When you go on a trip the length that ours has been, there are going to be lots of unconnected events, little moments in time that are exciting or special or interesting. And that don't seem to fit on a Facebook post or need a blog of their own. So, I am going to put this modge podge of things into one blog. I hope you enjoy these little mini stories...
This little scenario was witnessed and photographed by Marty. He doesn't know what exactly happened here because it happened very fast, but based on what he saw and what I later saw in the photos, I think I can put it together. It might not be completely accurate, but I think it's pretty darned close.
We have seen mares defend their young foals from older foals. We also saw a mare get very annoyed at her yearling when he was roughhousing with another stallion too close to her young foal. She pinned her ears and rushed in and boy, did he quit what he was doing! However, we haven't witnessed a mare get after a mature stallion before.
A little background here...this herd was gathered early this year. All of the family groups were disrupted, except for one, which was surprisingly completely intact. Stallions that had eight mares last year might have one or maybe three and most likely they were different mares than were with them before the gather. One stallion suddenly found himself a bachelor again. So, the family dynamics were different. A yearling would be likely find himself in a band with a stallion that is more or less a stranger. At the very least, he wouldn't be likely to be with the stallion from the band he was born into. I can only guess this is stressful for yearling, particularly a colt.
This beautiful bay roan stallion was quite the scrapper. He defended his family with gusto. Those of you who follow me on Facebook will recognize him.
Apparently, he was offended by another stallion and was beginning to get agitated. The yearling colt, who was standing next to his dam and little brother, saw the stallion coming and is showing his teeth. This is to let the stallion know that he does not want to fight.
The mare suddenly turned around, pinned her ears back and showed her teeth to the stallion. What I don't know is if she is defending her yearling or she is afraid her young foal will get caught in something physical and was warning the stallion to back off.
The stallion is starting to turn away. I don't think I'd want to tick her off, either!
She hasn't backed off one bit but now the stallion is looking down and away.
The stallion twirled and ran off the other way to finish his discussion with the gray stallion, but he didn't do it anywhere near the mare and her offspring.
This all happened very fast, so it was hard to tell exactly what was going on. In fact, all four frames were shot in the same second. However, it was pretty clear he got the message from the mare to take it elsewhere!!
This is a new concept for us. I'm not sure why it is- we've been around a lot of horses in a lot of different places, but this is something new for us.
Head nodding, according to friend and wild horse expert, Mary Ann Simonds, is a horse's way of asking to come into another horse's space. Once in a great while we have noticed a horse nodding to another. But it has not been a common thing.
This was our third trip to Sand Wash Basin and we don't recall seeing it here before. Suddenly though, horses were nodding all over the place. We saw a stallion nodding his head at the the leader of a large stallion band. He had been following them for days and it was clear that he wanted to be a part of the band. That makes perfect sense to me.
Later, we had a couple of horses nod at us. Well, of course, we nodded back. And forth. And back. And forth. Hey....cool!
This family band from Sand Wash Basin took nodding to an extreme though- it was more like head bobbing. They nodded all the way in to the water trough. They nodded at the water trough. They nodded leaving the water trough. This didn't make sense. It was almost like a human with a tic, but the whole band was doing it, including the foals.
Again, I turned to Mary Ann. She viewed the video and commented, "This looks more like the movement horses do to get rid of tiny gnats that may fly up their nose or ears. It may have become a habit with this group as it does with some horses. My TB does it all summer long even when there are no bugs, as he is very sensitive. That is my take on this group -- very sensitive and then the young horses mimic older horses and it becomes a habit."
AHA! Makes sense!
Have you ever thought about all the animals, birds and even reptiles that horses share the range with? Life is abundant out there. The fields and meadows where the horses graze are populated by many other birds and animals. In fact, rather than being quiet, usually the air is filled with the sound of crickets and birds.
Here are a few of the animals and birds you might see with the horses...
Pronghorn Antelope are probably the most common animal you'll see on the range. In fact, it is not uncommon to see them grazing side by side with the horses. They do not eat the same grasses, however.
A couple of years ago, we saw an antelope fawn that had been separated from his mother in with a family band of horses. I don't know how long they were together but it was at least the few days we were there.
Elk are also seen in areas where the wild horses live. They might not be as companionable as antelope but they certainly are seen close together.
