Sunday, December 20, 2015

Primitive Markings in Dun Horses

The Primitive Markings

 © Equus ferus- Wild Horse Photography & Karen McLain Studio
Primitive markings refer to stripes and lines darker than the coat colour that appear on horses carrying the Dun trait (Dn+). The most common marking is a dorsal stripe also called a lineback. The line travels from the mane, down the back and into the tail. Many horses have a dorsal stripe but in duns, the stripe extends from the mane through the tail. There is some debate as to whether the Dun factor- the lightening of red and black on the body- is linked to a separate gene causing the primitive marking, or if they are on the same gene.
Dr. Sponenberg states that if the Dun factor and the primitive markings were located on separate genes, we would see far more horses with primitive markings who are not Duns and more Dun horses without primitive markings (Sponenberg, 2009). Neither of those situations commonly occur, so the traits are most likely located on the same gene. 

© Equus ferus- Wild Horse Photography & Karen McLain Studio
Other makings are zebra stripes on the legs, shoulder or wither stripes- some extending up the neck. Cobwebbing- or facial markings are the rarest. It is extremely rare to find a Dun without a dorsal stripe and zebra stripes are usually present but may be so pale they are not detectable except under certain circumstances. 

© Equus ferus- Wild Horse Photography & Karen McLain Studio

Guard hairs- or lighter hairs on either side of the mane may occur (see photo to the right). Horse Management Areas with a large Dun populations are Sand Wash Basin in Colorado, and Pryor Mountain in Montana, amongst others. There may be darker edges to the ears and mottling/striping on the chest or sides. The Dun factor lightens the body leaving the 'points' or lower legs, mane, and tail darker. The head is also left darker which can cause confusion when separating Duns from Roans. The Blue Roan in the photo on the right may have the Dun factor in addition to the Roan which makes identification even more challenging.

© Equus ferus- Wild Horse Photography & Karen McLain Studio
The primitive markings are found on some of the oldest horse breeds such as Sorraia, Icelandic horses, and Norwegian Fjords. They are also seen on Przewalski's Horse. However, the Dun trait is also seen on more modern breeds such as the Quarter Horse, Spanish Horse breeds and European draft breeds (Stachurska, 1999). The presence of the Dun factor does not mean the horse is from an ancient lineage- the Dun trait is autosomal dominant. This means that if the parent is homozygous (DnDn) or heterozygous (Dndn)- they will have a dun coat and pass the dun trait on to 75% off their offspring making this inherited coat colour common in isolated populations.

Sponenberg, D. (1996). Equine color genetics. Ames: Iowa State University Press.
Stachurska, A. (1999). Inheritance of primitive markings in horses. Journal of Animal Breeding and Genetics, 29-38.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Assateague Island National Park 2015

Hello Everyone!!!
We're back at Assateague Island NP for a long weekend of photography.  Karen McLain has already been here for over a week as an "Artist-in-Residence". This is a prestigious appointment in which an artist, often a painter, is invited to spend a fortnight at a location and uses the opportunity to hone their artistic skill in a new environment and they often teach classes as well. 

I joined Karen today after driving down the coast from the Hudson Valley in New York. We shot a few of the ponies, although the conditions were less than optimal with an intermittent light mist falling. We broke early and had a wonderful dinner at a restaurant in Salisbury, Maryland called "Brew River"- the specialty was crab cakes and they did the cakes justice.  The oysters on the half-shell were amazing and we thoroughly enjoyed this dining experience.

It was also nice to see a horse that had been a foal, when we were last here in 2012. One of the things I particularly enjoy is seeing foals grow up and get bands of their own or give birth to their own foals. It lends a more personal aspect to the photography.
Foal 2015- Today
Foal 2012
Same foal today 2015

Tomorrow we are up early and plan to have a full day in the park. Karen is teaching a class for the Assateague Island Alliance on Saturday so we will prepare for that- a local paper did a nice segment of Karen's residency here . 

As always, continue sharing Equus ferus' photos! We will be posting live from the park.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The wild horses of the Salt River

In light of the recent uproar regarding the future of the Salt River Horses in Arizona, including the false alarm of a “round-up in progress”, I thought I'd take some time to jot a few things down. Bear in mind I am playing the devil's advocate in some of these comments and I firmly feel those horses deserve the right to live free at the River. I do not feel they represent a safety hazard to anyone nor have there been any negative incidents involving horse-human interactions. Cool heads need to prevail and present the facts clearly and calmly. 

