The Commander

The behavior of a herd stallion changes often and with a moment’s notice. One minute, he may doze alone in the shade, the next moment he may thunder into the mares, head high, bellowing, marching about, with his tail sweeping from side to side. He may turn from quiet grazing to rambunctious patrols in an instant. Often, his expression may turn from gentle acceptance to fierce commander, as in this image.

wild horse photography of a commanding stallion
The behavior of a herd stallion is complex and changes in a moment.


This carefree romp is brought to you by the That Herd stallion. Life is good.

wild horse photography of a romping stallion
A carefree moment for the herd stallion.

Self Confidence

Bravely standing right in the middle of somewhat tense communication between a stallion and his mother, this colt correctly displays the submissive mouth gnashing behavior. Many foals are intimidated by the stallion and keep their distance out of respect, but this colt has had no problem with greeting and interacting when the stallion is in close proximity. Even in this moment, he stands squarely in the middle of negotiations.

wild horse photography of communication between a stallion and mare
Communication between a stallion and mare observed by an intrepid colt.

Lookin’ Good

The herd stallion, looking quite fancy.

wild horse photography of a fancy stallion
A stallion shows he’s got some moves.

New Presence

I have taken my time in introducing the That Herd stallion this year. He is a new individual to me, and I wanted to get a sense of what kind of horse he is. At this point, he seems very tolerant of my visits and displays a wide range of attitudes toward the mares. From aloof, to tolerant, to nurturing, to dismissive, he has shown many sides. Granted, I am only observing for very small pieces of time in the grand scheme of a 24 hour day. It is interesting to have observed so many different characteristics in these small moments though. It is evidence of how complex and individual horses are, especially when they have the freedom to interact and express their personalities among other horses.

wild horse photography of a large dark stallion
The herd stallion appears quite large in comparison to an average sized That Herd mare.

A Horse That Will Not Tire

“Those dreams are tied to a horse that will not tire.” – Sting, Desert Rose

wild horse photography of stallion in full gallop
A motivated stallion in a full gallop over uneven terrain.

Dry, Drier, Driest

The horses adapt. This is the dry phase of early summer. Coming soon, the drier and driest months.

” … (summer) is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color.”
―Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting

wild horse photography of a stallion in a parched landscape
Summer has just arrived but the evidence of early heat is clear.

Big and Bigger

The size of this large mare, in comparison to a large stallion, is apparent. True, some element of spatial distortion (like holding a fish out toward the camera to make it appear larger) contributes a little, but really it’s a big horse next to a bigger horse. The intensive gaze of these two illustrates how these free roaming horses are in a state of constant awareness of their surroundings. The problem solving that inevitably comes with that makes for some clever horses.

wild horse photography portrait of a mare and stallion
This large mare makes a large stallion seem diminished.

Considerate, For a Horse

I realize I have pointed this out before on this blog, but it continues to intrigue me. Stallions, for all of their demanding herding behaviors, know when to let soon-to-foal mares and just-foaled mares alone. The rules change for new mothers for a couple days. The eminently expectant and new mothers are not included in the herding routines set by the stallion. I’m not saying that they would be left behind, but they are allowed to move about on the far fringes of the herd, and at a more leisurely speed. This considerate behavior seems beyond the scope of an equine intellect, but it does occur. In this image, the stallion is moving the herd of mares and foals to another location for water but he walks past the mare that just foaled and she follows in her own time.

wild horse photography of a stallion respecting the needs of a new mother
Stallions, despite their demanding herding behaviors, recognize the needs of foaling and mares with newborns.

Messy Conversation

Believe it or not, both of these images are of a positive conversation between a mare and stallion. These interactions are brief and seemingly random but there is likely more to it than that. Stallions constantly check in with the mares in his harem, interested mares, pregnant mares, old mares, all the mares. Sometimes the conversation is entirely gentle and sometimes it’s almost violent. No one is upset in a negative way, even in the first image that looks aggressive.

wild horse photography of a mare and stallion interacting
Communication between this stallion and mare are complicated.
wild horse photography of a greeting between a mare and stallion
A moment of communication between a stallion and mare.

Sparring Stallions

A demonstration of mock battle among two young stallions includes chasing, rearing, striking, biting and lunging. These two colts collided, circled, leapt, and rose repeatedly, all with great force and height. Their intentions are non violent, oddly enough. These mock battles are common among all ages in horses.  This rough activity conditions and prepares them for dominance in real battles when earning their own band of mares, theoretically.

wild horse photography of two young stallions sparring
Mock battles among colts are common, even when they are more mature.


wild horse photography of two colts rearing in mock battle
Rearing, striking, and biting, two young stallions engage in mock battle.


Command and Respect

A summertime morning dampened by low fog created extra leadership challenges for the stallion. Even though the visibility was low, he went about his business of collecting the widely scattered mares and foals with calm efficiency. Normally, the mares aware of normal routines respond to the leader’s cues from a distance. On this morning, the fog created the need for closer physical communication. Don’t be fooled by the aggressive posture of the stallion and the concerned fleeing of the foal; this was not a stressful interaction, merely a daily command and show of respect.

wild horse photography of a stallion driving a mare and foal closer to the herd
A stallion drives a mare and foal closer to the herd.