Wild horses and elk do have similar diets.
We've never seen deer and horses hanging out together but they do inhabit the same range. White-tailed deer? I'm not sure, but I wouldn't be at all surprised.
Well, this one was a surprise to us! In some high elevations, where there is ample water and the right browse (such as willows), moose and wild horses may share water. They don't have the same diet and I'm fairly certain they wouldn't hang around together, but hey, who knows?
We only saw a splash but we saw a lot of beaver dams and dens. Their dams back the water up and willows and other vegetation grows. Moose come in for the willows. Other animals, such as horses come in for the water and the lush grass that grows around the edges of all that water.
Now, moose and beaver aren't by any means in every HMA (Herd Management Area), and we were surprised too, but it does occur. We saw it!
Other animals include ground squirrels, prairie dogs, fox, coyotes, bobcats, badger and more rarely, cougar and even wolf. Cougar will prey on young, old or sick wild horses, though it is in only a few places that this is even slightly an issue. One I can readily think of is Pryor Mountain. As far as I have heard from wild horse specialists, wolves have not been known to do much more than pass through Herd Management Areas, though they are known to be occasionally in several HMAs.
Wherever there is water, you will find birds. Even in the middle of the desert- or maybe I should say, especially in the middle of the desert!
This is a Wilson's Phalarope and she was swimming in a waterhole that the horses frequent. By the way, Wilson's Phalarope is one of the few birds in the world that the female is prettier than the male. How about that!
I couldn't resist putting this hilarious photo in. It's not a drowned rat but a Long-billed Curlew. I don't think I have to explain where he had been!
He and his mate were nesting close to the waterhole and had three chicks.
I have often heard mumblings about whether or not Sage Grouse and wild horses can coexist. We have seen Sage Grouse in several HMAs and HAs (Herd Areas), so there is no doubt that they do.
Other birds that share the range with wild horses include Golden Eagles, Bald Eagles, hawks of all sorts, many small and large birds such as Western Meadowlarks, Western Bluebirds, Horned Larks and others.
Yes, there are rattlesnakes. This is the first one we saw this year (we saw our second one a couple of days ago).
Rattlesnakes are important for rodent control and will not go out of their way to attack humans. You must have a healthy respect for them and watch out when you are out in dry areas (which is everywhere this year!) but they aren't so common as people might think. I grew up in rattlesnake country, hiked all over creation with my dad and never saw one until I was an adult.
That said, I do wear snake gaiters to protect myself, especially this time of the year!
Much less intimidating and way more fun reptiles include Horned Toads. Here, our friend Robin is gently holding him so you can see his size. Horned Toads (apparently) make great pets and get much larger than this.
Other reptiles include many kinds of lizards and snakes other than rattlesnakes, such as Pacific Gopher Snakes and Bullsnakes.
Sheep graze on several HMAs that we have been to. Generally, it is when they are being moved from winter range to summer range, but they will often spend weeks in an HMA. This is true in Sand Wash Basin and in HMAs in Utah. I am sure there are others, as well.
Last, but not least, cattle share the range with the horses. In all but a few of the HMAs we have visited, cattle have been present.
It is a common misconception that horses and cattle have the same diet. However, horse's diets most resemble an elk's diet, not a cow's.
I hope that gives you a better sense of what it is like out there on an HMA. Filled with birds and wildlife and seasoned with wild horses...
Have you ever seen a horse sniffing the air with his lips turned up? Or maybe a deer or an elk?
We saw this a lot when we were photographing elk, moose and deer, largely because the most common time for us to be out there photographing was during the rut (breeding season). We certainly knew they were smelling girls but didn't know what it was called.
Of course, I turned to Mary Ann, who could explain it in detail for me. I will paraphrase her explanation. The Flehmen response utilizes the vomeronasal organ, a part of the accessory olfactory system for chemical communication. It is used strongly by stallions for reproductive "readiness". It is also used to help process any strange or new smells in both stallions and mares. This may convert or concentrate smell into a sort of "smell-taste" using the vomeronasal organ located in the roof of the mouth of horses.
Everyone seems to enjoy the stallion photos, particularly if there is some action. I was going to save this for my stallion blog. However...
