In her first hours of life this filly seemed to delight in wobbling around and under her mother repeatedly. This was not the usual foal action of instinctually searching underneath for nursing purposes, this was in addition to that. Head ducked, knees bent and nose pushing forward, the filly explored the belly-canopy of her mom as if it was an obstacle course feature. Maybe the repeated motion was soothing, like a cat being stroked along it’s entire back. Born on a morning of nearly consistent drizzle didn’t dampen her spirit. Even though this was her first foal, this mare was a calm and gentle mother; the filly stouthearted and undaunted even though neither of them knew what they were doing.
Early on a March morning I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. Two mares had given birth a couple hours previous to my arrival. I love observing newborn foals and their million discoveries about life on the outside. During my quiet jubilation at my good luck, a third mare laid down and gave birth to a notably large colt without moving away from the herd for solitude, which is unusual. A perfect morning, cool and sunny and a little breezy allowed for a serene birth and initial 20 minutes of terrestrial time.
The first image shows the colt’s first successful standing moment. Because of his numerous attempts to rise and sort his long legs out to stand, some curious herd mates approached to investigate. The other mare in the sequence is a sweet mare who has been a doting mother in the past. This year, however, she would not be having a foal of her own. She becomes instantly taken by the vulnerable newborn and won’t accept the fact he is another’s baby. Grievously, the orientation of the wobbly foal was directly in between the ensuing aggressive assertions. He was tossed about and when the mares squared off and spun to kick each other with deadly hind hooves I had to intervene. Risking the safety and kidnapping of the newborn was not necessary since I could interrupt the situation. Motherhood instincts are strong and especially so in nature. I have discovered this type of stealing behavior is not rare in natural situations. In the wild, and/or when unmanaged, the outcome for the foal is fatal. Because these horses live in a free range, natural environment they have heightened senses of survival and their innate abilities are strong, but sometimes behaviors can still go wrong.
Ordinary is not a label that fits this colt. He was born with an extra velvety hair coat, a distinctive long face, pale eyes, and a tiny white ear tip with long white hairs.
He is one day old in this image, that was about four months ago. His mother is mostly a loner, she takes to the company of one chosen horse for as long as possible. This year she spends her time with the palomino mare so her colt and this one spend a lot of time together. They are half brothers connected by the same sire and full brothers connected by companionship.
In direct contrast to today’s wildfire and extreme-heat ravaged California, this memory is connected to a glorious California morning in mid April. Mild in temperature and robed in glittering dewy refreshment, the morning was so beautiful and the native grasses so lush, I didn’t discover this new foal for some time. This spring (when removed from the pandemic devastation) was sweet. Sweet for casual observers and a sweet time to be born without fences. Cheers to this colt’s day of birth, a divine day indeed. If days could have halos, this one surely would have.
I had my work cut out for me on the morning this foal was born. Mother followed the herd on a round trip of a couple of miles, over hillsides and through the woods, all in about an hour. There were a couple of opportunities to document some great vistas with a new foal, which does not happen often. The new colt was a trooper, never faltering and never lying down. While I can’t know exactly when he was born, it had been less than 24 hours since I’d seen Mom and she still had baby on board. So, I guess he was not more than several hours old when he accomplished this hike with his herd mates.
The mare off by herself was an indication that she might be hiding a surprise. The tall mustard stalks made it challenging to get a peek at this new kid without getting too close. He was lying quietly in a thick patch of flowering mustard, his mother standing guard above him. Eventually, he stood up and I took a couple quick pics before the mare moved away. Somehow the colt had a puffy eye but he was none the worse for wear otherwise. He was quite a large newborn, so entering this world may have been a bit bruising for all involved. I kept my distance throughout the morning as the mare was needing lots of space to feel comfortable.
With her usual “keep your distance” glare after giving birth, I get the stink-eye from mom. I must admit she was more generous with her distance requirement this year. Usually, she is on the move to disappear as soon as she sees me approaching after she has foaled and she tests the limits of my telephoto zoom lens.
With a determination visible by the set of his jaw, this little guy dutifully maintains close contact with his mother in the first hours of his life.
Many times newly born foals maintain close contact with their mothers, as if they were still connected by a cord. This colt, born May 19, was no exception. He had a very busy morning and seemed a bit flustered with all the complexities of “life on the outside”. Mom was his anchor in these trying hours.
