Well, I found Gladiator.
And maybe we should just get this out of the way right off the bat: Gladiator is a terrible band stallion.
No really. I love Gladiator, but he is simply dreadful at his job. I cannot blame Fibonacci, Belle, and Spitfire for finding a different stallion to join.
But maybe I should start at the beginning.
There was insane levels of rain while I was in White Mountain. So much rain that travelling down the two track roads in the South, where Gladiator stays, was impossible. I tried a couple times as they started to dry out, and my efforts almost got me back every single time. You can still find horses along the main roads in White Mountain, but if you are looking for particular bands, taking away the two-tracks is like being cut off at the knees.
As my time in White Mountain grew short, I began to despair that I would not find Gladiator at all. I had just accepted that fact when I noticed a dark silhouette under the power lines of one of the transmission towers. My binoculars could not make out who it was, but I still knew right away even without visual confirmation. Gladiator, being Gladiator, decided to show up just to prove me wrong. He probably did it just to spite me.
Gladiator managed to hold on to half of the Goonies! Hooray! Okay, so maybe two of the three remaining Goonies are boys, but he still has Verity and she is a filly. It counts! He is still technically a band stallion!
In many ways, it seemed like Gladiator cutting his losses was best for everybody. Gladiator looked much more relaxed and happy. He let the Goonies wander where they pleased, and his trust was not misplaced. Even though they were not attached at Gladiator’s hip at all times, they still followed him like adorable baby ducklings. In return, Gladiator cared for them – scratched their withers, helped swat at their flies (Verity’s tail is pretty much non-existent), helped them feel safe. His lackadaisical attitude with the kiddos was much closer to the Gladiator I was used to seeing, compared with how busy the larger band had kept him in the spring.
I stayed with the band for the rest of the evening. I wish that I could say that my psychic vibes were sending up red alarms and telling me to stay. They weren’t (I’m not really psychic). The reality is that I was waiting for a story. I was looking forward to sharing my Gladiator sighting with all of you, but let’s face it, letting my story end right here with “I found Gladiator and it was great”? Pretty dull. And this is Gladiator we are talking about! Dull is just not his style.
As the evening continued, I noticed that Gladiator was continuing gaze off towards Reimann’s band, which was a ways off to the South. They were far enough away that there wasn’t a reason for Gladiator and Reimann to cross paths. On the other hand, Reimann has Fuego dogging/maybe acting as a satellite. Fuego and Gladiator have something of a history – one that I’ve seen play out several times, but still don’t fully understand.
Now I’ve seen that look in Gladiator’s eyes before. Two hours after I initially spotted Gladiator, I knew why I was staying around so long watching the kids nap. When Gladiator gets that look, it is always worth your while to follow him closely.
Then the sun fell behind deep cloud cover. Naturally.
So let’s just say that if you are only here for the photography (and boy have you ever been in the wrong place if that’s the case), then you’re going to have to accept some less than stellar shots that have been heavily edited just so you all can make out which dark blob is which. My camera is the most wonderful, amazing camera a girl could ask for, but low lighting is its Achilles heel.
Gladiator strode towards the bachelor stallions with purpose at first, before stopping suddenly to itch his chin on a gas pipeline post. Well, at least he has his priorities straight, right?
With his itchy chin alleviated, the bachelors were just starting to notice Gladiator’s presence. They were a little slow on the uptake, since it took Gladiator trotting over to say how do you do for any of them to recognize that they weren’t alone, but given how few of the horses are in this area right now and how abnormal that is for this time of year, I’ll forgive them. The Goonies had followed Gladiator. The two half-siblings, Verity & August, stood dutifully by the post while Hawkeye followed Gladiator to assess the “threat”.
Wonderful, amazing, and downright responsible surrogate father that Gladiator is, he let Hawkeye take on the two bigger bachelors while Gladiator himself farted around with Mal. Mal is an older, skinnier stallion and definitely not the biggest threat in the trio. Hawkeye was summarily manhandled, and the two bachelors breezed past the two-year old towards Verity & August.
Verity was not too fond of the interlopers, and Hawkeye did his best to stay between the stallions and his little sister from another mister. Big surprise – a two year old cannot be expected to successfully keep two experienced, full grown stallions away. Neither can a yearling. Little August was pushed around by one of the bachelors, much to his dismay. August is on the smaller side (he is an August baby, after all), and is still young enough that he avoids confrontation with older stallions, preferring to horse around with fellow youngster Hawkeye.
Gladiator got his act together (sort of) and raced back to his band. He snaked the Goonies away and chased Mal off for good.
Now the story could have ended here. But it didn’t. Fuego, sort-of nemesis that he is, decided to come over and see what all the fuss was about. Unable to resist yet another chance to fight, Gladiator left the kids again to meet Fuego. His faithful Goonies followed their ridiculous band stallion over. With Gladiator acting as both the band stallion and their lead mare, they did not know any better but to follow him. Or maybe they just wanted front row seats to the show.
