In Admiration

wild horse photography of a mare and foal in a tree-lined clearing
A dark mare and new foal stroll through a tree-lined clearing.

A mare who is no longer with us and her first foal. She gave us many memorable moments.

Ecotherapy

free range horse photography of a newborn colt on a misty morning
Standing alone, this newborn colt is flexing his independence muscles after his eleven month confinement.

Sorry to disappoint you but this is an image of a newborn colt from last year. The first 2022 foal of That Herd has not arrived yet.

Shrouded in mist, the tall trees ghosted in the background, and wet from dew to our knees, both the foal and I considered each other. His mother was paying attention and was just out of frame but this new colt kept her on her toes. He was thrilled to explore and breathe deeply and tiptoe through the grass.

I challenge you to not feel better by simply viewing this image. Time spent outdoors experiencing natural settings, even in urban areas, has been proven to improve pleasant feelings, and reduce anger, stress, and depression. This particular outdoor experience was sweetened by the good-natured company of an audacious explorer.

 

Boyish Today

free range horse photography of a stallion at ease
Sometimes boyish, other times a brute.

I’ve been putting some thought into aggression verses violence in wild animals. Looking at horses in particular, there is limited research available on violence in feral, free-range, and wild horse behavior. It’s either under reported or not observed often. Domestic horses–stallions in particular–have documented aggression and violence toward both horses and humans, but in this case I’m not referring to under socialized, confined, or mismanaged horses. I am interested in the difference in aggression and violence as separate behaviors in free range stallions with mares that don’t have to compete with other stallions to keep their mares or territories.

Aggression has been explained as a behavior motivated by the intent to cause harm to another who wishes to avoid harm.

Violence is a subtype of aggression, of a physical nature, with the intent to kill or injure another.

Interestingly, both aggression and violence are rarely motivated by anger. While anger can be managed and channeled, aggressive behavior can compound, meaning aggression and violent actions often increase the likelihood of more aggression in the future. Acting out with aggression and violence does not reduce aggressive impulses. There is no “honeymoon period” after a violent blow-up like with losing your temper and releasing that stress. Because of this, it is wise to assume that once aggressive and/or violent behaviors are observed, it could happen again repeatedly.

In David and Goliath scenarios, there is no hope for the weaker or smaller victim. They will be injured or killed.

Certainly a variety of factors can determine the degree of these behaviors. In feral horses, for example, I would point to hormones, frustration, seasonal stresses or sharing space with peers with aggressive tendencies. If one, or all, of any variety of these factors is removed, a shift in personality often can and does take place but one should expect repeat occurrences if some element changes again.

 

 

 

 

 

Watching Me Like TV

There is a foal portrait on the Home page of this blog. I call him the whiskers foal. Well, the big horse in this image is the whiskers foal all grow up. I love that I have known many of these horses their entire lives. I am their biggest fan. These two horses found me in a wooded area at dusk just poking around. Their herd mates arrived right behind them and we mingled and marveled at how quickly the night chill closed in.

free range horse photography of two dark horse at dusk
Two dark horses in the woods at dusk, one skeptical and the other inviting.

Cantering Out of the Sky

free range horse photography of colts running on hillside
And just like that, here they came, over the top of the hill and toward the sunset in a headlong rush, manes and tails flying.

” … and suppose that a wild little Horse of Magic came cantering out of the sky, … ”

–Walter De La Mare

 

Cactus Garden

free range horse photography of coming two-year-olds
More of the rowdy coming-two-year-olds between me and a cactus garden. 

I think they would rather run me over than the cactus if it came to that.

