Little Nipper

free range horse photography of young horses provoking mock battle
The chestnut filly sneaks in a provocative leg bite to a herd-mate who is not amused.

There is a constant current of energy transferred from one individual to another with this band of young horses. Bumping, nipping, leaping, and sprints are evident nearly all the time. In this image, the grey is showing admirable tolerance toward the insolent filly. His choice is to sprint away or engage. She will keep pestering him until he makes a choice.

Boundless Energy

free range horse photography of two colts galloping over a hilltop
The boundless energy of these young horses requires that they run just about everywhere they go.

Spending time with the horses that are about four or five years old leaves me smirking in amusement over their endless cavorting.

They are constantly challenging and provoking each other in hopes of lively mock battles or jostling sprints.

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

Memory Lane

wild horse photography portrait of two foals
These two colts had just been running laps around a group of oak trees on a hillside. Several times these two and several others slipped and fell in the dry leaves but jumped up and played on, undeterred. All the foals perform feats of great sure-footedness and stamina from day one. They really seemed to be having fun that morning.
wild horse photography of two colts
Matching colors on these half brothers.

 

wild horse photography of two colts face biting
The colts are in a constant state of provoking, testing, and tolerating each other. The also bond with each other and have a hierarchy of status among their herd-mates.

The blaze-faced chestnut colt was a favorite of all the other foals in 2014. You can see him being lavished with attention by a few of his fellow herd mates in this trio of images. I went back to 2014 to remind everyone that there is lots of interesting content about That Herd that goes back for several years. Also, I should mention that I have lost the use of my computer as it is undergoing a costly repair (again). My photographic productivity is at a standstill. Fresh content will be coming along soon. We have 2020 foals to look forward to!

Not Just Another Pretty Face

free range horse photography of a handsome colt
Lots of white, a flaxen mane and tail, and an expressive face give this colt lots of eye appeal.

This image was taken about a year ago at age three. I have not seen this colt for many months but I look forward to seeing who he is becoming. Below is an image from his first hours of life. He is wet from a trip into the pond with only a few wobbly hours under his belt. If you go way back into previous posts (May, 2015), there are some stories about his first day. To get you started, if you click on the title of this post there is a link at the bottom of the page to a previous post about this foal titled What a Morning!.

 

wild horse photography of an intrepid newborn colt
Rapidly absorbing so many new sights and sensations, this newborn is well on his way to being a clever native born herd member.

Lil Whippersnappers

free range horse photography of newly weaned foals on a hilltop
A few of the youngest That Herd weanlings find excitement at a higher elevation.
whip·per·snap·per
/ˈ(h)wipərˌsnapər/
noun
1. a young and inexperienced person weanling considered to be presumptuous or overconfident.

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.

Bright Star, Bright Future

free range horse photography portrait of a new January foal
Her star marking is blinding me.

 

free range horse photography of a mare and January foal
A January foal keeps pace with her skittish mother.

New foals in all their freshness bring thoughts of potential. Possibilities are endless when all of your talents are not yet formed. May all her strengths be mighty in mind and body.

The Assignment

“When I was five years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life.

When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’.

They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.

–John Lennon

free range horse photography of a filly who loves discovery
This filly will not take the easy route; the tangled route is more interesting.

Every day the foals are assigned lessons in life skills. Some make the assignments bend to their unique disposition and I think they are “happier” for it.

She could have simply walked around the scattering of branches but she chose the slow route: sniffing, and touching, and nimbly stepping her way through instead.

 

 

 

 

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.

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

 

The Wiser Horse

free range horse photography of a big black horse
Living a life with lots of freedom that not many horses get to experience, this horse seems to be thriving.

We are what we repeatedly do.

“Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort and intelligent execution;

it represents the wiser choice of many alternatives – choice, not chance, determines your destiny

– Aristotle

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.

Optimum Nap Zone

free range horse photography of a filly dozing under her mother's tail
Dozing under the protection of a gently swishing tail.

Womb to World

free range horse photography of a newborn colt drinking in a blue pond
Water must feel like home to the newborn foal only hours out of the womb.

The growth of a foal is exponential immediately after birth. Not only their body tissues and functions, but their brains transition at an impressive, and necessary rate. These horses are quite comfortable with standing or running water sources. Even this colt, only in his first day of life, seems right at home in the water. Observing horses in water is always mesmerizing. Maybe this is because water is not a usual environment for horses and this makes them appear almost magical in that setting.

Inseparable

free range horse photography of two foals who are always together
Where the filly goes, the colt follows, a devoted pair even though there are several weeks difference in their ages.
free range horse photography of two inseparable foals
Companions dozing together.

This is how you find these two foals, always together. The grey fell in love with this dark filly the first day they met. He has shadowed her ever since. Rarely leaving her side, he is a model of devotion. The mother of the filly tolerates his affections entirely.

Buckskin

free range horse photography of a buckskin colt
A buckskin colored colt less than a month old sizes me up.

Color genetics with horses is not without complexity. A new buckskin in the herd this year inspired me to revisit what I know about color genetics. Without getting into the science of it all and in the simplest terms, black and red are the two basic equine color pigments. A horse’s ability to reproduce theses pigments is an inherited trait, with red being recessive to black. Each pigment can be modified by other genes, including dilution genes. Buckskin color is black-based and a dilute version of the color bay, another black-based coat color. White markings are, simply stated, a matter of chance.

Royal Scepter

free range horse photography of a colt with unusual face marking
Walking right into the light and right into my space, a colt displays his unusual face marking.

The marking on this colt’s face reminds me of a family crest or a royal scepter, a figure of royal authority. This seems fitting since he is handsome enough to be a prince.

Courtship

free range horse photography of courtship between a mare and stallion

A receptive mare is courted by the herd stallion.

Special attention is given to a responsive mare. Once her willingness is confirmed, actions move rapidly from there. This mare is much larger than the stallion in this case, so a few logistical steps had to be taken. The young colt by the mare’s side is confused by all this activity and sticks tightly to his mother.

Vigorous Display

free range horse photography of an attentive stallion
A mature stallion, one moment quietly grazing, and the next a vigorous display.

There’s nothing like a “mare moment” to energize an otherwise laid-back stallion. In this free range setting, the stallion interacts continuously with his mares. This horse often tends to the mares in a companionable partnership. Sometimes he completely ignores them, at other times he’s commanding, and sometimes mover to aggression. A veteran stallion, he is often gentle and detached. He has a somewhat permissive relationship with the mares as far as their movements as a group are concerned. Interestingly, when the moment calls for it, he has their complete attentions and obedience.