The Salt River Horses of Arizona are in danger of losing their freedom. Advocates are scrambling to find rationales for preserving this beautiful population of wild horses. You may read that they are descendent of Spanish Colonial Horses and therefore they should be protected. Unfortunately, as soon as domestic horses were allowed to interbreed with the Salt River horses over the years, the lineage became diluted and their historical value diminished. There is no test currently, that allows us to differentiate a wild horse from a domestic horse. This is the principal reason the United States Department of Fish and Wildlife denied the recent petition to make the mustang an endangered species. We cannot tell them apart from domestic horses. The wild horses have no genetic mutations that are unique and therefore they cannot be isolated or differentiated from the domestic population. Even conformation isn't reliable as the wild horses are the result mixing different breeds and similarities as well as differences exist among both domestic and wild horses.

Other attempts at proving uniqueness are that the Salt River horses are the only horses that eat river grass. The consumption of aquatic vegetation is actually quite common in the the wild horses of Camargue region of France and in the ponies of Assateague and Chincoteague. So the “mermaid horses” or more correctly the hippocampus of the Salt River is mere fancy. Another point cited to set this population apart is that there are a lot of grey horses in the Salt River herds. Anyone who has been to Sand Wash Basin or Spring Creek Basin will tell you that there are a lot of grey horses at those horse management sites. It is a dominant color and therefore, rather common in every wild horse population. The presence of the dun color, which is frequent in the more ‘primitive’ or ancient breeds (such as Spanish Colonial Horses, Nordic breeds, and/or the horse’s wild cousin, Przewalski’s Horse) is present in the Salt River Horses, but duns are far more far more abundant in wild horse populations that are more isolated. The Pryor horses represent a more bottle-necked population and they have a large number of dun horses, more proportionally than the Salt River.

Instead of struggling to find characteristics which are unique to the horses of the Salt River, perhaps we ought to focus on what they represent. They represent freedom, they represent our heritage and they played a significant role in how the west was truly won. They are a beautiful addition to the landscape of Arizona and the Salt River would be empty without them. They remind us of the beauty of nature and they bring visitors to the Tonto National Forest every year. I have seen these beautiful horses and they have captivated me. Do whatever you can to help these horses.

Senator John McCain, Phoenix office, 2201 East Camelback Road, Suite 115, Phoenix, AZ 85016. Main: (602) 952-2410 and Senator Jeff Flake. (P: 202-224-4521

 Neil Boswell - Forest supervisor 602-225-5201

Carrie Templin, Public Affairs Officer, Tonto National Forest. 602-225-5290

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Lethal White Syndrome LWS (Overo Lethal White Syndrome OLWS)

Equus ferus- Equine Coat Colour Genetic -LETHAL WHITE

One of the mares at the Sand Wash Basin was believed to have given birth to a foal with Lethal White Syndrome.  And although we cannot be absolutely sure the foal was a Lethal White foal, the behaviour strongly suggests it might have been. Lethal White Syndrome has been talked about in the groups and on Facebook, hence this blog post. Without a necropsy (autopsy on an animal) we won't know for certain but here is what we do know...

Similar to Hirschsprung's disease in humans, Lethal White Syndrome affects the colon by making it non-functional and in horses it also affects pigment of the coat. The affected foals are born pure white with blue/grey eyes and occasionally a smudge or darker colour on the body or near the tail however, they die within 72 hours of birth. The colon in these foals is a dead-end and the foals cannot pass feces. They do not act normally and exhibit signs of distress.
Lethal white foal (Picasso x Mingo) photo credit Nancy Roberts 2011

Picasso and Mingo 2012 photo credit Karen McLain

The trait, which is inherited, is carried by the horses who also carry the paint trait frame overo. Frame Overo horses typically have jagged white markings along the center of the body. The back and belly may remain solid colored so the effect is a framed area of white. They may have white faces (apron or bald face) and they may have blue eyes although not always. Some horses may minimally express the trait and the only evidence of the frame overo paint trait is a little spot of white along the neck and an unusually shaped blaze. Some horses may also carry other paint traits such as tobiano and they horses are referred to as toveros. Without genetic testing, nothing is certain so we are basing our assumptions on what we have observed and the reproductive history of the individual mustangs.
Yahtzee (R) & Van Gogh (L)
Photo credit Meredith Hudes-Lowder of Equus ferus Wild Horse Photography

