When photographer Anouk Krantz first visited Cumberland Island along Georgia's coast, she was struck by the gorgeous setting.
"My first trip to Cumberland was a short day trip, and I was immediately taken by its stunning scenery and contrasting ecosystems," Krantz tells MNN. "Thick dark forests stumble onto expansive beaches, where tidal creeks gurgle through marshes and estuaries, one minute teeming with life and the next minute completely submerged. Coming from a rushed lifestyle in New York, I had forgotten what it was to be alone in the natural world, without cellphone service, texts or emails."
Aside from the natural setting, she immediately became enamored with the island's equine inhabitants, focusing her camera lens on the feral horses that roam the island.
The images she captured of the horses and their pristine home are the focus of the in "Wild Horses of Cumberland Island" (Images Publishing Group).
"Growing up in France, I was an avid horseback rider and I had never seen horses in the wild. To see these magnificent creatures living in such an idyllic paradise certainly is a sight to behold and invigorates the imagination," Krantz says. "On Cumberland they can be elusive but they roam the entire island and can be found quite unexpectedly taking a dip in the ocean, forging through impenetrable palmetto, galloping down the beach or quietly grazing in the dunes."
The island has the only herd of feral horses on the Atlantic coast that isn't managed, meaning they aren't given food, water, veterinary care or population control, according to the National Park Service. They are descended from modern, domesticated breeds, possibly even dating back to the 1500s when Spanish missions were established.
Krantz recalls the first time she visited the island and saw wild horses a decade ago.
"I sat down for a breather, taking in the vast expanse of white sand beach that I had all to myself, when a family of wild horses appeared in the distance and grew larger as they approached," she says. "They passed in front of me, oblivious to my existence. Sitting alone in their territory I couldn't help but to feel a tinge of guilt, as though I had intruded on their family stroll."
Since her first visit, Krantz has returned to Cumberland more than 25 times.
"It is amazing how I continue to discover something new and unexpected each time I return," she says. "The diversity of exotic wildlife is astonishing."
The National Park Service has conducted population surveys since 2003 with counts ranging from 120 to 148 horses each year. NPS says the total number of horses on the island could be 30 to 40 animals higher than the annual survey results. The horses roam about the island in separate bands.
"The horses are left completely untouched and at the mercy of Mother Nature," Krantz says. "They receive no medical care or supplemental nutrition, and are left to evolve entirely on their own. The horses require a diversity of nutrients that can only be found in different areas of the island, and as such the various bands of horses are in a constantly rotating migration. Their behavior varies with the seasons, the time of day and the temperature."
Although her book is finished, Krantz still returns to the island on occasion.
"I cherish my time there and need to return every so often to decompress, explore the unknown and reflect on life's larger priorities," she says. She often recognizes some of the same familiar equine faces she has seen through the years.
Whether it's in real-life encounters or through photographs, it's easy to be captivated by wild horses. Krantz tries to explain the attraction.
"The defining characteristic of most horses is their confinement and a life in captivity, with limitations and restraints constantly forced upon them. Many of us feel the same way, trapped within our daily routines," she says. "To see these wild horses firsthand, living unbridled and free in nature is truly an inspiration that we would wish for ourselves as well."