A mare who is no longer with us and her first foal. She gave us many memorable moments.
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.
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.
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.
” … and suppose that a wild little Horse of Magic came cantering out of the sky, … ”
–Walter De La Mare
I think they would rather run me over than the cactus if it came to that.
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.
“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.”
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.
“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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Mission accomplished, no mother within several feet.
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.
I secretly call them Wheaties and Dot.
Wheaties is a colt and Dot is a filly by the same stud.
Born within days of each other from mares that stick together, they spend a lot of their days together playing, grooming and roaming.
Ah, the vitality of youth! The young foal easily lopes up this steep hill while her young mother digs in.
(Now that I’m posting this, I think I took an image of this same pair climbing shortly after the foal’s birth.)
In the daily wandering of the mares and foals they will access a wide variety of terrains in search of the best grazing.
I have climbed many hills and scaled many banks to follow or find the horses in their chosen environments.
Even the newest foals are equal to the task of keeping up and navigating tricky footings.
corker | ˈkôrkər | noun 1 an excellent or astonishing person (horse) or thing
I would bet you know a person who is completely cooperative and pleasant to be around.
The kind of person who you know will always be a team player and do the right thing.
Someone who never complains and always tries to be part of the solution.
A friendly face even when they’re not feeling their best. Well, that’s this mare as well. Meet Ruby.
She’s an amazing, resilient treasure of a horse and this is her ’21 filly at one day old.
The American West is steeped in romantic imagery and nostalgia, horses being a big part of that. The lack of water in the American West, however, is not romantic in the least. The drought in the western states is no joke. Almost a decade without adequate rainfall and yearly watershed, with only a year or two of replenishment in the mix, has created a real danger to free range horses, livestock, and wildlife. With extreme roaming prohibited by fence lines, and viable sites for digging for a trickle of water or seep few and far between, large herds of horses present a formidable task in regard to supplying water. Much of their territory is inaccessible to equipment with the capacity to supply hundreds or thousands of gallons of water daily or even weekly. Connected to this dilemma is wildfire dangers and animal responses to such events. Let the hand wringing and problem solving begin.
These images were taken in late spring, which was dry earlier than usual again this year.