Attempted Maternal Coup

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.

free range horse photography of the first hour of a foal's life learning to stand
The first upright moments in a newborn foal’s journey.

 

free range horse photography of the first hour of a foal life
Another mare shows too much interest in the wobbly newborn foal.

 

free range horse photography of the first hour of a foal life
Intense bonding hormones are suddenly going haywire for each horse; the newly born is running on strong instincts to find it’s first milk.

 

free range horse photography of the first hour of a foal life
The intruding mare moves past mere motherly curiosity and makes a threat for possession of the new foal.

 

free range horse photography of the first hour of a foal life
The newborn is intent on connecting with a milk source and the rightful mother falters in asserting her motherhood over the larger, more forceful mare.

 

free range horse photography of the first hour of a foal life
The situation intensifies over possession of the new foal who is still only moments on his own unsteady four legs.

 

free range horse photography of the first hour of a newborn foal's life
In the heat of the moment battle stances are being implemented and the wobbly foal is tossed about.

 

free range horse photography of the first hour of a foal life
The foal regains his balance and a clear winner is unfolding.

 

free range horse photography of the first hour of a foal life
After a rare intervention by the observing photographer the mare regains possession of her foal and necessary bonding continues.

 

free range horse photography of the first hour of a foal life
Once peace is restored the mare appears grateful in this brief moment of acknowledging my presence.

 

Four Thousand Three Hundred Twenty Little Hours

free range horse photography of a new foal staying in step with his mother
A new colt who is diligent in his attempts to keep up with his high-strung mother.

 

free range horse photography of a ready-to-wean bold colt
A lot of growth has occurred for this big boy in six months.

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.

Whiskers on Kittens

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

free range horse photography of frolicking mares and foals in a summer landscape
The setting sun casts a golden hue on frolicking mares and foals.

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.

 

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

Paradise

free range horse photography of a flashy colt in stunning scenery
Nearly three weeks old and this colt has his first real glamour shot.

The best playground ever!

Going Her Own Way

free range horse photography of a mare strolling through tall grasses
Heavy with foal, an elegant mare strolls through the bounty of spring.

“Nature goes her own way, and all that to us seems an exception is really according to order.” –Geothe

 

Masterpiece Moment

 

free range horse photography of a mare & new foal in spring landscape
This year spring has not let go of winter for That Herd.

“My wish is to stay always like this, living quietly in a corner of nature.”

–Claude Monet

Fortitude

free range horse photography of a young black stallion in stormy landscape
Confrontational may be too strong of a general description for this young stallion, but sometimes he is.

“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.

 

 

Blessed Beginning

free range horse photography of a mare and her new foal in a beautiful meadow
Whatever comes next, his first days were sweet.

” … The future was an infinite horizon over which the sun still glimmered its early morning promise.

Everything has a smell and every smell was fresh — the morning air, the sun on the bitumen, the evening rain.

There was just today and that felt like more than enough. … ”

– Richard Flanagan, First Person

(replace bitumen with earth)

Ladies-In-Waiting

free range horse photography of mares and oak trees
Near these oak trees is a favorite territory for mares who will foal this year.

The most correct definition of ladies-in-waiting has nothing to do with being pregnant, but it suits this image. All of the mares in this image should have a foal within the next couple of months.

Ever Watchful

free range horse photography of a mare guarding her new foal in a scenic setting
Ever watchful, a first-time mother keeps close tabs on her young foal.

All of the mares, are hyper-vigilant with their new foals, this is certainly true for the first several weeks. Horses, being a flight response animal, are ever watchful for reasons to flee. Even suspect sounds or the slightest movements in the distance warrant consideration for moving away to a safer distance. I constantly find myself scanning the horizon and surrounding brush to identify what has caught the attention of the horses. As the foals grow in strength, size, and independence, the mothers are still available at a moments notice. This same behavior is true of confined, domestic mares with foals because motherhood is a strong, universal experience. However, in a free range environment, nature dictates the serenity of the days and nights, often in very unexpected ways.

As Cool As They Pretend To Be

free range horse photography of a trio of summer bachelor horses
This trio found the one spot of shade to pause in during a white hot morning.

“Summer bachelors like summer breezes, are never as cool as they pretend to be.”

– Nora Ephron

 

Wildness

free range horse photography of a group of mares running across a grassy hillside
Room to roam inspires a gleeful gallop for a group of mares and foals.

Wildness is not defined by the absence of certain activities, but rather by the presence of certain unique and invaluable characteristics.