We Are the Champions

free range horse photography of three champion mares
A large mare by any standard; the mare in the middle looks small in comparison, but her herd mates are HUGE.

A graceful champion does not put on airs, she does not demand special treatment or crave supremacy. He comports herself with the utmost dignity, has benevolence, and sophistication. She gives and gives expecting nothing in return. She is awesome without attention simply because she can be no other way. Born with natural talent and a strong purpose, she is a champion with and without the trophies, ribbons, prize money, press, and fame. She boldly faces whatever is presented to her. Here’s to (a) champion female(s)! You make us proud.

Opposite Day

free range horse photography of a lush springtime landscape
Early April creates a beautiful playground for That Herd youngsters.

In stark contrast to current late-summer-blast-furnace conditions, this lush springtime scene is a refreshing reminder that greener days will come again.

Young horses of varied ages frolic in the watershed ponds that come and go during the rainy times. Currently, every living creature is looking for relief from the intense heat and poor air conditions due to wild fires and record breaking temperatures.

Prickly Pear

” … I am in a thousand winds that blow, I am the softly falling snow, I am the gentle showers of rain, I am the fields of ripening grain.

Of birds circling in flight, I am the starshine of the night.

I am the flowers that bloom, I am in a quiet room.

I am the birds that sing, I am in each lovely thing. … ”

–Mary Elizabeth Frye

free range horse photography of a mare that deserves honors
In honor of a life well-lived. Just a horse, I know, but I really admired her qualities; she was always sharp witted and self confident.

I have many images of her. Her qualities as a horse stood out in memorable ways.

Even at an advanced age, this image from nine months ago shows her irresistible, ever-present spark.

 

 

The Warning

free range horse photography of a mare's warning to stay away from her colt
This is her normal warning face. Can you imagine how ferocious she could become in the face of a life or death threat?

Being a prey animal, a horse’s natural defense response is flight. However, there are occasions when standing their ground is a choice. Mares with more dominant natures will challenge any violation of their space comfort zone, especially if they have a young foal. New foals stick close to their mothers in the first days and weeks of their life. The protective instincts of the mares is greatly heightened at this time.

In the case of this mare, this is her lowest-threat-warning-face, based on that, I would not want to confront her dire threat response. The “dead eye” is an ominous indication of intent.

Far From Ordinary

free range horse photography of a unique white ear tip on new foal
Besides the length of his face from eye to muzzle, he has a white ear tip, making him doubly unique.

Ordinary is not a label that fits this colt. He was born with an extra velvety hair coat, a distinctive long face, pale eyes, and a tiny white ear tip with long white hairs.

He is one day old in this image, that was about four months ago. His mother is mostly a loner, she takes to the company of one chosen horse for as long as possible. This year she spends her time with the palomino mare so her colt and this one spend a lot of time together. They are half brothers connected by the same sire and full brothers connected by companionship.

If Days Had Halos

Free range horse photography of a newborn foal and mother in tall green grass
The foals born in April will not be ticklish on their bellies after all the tall-grass-marching they did.

In direct contrast to today’s wildfire and extreme-heat ravaged California, this memory is connected to a glorious California morning in mid April. Mild in temperature and robed in glittering dewy refreshment, the morning was so beautiful and the native grasses so lush, I didn’t discover this new foal for some time. This spring (when removed from the pandemic devastation) was sweet. Sweet for casual observers and a sweet time to be born without fences. Cheers to this colt’s day of birth, a divine day indeed. If days could have halos, this one surely would have.

Meeting Her World Head On

free range horse photography of an inquisitive new filly
A face to melt even the coldest heart.

It looks like she’s holding something in her mouth but I guess that’s her concentration-face. The world comes at you from every direction, all day long when you’re only a few days old. She was born small but mighty; a real explorer at heart. I hope she gets her chance to make her mark in this world.

Around the Mountain

In an amusing trick of nature, this colt’s white face marking drips down his face seemingly detoured by the large (noble) bump on his face.

When you can’t climb the mountain; go around it!

