Fisk doesn’t make much sense to me.
Some of that is normal. Not being a horse myself, they often act in ways that I do not expect, leaving a years worth of puzzles before me. Sometimes it just takes a little time for a Eureka moment to break through. Other times, there is no answer beyond the knowledge that every horse has their own distinct personality and that there are bound to be a few oddballs out there causing mayhem.
Fisk, though… well, I just don’t know about him.
In 2012, Fisk was a bachelor stallion cavorting around with a younger palomino, Noble Sir. The contrast in their personalities was immediately apparent. Noble Sir was friendly, outgoing, and playful. Fisk was wary, cranky, and just wanted to be left alone.
I guess it is not too surprising that the opposites did not stay attracted for very long. By spring of the next year, the dynamic duo had broken up. Noble Sir joined up with Doc Holliday and Gus. Fisk in turn, found a new role in life as a satellite for Texas Jack’s band. A satellite stallion is a second stallion (or 2nd, 3rd, & 4th if you are in Condor’s band) that agrees to fight the primary stallion’s battles and protect the mares from outside threats. In exchange, the satellite stallion gets to be a part of the band and participate in all social interactions short of actually breeding a mare. I have seen some permissive band stallions allow a satellite to breed, but this is definitely the rare exception and not the rule.
Really? Not a single tear? This upsets nobody else? Well, okay. That’s a bummer.
Texas Jack had also been a bachelor for a while in 2013, though I suspect that he acquired his mare Dakota Rose later that summer. He disappeared for a while – quite common behavior for a stallion trying to win the loyalty of a new mare.
Satellites are as common as sage grouse in White Mountain. Thanks to the BLM, the stallions far outnumber the mares – 1.8 stallions to every one adult mare in the herd. In order to stay ahead of the competition, most stallions need a satellite if they want to keep a mare for more than a month or two.
Now I’m not going to say that Texas Jack could have made a better choice for a satellite, but well, I guess I just said it. A satellite stallion has to be a horse that the band stallion can trust. Most band stallions will choose an older satellite, one who is wise but just weak enough to not pose a threat to the band stallion. Another option can come when two younger, more inexperienced stallions team up to win mares together, where they would have failed as individuals.
I suppose that Fisk and Texas Jack would fall into the latter category. Except for the part where Fisk doesn’t really care too much Texas Jack. In Fisk’s defense, he seems to hate everybody, so mild dislike is about as good as Texas Jack is going to get. Texas Jack just shrugs it off as part of Fisk’s personality, as far as I can tell.
For a while, it was not clear which of the two stallions was the band stallion and which the satellite. Texas Jack is by and large, an easy-going stallion; the kind of stallion who is content to sit back and let Dakota Rose go wherever she feels like. Fisk, on the other hand, is one giant ball of anxiety and paranoia. If a crow so much as twitched within a half-mile of Fisk, he would get twitchy and ultimately snake the band away to safer ground.
If Fisk was a human, he’d probably spend all his time in a cozy underground apocalypse bunker.
Fisk’s attitude became both a curse and a blessing after Dakota Rose gave birth to a gorgeous little filly in August. New foals can cause a lot of problems for a stallion, or rather, the mare coming back into heat causes problems. Dakota Rose was still weeks away from coming back into estrus, when bachelors started coming out of the woodwork.
That’s perfectly natural and all part of the cycle. It happens in every herd, though it is less extreme in herds that the BLM has not jacked up. From a biological point of view, it is natural selection, in which only those stallions who are healthy and strong will be able to succeed in passing on their genetics. That way the species as a whole can continue to thrive. Horses aren’t capable of thinking about it in those terms, though. To a roving bachelor, it’s all about the scent of lady carrying on the wind from miles away. Testosterone and ego convince them all that they are the awesomest stud around and that lady will be theirs.
This attitude lasts about as long as it takes for the bachelor stallion to arrive at the scene and he realizes that a) the band stallion could probably eat him for breakfast and b) there are another five stallions ahead of him in line, who are also fully capable of taking him down. After some brief scuffles, the bachelors seem to mostly fall into an orderly line according to the basic hierarchy.
The toughest bachelor stallions dog the bands every step and take on the satellite and band stallion themselves. The weaker bachelors will straggle behind, looking for an opportunity to get lucky and maybe outsmart the stallions ahead of them. The stragglers usually stick to in-fighting and positioning with each other. and it is rare to see any serious interactions between the stragglers and the band stallion.
