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!

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)

Zena, Daughter of Zeus

free range horse photography portrait of a weanling filly
The white eye feelers and white whiskers on one side are a unique look.

 

Zeus was the king of the ancient Greek gods, and the god of the sky, weather, law and order, destiny and fate.

This filly does not have a name, but I call her Zena because she may be the last daughter of a great stallion. Also, Zena means “born of Zeus, welcoming; hospitable; friendly, but with the severe burn of lightening. So far she matches that description. Long may she reign.

 

 

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.

Born Strong

 

free range horse photography of a strong young colt
A colt called Freckles.

Some are born strong and others are made strong. Either way, That Herd horses grow up capable. Seven years have passed since this image was taken but he’s still going strong.

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.

Some Days Are Bleak

free range horse photography of an elegant new foal
This filly is very sleek and elegant for one so young.

You cannot close your heart to the things you do not want to face.

What if the things that end–the things that break your heart–ultimately lead to a better version of you? Tragedy brings resilience.

In the years that I have been observing That Herd there have been some losses. Birth and new life is a miracle when everything goes well, a heartbreaking tragedy when complications arise. Also, living a free range life in a wild environment has many unknowns and pitfalls. Sometimes accidents occur, sometimes predation, sometimes medical anomalies. I try to honor the existence of each new life with a blog post, or many, but when lives are lost it can become harder to share their experience and memory. Sad loss stories do not make readers feel good and the purpose of this blog is hopefully more upbeat. I take these losses rather hard, not just the foals but any loss from the That Herd family brings a change to the herd experience.

I usually post information and images about That Herd as a current chronological archive, but this is not one of those posts. Yes, this filly is gone but her short life was documented.

 

 

Beauties

free range horse photography portrait of a mare and foal
These willing subjects make a beautiful mare and foal portrait.

When they just stand there and pose like this, it’s a photographer’s gift. Born during a stubborn rainstorm, this filly spent the first week of her life drenched. She and her mother are basking in the warm sun on this day, the rainy weather long gone. By this time of the year, I grow weary of the incredible dryness and have to remind myself there was once green grass.

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.

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.

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

 

Among Friends

free range horse photography of a handsome grey horse
Looking handsome, a favorite That Herd personality is growing up to be an eye-catching individual.

Horses form close relationships that become subgroups within a herd setting. While it may be anthropomorphic to say horses have friends, they definitely form bonds and make choices within the herd about spending time with favored herd mates. This colt, as a foal, was often entertaining in his interactions with other horses. His personality was inquisitive and social toward not only the other foals but also the adult mares and stallion. Certainly, individual dispositions play a role in this subgroup/friend dynamic. Also, it has been said that horses of a lighter color are often less accepted in herds. There are a couple of theories about why that could be true, but I don’t see that happening as a rule within That Herd.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.