Equine photographer Tracey Buyce shares her experience and her images from a recent stay at the Rocking Z horsemanship and guest ranch of Montana.
I’ve visited the Rocking Z Ranch three times now in the past two years: it’s a guest ranch outside of Helena, Montana with a focus in natural horsemanship, but it’s been a family ranch for generations and generations — basically forever. I found Rocking Z when I wanted to learn more about natural horsemanship to make me a better horse mom to my Morgan gelding named Moose.
The ranch is surrounded by mountains and rolling foothills — it’s just breathtakingly beautiful. When they say “the big sky of Montana” this is exactly the kind of place they mean. When you’re on top of one of these mountains, your eye just keeps going and going. That kind of environment just makes you feel free.
The Rocking Z herd is mostly Quarter horse, with some Appaloosas and mustangs or crosses. There are a few Belgian drafts too. They live out on pasture and in the foothills in a herd setting. I spent a lot of time out in the pasture to photograph them, and they were all so friendly: because I was focused on my photography and not specifically on the horses, they felt at ease around me as I visited.
I was drawn in particular to one horse, a mare named Hedwig. She was a Craigslist rescue who was very untrusting of people — she had learned to be very cautious. Emotionally, she was intense; she taught me a lot when I worked with her on the ground. With the guidance of Maria, a Level 4 Parelli horsewoman, I was the first person who was able to walk up and catch her in the pasture.
To gain Hedwig’s trust over the course of my stay was a huge step for me as a horsewoman, to make that amount of progress in just a week. The last night of my stay, I was in the pasture photographing the herd, and she followed me back to the gate independently. It was Maria’s guidance as an instructor through the Parelli method that helped me bond with Hedwig in a way I didn’t think was possible.
Hedwig and her herdmates showed me how important intention can be: your intentions, when working with horses, need to be built on trust and love. The down-to-earth environment at Rocking Z is like nothing else I’ve experienced, but gave me so much to take back home with me. The entire experience was truly something special. Rocking Z is now my family and I cannot wait to go back!