The Sheltering Oak

free range horse photography of a newborn filly adjusting to her new world
Adjusting to her new world, a newborn filly takes in her surroundings.

 

free range horse photography of a mare sheltering under a massive oak tree
A massive sheltering oak was the foaling place chosen by this mare.

 

free range horse photography of a newborn filly wakes from her first nap
A bit more rested after her first nap, a newborn filly takes in her new world.

 

free range horse photography of early bonding moments between a mother and foal
Early bonding moments between a mother and her new foal.

Early morning overcast skies and the protection of a senior oak tree shelter the birth of a new life. The mother, notable for her distinctive profile and gentle wisdom, is generous with me; she allowed me access to early moments with her new foal, which is often not the case in natural environment births. I reveled in her generosity with ample time to observe. I don’t stay long however, even horses need the same solitude and privacy humans do in life-changing events.

The profile of this new filly is nearly refined compared to her mother and last year’s sibling. Her face marking reminds me of tadpoles, so in my mind she will be forever associated with common childhood adventures and happy innocent memories. I’m being overly poetic but that morning was a welcome return to a favorite type of encounter with nature and welcoming new beginnings.

Their Journey

In celebration of the journey of a mare with her foal.

Whether it is a mare with her first baby or her fifteenth, may their days be trouble-free.

free range horse photography of a lovely moment with mare and foal
A spring time stroll in the late afternoon creates a magical moment.

 

Those Eyes

 

free range horse photography of a foal with grey eyes
If her eyes stay the same color, she will be an unusual individual with grey eyes.

Six days old and she is fighting fit.

free range horse photography of an intense gaze from a foal
An intense gaze from this stout filly; no worries, she’s just a fun-loving kid like the rest of the foals.

 

free range horse photography of the first day for a new foal
Only half way through her first day and she’s strong and curious.

Day one and all is well.

The Butterfly and the Freight Train

free range horse photography of a mare and new foal romping by
In fits of energy, this new filly gallops along, her bodyguard of a mother right in step.

 

free range horse photography of a new foal racing straight ahead
With her mother in hot pursuit, a new foal races straight in my direction.

Floating like a butterfly, this two-day old filly gallops full throttle to-and-fro while her mighty mother worries and charges along behind.

Parading and Posing

free range horse photography of a proud mother and her foal
It’s awesome when two dark horses create a chestnut; genetics are a fun puzzle.

 

free range horse photography parade of a mare and her newborn foal
A parade of two; a mare and her newborn, hours old, stroll by.

The foal has added a good amount of mass in just two days. They present a charming matched set.

Each year it is a great privilege to see the result of eleven months, more or less, of baby making. Observing the entire

cycle or courting, mating, gestating and birth for a year or more allows me to feel quite connected to That Herd members.

It’s so exciting when the new foals finally arrive!

Tail Lights

free range horse photography of a spirited mother and her new foal
Two days old and I can finally see her face; it’s been nothing but their backends as they run away since the foal was born.

I admit my feelings are a little hurt. Last year this mare foaled right in front of me late one morning and I helped her out of an attempted kidnapping by another mare.

This year, she won’t let me near her. I cannot even ease myself close enough to tell what the sex of the foal is. I have way too many pictures of her running away with her foal. I don’t pursue for the foal’s sake; it is brand new after all.

I’m fifty percent sure it’s a filly.

On the Move

free range horse photography of a beefy newborn filly
When they are this big it’s hard to assign them a newborn, but she is indeed less than 24 hours old.

When I arrived, mother was on a hilltop with the new foal sleeping on a slope. In an effort to put distance between me and her she roused the foal and marched away, navigated a dry creek crossing, and wandered away. All the while the foal stuck like glue and never hesitated over complex terrain. I am forever impressed at what these sturdy babies make look normal in their first day(s). I keep my distance from hot-blooded new mothers so I don’t cause undue anxiety.

Hurrah For Motherly Fortitude

free range horse photography of an impressively developed newborn
He looks like a full-grown horse but he is so newborn his eyes are still not brown.

What a pair! She managed what must have been a challenging birth. Look at the size of this little beastie.

I’m calling him Wheaties, for the cereal that famously highlighted strong champions on their box.

I Would Never

free range horse photography of a beautiful new foal
We’ve only just met and such a pleasant curious expression from this filly.
free range horse photography of a new filly experimenting with the flora
She’s only one day old but already quite interested in tasting the greenery.