His coat is dotted with foxtails from napping in the grass. Among the herd he seems like a solid citizen, not too dramatic and not too laid-back.

free range horse photography of a colt with an unusual face marking
Like an ice cream cone dripping down a child’s arm, this colt’s face marking drips down his face and pools at his muzzle.

Oats and Oaks

A magical setting for a mystery foal. She’s a cutie, and her arrival was a surprise so I guess finding her in a mystical setting was appropriate.

Free range horse photography of a young filly in oats and oaks
Oats and oaks and a young fresh-faced filly.

Other Nations

free range horse photography of a black stallion with inspired quote
Intensity is his middle name.

“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

Born For Adventure

I had my work cut out for me on the morning this foal was born. Mother followed the herd on a round trip of a couple of miles, over hillsides and through the woods, all in about an hour. There were a couple of opportunities to document some great vistas with a new foal, which does not happen often. The new colt was a trooper, never faltering and never lying down. While I can’t know exactly when he was born, it had been less than 24 hours since I’d seen Mom and she still had baby on board. So, I guess he was not more than several hours old when he accomplished this hike with his herd mates.

free range horse photography of a newborn colt on a mountain top
Lord of all he sees; in this setting even a newly born foal looks like a king.

 

free range horse photography of a mare on a hilltop with her newborn colt
Majestic setting for a newly born foal’s first field trip.

 

free range horse photography of a mare communicating with her new foal
Rising mist hides the scenery behind this mare with her new foal.

 

free range horse photography of a mare and hours-old foal covering some territory
It was quite a journey for this new foal to follow his mother up and over a couple of hilltops so soon after being born.

Lying Low

The mare off by herself was an indication that she might be hiding a surprise. The tall mustard stalks made it challenging to get a peek at this new kid without getting too close. He was lying quietly in a thick patch of flowering mustard, his mother standing guard above him. Eventually, he stood up and I took a couple quick pics before the mare moved away. Somehow the colt had a puffy eye but he was none the worse for wear otherwise. He was quite a large newborn, so entering this world may have been a bit bruising for all involved. I kept my distance throughout the morning as the mare was needing lots of space to feel comfortable.

free range horse photography of an early morning arrival: a nursing colt
Early morning arrival; a new colt nurses before the sunrise.

 

free range horse photography of a very strong new colt
Not quite comfortable in his new world, his face shows determination and concern keeping up with mom in the tall mustard weed.

 

free range horse photography of a moment in the sun for a mare and new baby
Venturing out from the shade of thick trees, a moment of bright sun shows the new foal’s puffy eye and mom’s alert vigilance.

Textbook Mom Anchor

free range horse photography of a mare and new foal resting in the shade
Taking a break from the glaring morning sun after a long morning of birth and bonding.

With her usual “keep your distance” glare after giving birth, I get the stink-eye from mom. I must admit she was more generous with her distance requirement this year. Usually, she is on the move to disappear as soon as she sees me approaching after she has foaled and she tests the limits of my telephoto zoom lens.

free range horse photography of a newborn foal marching to keep up with mother
Marching to navigate the tall grasses, a newborn sticks close to mom.

With a determination visible by the set of his jaw, this little guy dutifully maintains close contact with his mother in the first hours of his life.

free range horse photography of a pale palomino newborn
Being born is hard work; at a few hours old, this colt’s expression is not a care-free one.

 

free range horse photography of a tired newborn colt
At this point he just wanted a nap. A drip of milk visible in his nose.

Many times newly born foals maintain close contact with their mothers, as if they were still connected by a cord. This colt, born May 19, was no exception. He had a very busy morning and seemed a bit flustered with all the complexities of “life on the outside”. Mom was his anchor in these trying hours.

 

Spark of Defiance

free range horse photography of an attentive mother and her day old foal
Instinct takes over when this mare has a foal, she is determined to keep her safe so she flees each time I come near.

 

free range horse photography of a new filly
She sticks close to mother in the first days and weeks of her life.

 

free range horse photography portrait of a day old filly
She looks serene in this image; one of the first chances I’ve had to see her not running away.