In order to produce a foal with Lethal White Syndrome, both parents must be overo. Not all overo horses carry the trait according to the American Paint Horse Association ( and not all blue-eyed white foals carry the Lethal White gene. Because  Lethal White Syndrome is autosomal recessive, it means when two horses that are overo and each carry the gene , there is a 25% chance the foal with be born with the syndrome. If a dam with the trait and a sire with the trait have three normal foals, it does not mean the fourth foal will carry the trait; the chances a foal will inherit the syndrome resets each gestation and remains one in four with each subsequent preganncy. 
In the Punnett Square below (Horse drawings by Karen McLain)
Oo outside the square
 on top represent the SIRE
Along the left side, the Oo represents the DAM
Both are Overo represented Oo and the carry the trait

One Solid foal (unaffected) -25%
Two Overo foals- CARRIERS of the Lethal White Trait- 50%
One Lethal White Foal 25%

One Solid Foal (OO) 25%

Two Overo Foals (Oo) 50%

One Lethal White Foal (oo) 25%




The photos below are Danielle M. Williams and they show Fleck's foal. Fleck is frame overo and the father is believed to be Eagle, a minimally marked frame overo so it is quite possible the foal carries the Lethal White Syndrome.  Sometimes Lethal White Foals do have darker pigment on the muzzle but this foal is not hunched over in the typical posture of a horse in gastric distress however the witness/photographer Danielle did say the foal did not look well and laid down frequently. She said the foal was unable to stand for any length of time. This is consistent with Lethal White Syndrome and the foals with the disorder often roll from side to side. Another possibility is that the foal may have perished in the fight between the band stallion Eagle and Diego who took over part of the band. Stallion infanticide is unfortunately unavoidable and may be more common than previously thought. Regardless of the manner of death, it is heartbreaking to see a young life extinguished so soon.
Fleck and her foal
Photo by Danielle M. Williams

Fleck and her foal 
Photo by Danielle M. Williams

Fleck and her foal 
Photo by Danielle M. Williams

Please email Meredith with any questions regarding the genetic behind Lethal White Syndrome or horse colour genetic in general.
Equus ferus- Wild Horse Photography
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*Much thanks to Karen McLain, Heather Robson, Stella Trueblood, Aleta Wolf, Connie Wagner, Danielle M Williams, Nancy Roberts, John Wagner, Joe Tosh, Patrick Brennan, Patti Mosbey, Robin Wadams and all the people who watch observe these horses and report on their behaviour.

Meredith Hudes-Lowder WHNP-BC, MSN, BSN, RNC, BS Biology
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 currently practices medicine as a Nurse Practitioner in Manhattan for Advantage Care Physicians. She is also enrolled in the Doctoral program at Stony Brook and anticipates graduation in 2016 as a Doctorate of Nursing Practice. Her doctoral thesis is a research study on cervical cancer screening intervals. She is a member of several professional organizations and was inducted into Sigma Theta Tau- the nursing honor society in 2007.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Painting Wild Horses in the Field with Karen McLain or "En Plein Air"

“All pictures painted inside in the studio will never be as good as the things done outside.”
-Paul Cezanne

I have a rule about not looking at all the photos from a summer trip until they have been backed up at least twice. Sure I scan through them but not really look too closely until all 30,000+ photos are safely backed up on my new 6TB hard drive and up in the Carbonite Cloud. So as I wait, not very patiently, for the over 400,000 files to transfer to the new hard drive... I sat back and remembered the trip...

Karen at McCullough Peaks 2014

Watching Karen McLain paint horses during the Mustang Walkabout 2015 was educational and interesting. I admit I know nothing about painting anything aside from a summer job painting houses on Long Island Sound... And perhaps a set or two from a play or musical, but that's the limit of my painting skill. I do, however, like to understand the process from a more scientific background since that's my training, thus I asked Karen numerous questions.