I would never name anyone Number Two (for obvious reasons), but in fact, this filly is the second foal born to That Herd in 2021. She is a delight and a welcome addition.

I appreciate a horse who takes the time to observe me in return and absorb all the new situations that come to them.

How Sweet It Is

free range horse photography of a golden morning, big bay mare and newborn colt
A glittering spring morning, air abuzz with insects and the promise of a warm day, presents a new prince to That Herd.

This is not the image I intended on sharing.

I chose a recent image of this colt, nearly four-years-old now, looking impressive on a hilltop. I thought I might also post an image of the colt early in his life as a comparison (because people like to see before and after imagery).

Seeing this image, in the moment I opened it, stopped me in my quest. Not because it was what I was looking for, but because it so beautifully illustrates a thousand of my favorite moments. I have logged a thousand early spring mornings with wet feet, breath ragged from a brisk pace, with electric energy fueled by mares so close to foaling, burdened by the weight of camera and lens, and before the ruthless foxtails have come to head.  To then fall upon the discovery of a brand new life, such as this, in a glorious setting after days of nervous anticipation is a gift. Knowing a favorite mare is ready to give birth, to find them alive and well is a great moment of joy and pride (for the mare’s maternal success and fortitude). Seeing this image makes me ache to know my ability to duplicate this experience often this spring is not possible. I have a million captured moments such as this but it is in the entire experience within nature’s quiet brilliance that heals all that ails me.

The rare early hours of brand new life and nurturing are soon lost to the realities of the daily routines, lessons, and trials. How sweet those first hours are and what an honor it is to witness it.

 

Do Horses Experience Beauty?

free range horse photography of an eight day old colt on a scenic hilltop
An eight-day-old colt passes too close for his own comfort on a hilltop.
free range horse photography of a mare and new foal on a scenic hilltop
Early fog was just lifting as we all find ourselves on the same hilltop.

This colt is on high alert when I am nearby, as is his mother, but he pauses in this moment to get a good look at me. It has been an uncommon occurrence to to be on this hilltop while the herd is browsing there. Obviously, the view is amazing, but the opportunities for a shot are few for several reasons. On this morning, I had marched over hill and dale to photograph a different foal but these two unexpectedly arrived from a different direction. Neither of them were thrilled to see me there, and they moved on to more private grazing.

I wonder if horses are capable of appreciating a scenic view? I know they appreciate having the extended visibility from hilltops and they seem to like standing with the breeze in their face lifting their forelocks, but I don’t know if they experience beauty.

Belly Games

free range horse photography of a first-time mother and newborn foal
A first-time mother surprises me with her baby on a rainy spring morning.

In her first hours of life this filly seemed to delight in wobbling around and under her mother repeatedly. This was not the usual foal action of instinctually searching underneath for nursing purposes, this was in addition to that. Head ducked, knees bent and nose pushing forward, the filly explored the belly-canopy of her mom as if it was an obstacle course feature. Maybe the repeated motion was soothing, like a cat being stroked along it’s entire back. Born on a morning of nearly consistent drizzle didn’t dampen her spirit. Even though this was her first foal, this mare was a calm and gentle mother; the filly stouthearted and undaunted even though neither of them knew what they were doing.

Growing Into a Name

I can imagine these images may be rather pedestrian to some viewers, but these little moments of horse life interest me. The simple act of walking through a gentle water shed stream, or what was likely the first time (or nearly the first time) for this young foal to leap valiantly over-obediently following his mother-feel like a privilege to observe. The horses get used to me hanging around, and because I don’t attempt to alter their movements or motivation, I get to join in on their adventures.

This colt quickly earned the name of Rasputin when I observed his aggressive and cranky behavior towards the other foals from his first days. He looked like a teddy bear but his aloof, single-minded solidarity to his mother and his demanding ways made him seem a bit wicked. He has since been quite unremarkable in any of his interactions when I am near, so I feel confident in knowing he was unfairly judged by me and has redeemed himself. Someday he will have a new name that defines any first impressions to all that would hear it in a more positive way.

free range horse photography of a mare making a stream crossing with zen-like style
Spring rains have given us a seasonal water flow; the horses seem to like the serene flow.

 

free range horse photography of a young colt leaping a stream
A brave effort by this young colt gets him across the seasonal stream with style.

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.

 

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.

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.