Fuego was easily subdued. Gladiator chased him off, seemingly angry that Fuego encroached on his turf and was near his Goonies. Let’s just ignore the part where Gladiator is the one who started it with Fuego, shall we? Oi. Fuego headed over to assess the bachelors himself.
At this point, Reimann had also decided to leave his mare to come over to the party. As the stronger stallion of the duo, Reimann was better equipped to handle Gladiator. Also, I think Reimann was getting a little bored watching from the sidelines.
This eventually ended peacefully as well. Gladiator was clearly not planning to try and steal Reimann’s mare, and Reimann was not interested in Verity. Of course, Reimann still had to go say hello to Verity anyway. Verity was not pleased to have yet another stallion sniffing her, and did not telling Reimann so.
Gladiator moved in and pushed himself between Reimann and Verity – proving that he wasn’t a complete moron. You have to be chivalrous in these kinds of situations, after all, and help out your
little curvaceous lady. Yet while Gladiator was willing to step in to ask Reimann to back off of Verity, who are more than capable of taking care of herself, he still seemed unconcerned with his two boys. Hawkeye unhappily found himself facing yet another stallion, while Fuego drove August away from the band for reasons unknown.
This seemed to be the final straw for Gladiator. Never mind that he’s the one who started all this nonsense in the first place! Gladiator snatched up his two boys and snaked the Goonies together. Oddly, he started to push them towards the bachelor stallions. Hasn’t he had enough yet?
By this point, Elaine and her colt had also ran over. Together, the two groups galloped off in the wrong direction. There were plenty of other directions they could scatter, and I could not get my head around the fact that both groups were running side-by-side towards the bachelor stallions. You have over 300,000 acres to roam here kids!
After a temporary game of paralell chicken, Gladiator backed down and chased the Goonies in the opposite direction. Even once they were away from any other stallions, Gladiator kept pushing them further and further South. He was not going to take any chances of further encounters.
So to recap: Gladiator started a fight which caused a lot of trouble for all three of the remaining Goonies. He let Verity get sniffed by four different stallions. He left a two-year old and yearling in charge of protecting his filly. Gladiator left the band wide open for another stallion to sweep in and steal multiple times in the course of ten minutes.
It doesn’t take much imagination to see how he lost Fibonacci, Belle, and Spitfire. Is it really surprising that a stallion with such an attitude would lose three mares to two different stallions? Or that it has taken so long for him to get a band in the first place? Should I now pretend to be surprised that the band he did manage to acquire still does not have an adult lead mare, aka someone who would know better than to put up with Gladiator’s nonsense? Nope. Not really.
Now, I love this horse. That will never change. He could be the worst band stallion in all creation – and believe me, I’m not ruling that out – and I’d still put him on the top of my list of horses to check on each trip. If anything, I feel so blessed because this incident helped me understand Gladiator so much better. In three hours, his strengths and weaknesses were all laid out in the open for me to see.
He is good-hearted and kind to his kids. How many band stallions would take two lost colts under his wing? Gladiator has clearly won the loyalty of all three youngsters who still follow him.
But Gladiator is also a warrior, and he has shown that he is willing to put his new family in danger just to satisfy his need for a fight.
All stallions have their strengths and weaknesses. As a human, it’s easy for me to idealize these horses and to see each one as this perfect entity – a real life personification of freedom and independence. Yet each and every one of them has their own flaws to contend with. They are not always wise or noble or kind. They make stupid decisions. They can be petty and bicker within their families. Some horses are too aggressive and others too passive. Some stallions and mares can be distant and unaffectionate. Others are willing to fight constantly for a position in the herd that they may not deserve. Still others are uptight micro-managers that force unhappy mares to move constantly from one place to the next.
Even with all of his weakness on full display, the Goonies still chose to follow Gladiator. They followed him towards danger. Yes, everything about wild horse society is temporary but for right now, this unlikely quartet has decided to band together as a family. They won’t always agree and they won’t always be happy with each other, but have you ever met a family that got along 100% of the time?
They may not be perfect animals, but those imperfections are what makes each wild horse beautiful and special in his or her own way. Stallions must find a way to adapt and compensate for their weaknesses. Mares must learn where they belong. They spend their whole lives finding families that will accept them, faults and all. Each stallion has to discover his own path; create a story in his own voice. They have to find mare(s) they like and who will like them back, and once they manage to form a band they will have to work constantly to keep that family.
I love the wild horses all the more for their flaws. No, they are not these infinitely wise, majestic creatures. They are better than that. Each horse has their own personality to discover, with a unique reason to love them as an individual. And maybe, knowing that horses screw up and act like idiots helps me to forgive myself and others when we screw up too.
Gladiator is not a terrible band stallion. He is not a particularly great band stallion, but he is trying his best. Maybe he will grow and change as experiences continue to shape him. Maybe he won’t. Maybe he will keep the Goonies, or maybe they will slip away. There are so many maybes in this world, aren’t there?