A Better Horse

Without the noise and control of a domestic lifestyle, horses manage to get along just fine. This first-time mother had an early fall foal. Born practically on the vernal equinox, she is months behind her young herd mates, but that won’t matter. The fall and winter months here do not have harsh weather and these are free range–not wild–horses so they are not without help when it is needed. Like many birthing mothers in a natural environment, this mare secluded herself for a period of time then rejoined the increased safety of the herd. This image was taken nearing the end of their first day together. The filly is a duplicate copy of her mother, which is endearing. Directly before this captured moment, a group of wild turkeys and a black-tail buck appeared into the same frame as the mare and foal, they were all mere feet from each other. It reminded me that the horses live in direct closeness with a wide range of wildlife and natural rhythms, which contributes to a natural horse, a better horse.

free range horse photography of a first-time mother and her newborn in scenery
A first-time mother and her newborn literally walking off into the sunset.

Cool Little Dude

free range horse photography of a mare checking on her napping colt
A good mother checks in on her napping colt.

Even though the colt is a few months old and capable of being quite independent, this good mare still keeps a close eye on him. The colt is one of only a few who have white markings this year. He’s a cool little dude.

Two of a Kind

free range horse photography of two half sibling colts
These two half siblings, born within hours of each other, spend most of their time adventuring together.

They look alike and share the same birthday. I often see these two browsing, grooming, and roughing each other up. I could not resist an image of their momentary interest in my appearance. Their side-by-side pose seems appropriate. This was taken several weeks ago, they have grown quite a bit since this image was taken.

Hiding in Plain Sight

free range horse photography of a filly in an oat field
Curiosity peaked, this filly approaches stalk by oat stalk.

In an open meadow, with no place to hide, one does the best one can.

 

Fleet of Foot

free range horse photography of a mare and her new foal on a hillside
No hillside is too steep to make your escape when this is your mother  

Are they wild? No, but they live as if they were wild. That Herd horses are free range horses. They are privately owned and lightly managed. The horses mainly exist with no assistance quite well. When there is a need, the rancher steps in to administer care or support.

Can you pet them? No, but they are often approachable. For the most part, consider them wildlife with all the considerations that goes with encountering a wild animal.

Do I cue them, use rewards or treats, or try to alter their behavior in any way to get the shot? No, but there have been occasions when I intervened when a newborn foal was in danger.

Do they roam freely? Yes! Their territories are fenced, but most of the spaces they live in are hundreds, or thousands of acres bordered by private ranches or federal lands.

Do the mares live with a stallion? Sometimes, but the stallion is not part of the herd year-round.

Do they spread wonder and joy to anyone who is fortunate enough to observe them? Yes, always.

 

 

 

 

 

Meeting the Day

free range horse photography of a mare and newborn foal after a hilltop climb

It is common for the foals, from their first day, to traverse all of the rolling countryside where That Herd roams, even steep ascents and descents.

This duo popped up out of a deep canyon to an early sunny horizon. The filly is greeting her second day with sturdy determination.

 

Impatient Circles

free range horse photography of a newborn filly impatiently circling her lying mother
Impatient circles from her newborn do not sway this mother from her much needed resting.

 

free range horse photography of a newborn filly encouraging her mother to stand
This foal is not so much encouraging mother to stand as performing an instinct that forces the need to press the face and find milk when newly born.

After a morning of labor and birth, this mother needs to lie down and pass the placenta. Freed from her internal burden of several months and the bright morning sunshine, she is not easily roused. The foal, a filly, was energetic and bouncy right away and persistently and almost comically circled, nickered, and leaped about in an effort to unlock the mystery of her low mother.

Periscope Moment

free range horse photography of the moment a newborn pops his head up to see the new world
The moment a newborn pops his head up to see the new world that he has arrived in.

I cannot seem to put into words how beautiful these little moments are. His journey has begun.

Rough Morning

free range horse photography of a newborn colt who was slow to sort the situation out
This little guy was just plain wiped out from his journey. This was a perkier moment.
free range horse photography of a mare and newborn scene
Whew. It was a bit of a push, forgive the pun, to deliver this foal.

He has arrived safe and sound, but whoa, was he ever pooped from his journey. A bit of a slow start, but he is doing fine.

Ecotherapy

free range horse photography of a newborn colt on a misty morning
Standing alone, this newborn colt is flexing his independence muscles after his eleven month confinement.

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.

 

With Her Explorer Hat On

free range horse photography of a fancy filly strolling
A fancy filly strolls through a sunny field with her purpose set on exploring squabbling birds.

“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.”

–John Burroughs

Quite Capable

free range horse photography of a mare standing vigil over her newborn
The last sunlight of the day touches a mare standing vigil over her newborn filly.

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.

The Beginning and the Now

free range horse photography of a newborn colt with splashy white markings
This newly born colt with splashy white markings is almost camouflaged in a backlit meadow.

 

free range horse photography of two three-year-olds loping past
The “camo-colt” about three years later loping past with a herd mate.

We do love to watch the foals grow and blossom into maturity!

Fifteen Minutes

I owe this colt his introduction and fifteen minutes of fame. Born mid April he has a little over eight weeks “on the outside” at the time this picture was taken in late June.

Considering it takes about forty-four weeks of “life on the inside” he has lots of maturing and preparations for success ahead in the next several months to match his gestation time.

A million changes take place. Amazing.

free range horse photography of a curious colt about two months old
About eight weeks old and look how this colt has grown.

 

free range horse photography portrait of a newborn colt with an interesting blaze face
Look at that big white forehead and Yin-Yang muzzle!

Day One of the journey.

free range horse photography of a brand new colt and his flashy mother
Newborns spend a lot of their first days touching their mother for security and comfort.

Well done, flashy mom!

The birds hang around the horses because as they browse and graze they stir up the insects in the grass. The opportunistic birds use the horses as a perch and a meal ticket.

I think these birds are a variety of Starling. Around here, some people call them Cowbirds.

Safe Distance

free range horse photography of a springtime mare and newborn foal
A new foal to dote over.

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.

Warning Face

free range horse photography of a mare warning others to stay away from her new colt
Warning off any potential greeters of her new foal.

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.

free range horse photography of a newborn's fresh face
Much to his mother’s alarm this newborn was daring and running around doing his own thing.

Mission accomplished, no mother within several feet.

Vigilant

free range horse photography of a wary mare and newborn filly
It has been a tough day for this new mother. She has concerns about the security of her newborn with the addition of a stallion to the herd.

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.

free range horse photography of a wary mare and newborn filly strolling by
Circling on the outskirts of the bunch, a mare keeps her newborn filly away from reckless or curious herd-mates.

Much the Same

free range horse photography of two young matching foals
Herd mate foals that look-alike and are buddies as well.

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.

A Treasure

corker | ˈkôrkər | noun 1 an excellent or astonishing person (horse) or thing

free range horse photography of a new filly, only a day old
Only one day old and she shows all the signs of becoming a real corker.

 

free range horse photography of a new filly and her serene mother
Compared to a lot of other horses this mare is down-right serene.

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.

 

Don’t Smile, I Dare You

free range horse photography of a newborn foal with curled ears
Her ear tips are still curled; how cute!
free range horse photography of a proud mare and newborn filly
Lookin’ good newborn filly; nice parade trot!
free range horse photography of a newborn foal with curled ears
Side portrait of curled ear tips on newborn foal.

Sometimes, fresh from the womb, foals have bent or curled ears. The ear tips straighten out in a day or two. Too bad, so cute.