A demonstration of mock battle among two young stallions includes chasing, rearing, striking, biting and lunging. These two colts collided, circled, leapt, and rose repeatedly, all with great force and height. Their intentions are non violent, oddly enough. These mock battles are common among all ages in horses. This rough activity conditions and prepares them for dominance in real battles when earning their own band of mares, theoretically.
These two weanling colts were persistent in their games of mock battle, coming together, then running away, several times on this bright morning. Alternating as the aggressor, each colt annoyed and/or attacked the other, each without intent to harm. You can see that the other horses mostly ignored their frequent rough collisions.
A new foal performs a crouchy-walk to avoid touching the oak branches. He was not sure what to make of the sensation when the branches brushed along his back so he made himself shorter. Very cute.
” … I love even to see the domestic animals reassert their native rights – any evidence that they have not wholly lost their original wild habits and vigor … ”
” … The seeds of instinct are preserved under the thick hides of cattle and horses, like seeds in the bowels of the earth, an indefinite period.”
First light and frost on the ground inspired this young mare to express her strength and vitality by rearing, swirling, and leaping repeatedly. Her demonstration was a singular statement, the other mares seemed unmoved by her jubilation.
The sun was well behind the mountain, the terrain was steep all around, and the horses were reveling in their youth and freedom. I was glad I was there to see it.
The winter grass was late making an appearance this year, but now that it’s sprouting, the horses are enjoying the fresh change in their diet. A long, lazy afternoon of warm February temperatures had all the mares amiable and content.
This tree with low branches is filled with intrigue for the weanling colts and fillies. They spend lots of time clustered within the low branches, exploring and scratching.
The weanling colts and fillies, at this age, seem to be in a constant state of touching each other. The contact is either annoying provocation or quiet bonding. I have mentioned before that their movements remind me of a school of fish. They flow together, moving harmoniously, then suddenly break apart, scattering in many directions. Sometimes they collide, fold and bend in pairs and trios, and sometimes they form graceful lines of undulating cooperation. This image shows a quieter moment of bonding between two colts. I like this image because the shadow adds a depth and grace to their interaction.
Evidence of herd hierarchy is evident very early on in horse’s lives. In the beginning, with very young foals, it is a matter of temperament and genetics over environmental influence. Obviously, the very young have not had any environmental training and lack life experience. However, some newborns exhibit aggressive intentions toward curious investigators, and their genetic personality is revealed. By the time foals are a few months old, they show strong signs of dominance or submission, and pecking orders get established early on among peers. The mother’s disposition and herd ranking influence the foal’s attitude, without a doubt. These learned attitudes carry on into adulthood. Individual dispositions also determine where horses fall into line in the social pecking order of the herd. Size and age rarely matter. Dispositions are formed and altered and sometimes completely changed in herd groups over time. Gentle souls can rise to the occasion of leadership, adapting to changing situations. Dominant horses are first to eat, drink, and establish themselves in shelter situations and herd movements. The social cues of horses are often very subtle, the flick of an ear, the swish of a tail, the raising of a head, all communicate intention, but sometimes outright physical aggression is used. The addition of a new individual to a herd group does not automatically place them at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Authoritative horses quickly master the more submissive personalities then go about the business of challenging the other rulers. The addition or subtraction of just one individual, either dominant or submissive, can change the entire structure among a band of horses. In this image, a weanling filly arrogantly asserts her rank to an incoming herd mate. Her unnecessary crabbiness is evident in his surprised expression. This filly was raised by a clear leader among the mares and has adopted her superior manner, throwing her weight around without due cause, just like a spoiled pre-teen.
A summertime morning dampened by low fog created extra leadership challenges for the stallion. Even though the visibility was low, he went about his business of collecting the widely scattered mares and foals with calm efficiency. Normally, the mares aware of normal routines respond to the leader’s cues from a distance. On this morning, the fog created the need for closer physical communication. Don’t be fooled by the aggressive posture of the stallion and the concerned fleeing of the foal; this was not a stressful interaction, merely a daily command and show of respect.