I am not going to say that the bachelors were stalking the band like hyenas, vultures, or sharks, because those animals get an unfair wrap. So instead our simile will be that the bachelor stallions were circling their prey like orcas. Orcas are stupid jerk faces!
After the entourage arrived, the list of contenders, in order of their odds of success looked a little something like this:
5/6. Scout & Red Cloud
Logically, Scout & Red Cloud should be ahead of Compass, but I just cannot take those two seriously. They’re like the White Mountain equivalent of the Hardy Boys – two brothers that keep running head first into danger and mystery because they’re too stupid to stay in school at get an education.
But wait a minute. Why is Fisk on that list?
Fisk was still very much the satellite stallion. Texas Jack allowed him to remain with the band, and Fisk was proving himself very useful. In fact, he was almost a little too useful. Fisk would run off to dispatch a bachelor long before Texas Jack even registered the threat. Now that is one useful satellite stallion!
On the flip side of that coin, Fisk became untrustworthy. He was just as likely to scuffle with Texas Jack as he was to have a row with Arturo. And because Fisk was so good at getting other stallions to back off before a true fight could start, he was just as healthy and strong as Texas Jack, with nary a scrape or cut.
Texas Jack was already in a precarious position, with a week or two to go before Dakota Rose actually came into her heat. If only he had found a better satellite stallion! One who would be faithful and true, who would let himself get beaten half to death so Texas Jack could enjoy the all the spoils!
So now that I have you at the edge of your seats, I guess it’s time to reveal who won in the end, right?
Drum roll please…
Shrug. I dunno.
I know. I know. Talk about wasting your time! All that reading and not even a little payoff!
What can I say? Welcome to the world of wild horse watching in real time! Texas Jack and the crew weren’t around when I got back up there in October, so I will all have to wait til Spring to get an idea of what transpired. I can say this: I spotted all of the challengers through binoculars, and they are all still bachelors. Dakota Rose, Texas Jack, and Fisk were nowhere to be seen. The odds are good that everything settled back to an equilibrium after the mating period ended, and that the adult trio are still together taking a much needed break from the core group in central White Mountain. But who knows? They easily could have fought enough that one of them has Dakota Rose and the other is off licking his wounds and gearing up for a wild spring in 2015.
I don’t get Fisk. Maybe I never will. The challenges with studying wildlife behavior is that you can never truly account for how individual personality effects decisions . It is easy to make generalizations about what is supposed to happen; what’s “normal” for wild horses. Then a horse like Fisk enters into the equation.
He really is a terrible pick for a satellite. He is Texas Jack’s equal and as such he does not respect the other stallions authority. Dakota Rose doesn’t seem to like him. Was Fisk accepted as a satellite because Texas Jack recognized that Dakota Rose was not going to allow any Fisk-sized shenanigans?
But if that is the case, then why would Fisk continue to stay with this band? What is his angle? He is strong enough that he could find a way to win a mare of his own without Texas Jack. Surely there is a mare out there who would be more forgiving of the quirks in his personality? While I have a hard time understanding it myself, there are mares out there who prefer a more tightly wound stallion like Fisk. Strict though he is, stallions like Fisk can make really great fathers. A newborn foal has a much greater chance of survival with a stallion who is hyper vigilant to threats, because life changes fast out there and something that seems minor could spell disaster for a little one.
Now of course I don’t have any answers. How could I? My brain does not operate the same way that Fisk’s does. My head is all organization and numbers and words. Fisk’s head is emotional and reactionary creature of the present, filled with sights, sounds, and smells.
He doesn’t really need to have a tangible reason to care about his current family, or at least, to care about Dakota Rose. Whatever had led him to this place, Fisk is handling things his way. Sure, his fuse is a little shorter than Texas Jack or some of the other stallions, but man would it be boring if horses were exactly the same! Fisk’s attitude does not have to make sense to me, because it makes sense to Fisk. A horses anger or aggression is not the same as a humans. They allow their instincts to react to a threat, and once it’s over the all is forgotten and forgiven.
And if that isn’t enough to make you jealous of a horse’s outlook on life, consider this: horses also don’t need external validation the way humans do. Yeah Fisk can be a little uptight and cranky compared with other White Mountain stallions, but why should he care? That’s just who he is. There is something so simple and yet incredibly profound about the way horses accept themselves and others, even humans, just as they are.
So I say party on Fisk. You do you, buddy. Let those emotions fly and live your life.