Opposite Day

free range horse photography of a lush springtime landscape
Early April creates a beautiful playground for That Herd youngsters.

In stark contrast to current late-summer-blast-furnace conditions, this lush springtime scene is a refreshing reminder that greener days will come again.

Young horses of varied ages frolic in the watershed ponds that come and go during the rainy times. Currently, every living creature is looking for relief from the intense heat and poor air conditions due to wild fires and record breaking temperatures.

Prickly Pear

” … I am in a thousand winds that blow, I am the softly falling snow, I am the gentle showers of rain, I am the fields of ripening grain.

Of birds circling in flight, I am the starshine of the night.

I am the flowers that bloom, I am in a quiet room.

I am the birds that sing, I am in each lovely thing. … ”

–Mary Elizabeth Frye

free range horse photography of a mare that deserves honors
In honor of a life well-lived. Just a horse, I know, but I really admired her qualities; she was always sharp witted and self confident.

I have many images of her. Her qualities as a horse stood out in memorable ways.

Even at an advanced age, this image from nine months ago shows her irresistible, ever-present spark.

 

 

Going Her Own Way

free range horse photography of a mare strolling through tall grasses
Heavy with foal, an elegant mare strolls through the bounty of spring.

“Nature goes her own way, and all that to us seems an exception is really according to order.” –Geothe

 

Rejoining the Herd

free range horse photography of a new mother rejoining the herd with her newborn after giving birth
After some much needed privacy, this new mother strolls quietly back to her herd mates a few hours after giving birth.

 

free range horse photography of a new mother rejoining the herd after giving birth
Surveying the scene, a new mother cautiously rejoins her herd mates with her newborn foal.

Most mares find a quiet place away from the rest of the herd to give birth. Usually, the other horses are within sight distance, a normal expectation for a flight animal that depends on cues from herd mates for safety. Sometimes it takes days, or even weeks, for a mare to introduce her new foal to the rest of the horses. More often than not, a few hours of solitude to give the foal a chance to get steady on it’s feet and nurse are enough before the comfort of the group is required again. A wise stallion does not interfere with the distancing the mares seek to give birth and bond with their newborn.

Spooning

free range horse photography of two mares napping together
Horses are social animals but napping together this close is unusual.

After lots of rain I saw many horses napping in the sunshine. This sight, however, was a surprise. I’ve not seen mature horses lie down together so closely that they lean on each other. Even more surprising is that these two mares don’t necessarily hang out together. The brown mare is quite old and the paint is not. It may not be a perfect picture because of the stems but it is worthy of sharing simply for the unique moment it captures. Because they appear to be spooning the scientist in me wants to bring up anthropomorphizing, but I won’t; the sight was simply too cute to not share.

anthropomorphism | ˌanTHrəpəˈmôrfizəm | noun    the attribution of human characteristics or behavior to a god, animal, or object.

Stepping Up To Defend Life

I have long debated with myself about sharing images of an incident that was traumatic.

It took me almost two years to be able to review the images that are shown in this post; I was deeply upset by what I witnessed.

I am accustomed to observing a wide range of wildlife and equine behaviors and interactions; nature is often surprising in good and bad ways.

Wildlife photographers are usually powerless to intervene and/or know they must not.

I won’t post images that are any more graphic than these, but I want to honor the courage of the mares that defended a newborn foal.

A couple years ago, on a routine scouting mission to check on mares close to foaling, I observed this small group for a while.

I suspected a mare was close to giving birth, unusual in the daytime, and I lingered to capture the scene. Usually, these hours are filled with

wonder and captivating observations, but the birth event was disturbed, then chaotic. The foal, still robed in the placental sac, was investigated by curious herd-mates, much to the mother’s disapproval.

Usually, a heavily pregnant mare wanders away from the herd in the night to quietly give birth and remains secluded from the herd for hours, or days, and sometimes weeks.

This time, however, that was not the case. When a young stallion burst upon the scene, his investigations of the foal became violent. He had no experience with the birth of a foal and was agitated by the

complexity of sensory cues and defensive behavior of the mares. Most of the mares fled the location when danger became evident, but three veteran mothers fought valiantly for the victimized foal.

Without giving more details, I’ll skip to the part where I felt I must intervene and pressured the stallion to move off, which was risky, but I could not simply watch and hope for a favorable outcome.

This was too intense and the foal was in grave danger of being savaged or trampled to death.

In the end, the mother, newborn foal, and other mares were separated safely. The mare and foal recovered from their trauma and are both thriving.

Normally, social and environmental issues are sorted out as a course of nature, but this time, for better or worse, intervention occurred.

 

free range horse photography of three mares fighting to defend a newborn foal
One of a series of images where three mares relentlessly protect a newborn foal from an aggressive young stallion.
free range horse photography of three mares fighting to defend a newborn foal
One of a series of images where three mares relentlessly protect a newborn foal from an aggressive young stallion.
free range horse photography of three mares fighting to defend a newborn foal
One of a series of images where three mares relentlessly protect a newborn foal from an aggressive young stallion.
free range horse photography of three mares fighting to defend a newborn foal
One of a series of images where three mares relentlessly protect a newborn foal from an aggressive young stallion.
free range horse photography of three mares fighting to defend a newborn foal
One of a series of images where three mares relentlessly protect a newborn foal from an aggressive young stallion.
free range horse photography of three mares fighting to defend a newborn foal
One of a series of images where three mares relentlessly protect a newborn foal from an aggressive young stallion.