An early morning walk to a low flat area reveals a calm domestic scene with some That Herd members. Shown here are about a third of the mares and the stallion. The herd stallion regards my appearance and decides to ignore me. On this morning, he eventually strode off ahead of the mares to a more protected location on what would be a hot day. After quietly grazing for an hour, the stallion, in response to some internal schedule, walked away from the mares, leaving them to trail behind him and follow at their leisure. Eventually, all of the mares obediently fell into line and left the meadow one by one. I have observed that the stallion(s) move the mares by leading during calm times and drive them from behind when a more urgent purpose presents itself. The more urgent purpose may simply be at the whim of the stallion, or due to some external motivation. Incidentally, it can be noted that the black and white paint mare is facing the direction of the stallion, unlike the other mares. She is keeping a close eye on his movements. Their preoccupation with the each other lasted all season, not out of fear, in my observations, but out of some undefinable personality quirks.
This new foal changes her body language to guarded, reading cues from her nervous mother. As the years pass, I am able to get closer, more often, to this mare. She takes no chances with being put at risk, and that gets doubled when she has a foal to protect. I don’t want to upset her so I steer a wide course to respect her comfort zone.
Stallions are often the literary and cinematic subject of fiery metaphors and masculine bravado; they are seen in bold graphics with strong postures and majestic demeanor. In the professional equine world, stallions are the rock stars, promoted, managed, and celebrated. Only the loveliest imagery of their arched necks, flared nostrils, flowing manes, and studly postures are circulated. They often look dramatic or wise. Without a doubt, all of these images are testament to the stallion’s real beauty and strengths. However, in an unmanaged natural setting, stallions have lots of down time–that is, time spent in ways other than in the pursuit of breedable mares–where they amble about, explore, and even playfully interact with other herd members, young and old. This stallion is free from competition from other free roaming stallions, so he avoids the drama connected to proving himself with other males. Throughout his time with the mares, he seems to have some favorites and some less favored members within his herd. I have observed him to be mild and inquisitive but, on some occasions, also aggressive and unreasonable. As the leader of the mares and foals, stallions carry a lot of responsibility within the herd. This horse, a venerable leader, fulfills his stud duties, moves the herd into and out of different habitats suitable to the weather and time of day, and is quick to defend–with a cool head–any threat to the members in his care. He appears quite relaxed in this image, strolling without intent or pressure. I think he looks just as dramatic in his state of contentment as in any dramatic pose. After all, any stallion is, at a moment’s notice, a second away from the very animal that inspires all those spirited metaphors, and I can still plainly see that here.
In a few moments of self-indulgence, the herd stallion rubs, rolls and scratches in a soft spot in the soil.
Nothing marks the passing of time like watching kids grow up. A few short months ago, these weanlings were wobbly newborns exploring their new lives; on this cool, windy morning they look confident and at ease. They gathered around me in curiosity, ebbing and flowing, in peer-group waves. The farthest painted filly is one of two yearling babysitters, living with them temporarily.
You can see by the well-worn nub that this tree’s branch has provided years of relief and entertainment for the members of That Herd. Like a dog who’s leg pumps automatically when scratched, this filly responded to the rubbing with comical gyrations of the front leg.
There is nothing more contagious than the exuberance of youth. Airy and spirited, weanlings can be compared to adolescents; highs and lows in abundance. Living in the moment is assured. It has been said that adolescence is like having only enough light to see the step directly in front of you; I think that is applicable to adolescent horses as well. This young filly is the very picture of youth and joy, she remains ever willing to see the possibilities in any situation. Charge right in, make a ruckus, consider the consequences after the fact, it’s the way of youth.
Because horses are more physically mature at birth (partly due to a long gestation period), they are able to run hours after birth. A foal’s muscles and nervous system are developed and the ability to balance and navigate over uneven or cluttered terrain is quickly mastered. From an evolutionary perspective, herbivores such as horses, require the ability to flee from prey animals practically from the moment they are born. I have repeatedly witnessed That Herd newborn foal’s incredible strength and stamina which increases exponentially as the hours pass after their birth. They are able to run with the herd, over varied terrain, for seemingly impossible distances. This dark foal is only one-day-old and ran around the herd in full speed bursts, seemingly for the shear joy of it.
I love it when I’m inspected by a new foal.
The mares in this video seem quite relaxed; they are not afraid of me, but they are unapproachable.
Click on the link below to watch unedited iPhone video of a brave foal.
(You can always click on the YouTube link button found at the top and bottom of the site to see the videos on the That Herd channel).