“When you're on the spot, you're seeing the best values, the cleanest color and real edges. You're also seeing objects in a wonderful light, and you're much more apt to paint a clear, un-muddied picture.”
-Wayne E. Wolfe

Karen paints en plein air, or in the field with live subjects and as a photographer of wild horses, I can tell you they don't stand still, not at all. Even when they don't move their feet, they are swishing at flies, or turning their heads. When they do move their feet, it is challenging to keep them in the lens field, let alone try to paint them accurately. But somehow Karen accomplishes just that. She keeps a camera handy to shoot reference photos just in case her subjects spook or decide the grass is indeed greener elsewhere. I asked her why doesn't she simply concentrate on getting a good reference shot and painting at her studio in a more relaxed and leisurely manner.
Here's what she said...

Karen paints at Sand Wash Basin
Painting from a photograph is useful and sometimes necessary if your subject is not local or endangered or simply not readily accessible. However danger comes with painting a photograph and not the actual subject represented in the photograph- and therefore inaccuracies may be introduced and perspective is lost. There is a critical difference in painting a three-dimensional object as opposed to a two-dimensional representation and it shows in the finished painting.  Karen explained that being there, at the moment the paint is first put to canvas, is critical in understanding the light, the shadows, ambient light, reflected light, and negative shapes (I'm still not sure what these 'negative shapes' are- they are elusive but they much sought after by painters). After some musing, I think painting from a photograph- without the memory of actually being there- is much like me photographing a photograph. It can be done, especially those with great skill, but something essential is missing from the finished piece...

“As difficult as it is painting outdoors, there is no where else I'd rather work - all the answers stand right before you. You may need to move some things around, but it is still all right there in front of you. A bit like taking an open book test.” 
-William F. Reese

All of these features combine and Karen paints 'in the moment'; very much in the Buddhist tradition of the here and now or the present moment. She finishes the vast majority of the painting in the field because she says the paintings looks very different when she brings them indoors and so the essence must be captured as swiftly as she can manage. One would think the painting would look hurried and inaccurate but Karen practices endlessly. She attends numerous workshops, studies techniques, she is well-versed in equine anatomy surpassing even my prodigious knowledge base on that topic, and she spends a great deal of time studying her subjects both in the field and with her horses in their paddocks at home. A strong understanding of equine ethology is critical in representing them faithfully in art. Endless exercises on a white board to hone her accuracy and speed, Karen draws, erases and redraws horses: standing, walking, grazing, interacting, fighting. And she wipes a lot of paintings off when they don't quite measure up... literally or figuratively.

Painting Picasso -Sand Wash Basin 2015
I watched her prepare her palette. To me it looked like orderly blobs of colour along the circumference of a glass rectangle with the centre area reserved for mixing these fascinating blobs. Each management area has a unique palette of colours. The Pryors need more green; the bright grass green and the darker pine green with the occasional purple lupine and white or yellow asters.  The McCullough Peaks have rich red rock and Sand Wash Basin is soft pastels of brown, cream, tan, sage and slate blue. Even the horses found at each location have customized palettes- the Pryors are abundant in primitive colours- duns, blacks, deep bays, smokey grullas, and the creamy palominos of the Cloud family. Spring Creek Basin is awash in greys, duns, buckskin and dark bays. The Salt River horses have few greys and no paints so the concentration is on chestnuts and bays as well as the river itself. McCullough Peaks and Sand Wash Basin are the most brilliant with paints, overos, tobianos, dilutions, sooty, splashed whites and every other conceivable coat colour combination. The time of day and the weather also influence the choice of colours Karen selects for each palette.

It is almost magical watching her paint swiftly and decisively that I think, only comes after years and years of practice. I marvel at her ability to turn squiggles and lines into a horse standing in front of me. It is pretty amazing. Please view Karen's beautiful paintings at her website and/or Facebook Page 

Equus ferus Wild Horse Photography
July 2015

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Mustang Walkabout 2015

As I sit at 30,000 feet flying to my home in New York, I find myself reflecting over the past two weeks. Karen and I went to three Horse Management Areas: McCullough Peaks, Pryor Mountain and Sand Wash Basin.  We camped out in the horse ranges and we had the privilege of sharing the lives of these magnificent creatures and my photography will be all the better for such intimate contact. It wasn't easy, the temperatures never dropped below 90 F during the day, the dust was abundant and I had altitude sickness on Pryor Mountain… 

But we persevered and rose each day at dawn and photographed until the sun was directly overhead when we took lunch and a siesta. We resumed photographing the horses until dusk. We drove all over the management areas and often hiking mile after mile to find the mustangs. We drank water and Fresca by the gallon, made cream of wheat in the morning & yaku soba noodles in the evening and treated ourselves to s’mores. We listened to coyotes, thunder and the sound of horses running by our camp… And we photographed- all aspects of the mustangs living free.  Karen took time to paint while I photographed.  We met and spent time with some extraordinary people like Patty, Deb, Rachel, Connie, Robin, Julie, Michael, Heather by proxy...

