From Wales to Wyoming: A decade discovering the great American West
My horse’s ears were pricked, his every muscle tensed and ready to bolt. A few metres ahead, a herd of wild horses stared back at us, unaware of our ascent from the valley below. Horny toads shuffled in the sagebrush beneath us, as our horses’ gaze locked on their untamed brethren.
Moments later, the stallion led his herd away, galloping at full speed along the flat mountain top – or ‘mesa’ as we referred to it, dwarfed by the rugged backdrop of the towering Absoroka mountain range. As the scene unfolded in front of us, I turned to my friend and fellow wrangler, Shannan, giving her a wide-eyed look that needed no explanation. With a subtle click of the tongue, our horses leapt eagerly into top speed in pursuit of the galloping stampede.
As we fell in line with the back of the herd, alongside the foals fighting to keep up with their mothers, we became bombarded by chunks of earth flying from their flailing hooves. I squinted to keep the dust out of my eyes, but I could not control my wide open smile of excitement, even as my mouth filled with dirt.
From galloping alongside herds of mustangs to bucking giant bales of hay, one of the most memorable experiences of my life was having the opportunity to fulfill a childhood fantasy of working as a horse wrangler on a ranch in the mountains of Wyoming. Growing up riding horses in a small village in rural south Wales, I’ve always felt most comfortable in the countryside, drawn to the grit, solitude and awe-inspiring beauty of the natural world and the adventures it has to offer.
In the summer of 2006, while studying Politics at university in England, I had the opportunity to put my passion for horses to use while working at the Lazy L&B Ranch – a setting and culture I thought existed only in Western movies. With a population of just over half a million, Wyoming is the least densely populated state in the contiguous United States. Eleven miles down the dusty, gravel East Fork road, half an hour’s drive from the town of Dubois – one of Wyoming’s least populated towns, lies the Lazy L&B Ranch; a scattering of log cabins and horse corrals hidden amongst the cottonwood trees that line the bubbling East Fork river, and alongside the Wind River Indian Reservation, the largest in the US.
The first few weeks I spent working at the ranch were some of the most challenging of my life, and, in hindsight, helped prepare me for the physical demands of working in a war zone. With over 90 horses to feed and take care of, ranch life was physically demanding and tough – much tougher than I’d expected – with few home comforts and countless hours in the saddle, navigating vast mountains and high-altitude deserts, often in extreme temperatures.
Starting at 5am, our daily routine broadly consisted of unloading hay from the back of a moving pick-up truck in the dark; wrangler breakfast at 6am; catching, grooming and saddling 30 plus horses before taking guests from all over the world out on hours-long trail rides in the mountains with exquisite views that stretch endlessly in every direction with an almost absolute absence of human interference.
Once I’d adapted to life as a “cowgirl”, I became addicted to ranch life and the culture that surrounds it. Over the course of more than a decade, I visited Wyoming almost every summer, and sometimes autumn, exploring its diverse and dramatic natural beauty – from the vast high-altitude deserts to the Wind River mountain range, which has the largest glacial field in the lower 48 states – while taking advantage of all the adventures it has to offer, on foot as well as on horseback.
During my first summer at the Lazy L&B Ranch in 2006, I also developed a passion for photography. Inspired to capture images of the beautiful ranch horses set against the imposing backdrop of the Wyoming wilderness and the iconic Teton Mountain Range, I began taking an interest in photography.
I’ll never forget a casual conversation I had with head wrangler Heath that made a profound impression on me. While sitting on the porch of one of the staff cabins scattered around the ranch grounds, drinking a cold beer after a long day in the saddle, I showed Heath some of the photos I’d captured on my point-and-shoot camera. A man of few words, he suggested I invest in a ‘real’ camera. The quintessential American cowboy – softly spoken, never without a cowboy hat, and the kind of natural ability with animals that movies are made of – Heath planted a seed in my mind that really took root from that moment. For that, I will be forever grateful.
Below are some of the images I captured over the course of the ten years I’ve had the pleasure of discovering the state that holds many of my fondest memories. I can’t wait to discover what treasures the next decade has to offer!