Our society is familiar with the office water cooler as a place to hang out and talk about work while not working. The same types of water cooler moments occur with herds of horses. Community hang out spots are normal for horses living in large territories. Even though there is lots of space to roam, certain places become a common area for groups of horses living together to hang out. Often, low growing branches are essential at favorite resting spots. As if at a hitching post or leaning on the top fence rail to observe or converse, horses congregate and pacify themselves by rubbing, chewing, and resting on and near these low oak branches. This image shows one of those places for That Herd. It also shows only two members, but normally the whole bunch (just outside of this shot) clumps together to swat flies and take turns rubbing on the branches. The large grey colt will be two-years old in March and the bay filly will be two in June.
Early on a March morning I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. Two mares had given birth a couple hours previous to my arrival. I love observing newborn foals and their million discoveries about life on the outside. During my quiet jubilation at my good luck, a third mare laid down and gave birth to a notably large colt without moving away from the herd for solitude, which is unusual. A perfect morning, cool and sunny and a little breezy allowed for a serene birth and initial 20 minutes of terrestrial time.
The first image shows the colt’s first successful standing moment. Because of his numerous attempts to rise and sort his long legs out to stand, some curious herd mates approached to investigate. The other mare in the sequence is a sweet mare who has been a doting mother in the past. This year, however, she would not be having a foal of her own. She becomes instantly taken by the vulnerable newborn and won’t accept the fact he is another’s baby. Grievously, the orientation of the wobbly foal was directly in between the ensuing aggressive assertions. He was tossed about and when the mares squared off and spun to kick each other with deadly hind hooves I had to intervene. Risking the safety and kidnapping of the newborn was not necessary since I could interrupt the situation. Motherhood instincts are strong and especially so in nature. I have discovered this type of stealing behavior is not rare in natural situations. In the wild, and/or when unmanaged, the outcome for the foal is fatal. Because these horses live in a free range, natural environment they have heightened senses of survival and their innate abilities are strong, but sometimes behaviors can still go wrong.
With a little time, grass, mother’s milk and energizing sunshine this colt has bloomed into a uniquely handsome ready-to-wean lean machine. Notice how cute and determined he was from day-one to be a successful little soldier to his restless mother.
Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens, brown paper packages tied up with strings,
These are a few of my favorite things.
Cream colored ponies and crisp apple strudels, doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles, wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings,
These are a few of my favorite things.
… girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes, the snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes, silver white winters that melt into springs, …
Songwriters: Oscar Hammerstein/Richard Rodgers My Favorite Things
and moments like this with That Herd.
This is one of my favorite things.
Big strong foals and mares, young and older, with spark and verve.
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.
” … 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
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.
“Nature goes her own way, and all that to us seems an exception is really according to order.” –Geothe
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.
After lots of rain I saw many horses napping in the sunshine. This sight, however, was a surprise. I’ve not seen mature horses lie down together so closely that they lean on each other. Even more surprising is that these two mares don’t necessarily hang out together. The brown mare is quite old and the paint is not. It may not be a perfect picture because of the stems but it is worthy of sharing simply for the unique moment it captures. Because they appear to be spooning the scientist in me wants to bring up anthropomorphizing, but I won’t; the sight was simply too cute to not share.
anthropomorphism | ˌanTHrəpəˈmôrfizəm | noun the attribution of human characteristics or behavior to a god, animal, or object.
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 …
Every new year brings opportunity for each pregnant mare to fulfill her potential to create a sturdy and contributing life to That Herd. Once January arrives, expectation grows with each passing week, knowing that the mares carry a new life. In each pregnant mare, a waiting gift to be welcomed. Hopefully, next month will bring the first foal(s) to That Herd.
“New Year’s Day is every man’s birthday.” –Charles Lamb (I just like the sentiment; welcome 2020)
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.
If it could be like this always: abundance, independence, golden hues, leisure, temperate, and peaceful!
” … summer afternoon; to me those have always been the most beautiful words in the English language.”
Special attention is given to a responsive mare. Once her willingness is confirmed, actions move rapidly from there. This mare is much larger than the stallion in this case, so a few logistical steps had to be taken. The young colt by the mare’s side is confused by all this activity and sticks tightly to his mother.
Older foals never cease to entertain me with their mix of bravado and caution. These foals are old enough now to be fully independent; their explorations of me are constant and surprisingly intense.
Still grieving over the loss of her own newborn many weeks prior, this mare took possession of a newborn filly along with an additional thief-mare for several hours. Every opportunity she got, she swooped in to take control of the confused newborn. In a true wild situation, the outcome for this foal would have been calamitous. Human intervention reunited her with her mother and separated her from the others. Both are doing fine. She is the ninja foal from the previous post.
With lightening speed, she rises up to administer a (mock) fatal jab. He never saw it coming.
(Another picture of the sassy filly shown defending the dirt pile a couple posts back.) In this image she is circling her mother with confusion and irritation over the attention given to another foal. Her beloved mother has stolen another mare’s newborn foal and everything got really weird after that. This event required intervention and I’m happy to report that the confused newborn was reunited with her mother and they were separated from the herd for a while to bond. All is well for all the horses and the brief disruption to the sassy filly’s esteem is corrected.