Mérens of summer

A little over a year ago I photographed some Mérens horses for the first time. I got in touch with stables that were happy to let me come to photograph their horses; Christel understood my wishes and left me and them to it. She had several different horses, mostly Arab, Mérens or crossbreeds of both. I didn’t really know anything about Mérens at that time, other than remembering being told when we went to the caves at Niaux in the Ariège back in 2014, the horses represented on the walls of the caves, painted over 13,000 years ago are believed to be of the same breed.
When I stood blissfully in a muddy field on a sunny winter day, I felt completely overwhelmed by the horses, their gentleness and beauty. After taking the pictures I researched the Mérens a little, I found out about the yearly transhumance, when several herds are taken up to the mountains to roam free for the summer. So last July we trekked up to high Pyrénean woodlands to find the semi-wild Mérens.
That was a day when I woke up one morning, hell bent on finding them. I woke everyone up, said “I’m nuts and I’m driving up to the mountains to find wild horses, who’s in?” and off we set. Things started to go wrong; stuck in a tailback for yonks followed by a disaster at the fuel pump that left me doused with petrol from the waist down. I had to buy trousers and a bar of soap, find some public loos to clean up, and they were without question the most revolting ones I’ve ever seen. Off we set again, up a forest track for about 4kms till we couldn’t drive any further. Then the hike started. Clambering up a rocky, slippery, vertiginous track lugging 4 cameras in the blistering heat until finally we reach the top and spot 3 horses cooling their hooves in a stream…
Instead of the muddy, matted, brown horses of winter these creatures are dark, sleek, muscular. But they also nuzzle us, and accept our hugs graciously and gently. We then spot a huge herd in the trees, standing head-to-tail, flicking flies away from each others’ faces. Teamwork. They are curious, surround us, nuzzle, slobber, check out bags, my camera strap gets a souvenir nibble. They scratch their bums on trees, flick, flicking those pesky flies. When the sunlight through the trees catches their manes, they burn like dancing strands of fire.
Before we leave, I try to capture them with a pinhole camera. Or rather capture the emotion of how I feel  right now, as if I’m in a dream-like state amongst bewitching, powerful and otherworldly spirits.
As summer turned to autumn I went back to Christel’s horses and for the first time in 18 years I rode again, and an idea was born for a long-term project. I intend to find a single herd I can track over an entire year, from their winter grazing in the valley, their transhumance across several days and their six months of living wild and free in the mountains, using 35mm and pinhole cameras. I’m lucky to have already found two separate stables that are happy to co-operate with me. It’s the most ambitious and possible mental photo project I’ve dreamed up, but it’s a burning, yearning need within me and I’m ready.
Pentax K1000 | Kodak Gold 200    Mamiya DSX | Ilford Delta 100  
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Agfa Click | Ilford Delta 100    Sharan Pinhole Neopan Acros 100