Still, it is nice to return home, and see the family. I missed Abby, Ben and Bruce as well as my Thoroughbred Ashe and all our pugs plus Stormy and of course, Puppy. It will be wonderful to have a shower every day, indoor plumbing, electricity on demand  and to  luxuriate in air conditioning. But I miss the mustangs and the camaraderie of the other horse people,  especially my best friend Karen.  We are already planning our next Mustang Walkabout for 2016. But before then, I have over 30,000 photographs to catalog and to edit, a new website to update and go live, a book to write, a research paper on ‘Stallion Infanticide’ to finish, and this incredibly fun thing I call work… I miss my patients and my colleagues. I missed my 34-string Celtic floor harp more than I thought and can't wait to practice. But each evening, when the sun gets low, my thoughts will turn to the horses- is Picasso okay? How is Cloud doing? How are all the new foals thriving?

Thank you for joining Karen and I on this incredible journey of sharing the lives of the wild horses of North America with the world through art and photography… 

-Meredith & Karen

Saturday, January 3, 2015

2015- a new year begins...

Corona's Band. Sand Wash Basin, Colorado '14
Happy New Year 2015

The past year was a wonderful one for Equus ferus- Wild Horse Photography. We were given the prestigious honor of participating in the Cloud Foundation Art and Music Festival in Colorado Springs over the summer and, to our delight, we sold prints. We had a successful Mustang Walkabout (our summer trip out west to photograph the mustangs) and continue to sell photographs, calendars and prints. We opened an e-store at Red Bubble and are slowly adding to the items fans may purchase.  If you see a photo you’d like as an iPhone cover or mouse pad- or even correctly proportioned for an iPhone or Android (those are free), please don’t hesitate to ask; we can make it happen. Remember all net proceeds from our sales go back to the mustangs!!!

Perhaps the most important event in 2014 was attaining a quarter of a million fans and later passing the 300,000 fan mark. Without our fans, we are just another ordinary Facebook horse-related page. So by way of thanks, we will continue to randomly give away items such as our 2015 Calendar "The Stallion Edition", and next year, we'll have The Foal Edition" so stay tuned.

Picasso of the Sand Wash Basin, Colorado '13
We are planning our summer 2015 Mustang Walkabout and we will visit the Sand Wash Basin, the McCullough Peaks, the Pryor Mountains, Little Book Cliffs and anything interesting along the way. However, before the summer, I will visit the Salt River in Arizona while attending a Mayo Clinic medical conference. I am probably the only person who finds medical conferences based solely on their proximity to wild mustangs. In the fall I will be in Salt Lake City for another conference and therefore will be obligated to visit the Onaqui HMA.

This summer also saw an end to my right anterior cruciate ligament, my medial collateral ligament and both meniscus were torn in my right knee. Since I performed this amazing orthopaedic trick two decades earlier, the ligament used to repair my torn ligament had to be borrowed from a cadaver. I will be spared during the Zombie Apocalypse since I already have a zombie part in my knee, or so my daughter Abigail cheerfully informed me. I had to take an unintended break from riding, Okinawan Kobudo, and even my 34 string Celtic Floor Harp- but I am back at the harp, will start up Kobudo in February and riding will wait until the spring. I was however, able to remain in school this semester, continued editing/posting photos during my convalescence and did not have to take much time off from my job.

I am hoping in 2015 to continue editing the photos collected throughout the year and to have an amazing time with the mustangs so we can bring them to you. I am always available to anyone who is interested in going out to see them; it is easier than you think- just email me. If you happen to be in the neighborhood of the horse management areas in the summer… I’ll guide you out there myself.

We will also be starting a series on 'Equine Coat Colour' where we'll explore the genetics behind the marvellously coloured mustangs... 

Best wishes for health, happiness and joy for 2015
Cloud and I. Pryor Mountains, Montana '14

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...