Proud mares parade their newbie foals.
One colt, velvety and wobbly with a bent ear and the other a sleek model of born-ready foal. Welcome to your new world babies.
These colts are a month old now and the contrast between Day One and Day Thirty is a reminder of just how quickly they grow.
A break during rainy April days brought three new members to That Herd. And I must say, three very individual behaviors for the first hours in the babies lives.
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.
This mare put a lot of effort into keeping a lot of distance between us. After some quiet waiting,
I got close enough to observe the foal’s distinctive nose bump and a strip that runs off to one side.
It looks like white paint was dribbled on his forehead and the bump on his hose forced the stripe to run off to one side.
He was probably born the day before this image was taken.
Evidence of a very recent birth showed the newborn was barely dry when the early morning sun arrived.
The brown colt is quite fuzzy and has unusual eye color; he seemed rather confident in his ability to navigate with his new land legs.
The mare had no problem with showing off her new foal to me which was a welcome difference from the other mare.
I love it when the mares and babies strike a pose. While I was enjoying watching this new guy, a mare laid down to give birth nearby. What an event-filled morning!
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.
… 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 …
Wildness is not defined by the absence of certain activities, but rather by the presence of certain unique and invaluable characteristics.
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.
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.,
“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
This is a lovely mare. She is large and independent. Her face is expressive and refined for her size. She has been lauded on this photo blog for her achievements in bringing some very large foals into this world. She is my most liked subject on Instagram and other media. This year she has a large colt with four stockings and a blaze; he is a beauty. The colt also sports some interesting blue spots in one eye. He is shy and serious, so far. Unfortunately, she is chewing in this image but I liked the light and tall oats.
Glaring afternoons surrender to relief degree by degree during the long, hot days of August. Dust rising from the mare and foal pairs as they amble back to a shady grove highlights the stillness of the retreating daylight hours. September is not likely to bring relief from the heat. Feed and water is scant and the patience of the mares often runs thin with the growing rowdiness and demands of the foals, some now nearing six months of age.
Long-time buddy mares have produced two long-time buddy colts.
These two images were taken almost exactly four years apart. As you can see, the colts still spend time together.
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.
On any given morning or afternoon I have a mental checklist I run through upon locating the horses. Once I find the mares and foals, I do a quick scan to check for a few things. First, during the spring and summer, I study the mares that have looked close to foaling, checking for new babies. In this scene, I can see a new foal with the bay mare on the far right. I am surprised by, and make a mental note of, the light color of the baby. Second, I track down the location of the stallion. It’s always wise to know where the herd stallion is at all times. I try to never be between him and his mares. Next, I attempt a count of all the foals, to verify their safety, then I check for each of the other herd members. I also watch for any signs of discomfort, physically or behaviorally, in all the horses. Last, I make some decisions about photography related needs based on the light conditions. All of this happens, without much conscious effort, and it only takes a few seconds. It’s my immediate peace-of-mind-checklist.
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserve of strength
that will endure as long as life lasts.
There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature-
the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”
“Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.” – William Wordsworth
Two brothers hangin’ in the ‘hood.
In search of the mares one spring morning, the fog just burning off, I finally had some luck. These three mares and their new foals were the first to be seen; we surprised each other on this hilltop. I was marching up one side and they were cresting the hill from the other. The sky freshly revealed, all of us caught off guard and a brand new foal made for an unusual and spontaneous shot. The mares were on a mission and proceeded to jog straight past me and the rest of the mares and foals followed directly behind them. This brief encounter left me a little astonished. They were found and gone all in a matter of seconds.