… Nature can be cruel. Predators are everywhere … in the wild the female species can be far more ferocious than their male counterparts. Defending the nest is both our oldest and strongest instinct …

–Emily Thorne

Every Man’s Birthday

free range horse photography of a group of mares and fillies
After several days of rain a group of mares and fillies emerge from the woods to investigate my arrival.

Every new year brings opportunity for each pregnant mare to fulfill her potential to create a sturdy and contributing life to That Herd. Once January arrives, expectation grows with each passing week, knowing that the mares carry a new life. In each pregnant mare, a waiting gift to be welcomed. Hopefully, next month will bring the first foal(s) to That Herd.

“New Year’s Day is every man’s birthday.” –Charles Lamb (I just like the sentiment; welcome 2020)

Wildness

free range horse photography of a group of mares running across a grassy hillside
Room to roam inspires a gleeful gallop for a group of mares and foals.

Wildness is not defined by the absence of certain activities, but rather by the presence of certain unique and invaluable characteristics.

Inseparable

free range horse photography of two foals who are always together
Where the filly goes, the colt follows, a devoted pair even though there are several weeks difference in their ages.
free range horse photography of two inseparable foals
Companions dozing together.

This is how you find these two foals, always together. The grey fell in love with this dark filly the first day they met. He has shadowed her ever since. Rarely leaving her side, he is a model of devotion. The mother of the filly tolerates his affections entirely.

Long Dusks of Summer

free range horse photography of a mare and foal glowing in the last light of a summer day
The long dusk of summer supports any number or quality pastimes.

If it could be like this always: abundance, independence, golden hues, leisure, temperate, and peaceful!

Powdered Gold

free range horse photography of mares backlit in late day oat field
Backlit by the day’s last light, these mares look like a poster for summertime.

” … summer afternoon; to me those have always been the most beautiful words in the English language.”

–Henry James

Courtship

free range horse photography of courtship between a mare and stallion

A receptive mare is courted by the herd stallion.

Special attention is given to a responsive mare. Once her willingness is confirmed, actions move rapidly from there. This mare is much larger than the stallion in this case, so a few logistical steps had to be taken. The young colt by the mare’s side is confused by all this activity and sticks tightly to his mother.

Bravado and Caution

free range horse photography of three fillies looking innocent by a failing oak tree
Three fillies looking innocent by a failing oak tree.

Older foals never cease to entertain me with their mix of bravado and caution. These foals are old enough now to be fully independent; their explorations of me are constant and surprisingly intense.

 

Offender Number Two

free range horse photography of a grieving mare taking possession of another mare's newborn foal
A mare who tragically lost her newborn foal takes possession of another mare’s newborn foal.

Still grieving over the loss of her own newborn many weeks prior, this mare took possession of a newborn filly along with an additional thief-mare for several hours. Every opportunity she got, she swooped in to take control of the confused newborn. In a true wild situation, the outcome for this foal would have been calamitous. Human intervention reunited her with her mother and separated her from the others. Both are doing fine. She is the ninja foal from the previous post.

In Love With a Ninja

free range horse photography of two foals meeting nose to nose
A delicate meeting between herd mate foals.
free range horse photography of two foals meeting tenderly
The colt closes his eyes to heighten his sensory meeting with a new filly.
free range horse photography of two foals coming to an understanding
Several weeks his inferior, this filly is a force to be reckoned with for this sturdy colt.

With lightening speed, she rises up to administer a (mock) fatal jab. He never saw it coming.

Understandably Peeved

free range horse photography of an angry foal circling it's mother that stole a newborn foal
A well-meaning mare steals a newborn from another mare and her own foal is (understandably) quite irritated.

(Another picture of the sassy filly shown defending the dirt pile a couple posts back.) In this image she is circling her mother with confusion and irritation over the attention given to another foal. Her beloved mother has stolen another mare’s newborn foal and everything got really weird after that. This event required intervention and I’m happy to report that the confused newborn was reunited with her mother and they were separated from the herd for a while to bond. All is well for all the horses and the brief disruption to the sassy filly’s esteem is corrected.

Defending the Dirt Pile

free range horse photography of a foal rearing in mock battle
She’s a scrappy little filly.

In defense of her dirt pile, this filly shows her “I mean business” side. Her quick temper has been displayed with old or young herd mates, and her tireless and doting mother for many weeks.,

New Kid on the Block

free range horse photography of a new filly on parade
A filly on parade at a couple of days old.

Strolling through the neighborhood.

Bountiful Day

free range horse photography of green grass and running water
Ahhh, running water and green grass, it’s been so long since you were here.

“I will tell you where there is power: where the dew lies upon the hills, and the rain has moistened the roots of the various plant; where the sunshine pours steadily; where the brook runs babbling along, there is a beneficent power.

–Edwin Hubbel Chapin

Launching a Friendship

free range horse photography of two foals meeting
A younger foal braves the first introduction to a reluctant herd mate.

These two foals are not more than a few days apart, but the bigger foal is shy about introductions. The delicate filly is willing to frisk about with her herd mate, but first she must win him (and his mother) over. She’s a charmer, so I’m sure she succeeded.