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 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.
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.
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.
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.
This horse is taking advantage of a riverbed with small pockets of shade and a little water. In the dead of summer, he has found some green grass and willow shoots and among the rocks and tinder-dry hillsides. This is one of only a couple of natural sources of moisture, and it’s just a couple of muddy puddles.This region has been experiencing some of the driest conditions in decades. Several years of drought, with a single year of near normal rainfall, followed by another year of very little rainfall, has left this country lacking for water in an extreme way. The ground is so dry and hard at this point, most rainfall during the winter simply runs off. Whatever vegetation that grows is lacking in normal nutrients and wildfires have raged much too close every year for several years. The horses have had to become quite resourceful and adapt to the lack of water and diminished grazing. For several years, natural running water has only existed in this region for brief periods, and only in the late winter months. Because the horses are able to travel great distances, unlike many smaller wildlife neighbors, they have been resilient to the lack of water hardship. They travel, they dig, they use livestock troughs. Finally, now, water must be hauled to allow the horses access to enough water.
This clever horse has found some little bites of green vegetation amongst all the bone-dry hills.
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.
A skirmish breaks out over control of a mud hole between a mare and stallion.
Protagonists are always loners, almost by definition.
A lone wolf in the group, this horse is aloof and wise.
protagonist | prōˈtaɡənəst, leading character or one of the major characters in a drama, movie, novel, or other fictional text. • the main figure or one of the most prominent figures in a real situation: in this colonial struggle, the main protagonists were Great Britain and France. • an advocate or champion of a particular cause or idea: a strenuous protagonist of the new agricultural policy.
These horses are fortunate to have vast acres to roam and explore. I cannot express enough times how this allows the horses to become the very best version of themselves. They are constantly challenged mentally and physically which makes them strong and able thinkers. The foal is annoyed in this moment because his mother will not stand still for him to nurse.
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.
A young stallion has choices when several mares are receptive at the same time.
A very strong newborn who attempted to stand, even when still robed in placenta mere minutes from birth, made balance look fairly easy when he stood up. He didn’t try and fail over and over, he simply stood. He teetered briefly, then wobbled around his mother. What a champ! What a scene to fill a horse lovers heart!
A very large, and very newly born colt, makes his first attempt at standing.
Foals are born with their disposition already developed. This week-old foal makes is clear he will not be intimidated. Several mares and foals were moving about under the shade of a large tree, and any horse that tried to push through this guy’s space got a side-eye-wrinkle-face with the standard head bob and pinned ear warning. This behavior is both a marvel of instinct and giggle-worthy at the shear absurdness of it.
A new foal stands up for himself with a strong attitude and a sour face.
Even though That Herd horses are accustomed to my appearances, sometimes they don’t want anything to do with me. I don’t take it personally when mares keep their distance with a newborn foal. I can respect the enormous responsibility they face. In a free range environment, one cannot be too careful. In this case, her distance makes for quite a wonderful scene. It’s a filly, by the way.
A mare keeps her distance with her one-day-old filly.
A new colt, first seen at about a week old, is doted on by his mother. She is not keen on my getting close, and moves away often. The colt amused me by making a mad face at all the horses, foals or mares, who ventured too close to him. He looks innocent enough in this image though.
A new colt gets special attention from his mother.