Writing about wild horses isn’t not always easy. To see me in front of a computer, you’d think that someone was getting ready to pull all my teeth out with a rusty old pair of pliers. No matter how much of their society I may think that I understand, they are a very different animal from humans.
Things that wild horses consider perfectly normal and acceptable is not always easy to stomach. Because while I may infinitely prefer the company of wild horses to that of humans, the reality is that I am not a wild horse. They have to survive the harsh winter with its knee deep snow and summer droughts where finding water is the difference between life and death. Wild horse behavior that makes me uncomfortable is a necessity to survival for them.
Striker is the only yearling member of Vimes band. Before we get to her story, we will need a little bit of setup, since I have not written on this band before.
Vimes’ band is a group that has seen great change and yet very little change at the same time. Striker’s sire, Dragon, was the original leader of their respectably sized band. Vimes was the band’s satellite, but he never seemed particularly in love with the position. He wanted to be the one in charge, you see. Vimes patiently stayed in the background. And he waited.
In 2013, that patience paid off. Dragon injured his right knee and went lame. Vimes quickly kicked Dragon to the curb and took control. The mares had no trouble adapting to the new situation. They were used to Vimes, and so long as they were still together as a group, they were pretty happy. It didn’t matter which stallion was in charge because they were still calling all the shots.
In the spring of 2014, Vimes added a new satellite of his own. Bink had previously been a band stallion in his own right with a mare and her son. Marty stole his mare last year and Bink disappeared completely. It was a wonderful surprise to see him show up again alive and well. Though Bink is not the best satelite stallion I have ever seen. That is to say that Bink is something of a micromanager. He is constantly going back and forth keeping the mares in tight formation. The mares do not seem terribly thrilled with him, but in a large group with two foals and a third on the way, having an extra stallion around to keep order is a blessing.
One of my favorite mares in the group is Striker’s dam, Seran. Seran is a nervous, clingy mare. It’s particularly charming given she is the biggest mare in the band in both height and girth. Her size rather diminishes the effectiveness of hiding behind the other mares whilst peering cautiously from behind their rears.
In many ways, Striker is the opposite of her Saran. The two have never seemed particularly close, even when Striker was a foal. While Saran hides and stays firmly in the middle of the band at all times, Striker likes to go out and explore. I would like to think that Striker is a good lead mare candidate, but she’s a little young yet so time will tell.
When I was in White Mountain over Memorial Day, little Striker had an all too common problem, one that all yearling fillies must face. She had entered into her first heat.
True to her personality, Striker elected to go seek out her, ah, available options, if you will. She ended up spending time with Hephaestus’ band. Hephaestus’ band is a particularly stable group. Despite his band all being rounded up in 2011, he reunited with all but one of his mares. When horses are released following a roundup, the mares are released in one big group and the stallions are released in another big group the following day. The ensuing chaos to reestablish order and family bands is difficult, making it nearly impossible for the herd to go back to the way they were before the roundup. That this band beat the odds and reestablished itself is nothing short of miraculous. They are the only band I have found that was able to do it.
Not surprisingly, when Striker came calling, the tight knit mares ignored her. Hephaestus’ two-year old son, Toxa, on the other hand, was very interested in their visitor. Quite interested indeed. Not that Toxa’s feelings counted for much. Whatever led Striker to go to Hephaestus, it sure wasn’t a little upstart two year old colt.
The next morning Striker had returned to her family band. She did not seem terribly happy about it, though. She played with her younger siblings a bit, but kept apart from the rest of the group and was continually looking in the direction of Hephaestus, who was grazing nearby. Vimes and Bink were not forcing her to stay, but they were not letting her just leave either.
After spending a considerable amount of time deliberating, Striker finally decided to take an opening to head back to Hephaestus. What happened next was as surprising to her as it was to me.
Toxa immediately jumped on her. This really upset Striker, who did not seem to understand what was happening, but Toxa was much bigger than she was and Striker couldn’t get away. When he finally removed himself, she tried to leave back towards her family band. But she had caught Hephaestus’ interest as well. Like his son, Hephaestus did not bother courting the young, frightened filly. He also went straight up to her and jumped on her.
