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.

 

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.

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.

 

 

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.

Patiently Carrying Their Heavy Load

free range horse photography of a mare heavy in foal in the last light of day
The last light of day shines on a mare, a beautiful mare, heavy with foal, bearing her responsibility of new life.

Blessed Are the Broodmares

Blessed are the broodmares in the field,
Patiently carrying their heavy load
Without complaint waiting for the big day,
When they, without a sound, lay down in the straw

And then the most amazing thing happens,
The miracle of a brand new life.
Now the everlasting circle is complete,
The amazing wonder of a living thing.

The foundation stock of every breed,
How fast we all happen to forget,
Where all our champions came from.
How fast we are to discard the blessed ones.

When they get too old or unproductive,
The most tolerant members of every breed,
Raising their young without ever a mumble,
Loyal beyond everyone’s compare.

Till they go on to raise the next one,
When will we finally wake up and see
How enormously grateful we should be
For the blessed ones we so easily forget?

E.M.S

 

 

 

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

 

Spooning

free range horse photography of two mares napping together
Horses are social animals but napping together this close is unusual.

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.

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.

Stepping Up To Defend Life

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.

 

free range horse photography of three mares fighting to defend a newborn foal
One of a series of images where three mares relentlessly protect a newborn foal from an aggressive young stallion.
free range horse photography of three mares fighting to defend a newborn foal
One of a series of images where three mares relentlessly protect a newborn foal from an aggressive young stallion.
free range horse photography of three mares fighting to defend a newborn foal
One of a series of images where three mares relentlessly protect a newborn foal from an aggressive young stallion.
free range horse photography of three mares fighting to defend a newborn foal
One of a series of images where three mares relentlessly protect a newborn foal from an aggressive young stallion.
free range horse photography of three mares fighting to defend a newborn foal
One of a series of images where three mares relentlessly protect a newborn foal from an aggressive young stallion.
free range horse photography of three mares fighting to defend a newborn foal
One of a series of images where three mares relentlessly protect a newborn foal from an aggressive young stallion.

… 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 …

–Emily Thorne

Every Man’s Birthday

free range horse photography of a group of mares and fillies
After several days of rain a group of mares and fillies emerge from the woods to investigate my arrival.

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)

Unsettled

free range horse photography of a young, hot-blooded mare
A hot-blooded young mare is disconcerted and insecure by her temporary loss of herd mates.

With a white-hot summer sky behind her, this head strong mare is showing a lot of emotion as she realizes the main herd has left her behind. Big and strong and dark with unique white markings, she stands out in a crowd. She had been distracting herself with water-play and most of the herd had trailed off to evening grazing sites in the meantime.

A Study in Soulful

 

free range horse photography of a June rainy day newborn
On a rare rainy day in June a newborn arrives fuzzy and extra cute.

 

free range horse photography of a young mare with expressive dark eyes
A standout since birth, this filly has beautiful deep, dark eyes.

From Day-One who could resist the dark, expressive eyes on this beautiful filly? Even now, a few years later, she retains the most beautiful soulful eyes. She’s a little older, a little wiser, but still brightly curious and gentle in disposition.

Powdered Gold

free range horse photography of mares backlit in late day oat field
Backlit by the day’s last light, these mares look like a poster for summertime.

” … summer afternoon; to me those have always been the most beautiful words in the English language.”

–Henry James

Chosen Few

Every year, without fail, this grey mare befriends the oldest mares in the herd. There becomes one individual that she is with constantly. This year, it is this brown mare. In the past, she has outlived some of her friends. Because she is only a middle age mare, it is certain that she will outlive her other chosen few. This creates a sadness, but acceptance is always in our days, horse or human.

free range horse photography of two mare buddies
This grey mare, half their age, is fond of the oldest mares in the herd.

Sweet and Salty

This stallion is forced to stay light on his feet around this big mare. One minute she naps nose to nose with him, and in the next moment, she sets him back on his heels over control of the air space over a mud hole. Granted, water is scarce, but this was a crabby moment, not a desperate thirst moment.

free range horses challenging each other over a mud hole
A skirmish breaks out over control of a mud hole between a mare and stallion.

 

Any Day Now

Well blog fans, it’s been over a month that I have lived without access to my image files. Even I could not have predicted it would take this long to repair and upgrade my system so I didn’t mention the reason I have not been posting lately. This is an image I took this spring of several mares and fillies browsing in a beautiful location.

free range horse photography of grazing mares
Mares and fillies browse in an oak filled pasture.

All the Single Ladies

Receptive body language and soft expressions greet this young stallion when several mares are willing at the same time. Interestingly, on this occasion, he bred none of the mares. The estrus cycle in mares ripens into perfect timing for optimal conception, so often, the stallion waits when his service is spread thin, so to speak.

free range horse photography of a stallion and receptive mares
A young stallion has choices when several mares are receptive at the same time.

Quiet Misty Mornings

Shrouded in mist, our feet wet with dewy grass, we couldn’t be happier.

free range horse photography of misty morning mares
Misty mornings and wet grass quietly start the day.

Indomitable

The end of the year brings inevitable reflection, and this mare deserves to be a poster-child to that end. She has suffered through the loss of her foal at only a few days old and then survived a terrible illness. Still in the recovery months, she shows tremendous spirit and bright promise for the new year. Good girl.

free range horse photography of a resilient young mare
That indomitable spirit still shows after a challenging year for this young mare.