All photos provided courtesy of Becky Standridge
If you are a fellow horse lover, you have probably seen this image that has been circulating the web, various social media sites, and even news stations across the country. The image features Champ, a stallion that is a member of a wild horse herd residing in the Tonto National Forest in Arizona, as well as a young filly in distress caught up in the current of a powerful river.
Photographer Becky Standridge has been observing and photographing wild horses along the Salt River in the Tonto National Forest for over a year now. But her experience this particular day was anything but ordinary.
“The day started like any other day, when I headed out to find, observe, and photograph the wild horses,” Standridge says. “I was observing and photographing Champ and his family as they grazed along the bank of the Salt River, when another wild horse family came to drink on the opposite side of the river. Among them were two colts playing.”
Attracted by the activity on the other side of the bank, Champ’s herd began to make an attempt at crossing the river. A young filly, only a few months old, was among those in the group that began their journey upstream. Because of the powerful current, the filly was swept to the middle of the group and pulled under the water’s surface.
“She reappeared, struggling, in the middle of the group and soon began to be swept downstream,” Standridge says. “Champ noticed her struggling, broke from the group, and tried to grab her by the side of her neck. Unable to get a hold, he grabbed her by the back of the neck, held on to her, and brought her back to my side of the river. He did not release her until she was safe.”
Because Standridge has been observing this particular herd for quite some time now, she believes the young filly, Champ helped guide to safety, is most likely one of his offspring. When this image is viewed as a still shot, it might appear to some as a simple case of roughhousing, a stallion playfully biting at the neck of a female. But for Standridge, who witnessed the entire event, she is confident that this was truly an act of equine chivalry and an elder stallion’s attempt at protecting a young member of the herd.
“Without a doubt, Champ indeed helped the innocent filly, that was obviously unfamiliar with the speed and power of the current,” she says. “Being present to see the events develop and to observe the reactions of the other members of the band, left no doubt that Champ was acting in response to the filly’s distress. His actions were void of aggression and instead showed us Champ’s leadership, strength, and speed of reaction to one of his own.”
Since that day, Standridge has seen Champ and the filly several times since, and she says they appear to be doing just fine.
Standridge has generously provided us with the full sequence of photos from her encounter with the wild horses that day, which helps to shed even more light on how the event took place.
“I’d heard about the horses for years, but had never seen them or known where to find them,” she says. “One day, when my friend and I were walking our dogs in the area, there they were. I was thrilled and inspired. My friend is a knowledgeable horse owner, who not only taught me how to find my way around the area, but also shared with me valuable information regarding horses. Being an artist at heart, I began returning to the area with my camera almost daily for the purpose of capturing their beauty in photographs.”
Standridge continues to visit the wild horses in the Tonto National Forest in an effort to chronicle their experiences, help provide a useful catalog of horses that live in the area, and celebrate the beauty of the wild horse in North America.