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.
… 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 …
Still grieving over the loss of her own newborn many weeks prior, this mare took possession of a newborn filly along with an additional thief-mare for several hours. Every opportunity she got, she swooped in to take control of the confused newborn. In a true wild situation, the outcome for this foal would have been calamitous. Human intervention reunited her with her mother and separated her from the others. Both are doing fine. She is the ninja foal from the previous post.
“I will tell you where there is power: where the dew lies upon the hills, and the rain has moistened the roots of the various plant; where the sunshine pours steadily; where the brook runs babbling along, there is a beneficent power.
–Edwin Hubbel Chapin
That face you make when second place wins the day.
“Is there any instinct more deeply implanted in the heart of man than the pride of protection, a protection which is constantly exerted for a fragile and defenseless creature?” – Honere de Balzac
An old image that I never shared.
A lovely portrait of a beloved member of That Herd.
As the end of the year bears down on me, I am forced to reflect on the past twelve months. 2018 has been fraught with unexpected challenges, both in my personal life, and in my life with That Herd. I have, for many reasons, not spent the time I crave with the horses. There have been some losses, both in my personal life, and in That Herd, that have set me back, made it difficult to be creative. I have experienced a loss of vocabulary related to the horses that has frustrated me and kept me from sharing. My website has been hacked, shut down, recovered, internet inaccessible, images purged, and surpassed my ability to keep up with routine maintenance and improvements. I have many images to share but no words to narrate my feeling about the moments captured. Therefore, I must recommit myself to site maintenance and regular content uploads, for the good of a worthy archive of this community of free range horses who have a story to tell.
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.
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.
First the thundering of the hooves, then the thumping of my heart. Here they come! Bands of galloping, bucking, leaping steeds, one after another until they all circle around. Wheeling and lunging to and fro, they are magnificent.
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.
Distinctive light face patches appeared on the youngest member of That Herd this week.
At this point in his hair coat transformation, he looks kind of like an African antelope, tricolored and long faced. The brown grass completes the African theme.
“I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine … ”
–Nathaniel Hawthorne, The American Notebooks
Summer passes into autumn but our new season simply blends into an extended summer, warm and dry. The spring and summer foals are growing into gangly youths ready to be independent of their mothers.
The very last rays of daylight behind a group of young horses fade as nightfall lands. The first days of fall have continued with hot, dry weather. The horses are scouring the hillsides and and mountain tops for forage before their long treks to the few remaining water sources.
Part of the daily routine for That Herd mares and foals includes the march to water down a dusty path. Also, a late foal is dwarfed by an older sibling in the queue.
The phrase “roll with the punches” is believed to originate with boxing. The term explains how boxers will often angle themselves and move in certain ways to lessen the impact of incoming blows. It has also become a phrase used figuratively to encourage positive resilience. I bring this up because this horse, known as Cricket, has a definite lean-in posture here, and the phrase matches his disposition nicely.
A full water trough, after sucking water out of a mud hole swarming with wasps, is a pleasure indeed. This filly played and played, soaking all her herd mates in the process.
How confident can we be in assessing whether a horse is happy? Happiness may be discerned as a positive state of mental wellness and having a good life. With horses, happiness appears observable connected to their willingness to play, facial expressions, and having amiable relationships with other horses. Access to feed and water, shelter, and room to roam, must certainly also be factors in equine happiness. To me, this horse just looks happy.
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.
Raw, uncut, no-ego, take-it-as-it-comes face of a newborn. These moments, when absolutely everything is a lesson in living, are precious. Nothing inspires thoughts of positivity and hope like a brand new life. Good luck, little guy.