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.
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.
When being assessed by a free creature you have choices to make about your response.
Though there is always a default to extreme caution, I try to allow for equal opportunity in the appraisal exchange between myself and the animal as peers in curiosity.
“We patronize the animals for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they are more finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings, they are other Nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.” –Henry Beston
“There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks.
Most of the time we are simply not patient enough, quiet enough, to pay attention to the story.”
“No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted.
It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility.
All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently,
builds up our characters, purifies our hearts,
expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable,
more worthy … ”
– Orson F. Whitney
Stormy times for us all globally coincide with stormy days (weather-wise) for That Herd.
We are what we repeatedly do.
“Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort and intelligent execution;
it represents the wiser choice of many alternatives – choice, not chance, determines your destiny
“Every summer there are a number of nights, not many, but a number, when everything is perfect. The light, the warmth, the smells, the mist, the birdsong-the moths. Who can sleep?
–Fredrick Siagberg The Fly Trap, A Book About Summer, Islands and the Freedom of Limits
There’s nothing like a “mare moment” to energize an otherwise laid-back stallion. In this free range setting, the stallion interacts continuously with his mares. This horse often tends to the mares in a companionable partnership. Sometimes he completely ignores them, at other times he’s commanding, and sometimes mover to aggression. A veteran stallion, he is often gentle and detached. He has a somewhat permissive relationship with the mares as far as their movements as a group are concerned. Interestingly, when the moment calls for it, he has their complete attentions and obedience.
Eyes darkened with kindness, a herd stallion greets his herd mate, a gelding. Stallions will live together with civility among other stallions and geldings as long as no mares or fillies are present. This dark bay stallion, a personal favorite, has always charmed me with his thoughtful expressions.
This stallion is forced to stay light on his feet around this big mare. One minute she naps nose to nose with him, and in the next moment, she sets him back on his heels over control of the air space over a mud hole. Granted, water is scarce, but this was a crabby moment, not a desperate thirst moment.
Receptive body language and soft expressions greet this young stallion when several mares are willing at the same time. Interestingly, on this occasion, he bred none of the mares. The estrus cycle in mares ripens into perfect timing for optimal conception, so often, the stallion waits when his service is spread thin, so to speak.
Without the usual heavy forelock covering his face, you can see the charming white eyelashes on this beast. He looks handsome and content.
He’s looks cute, but he’s a fighter. Shoving and biting, rearing and racing, the colts use their free time to practice techniques that may help them, in the future, win mares. Even the castrated colts engage with alarming intensity, securing social position or defending it.
A veritable treasure trove of information, horse manure holds clues to all sorts of social information. Used to advertise sexual status and territories for both males and females, determine useful information about forage, wellness, and surroundings, poop is an essential tool in a horses awareness of it’s surroundings.
… dreamers would have a vast herd of noble steeds, like this one.
A beautiful image captured of a horse I admire.
Quiet leadership from the herd stallion, on a day to day basis, can seem like an annoyance. All that driving and gathering of the mares sometimes seems without purpose or need. It’s as if the stallion is just being imperious. That being said, in times of confusion or stress, the leadership of the stallion can be life-saving. All that daily enforcement of his will is necessary when real danger is present. Leadership is a thankless role, until truly needed. Then you’re a hero.
Stallions can be curious creatures, sometimes almost romantic and sometimes brutish. In a moment of introduction, this stallion confirms the receptiveness of a mare.
When clicking on this individual post, a list of some other moments on this blog about mare and stallion interactions is easily accessed under the main image.
It has been five years since I first laid eyes on this ordinary bay colt. One of the last foals of the year, born with tight front leg tendons, this newborn colt caught my attention. He was not flashy or attention grabbing in the usual ways. It was the valiant effort he made to keep up with his mother, his expression one of earnest concentration, his resilience in navigating his bent knees over the challenging terrain and through the vegetation, that stood out. In a few days, his tendons were normal and he marched about with curiosity and good-natured acceptance of whatever presented itself to him. At five years old, he has the same thoughtful expression and pleasant disposition. He remains respectable in every way. He has remained a personal favorite of mine in the herd.
The behavior of a herd stallion changes often and with a moment’s notice. One minute, he may doze alone in the shade, the next moment he may thunder into the mares, head high, bellowing, marching about, with his tail sweeping from side to side. He may turn from quiet grazing to rambunctious patrols in an instant. Often, his expression may turn from gentle acceptance to fierce commander, as in this image.