Wild Horse Adventures in High River, Alberta

Photographing these incredible creatures was at the top of Norma Van Alstine’s bucket list.

High River Alberta - Wild HorsesNorma Van Alstine
The band of horses led by a beautiful black stallion.

A Trip to High River, Alberta

Ever since my youth, I have had a passion for horses and photography. The top-ranking item on my bucket list was photographing wild horses. So, when the opportunity to take a trip from my hometown of Muskoka, Ontario, to High River, Alberta, came along I inquired as to where I might see some horses. My queries led me to the Wild Horses of Alberta Society (WHOAS). I visited the sanctuary, which is located near Sundre and was soon introduced to a local band of horses led by a beautiful wild stallion. That is when my quest to photograph the wild horses of Alberta began.

Mustang CabinNorma Van Alstine
The cozy “Mustang” cabin that Norma stayed in.

Like-Minded Souls

Eventually, I participated in my first exciting photography retreat at a guiding and outfitting facility tucked away in Alberta’s foothills near the picturesque Red Deer River. I arrived for my adventure on a Friday afternoon and was greeted by the friendly hosts and guided to my own cozy lodging, the “Mustang,” a charmingly rustic cabin. When I met up with the other photographers, we were complete strangers. But we had one thing in common—we were there to photograph wild horses. The head photographer of the retreat presented a slideshow with commentary; shared wild horse history, and recounted personal experiences he had with the horses. I was eager as I anticipated what the following day would bring.

Check out the wild horses of Sable Island, Nova Scotia.

Bay Stallion - High River AlbertaNorma Van Alstine
A bay stallion in a snowy thicket.

A Thrilling Encounter

By morning, there was a fresh blanket of snow on the ground. It was exactly what I was hoping for as it would make a beautiful backdrop for the photos. Our group of ten climbed into two pickup trucks with our camera gear and we were off! We passed meadows and gullies covered with snow, surrounded by the beautiful foothills. We eventually stopped along a road that was off the beaten path. Beyond the alders fringed with pine trees, we heard horses snorting and squealing. What a thrill! We followed one another closely and quietly. As we crept through the underbrush we soon had a sighting. Be still, my heart! There, in a wintry wonderland, stood a dark-grey stallion with three black mares. They were stunning! I was trembling with excitement. We continued on and soon came upon a small band with a magnificent-looking bay stallion. He stood near a thicket, a light snow in the air, and kept a watchful eye on his bay mares close by. His dark-red coat was riddled with battle scars. These sightings were the first of several that weekend. I witnessed the magnificence of these amazing horses and saw the effects of their resilience and vulnerability.

Don’t miss this gallery of breathtaking horse pictures from across Canada.

Roan StallionNorma Van Alstine
A gorgeous roan stallion.

Wild and Free

Some of my encounters brought different kinds of emotions. I saw many horses bearing scars from having survived a predator’s attack and was heartbroken when I heard of other tragedies that had befallen them. These emotions still arise when I think back to my visit and wonder how each of the horses is doing. I am grateful that WHOAS is an advocate for them, as I believe they are treasures to be protected.

I have continued to participate in photography retreats to Alberta whenever possible. Excitement builds as I plan each trip. I feel wonder as I watch new foals frolic in the dandelions in the lush spring birthing meadow. I sense hope as I watch yearlings role play, mimicking the adult horses. I watch in awe as powerful stallions spar for dominance. I consider the tenderness of a stallion as he gently nuzzles his mare. I witness friendships form among young exiled stallions. Most impactful of all, I see hope for these horses to continue thriving in the foothills, wild and free.

For more equine adventures near High River, Alberta, check out the wild horses of Sundre.

Originally Published in Our Canada