan stallion from Sand Wash Basin.

The bay mare from earlier photos and her chestnut foal from Pilot Butte/Rock Springs. Some roans have greyish manes and tails. 

The same foal from the photo above.

A Alovely light chestnut, possible dun, from Pyror Mountain.

A liver chestnut stallions from  Great Desert Basin, Utah. Note the dark mane and tail.

'Cody' -a lovely dark liver chestnut roan from Sand Wash Basin, Colorado 2011. In this photo, Cody looks like a bay. However, in the photo below, he has reddish legs.

More Cody, the liver chestnut roan from Sand Wash Basin, 2014. Note how the colour changes based on season and lighting. Roans usually look darker in winter coats. In this photo, Cody has very light red legs- he may be a liver chestnut with a very dark mane & tail.
A foal who may be a roan. Until the first foal coat sheds, all bets are off. She may be greying out early, or she'll become darker on her head, legs, mane & tail. Sand Wash Basin, Colorado.

Running to the waterhole, a chestnut roan leads the way. Sand Wash Basin, Colorado.

The Palomino Roan

A foal from Sand Wash Basin, Colorado. This may be a future roan based on the darker head, and legs. The mane and tail are often very light in normally coloured palomino horses and so the roan colour may become nearly the same colour as the mane and tail. 

Another Palomino roam foal from Great Desert Basin.

The Dun/Grullo Roan

The dun (grullo) stallion in the back (sparring with a bay) tend to have a warmer tone to their coats then black/blue roans. To identify the dun roans, look for primitive markings on the legs.

A dun roan- here we can clearly see the zebra striping at the top of the black on the forelegs of this stallion. Primitive markings occur in dun horses and consist of zebra stripes on the legs, shoulders or wither stripes, 'dorsal stripe from withers to dock, cobwebs' on the face, and lighter guard hairs on the outside of the mane and tail. Additionally, there is a dorsal stripe along the top line and into the tail.

Nice dun roan with striping visible on the legs and withers/shoulders

A lovely grullo roan from the Pryors. Again they often have a warmer tone to their colouration.

The same grullo roan as above- noted the change in colour due to lighting- from the Pryors.

Other Roans

A frosted roan. The roaning incorporates the mane and tail. The effect is fine patina of white air brushed over the entire horse.

A varnish Appaloosa- similar to roans but they tend to have darker colour over bony prominences.They generally do not have darker legs, manes, or tails.

A fantastically marked roan bay pain from Great Desert Basin.

THe mare is a buckskin roan. The buckskin colour is caused by the presence on one cream gene on a bay horse. The cream gene acts on red base colour of bay turning it lighter yellow nbut leaves the black alone. In a chestnut horse, the cream gene lightens red to a gold to pale cream colour. This includes the mane and tail which are red in chestnut horses. There is clearly no dorsal strip in this horse so it is unlikely to be a dun. 


This grey paint resembles a roan but it is more lilely this horse is a sabino (a type of paint similar to roan) that may be greying out slowly.  Grey horses get lighter each year whereas roans do not. Grey horses are born dark and lighten with age, roans are either norn roan or shed into roan after their first foal coat.

At first glance I thought this horse was a roan but it turns out he is just very muddy...

Another almost roan... but it was just water and the sun reflecting off a dusty coat.

A grey sabino paint- note the light head.

A paint with a speckled pattern reminiscent of a roan from the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary. This horse is a paint, possible sabino and/or frame overo.

Another sabino/frame overo (?) paint from Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary.

A chestnut paint Sabino from the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary.

Roaning Patterns in other coat types

Picasso, a well-known stallion from Sand Wash Basin is a Tobiano paint. He may have other genetics as well as Tobiano. Because the KIT gene controls roaning as well as Sabino and Tobiano, those traits tend to have similar characteristics.  Many Tobiano  paints have roaning intermingled in their paint pattern. Below are several photographs of Picasso and Cowboy.

Picasso, left side and mud

Picasso, right side

Cowboy, a frame overo with roaning mixed in the paint pattern.

Cowboy left side

Cowboy, right side

Cowboy, right side

Kokomo, Picasso's son.


Bailey, E & Brooks, S. (2013). Horse Genetics (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: CAB International.

Dürig, N., Jude, R., Holl, H., Brooks, S., Lafayette, C., Jagannathan, V., & Leeb, T. (2017). Whole genome sequencing reveals a novel deletion variant in the KIT gene in horses with white spotted coat colour phenotypes.

Gower, J. (2016). Horse Color Explained: A Breeder's Perspective. Brattleboro, Vermont: Echo Point Books & Media, Inc.

Haase, B., Brooks, S. A., Schlumbaum, A., Azor, P. J., Bailey, E., Alaeddine, F., . . . Leeb, T. (2007). Allelic Heterogeneity at the Equine KIT Locus in Dominant White (W) Horses. PLOS Genetics, 3(11), e195. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.0030195

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About the Author & Photographers


Dr. Meredith Hudes-Lowder,

Meredith received a Bachelor of Science Degree from Binghamton University with an emphasis in ethology and genetics. She received a Bachelor of Science in Nursing also from Binghamton and a Masters of Nursing in Perinatal/Women's Health from Stony Brook University. She has a Research Doctorate of Nursing Practice from Stony Brook University. Her doctoral thesis was a research study on cervical cancer screening intervals. She was invited to present her research findings at the podium for the Nurse Practitioners in Women's Health Annual Conference in New Orleans, October 2016. She is a member of several professional organisations and was inducted into Sigma Theta Tau- the Nursing Honor Society in 2007.


Karen McLain: Painter, artist, photographer

Karen McLain is a third generation Arizona native. Growing up in Arizona, she developed a deep appreciation for the outdoors, and for the rural and ranching lifestyle. Karen graduated from Arizona State University with a B.A. in Studio Art. She went on to pursue more traditional and realistic styles, and to create a style of her own. A number of commissioned works are accepted from collectors. The rest of the time, Karen can be found drawing or painting en plein air. These landscapes and life studies of wild horses are then developed into larger works in her studio.

McLain states: ”Painting from life not only reveals natures beauty first hand, but it also challenges me to focus and see clearly the light, form, and wonderful color present.  Time spent in the saddle, and painting en Plein air, results in an outlook that McLain describes as “Drawn from life, and inspired by life”, which is reflected in her work. See Karen’s “studio tour” here

Why we do what we do.... Ben's Chase

The air is beginning to cool after 95°F (35°C); dusk is settling over the Basin. Karen and I saw horses heading to the waterhole just...