You've stuck with me through all the education stuff. You have generously shared the blog. So, I think you deserve a little reward.
It's hard to show the whole scenario when stallions have their little get togethers. One or two photos really doesn't do it justice, though they might be neat to look at individually. The series from beginning to end tells the whole story, with a little help from a human, anyway.
A lot of you are bothered by stallion fights. I will tell you right now though, stallions are rarely hurt and it is even rarer to sustain a serious injury. It is almost always about posturing- flexing the muscles, so to speak. Making sure the other stallions know you are no push over.
Bachelors, especially young ones, will tussle, sometimes incessantly. One bachelor band was at it just about every time we saw them, which was every day for several hours. They just wouldn't quit. Older bachelors are usually more settled than that but will still posture with each other and "fight."
Older stallions fight to either win mares or to keep their mares. They will fight another mature stallion who is a perceived threat and they will fight a younger stallion that is trying to pick off a mare. Some stallions, usually the older and more mature ones, are more tolerant and don't react too quickly. Others will fly off the handle at the smallest little thing. Sometimes, I swear, it may just be that one doesn't like the look of another stallion.
If you want to know if it is a serious fight, watch what the mares do. If they scatter, it's probably a bit more serious. If they keep eating, sleeping and rolling, it's a situation of "Ho hum. There they go again..."
Most fights last a few seconds. Are you surprised by that? It's a 'flash in the pan." Over in a jiffy.
This series of photos is one mature stallion (gray) who took offense at another (bay roan). I have no idea what started it but it ended like most of them do, with no one hurt. However, this one lasted a bit longer than usual.
It usually starts with one stallion taking offense at another. He will run out to challenge the other and more often than not, the challenge is accepted.
Quite often, this posturing is all there is to it. Both stallions will turn and run back to their bands after proving their masculinity to the other.
But these two decide to take it a bit further.
Suddenly they run over to the gray stallion's band. The mares don't seem too concerned, though the buckskin is moving out of the way.
I'm getting the idea these two really don't like each other. The mares still aren't overly concerned, though they all have their ears pinned.
Now the mares aren't so comfortable with what is going on. This is a much longer confrontation than we typically see.
This isn't play fighting but two stallions who need to prove their strength to the other.
Time to get the mares out of there!
Do you see the bay roan smelling the ground? It's very likely he marked his spot by "creating" a stallion pile (poop!). Generally, the second stallion will "one up" him by pooping on top of his poop. Yep. That's what they do. It's true.
One last word to make sure he really understood...
The gray stallion snakes his mares away- well away-
and the bay roan runs back to his family band, tail high.
I wonder who "won"...
Well, that's it for this week. It looks as if my internet connection is okay and there will be a blog next week. Darn! Just kidding. ;-)
Oh wait! I have a surprise for you. We were talking about birds and animals that share the range with the wild horses. There is one little critter that I forgot to mention. We have seen them on Warm Springs HMA and I would be willing to guess they are on others, since their habitat is dry, open country.
This is not a high quality video, but it is very precious. In 14 years of photography, a good number of them spent photographing birds and wildlife, we have never had this opportunity. It was taken at a distance with a very big lens on the window (we could not get out and set up our tripod), so there is a lot of shaking going on. I muted the sound because it was windy and Marty and I couldn't stop the commentary- it was just so very cool! I hope you enjoy this as much as we did!
There were seven chicks, by far the most we've ever seen. We were lucky enough to photograph five fledgling Burrowing Owls a few years ago but they were all as big as their parents and were not fuzzy like babies (they were also flying already, though not real well). I think, considering how uncoordinated these chicks were, they were newly out of the burrow. While it's not about wild horses, this will be one of the highlights of our trip!
Other Important Stuff...
Many of you know that we partnered with Mary Ann Simonds for our wild horse DVD. I would like to give special recognition and thanks to her. Through the years, she has been an invaluable resource for understanding wild horse behavior. Without her knowledge, expertise and willingness to teach, we would only be guessing at much of what we see. Thank you Mary Ann!
If you would like to learn more about horse behavior, both wild and domestic, visit her website at http://maryannsimonds.com
If you are interested in the Wild Horse DVD by Mary Ann Simonds and us (if you love wild horses, this is not to be missed), you can view a trailer and purchase it here:
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See you next week!