On Your Toes

When the young horses come in with open expressions of interest, you know you have to be on your toes. I don’t mean that in a bad way, it’s just that they are brimming with curiosity and energy. A break in the daily routine is a welcome opportunity for the colts to gain confidence and hone their ability to read a situation. When I am “the situation” they gather around using the group for bravery, and use all their senses to glean whether I’m friend or foe. It just takes one individual’s doubting moment and over-reaction to send the gang spinning away only to stop short then return from a few feet away, their intense curiosity intact. It’s in that moment of reeling away that care must be taken to avoid being trampled, bumped, or stepped on. These coming two-year olds are leading their pack of peers in to investigate. Close proximity is tolerated by most, but touching is not.

free range horse photography of a gang of curious colts
The first colts of the gang to arrive driven by their confidence and curiosity are good natured and intrepid.

With Her Explorer Hat On

free range horse photography of a fancy filly strolling
A fancy filly strolls through a sunny field with her purpose set on exploring squabbling birds.

“To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and water exhilarating;

to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter; to be thrilled by the stars at night;

to be elated by a bird’s nest or a wildflower in spring–

these are some of the rewards of the simple life.”

–John Burroughs

Quite Capable

free range horse photography of a mare standing vigil over her newborn
The last sunlight of the day touches a mare standing vigil over her newborn filly.

Wild horses and domestic horses are genetically the same. Roaming freely, living in herd groups, and foraging for feed and water are all

actions natural to horses. The majority of stabled and confined horses would adapt to a free range environment if given the opportunity.

Even the new foals that horse owners often over-protect are quite capable of stamina and social interactions from the first hours of birth.

The first day for this filly was filled with roaming surrounded by herd mates, and varied terrain. She is quite content after a full day of life lessons, resting on a hillside with her mother standing guard.

Such Terrain

free range horse photography of a group of curious three-year-olds
Five intrepid three-year-olds make a handsome image.

“Getting dirty is the whole point. If you’re getting dirty, that means that you have traveled to where there is no pavement.

When you sojourn into such terrain, you greatly up your chances of experiencing some full-on wild nature.”

–Nick Offerman, Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living

Picnic

free range horse photography of a yearling filly in a cactus garden
Greetings like this with such an open expression of interest and a complete lack of suspicion are my favorite.
free range horse photography of a yearling in a hillside cactus garden
Secure in her cactus garden, a yearling awaits my approach.

For years now, I have shared important emotional bonds with That Herd members. Present at a large number of their births and early foal-life days, I have become invested in their continuing success and maturity journeys. Each visit brings joy, wonder, pride, and a renewed sense of stewardship, if only in the eyes-on/peace-of-mind kind of way. Each horse is an individual with their own unique qualities, most endearing and inspiring. Their life strategies and strong wills are a testament to equine instinct and resilience.

This filly reminds me of her mother in all the best ways. Foaled near an old wooden picnic table in the middle of no where, she and her mother lingered in the shade of the oak tree that sheltered the table. When her mother chose to move back toward the broodmare herd, her newborn filly casually paused to inspect the picnic table as they passed by. A small observation, but one of the life events that we share; she will always be called Picnic in my mind because of this.

The Beginning and the Now

free range horse photography of a newborn colt with splashy white markings
This newly born colt with splashy white markings is almost camouflaged in a backlit meadow.

 

free range horse photography of two three-year-olds loping past
The “camo-colt” about three years later loping past with a herd mate.

We do love to watch the foals grow and blossom into maturity!

Spirits

“When I see a horse grazing on the skyline it seems a spirit. I think of it as ascending to the sun.”

–N. Scott Manaday, Earth Keeper

free range horse photography of hilltop grazers
A nostalgic image from six years ago of hilltop grazers.

Nostalgia Pose

free range horse photography of a striking filly
A stand-out filly strikes a pose.
free range horse photography of a favorite filly grown to six years
The after version of before and after poses with this filly/mare.

Unseen by me for quite some time, I was happy to relive a familiar pose with this stand-out filly, now a mare of six years. She is and always has been independent and unflappable.

Wild Turkeys in the ‘Hood

free range horse photography of a filly calmly observing a turkey parade as she grazes
A filly calmly observes her neighbors parade past.
free range horse photography of strutting wild turkeys with the horses
That Herd members live with lots of wildlife, including wild turkeys.
free range horse photography of wild turkeys being ignored by a passing mare
A passing mare ignores the spectacle of weird turkey behaviors.
free range horse photography of a filly keeping a keen eye on some animated turkey behavior
A filly and her mother keep a keen eye on some weird turkey behavior.