I could see this mare was ready to foal but she waited until I left to give birth. She had a determined little filly who followed her wary mother’s example obediently. I watched with disappointment as they moved away when I approached for many weeks. The filly is one day old in these images. She has grown in confidence and brute strength since she was born in early May. She has a definite spark of defiance about her but she is giving none of that to her doting mother.

Badass Mother Buying Time

free range horse photography of a badass mare and her newborn foal
This mare took measures to make sure her new foal was ready to meet the many challenges living in a wild herd bring.
free range horse photography of a badass mare who guarded her new foal with fierce determination.
Late afternoon light falls on this foal as her fierce mother stands guard.

Early morning light illuminates a new addition to That Herd. This badass paint mare stacked the deck for her success by covertly stealing some time to give birth and give her foal the first important hours of strength-building before returning to the herd. Her plan to stay hidden lasted all day, and as the sun was setting in the second image she was attentive and alert for the slightest encroachment into her sphere of protection. I had no doubt the foal would be well guarded through the night. By the next morning she had rejoined the herd, on her own terms, having successfully given her new foal a head start on confidence for what was to come.

Birth Day

free range horse photography of a devoted mother and her 2020 newborn
This mare was born to be a mother; her new filly is a few hours old in this image.

Last year she had a foal that looked just like her. This year, she has a foal that looks just like the sire. She couldn’t be any more proud.

Speaking Quietly

free range horse photography of a stallion in a misty wooded landscape
Pausing in his brisk motion, a stallion surveys near and far.

“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.”

–Linda Hogan

One Tough Cookie

free range horse photography of a mare eating a thistle flower head
Delicately, a mare bites the flower heads from a milk thistle plant, thorns and all. You can see several headless stalks on the plant she’s biting.

 

free range horse photography of a milk thistle plant
Milk thistle. does not appear the slightest bit palatable but horses gladly eat the flower heads, thorns and all.

The seeds of Milk Thistle have been used to support the growth of new liver cells and aid in the health of the liver, kidneys, and other digestive organs.

I have read conflicting information about the benefits and dangers to horses who eat thistle. Most horses love to eat the flower heads off late spring milk thistle plants. The thorns of the plant are most unforgiving but horses gingerly bite the heads off, chew, swallow and then eat every other mature thistle flower in sight as well. Their behavior leads me to believe they consider it somewhat of a delicacy, like a delicious cookie.

Occupation: Motherhood

free range horse photography of a wobbly newborn colt
When I first laid eyes on this newborn foal my first reaction was that he would make a perfect Hollywood movie horse, he has such a great coat color and flashy white markings.

 

free range horse photography of a mare bonding with her new colt
Exchanging nickers of love.

 

free range horse photography of a beautiful mare and her flashy new colt
A beautiful mare and flashy colt make an effortless family portrait.

 

free range horse photography of a proud mare and her new colt
She is the very picture of a proud mother.

Birth is not only about making babies, but about making mothers as well. New mothers and old mothers contend with birthing risks; in older mares and mares who have had several foals, the risks are higher. Mothers sacrifice their own lives for the lives of their babies; this is a reality as old as time. This sacrifice may come in the form of protection from predators or perceived dangers, or it may come in the form of not surviving postpartum complications. Heroic sacrifice and tragic sacrifice leave admiration or heartbreak in it’s wake.

Participating in creation makes every mare the author of a story full of potential. However. the tragedy of a lost mother cannot be measured, not by the baby, the bystander, nor the new care-giver.

After keeping careful watch and waiting with much anticipation for each mare’s new offspring, I remain ever reverent to the occupation that they must take on year after year.

Stealth Grazing

free range horse photography of a mare and foal concealed in tall grass
Stealth grazing.

This is not the tallest mare of That Herd but she creates a realistic picture of how tall the grasses have become. The ear tips are the only evidence of her foal beside her.

Interestingly, the mare seems to be peering through the shield of a single stalk of mustard weed pretending she cannot be seen at all, which aptly matches her daily desire to be left alone.