2017 Toni Cross Photography All images are copyright and must not be used without permission 

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In 2008, along with fellow photographer Neil Calbrade, I embarked on a project to photograph a number of the world's wild and feral horse herds.
Fuelled initially by the stories of wild ponies on the remote island of Assateague off the East Coast of America, written by Marguarite Henry in the 1950s, we set off initially to discover, and photograph, the ponies of Assateague. Somehow we are still going, photographing at least one or two herds a year, all over the world. The stories and histories behind the herds is complex and their standing and conservation history often the cause of much debate. Eventually we hope to bring you a book about the project, but we can't seem to quite bring ourselves to stop, and in the meantime there is merchandise and an annual calendar, and I'm hoping to write some blog posts this year too.

Horse Stories

Through every age of history man has been fascinated by the wild horse, and they have been depicted in numerous art forms over many centuries, from prehistoric cave paintings to modern art, cinema and music. Horses live free on all of the world’s continents, often in surprisingly hostile and difficult terrain. From deserts, forests, seashores and steppes, the individual races all have their own legends, histories and stories....

The aim of the Horse Stories project is to tell some of these stories through photography, to visit many of the wild herds in their home environments, and learn about them from the people who work to manage and preserve them. Many of the herds are not considered to be wild at all, but are described as feral horses, because at some point in their history they were actually introduced to the area by man, and later abandoned to roam free and reproduce. The only true wild horse is considered to be Przewalski’s Horse, once extinct in the wild but now returning to the wide steppes of its native Mongolia.

The issues in some countries are complex. Horses often compete with cattle and sheep for limited resources, so in some places there is pressure to reduce or even eradicate populations, while in others, such as Estonia, the fight is to actually preserve wild horses and put them back in their natural habitat. Across Europe, there are attempts to restore the  Konik to the original ranges of the now extinct Tarpan, and reintroduce horses to rewilding sites in an effort to recreate ancient grazed habitats. Yet across the hills in Britain there is a struggle to reduce most of our native pony populations, there are simply not enough homes for each new crop of foals, or grazing on the hills to support ever expanding populations.

My research is uncovering some incredible folklore around the origin of some of the herds, The stories are often of epic proportions; at least two populations are claimed by local legend to be descendants of ponies which swam ashore after shipwrecks. More probably, as with wild Burros in the USA, these are populations which have grown from animals introduced for a particular purpose then turned loose when they were  no longer needed. However they got there, and whatever the local issues, it is always fascinating to interact with the herds and learn their stories, and I remain enthralled in  watching them roaming wild and free.


Click the image to read about each herd

Australian Brumbies
Brumbies can be found all over Australia in forests, mountains and range lands. With an estimated population of 400,000, mostly in Queensland and the Northern Territories, the continent has more wild horses than anywhere else in the world. These youngsters were in the Toolara State Forest on the Queensland coast.
American Mustang
The mustangs of the American west are probably what most people automatically think of when wild horses are mentioned. Populations are closely managed in herd management areas, of which this one in the Pryor Mountains is probably one of the most visited and best known.
Assateague island ponies
Assateague Island is unusual in that the two sides of the island fall into two different states, and each pony population is managed very differently. These stallions in Virginia are kept separate from human visitors and are quite wild, while their tamer cousins in Maryland are free to mingle with campers.
Dartmoor Ponies
Dartmoor ponies fall into two groups, Hill ponies live across the moors and due to the past introduction of various stallions (which must have seemed like a good idea at the time!) they often bear little resemblance to the original Dartmoor pony. A remnant herd of pure bred Dartmoors are preserved by the Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust and the Forestry Commission on fenced land on Bellever Tor.
Wild horses of Alberta
An estimated population of at least 2000 Wild horses roam across much of the Rocky Mountains foothills in Alberta. Their heritage is very mixed and they look very different to their Mustang cousins across the border. There is much argument about the status of these wild herds. They compete with cattle for rangelands and many argue that they are not really wild but feral and populations should be controlled, while others see them as an essential part of the State's heritage.
Estonian Forest Horses
The Estonian horses are related to Forest horses which once roamed across the whole of Eastern Europe and Russia. The ponies have now vanished from most areas but a herd remains on Saareema Island off Estonia. This guy was the herd stallion and put up with a remarkable amount of playful pestering from his foals!
Wild Burros Nevada
The Burros of Red Rock Canyon near Las Vegas are a curious bunch. They are descendants of donkeys that were left behind when gold prospecting finished, and have adapted well but are partial to titbits from visitors. Consequently they spend a lot of time near the Visitor Centre despite attempts to move them back onto the open range.
Wild horses of the Namib
The wild horses of the Namibian desert near Aus are very different from many of the wild herds. They are of Thoroughbred heritage, descendants of horses left behind by a German count who kept a stud nearby and died in WWI. The horses were turned loose and have adapted to life in this arid environment, helped by a Wild Horse Trust which has created a water trough for them.
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Assateague island ponies

Assateague Island is unusual in that the two sides of the island fall into two different states, and each pony population is managed very differently. These stallions in Virginia are kept separate from human visitors and are quite wild, while their tamer cousins in Maryland are free to mingle with campers.