A sea of yellow creates a magical setting for the bonding between a first-time mother and her new baby.
There is a beginning and an end to every journey. Sometimes the beginning and ending are not joyful and the journey is all too brief.
Nature forces us to accept good and tragic outcomes, and that lesson was revisited with this dear foal.
I could see this mare was ready to foal but she waited until I left to give birth. She had a determined little filly who followed her wary mother’s example obediently. I watched with disappointment as they moved away when I approached for many weeks. The filly is one day old in these images. She has grown in confidence and brute strength since she was born in early May. She has a definite spark of defiance about her but she is giving none of that to her doting mother.
Early morning light illuminates a new addition to That Herd. This badass paint mare stacked the deck for her success by covertly stealing some time to give birth and give her foal the first important hours of strength-building before returning to the herd. Her plan to stay hidden lasted all day, and as the sun was setting in the second image she was attentive and alert for the slightest encroachment into her sphere of protection. I had no doubt the foal would be well guarded through the night. By the next morning she had rejoined the herd, on her own terms, having successfully given her new foal a head start on confidence for what was to come.
Last year she had a foal that looked just like her. This year, she has a foal that looks just like the sire. She couldn’t be any more proud.
The color of the grass gives away how behind I am in keeping up with new birth announcements. Now, in the first week of June the grasses are golden and dry. The last days of April brought a couple new foals, this wee filly was one of them. Born to a solid older mare, her small size is nature’s kindness to a veteran mother. Not to worry, the new foal has grown quickly and is as solid as any of her older siblings and definitely holds her own like a champ. The third image shows an older herd mate greeting her kindly while her skeptical mother stands guard over the colt’s manners.
Birth is not only about making babies, but about making mothers as well. New mothers and old mothers contend with birthing risks; in older mares and mares who have had several foals, the risks are higher. Mothers sacrifice their own lives for the lives of their babies; this is a reality as old as time. This sacrifice may come in the form of protection from predators or perceived dangers, or it may come in the form of not surviving postpartum complications. Heroic sacrifice and tragic sacrifice leave admiration or heartbreak in it’s wake.
Participating in creation makes every mare the author of a story full of potential. However. the tragedy of a lost mother cannot be measured, not by the baby, the bystander, nor the new care-giver.
After keeping careful watch and waiting with much anticipation for each mare’s new offspring, I remain ever reverent to the occupation that they must take on year after year.
Proud mares parade their newbie foals.
One colt, velvety and wobbly with a bent ear and the other a sleek model of born-ready foal. Welcome to your new world babies.
These colts are a month old now and the contrast between Day One and Day Thirty is a reminder of just how quickly they grow.
Don’t be fooled by the toucan-esque appearance. Her face is her best feature.
Born on April 11th, she has grown into a sturdy, good natured foal in just a few weeks.
Current pics coming soon.
Truly a newborn, only hours old, she really stands out as a foal that will grow into a horse who makes a statement. She is quite sensible and endlessly loveable.
Mother looks fresh as a daisy after having her first foal, only tousled a bit in the mane. Just look at that soft yet noble expression!
These three foals were born within hours of each other on April 6th. I have written on previous posts for years about the many changes newborn foals experience in a small amount of time.
The challenges to their physical systems, perceptions, and environment are drastic. When three foals are born so close together, it’s impossible to not see some evidence of their dispositions displayed as well.
A break during rainy April days brought three new members to That Herd. And I must say, three very individual behaviors for the first hours in the babies lives.
From womb-world to water-world for this filly. An exciting discovery on a dreary spring morning made the rain unnoticeable.
It was wonderful to observe the quiet nurturing of this elegant mother with her first foal. She is calm and attentive and seems quite enamored.
This newborn filly really wants to lie down but after all that work to stand up for the first time she doesn’t want to risk it.
Also, she needs to be at the ready to follow her mother who has a lot of ideas about creating distance.
All I can do is bow down each year in astonishment to this mare. She is an average sized mare herself, but she successfully gives birth the the largest foals in the whole herd every year. She has an enormous capacity for carrying and birthing very mature babies. Although mother looks rumpled and tired, she bounced back in no time. Feeling sorry for herself is not in her genes. She and the new foal are fine; he was born on the last day in March. There is nothing plain about this colt, no white markings needed; his appeal is inherent. He is regal and casual at the same time.