Mourning the death or disappearance of a wild animal has always been something that weighs on me. An animal hit by a vehicle, coming upon a dead bird or animal, discovering evidence of a decomposing woodland creature, these seem like things I should encounter and easily forget. I have discovered some wise words, which I will share here, that speak to this topic that pulls at my attention often.
” …Would anyone grieve the death of an animal they had never known, much less loved? And yet some people do feel sad encountering an animal who seemingly died without witness, ceremony, or support. Sorrow for such a commonplace death with no connection to us reveals important dimensions of our emotions. The death of a close relative or friend entails the complex loss not only of a person we admired and loved, but also the end of a meaningful relationship. The death of a pet represents the loss of an animal we cared for and who had given us unconditional acceptance, comfort, and companionship. The death of a wild animal doesn’t deprive us of anything. The animal had given us nothing and had taken nothing from us in return.
Grief for such an animal might be considered one of the purest experiences of compassion, based only on the sense that an innocent life has ended. It reminds us of the importance of our relationships, the give-and-take that lends meaning to our lives. We know that an animal in the wild is inherently incapable of human expectations and emotions. But we might wish anyway that we could extend the comforts of social bonds we enjoy to this one animal we have discovered. It is as if our discovery constitutes an encounter that reminds us of the interconnectedness of life. In any case, our wish that we could share the best of being human reveals our capacity to care altruistically without expectations of anything in return.”
–Krystine I. Batcho Ph.D., Why Should We Grieve the Death of a Wild Animal?, Psychology Today
A new foal, only a day or two old, accepts some harsh realities about life outside the womb. Rain and wind have been a constant for her so far. At least I think it’s a filly; not acceptable weather for camera gear either.
A new foal for a first time mother, this filly benefits from a second protective mare who adopted her and her mom. She is a beautiful dark color with a delicate face. Not afraid to boldly lead the way for one so new, she will only grow in confidence.
A lovely portrait of a beloved member of That Herd.
As the end of the year bears down on me, I am forced to reflect on the past twelve months. 2018 has been fraught with unexpected challenges, both in my personal life, and in my life with That Herd. I have, for many reasons, not spent the time I crave with the horses. There have been some losses, both in my personal life, and in That Herd, that have set me back, made it difficult to be creative. I have experienced a loss of vocabulary related to the horses that has frustrated me and kept me from sharing. My website has been hacked, shut down, recovered, internet inaccessible, images purged, and surpassed my ability to keep up with routine maintenance and improvements. I have many images to share but no words to narrate my feeling about the moments captured. Therefore, I must recommit myself to site maintenance and regular content uploads, for the good of a worthy archive of this community of free range horses who have a story to tell.
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.
This grey mare, half their age, is fond of the oldest mares in the herd.
Eyes darkened with kindness, a herd stallion greets his herd mate, a gelding. Stallions will live together with civility among other stallions and geldings as long as no mares or fillies are present. This dark bay stallion, a personal favorite, has always charmed me with his thoughtful expressions.
A That Herd stallion and his younger herdmate greet each other amiably.
First the thundering of the hooves, then the thumping of my heart. Here they come! Bands of galloping, bucking, leaping steeds, one after another until they all circle around. Wheeling and lunging to and fro, they are magnificent.
This image reminds me of the old Looney Toons characters that sat on shoulders as good and bad conscience “angels”. One foal is quite mild and reasonable, while the other is always wild-eyed and suspicious, lurking over the shoulder of the other.
The very last rays of daylight behind a group of young horses fade as nightfall lands. The first days of fall have continued with hot, dry weather. The horses are scouring the hillsides and and mountain tops for forage before their long treks to the few remaining water sources.
Extra dry months lead That Herd horses into the fall season.
The phrase “roll with the punches” is believed to originate with boxing. The term explains how boxers will often angle themselves and move in certain ways to lessen the impact of incoming blows. It has also become a phrase used figuratively to encourage positive resilience. I bring this up because this horse, known as Cricket, has a definite lean-in posture here, and the phrase matches his disposition nicely.
How confident can we be in assessing whether a horse is happy? Happiness may be discerned as a positive state of mental wellness and having a good life. With horses, happiness appears observable connected to their willingness to play, facial expressions, and having amiable relationships with other horses. Access to feed and water, shelter, and room to roam, must certainly also be factors in equine happiness. To me, this horse just looks happy.
Normally, all the foals are born by the end of June, but this year a late birth has brought new life to That Herd. Within several hours of his birth he faced many confusing situations. Some of the challenges he faced were hard to watch. Dealing with heat, and dust, and very dry surroundings, was already a lot, but he also became the easy mark for horse flies. Because of his lack of life experience, the absence of a long tail, and thick skin, he endured several bites. The grown horses in the group were also tormented by the blood-sucking flies and retreated to the branches of on old oak tree to scrape off the flies that they couldn’t knock off. While under the tree, the newborn foal toddled into the hollow trunk of the dying tree. For many minutes I observed as his initial investigation turned into a real dilemma for him. Unable to navigate his way out of the tree trunk, his mother became concerned and circled the tree over and over, encouraging her colt to come to her. When the other horses eventually wandered away, the mother became frantic. Seeing as she is a first-time mother, I also became concerned that she may pursue the other horses and leave the foal in confusion. I intervened and pulled him out of the tree. All’s well, that ends well. A positive ending overshadows any problems that precede it.
A horse fly finds an easy mark and wakes up a sleeping newborn foal.
Without a long tail or life experience, this newborn become the target of a horse fly.
A horse fly finds every possible indefensible spot on this newborn foal.
A newborn foal finds himself in a dilemma when he toddles into a hollow tree.