Until Now

free range horse photography of a mare and old saddle horse grooming each other
End of the day greetings and grooming.

There is an older saddle horse that roams with the mares. I have never seen the mares accept him or interact with him unless it’s to chase him away, until now …

As if they have been friends forever, this mare approached and groomed with the gelding. Of course it’s possible that this behavior occurs when I am away, but I have only seen a lack of tolerance with all the mares in regard to closeness with the gelding. He’s a good guy so I was happy to see this.

 

Fifteen Minutes

I owe this colt his introduction and fifteen minutes of fame. Born mid April he has a little over eight weeks “on the outside” at the time this picture was taken in late June.

Considering it takes about forty-four weeks of “life on the inside” he has lots of maturing and preparations for success ahead in the next several months to match his gestation time.

A million changes take place. Amazing.

free range horse photography of a curious colt about two months old
About eight weeks old and look how this colt has grown.

 

free range horse photography portrait of a newborn colt with an interesting blaze face
Look at that big white forehead and Yin-Yang muzzle!

Day One of the journey.

free range horse photography of a brand new colt and his flashy mother
Newborns spend a lot of their first days touching their mother for security and comfort.

Well done, flashy mom!

The birds hang around the horses because as they browse and graze they stir up the insects in the grass. The opportunistic birds use the horses as a perch and a meal ticket.

I think these birds are a variety of Starling. Around here, some people call them Cowbirds.

Safe Distance

free range horse photography of a springtime mare and newborn foal
A new foal to dote over.

This mare is new to That Herd and so far accepting of my visits. She was, however, adamant that I would not get near her new foal.

I didn’t try hard but she did run away a lot which is why the foal looks tired. I took this image from quite far away.

I like to share images from the first days of the foals’ lives if I’m fortunate enough to get some because it highlights how quickly they change and grow.

This is the filly I call Dot from a post several days ago where she is shown with her constant companion Wheaties.

This was mid April and the meager spring grass had started to turn to brown. The succession from spring green to crispy brown grass was rapid this year.

Warning Face

free range horse photography of a mare warning others to stay away from her new colt
Warning off any potential greeters of her new foal.

This mare has had a foal every year for many years. This is her first bay colored foal. Day one for this colt started foggy and wet in the first week of May. He was quite bold and active and kept his mother busy rounding him up and keeping him away from harm and too much distance.

free range horse photography of a newborn's fresh face
Much to his mother’s alarm this newborn was daring and running around doing his own thing.

Mission accomplished, no mother within several feet.

Vigilant

free range horse photography of a wary mare and newborn filly
It has been a tough day for this new mother. She has concerns about the security of her newborn with the addition of a stallion to the herd.

After many weeks eagerly observing all the mares that foaled before her, this wary mare had reasons to be on alert this day. Finally, her foal arrived but it was a long day for the duo. Unlike the mares that foaled before her, she had the complication of a stallion being added to the herd. The stallion was quite eager and busy asserting his authority with the group. He was a reasonable stallion, behavior wise, but he kept the mares tightly bunched which left this mare and foal no room for seclusion or distance. Also, they were moving quite a bit and I could see the weariness in the new foal. Even in calm periods when the foal figured out how to lie down, she was quickly roused by the constant alerts from mother each time other horses got too close. This kept the filly on her feet and moving in anxious hastiness. The mare did her best to keep them both on the outside of the bunch so she could ease away from the activity of the other horses so her foal wouldn’t get stepped on or separated from her. Everything turned out just fine however, and within a couple of days the new filly was rough and ready as any other foal in the herd.

free range horse photography of a wary mare and newborn filly strolling by
Circling on the outskirts of the bunch, a mare keeps her newborn filly away from reckless or curious herd-mates.