Hello horse lovers! From a colt’s perspective, I have a good life which is as close as nature intended for horses. I was born under a spreading oak in the dawn of a new day. My mother is an expert at protection and safety and keeps a watchful eye on me. She is heavy with fresh milk and takes me to rest in the shade on warm days. There are plenty of herd-mates to keep me entertained and trained in the social ways of equines. Unless the herd is on the move, I can rest when I want to, and buck and play whenever my energy is up. I rarely see a fence and California wildlife lives and moves all around me. It is rarely too cold or too hot. I can browse on a variety of native grasses and flora. Water is provided for me or I can drink from a lake reservoir. I was born sturdy and am learning to be resourceful. Uneven and varied terrain is no problem for my travels, I am learning to be brave and sure-footed in every circumstance. There is a never ending parade of wonders for me to observe and investigate each night and day. My mind and body are in constant training and I bring joy to each and every human that is lucky enough to visit my life. I will live and learn with constant equine relatives and companions for all my years with That Herd.
Life is good in wide open spaces!
In an open meadow, with no place to hide, one does the best one can.
Are they wild? No, but they live as if they were wild. That Herd horses are free range horses. They are privately owned and lightly managed. The horses mainly exist with no assistance quite well. When there is a need, the rancher steps in to administer care or support.
Can you pet them? No, but they are often approachable. For the most part, consider them wildlife with all the considerations that goes with encountering a wild animal.
Do I cue them, use rewards or treats, or try to alter their behavior in any way to get the shot? No, but there have been occasions when I intervened when a newborn foal was in danger.
Do they roam freely? Yes! Their territories are fenced, but most of the spaces they live in are hundreds, or thousands of acres bordered by private ranches or federal lands.
Do the mares live with a stallion? Sometimes, but the stallion is not part of the herd year-round.
Do they spread wonder and joy to anyone who is fortunate enough to observe them? Yes, always.
It is common for the foals, from their first day, to traverse all of the rolling countryside where That Herd roams, even steep ascents and descents.
This duo popped up out of a deep canyon to an early sunny horizon. The filly is greeting her second day with sturdy determination.
After a morning of labor and birth, this mother needs to lie down and pass the placenta. Freed from her internal burden of several months and the bright morning sunshine, she is not easily roused. The foal, a filly, was energetic and bouncy right away and persistently and almost comically circled, nickered, and leaped about in an effort to unlock the mystery of her low mother.
I cannot seem to put into words how beautiful these little moments are. His journey has begun.
He has arrived safe and sound, but whoa, was he ever pooped from his journey. A bit of a slow start, but he is doing fine.
Like a lucky omen, this filly has lifted our spirits and excitement for what is to come.
True to That Herd form, she has already crammed a lot of living into the few hours since her birth.
Every mother, no matter what species, no matter maiden or veteran, has the burden and gift of either extreme fierceness in the face of dreadful odds or crushing fragility.
I say it every year, and I’ll keep saying it, the miracle of bringing a new, healthy life forth is an enormous feat. Some mothers gracefully succeed and some do not.
May the blessing of safe journeys be a reality for each of us. May we be met with compassion if our journeys are tragic.
This gelding thinks his been gifted a band of mares for his very own.
Sadly, these beauties are heavy in foal and this is as close as he is allowed to get.
A mare who is no longer with us and her first foal. She gave us many memorable moments.
Sorry to disappoint you but this is an image of a newborn colt from last year. The first 2022 foal of That Herd has not arrived yet.
Shrouded in mist, the tall trees ghosted in the background, and wet from dew to our knees, both the foal and I considered each other. His mother was paying attention and was just out of frame but this new colt kept her on her toes. He was thrilled to explore and breathe deeply and tiptoe through the grass.
I challenge you to not feel better by simply viewing this image. Time spent outdoors experiencing natural settings, even in urban areas, has been proven to improve pleasant feelings, and reduce anger, stress, and depression. This particular outdoor experience was sweetened by the good-natured company of an audacious explorer.
I’ve been putting some thought into aggression verses violence in wild animals. Looking at horses in particular, there is limited research available on violence in feral, free-range, and wild horse behavior. It’s either under reported or not observed often. Domestic horses–stallions in particular–have documented aggression and violence toward both horses and humans, but in this case I’m not referring to under socialized, confined, or mismanaged horses. I am interested in the difference in aggression and violence as separate behaviors in free range stallions with mares that don’t have to compete with other stallions to keep their mares or territories.
Aggression has been explained as a behavior motivated by the intent to cause harm to another who wishes to avoid harm.
Violence is a subtype of aggression, of a physical nature, with the intent to kill or injure another.
Interestingly, both aggression and violence are rarely motivated by anger. While anger can be managed and channeled, aggressive behavior can compound, meaning aggression and violent actions often increase the likelihood of more aggression in the future. Acting out with aggression and violence does not reduce aggressive impulses. There is no “honeymoon period” after a violent blow-up like with losing your temper and releasing that stress. Because of this, it is wise to assume that once aggressive and/or violent behaviors are observed, it could happen again repeatedly.
In David and Goliath scenarios, there is no hope for the weaker or smaller victim. They will be injured or killed.
Certainly a variety of factors can determine the degree of these behaviors. In feral horses, for example, I would point to hormones, frustration, seasonal stresses or sharing space with peers with aggressive tendencies. If one, or all, of any variety of these factors is removed, a shift in personality often can and does take place but one should expect repeat occurrences if some element changes again.
There is a foal portrait on the Home page of this blog. I call him the whiskers foal. Well, the big horse in this image is the whiskers foal all grow up. I love that I have known many of these horses their entire lives. I am their biggest fan. These two horses found me in a wooded area at dusk just poking around. Their herd mates arrived right behind them and we mingled and marveled at how quickly the night chill closed in.
” … and suppose that a wild little Horse of Magic came cantering out of the sky, … ”
–Walter De La Mare
I think they would rather run me over than the cactus if it came to that.
When the young horses come in with open expressions of interest, you know you have to be on your toes. I don’t mean that in a bad way, it’s just that they are brimming with curiosity and energy. A break in the daily routine is a welcome opportunity for the colts to gain confidence and hone their ability to read a situation. When I am “the situation” they gather around using the group for bravery, and use all their senses to glean whether I’m friend or foe. It just takes one individual’s doubting moment and over-reaction to send the gang spinning away only to stop short then return from a few feet away, their intense curiosity intact. It’s in that moment of reeling away that care must be taken to avoid being trampled, bumped, or stepped on. These coming two-year olds are leading their pack of peers in to investigate. Close proximity is tolerated by most, but touching is not.
“To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and water exhilarating;
to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter; to be thrilled by the stars at night;
to be elated by a bird’s nest or a wildflower in spring–
these are some of the rewards of the simple life.”
Wild horses and domestic horses are genetically the same. Roaming freely, living in herd groups, and foraging for feed and water are all
actions natural to horses. The majority of stabled and confined horses would adapt to a free range environment if given the opportunity.
Even the new foals that horse owners often over-protect are quite capable of stamina and social interactions from the first hours of birth.
The first day for this filly was filled with roaming surrounded by herd mates, and varied terrain. She is quite content after a full day of life lessons, resting on a hillside with her mother standing guard.
“Getting dirty is the whole point. If you’re getting dirty, that means that you have traveled to where there is no pavement.
When you sojourn into such terrain, you greatly up your chances of experiencing some full-on wild nature.”
–Nick Offerman, Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living