arrow-downarrow-leftarrow-rightarrow-upchevron-upchevron-leftchevron-rightchevron-upclosecomment-newemail-newfullscreen-closefullscreen-opengallerygridheadphones-newheart-filledheart-openmap-geolocatormap-pushpinArtboard 1Artboard 1Artboard 1minusng-borderpauseplayplusprintreplayscreensharefacebookgithubArtboard 1Artboard 1linkedinlinkedin_inpinterestpinterest_psnapchatsnapchat_2tumblrtwittervimeovinewhatsappspeakerstar-filledstar-openzoom-in-newzoom-out-new

A Storyteller Born With a Love of Horses

In his recent article, “People of the Horse,” writer David Quammen asks Toni Minthorn, a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and lifelong equestrienne, where she got her riding skills.

Her answer?

“I was born with ‘em.”

Not so for me. From the age of 5 when I began taking horseback riding lessons until I was at least 11 or 12 (after I’d had my own pony for a couple of years), I fell off nearly every time I rode. Clearly, I was not a natural horsewoman.

What I was born with, or at least goes back as long as I can remember, is a true love of horses. Not just riding them, but simply being in their presence. It was this love that kept me getting back in the saddle within minutes of each fall, despite the bruises to both my body and my pride, and eventually led me to earn a degree in equine behavior.

View Images
Clayson Benally, a member of the Navajo Nation, is photographed with his horse Chico. A horse trainer, native environmental activist, and member of the Navajo band Black Fire, Benally has ridden horses since he was born. Photograph by Erika Larsen

When I moved to Washington, D.C., in 2008 with the dream of becoming a natural history filmmaker, I found myself not only living in a city for the first time, but without a horse of my own—something I hadn’t experienced for nearly two decades. My hard-won riding skills, due in large part to all those falls, are only occasionally put to use when I can escape the city for a trail ride. So when I was given the opportunity to work on a story about horses for the magazine, I jumped at the chance.

Of course this is a story about more than just horses; it’s about the unique bond between people and horses—a bond that, in my experience, is different than any other. Photographer Erika Larsen was able to capture beautiful video of many of the scenes she was photographing while on assignment; it was my task to take these moments and craft them into one cohesive piece. Though there is no linear narrative in the footage, we found the perfect “glue” in the voice of Jade Broncho.

Jade effortlessly puts into words what I believe is the essence of our fascination with horses: they are innocent yet wise, strong yet gentle, stubborn yet endlessly patient. It is the duality of horses that sets them apart and draws us in. Though I don’t currently get to spend much time around them, working with Erika’s footage and Jade’s words helped me reconnect with horses and all they taught me on my path to working for National Geographic, where I now have the opportunity to share incredible stories like this one with the world.

See more of Erika Larsen’s photographs from the March 2014 National Geographic magazine story “People of the Horse.”

Follow Nat Geo Photography


Join Your Shot, our photography community. Submit to assignments and get feedback from our photo editors.


From the Archives

Look through a curated collection of historical photos from our archives on National Geographic's Found Tumblr.


Picture Stories

Check out the latest work from National Geographic photographers and visual storytellers around the world.

See More