Unseen Signals

An early morning walk to a low flat area reveals a calm domestic scene with some That Herd members. Shown here are about a third of the mares and the stallion. The herd stallion regards my appearance and decides to ignore me. On this morning, he eventually strode off ahead of the mares to a more protected location on what would be a hot day. After quietly grazing for an hour, the stallion, in response to some internal schedule, walked away from the mares, leaving them to trail behind him and follow at their leisure. Eventually, all of the mares obediently fell into line and left the meadow one by one. I have observed that the stallion(s) move the mares by leading during calm times and drive them from behind when a more urgent purpose presents itself. The more urgent purpose may simply be at the whim of the stallion, or due to some external motivation. Incidentally, it can be noted that the black and white paint mare is facing the direction of the stallion, unlike the other mares. She is keeping a close eye on his movements. Their preoccupation with the each other lasted all season, not out of fear, in my observations, but out of some undefinable personality quirks.

wild horse photography of a stallion and some mares and foals
A candid moment where the herd stallion calmly regards my presence.

Celebrated Status

Stallions are often the literary and cinematic subject of fiery metaphors and masculine bravado; they are seen in bold graphics with strong postures and majestic demeanor. In the professional equine world, stallions are the rock stars, promoted, managed, and celebrated. Only the loveliest imagery of their arched necks, flared nostrils, flowing manes, and studly postures are circulated. They often look dramatic or wise. Without a doubt, all of these images are testament to the stallion’s real beauty and strengths. However, in an unmanaged natural setting, stallions have lots of down time–that is, time spent in ways other than in the pursuit of breedable mares–where they amble about, explore, and even playfully interact with other herd members, young and old. This stallion is free from competition from other free roaming stallions, so he avoids the drama connected to proving himself with other males. Throughout his time with the mares, he seems to have some favorites and some less favored members within his herd. I have observed him to be mild and inquisitive but, on some occasions, also aggressive and unreasonable. As the leader of the mares and foals, stallions carry a lot of responsibility within the herd. This horse, a venerable leader, fulfills his stud duties, moves the herd into and out of different habitats suitable to the weather and time of day, and is quick to defend–with a cool head–any threat to the members in his care. He appears quite relaxed in this image, strolling without intent or pressure. I think he looks just as dramatic in his state of contentment as in any dramatic pose. After all, any stallion is, at a moment’s notice, a second away from the very animal that inspires all those spirited metaphors, and I can still plainly see that here.

wild horse photography of a stallion relaxed and content
At ease, a herd stallion strolls along a meadow path.

Dust Bath

In a few moments of self-indulgence, the herd stallion rubs, rolls and scratches in a soft spot in the soil.

wild horse photography of a herd stallion scratching his belly in the dirt
The herd stallion rubs, rolls, and scratches in a soft spot in a grassy field.
wild horse photography of a stallion rolling and scratching in dirt
The herd stallion luxuriates in a few moments of rolling in a soft spot.

As Wild and Reckless as Thunder

To tell a story from the heart of a horse, now that would be the best story ever told.

wild horse photography of a stallion looking sharp
Stallion postures are dramatic and inspire great daydreaming about the vitality of equines.


This time, with a timid mare, the stallion takes a gentle approach, coaxing her attention with quiet nuzzling. This behavior stands out in comparison to rowdy interactions that mares with stronger personalities instigate. This illustrates that stallions are not just breeding brutes, but herd leaders capable of complex social interactions based on the dispositions he is dealing with.

wild horse photography of a stallion coaxing a timid mare
The gentle approach from the stallion with a timid mare seems intuitive.

Rising Fog

Sometimes the stallion moves the mares from behind, rigorously weaving around individuals who choose a pace that’s not to his liking. Other times, he suddenly moves away from the herd, not seeming to care if they follow him or not. On this morning, scouting ahead of the mares, the herd stallion seems to lift the fog as he journeys across the meadow. Dutifully, the mares and foals will begin to file after him in long, informal ranks.

wild horse photography of a stallion and mighty oak tree in fog
A brief morning fog dissipates as the stallion scouts ahead of his herd.

Quiet Negotiations

Interactions between mares and stallions are surprisingly varied. While some meetings are boisterous, squalling, dust-raising, kicking and pawing affairs, others are gentler, less obvious and barely noticeable. Often, the quieter mares merely glide in beside the stallion and present themselves without being pursued at all. Their communications and actions are subtle, demure even.

wild horse photography of a mare and stallion communicating
Gentle negotiations between a mare and herd stallion.

Glorious Purpose

This stallion meets each moment with intelligence and interest.

wild horse photography of a big bay stallion
Filled with glorious purpose, this stallion strides toward his band of mares.