Striker was frantic, but again could not remove herself from the situation. While mares can nail an untoward stallion in the chest when they are not interested, there is little they can do once the stallion has jumped on them. Picking up on Striker’s distress, Hephaestus’ lead mare, Kerosene, tried to intervene. But Kerosene was heavily pregnant and simply didn’t have the agility or will power to put any serious effort into coming to Striker’s rescue.
When Hephaestus was done, Kerosene moved between Striker and Hephaestus, offering a measure of protection. Now scene from earlier in the morning had reversed itself. Striker stood staring at her family band, torn with indecision as to what to do next. She clearly did not want to stay with Hephaestus, but leaving was not going to be easy either.
My human heart was breaking for poor Striker. She wasn’t ready to leave her family band, not really, but she was now trapped in another stallions band. That stallion was not showing her the kindness that a yearling in her position deserves. There was no way Saran was going to leave her band to bring back her wayward daughter. Vimes and Bink were not showing any inclination to take her back either. What was she going to do now?
It turned out that there was one member of Vimes’ band who wanted Striker to return. A lone filly marched across the prairie and over to her sister. the littlest roan who could sniffed Striker briefly before grazing beside her, as he had been doing earlier that morning.
It was not long before Hephaestus and Kerosene told the filly to hit the road. But as she left, Striker followed her little sister. Bink pushed Striker back with the group, already being in the general vicinity snaking the filly home. Striker stayed towards the back with the foals, but showed no interest in returning to Hephaestus. Clearly she had enough of that. Bink kept off to the side, letting Striker stay apart from the group and not pushing her forward, allowing her space but not letting her wander too far.
The following morning, Striker was still with her family band who had put distance between themselves and Hephaestus’ band. They were now farther South in the same meadow as Gladiator and Orion’s bands. Striker seemed less restless. She clearly was not going anywhere.
In the human world, what happened to Striker was wrong. Horrifying, really. Ours is a world of definite black and white, and sure there is a gray area too but there are certain things that will never be okay. That makes watching behavior like this difficult. I saw that Striker was upset. She didn’t completely understand what was happening and she definitely wanted it to stop, but she couldn’t make it stop. So in my worldview, I just wanted it to change. I wanted Hephaestus to quit being a jerk. I wanted Kerosene to move her pregnant behind a little faster. I wanted Bink to charge in and take the bands little girl back.
And of course none of that happened. Wild horses don’t think the way I do. There was nothing wrong about what happened. Hephaestus was following his instincts. Sure he could have been a lot nicer about how he went about it, but Striker went over there because her instincts told her it was time to be bred, and that is exactly what happene.
The rest is where survival of the fittest kicks in. It’s not just about strength and survivability to wild horses. An unpleasant stallion will be less likely to keep mares. They will move on to kinder stallions at their earliest convenient. And if a stallion cannot keep mares, he will not be able to pass on his unpleasant disposition to his progeny. Now I’m not saying that Hephaestus is an unpleasant stallion. He is a pretty nice fellow, actually. But he did make an error in judgment. When the time does come for Striker to permanently leave her band, I doubt she will go back to him.
For now Striker belongs with her family, beside a singular little filly with nerves of steel, who cared enough about Striker to leave her own mother to bring her sister home.
Next year, that brave filly will be a yearling, and she will face the same challenges that Striker faced. And thus the cycle will go on. As the wind blows through the sage, so the horses continue onward in this drama called life.
Speaking of drama, I’m heading up to the Pryors pretty soon. So I may not update the blog for a while, but rest assured that when I do it will be filled with chaos. Another hard part about being human is having a life expectancy that is much higher than the horses we come to know and love. Some stories are starting to wind down towards their close. While other stories, like that of Striker or of Pryor fillies like Meriwether & Encore, are just starting to ramp up. It’s an exciting time to be alive, my friends.