The neighbors that own the acreage surrounding our lot are horse enthusiasts. Currently, they keep a small herd made up of a ginger palomino mare, a pale dun mare (don’t know what the coloration’s called but a black stripe runs down her spine), a white gelding, a palomino gelding, and a yellow dun stallion.
Less than a week ago, the ginger-colored palomino gave birth to a pale palomino foal with a white blaze and one white sock. Watching the equine tyke grow has been great fun. The birth of the colt stirred up the herd. Naturally, they were curious about who had come and wanted to pay their respects. But the dam has been fiercely protective of him, biting and kicking to drive herd mates back. At times, she’s separated herself and the colt from the herd, running with him down into the forested plot behind us to send a message to the others. When she’s done that, they’ve neighed, bugled, and nickered, calling her back, especially the stallion. Despite the dam’s threats, the dun mare has insisted on following, keeping a close if much discouraged companionship with the dam and foal. Eventually the mares rejoin the herd, the dam, uneasily. She stands ready to flash out a hoof or two if anybody gets too close to the colt.
Yesterday afternoon the colt was snoozing on the ground of the middle pasture while his mother grazed her way to a point some distance off, the pale dun mare at her side. The yellow dun stallion, the colt’s sire, was also lying down several yards from the colt. I missed how this happened, but I looked up to see the stallion on his feet charging the colt who was running in terror in the wrong direction, away from his mother. The commotion drew the attention of the colt’s dam and the dun mare, who streaked toward the stallion as two arrows flying toward one heart. With precise and forceful body language both mares placed themselves between the stallion and the colt. They bit, kicked, and postured to drive him back. Then, walking with the colt sandwiched safely between them, they escorted him to the next pasture. The two geldings followed these three, but the stallion, properly chastised, remained alone in the middle pasture.
Later, I looked out to see that the stallion had slipped into the front pasture with the others. The dun mare noticed, too, and quickly herded him back into the middle pasture, nipping his neck and making it clear that he wasn’t welcomed. Then she stayed in that pasture with him, guarding the gateway and blocking his way back in, occasionally moving in a little closer to graze at his side. I think this was not only a continuation of the social drama—that is to say, she was still correcting his behavior toward the foal—but also I had the impression she stayed with him to offset the anxiety a stallion would feel being cut off from his herd. The stallion is heavier and stronger than the dun mare, but where that foal is concerned, her will burns more brightly than his.
As the afternoon wound down, the dun mare let the stallion back in with the others, but at his every movement, very deliberately, she positioned herself between him and the still-united body of mother and colt. I found watching the body language of the horses very interesting. Much is said through eye contact and body posturing; through those gestures, much is understood. Also interesting: the joint, focused intent of the two mares in nurturing the foal, one the mother, taking stellar care of her gangly little offshoot, and the other assuming the chosen role of resolute guardian, not just of the foal, but of his mother, too.