Week 8- Stallions!

June 24, 2012  •  22 Comments


One of my very favorite subjects!  I have been anticipating this blog for weeks.  The only thing I'm worried about is that it will be so long that you'll still be reading it *next* Sunday!


They Start As Cute Little Things


I have a handful of favorite young stallions.  I know that part of why they are my favorites is because I have first seen them when they were very young.  The other reason might be because they are so darned cute!


This little colt is from the South Steens HMA.  I was totally charmed by his looks and his precocious attitude.  He was bright, curious and always into something.


Spring 2010







A year later, he was still cute and still precocious.  Even though he was only a yearling, he thought he wanted to be in a stallion band.  He kept running over to check the big boys out.  Fortunately, the band stallion knew he was too young and shooed him back to his band.  He wasn't necessarily happy about that, but he went!












"Maybe if I bite his legs, he'll let me join the bachelor band!"














I shouldn't have been surprised to see him giving his band stallion a dickens of a time this spring.  He was a pest and was disciplined more than once.


A couple of days ago, he tore off the across the hillside to challenge a two year old from another band.  Now, mind you, he didn't challenge an older stallion, but one his own age.  See how smart he is?  This two year old is also giving HIS band stallion and lieutenant a hard time.  It must be a two year old's job!














South Steens HMA, Spring 2012








Family Duties Call

In contrast to all of the boyish antics, you will also see young stallions doing family type activities.




Playing with little brother.


South Steens HMA, Fall 2011















Walking with younger brother...



South Steens HMA, Spring 2010














Or babysitting...


I just love this softness!




South Steens HMA, Spring 2010








Practicing to Be a Band Stallion


But yes, they spend a lot of time practicing to be grown up stallions with their own families.  That means there is plenty of roughhousing going on...




You will see yearlings and two year olds playing roughly.  They can also do it without stopping for a breather.  On and on and on...




McCullough Peaks, Spring 2011


























If it gets too rough, mature stallions will break it up.  Mares will also break it up, usually with just a glare, if the older stallions are getting too close to young foals.


In this case, the gray yearling was from another band.  The black stallion let it go on until he thought it was too rowdy and then intervened.









As you might remember from an earlier blog, occasionally a young colt will decide to challenge a mature stallion- even one from another band. 


The yearling colt is "mouth clapping".  This is mostly done by young horses to older stallions to indicate they don't want to challenge. 


I thought he was pretty darned brave to do this, but all turned out fine.  He ended up rough housing with the yearling from the red roan's band.  More his size!!


Wyoming, Spring 2012






Here is another example of a young stallion mouth clapping as a mature stallion approaches him to check him out.



South Steens HMA, Spring 2012












As an aside, older stallions will yawn to another stallion when walking by.  This is to show a relaxed non-confrontational entry when entering his space.



Utah, Spring 2012










Bachelor Bands



Somewhere around the age of 3, stallions will leave their natal (birth) band.  They join with other stallions and usually stay with them until they get their own harem.  The average age for a stallion to get a mare or a harem is ten years old. 


So, they hang out with the boys for years!


Utah, Spring 2011








The size of stallion bands varies from two stallions to well over a dozen.  The largest we've seen is 14 bachelors. Now *they* can raise a ruckus!!



South Steens HMA, Spring 2012




This is one of the prettiest bachelor bands that we've seen.  They were also very fun to watch!          

McCullough Peaks HMA, Spring 2011





Utah, Spring 2011















Of course, these stallions were "practicing" to get their first mare- constantly!  They were really fun to watch.  There was never a dull moment...


This photo is from the spring of 2010.  It was much to my pleasure to see most of these stallions had their own harems this spring.


South Steens HMA, Spring 2010








Stallions can also peacefully coexist, such as these three South Steens stallions sharing a mineral lick. 


The black stallion now has a very large harem.  The chocolate silver (middle) is with three other bachelors. We haven't caught up with the bay yet this year.


South Steens HMA, Spring 2010







Stallion bands tend to hang out on the edges of the larger herd or other family bands, observing and learning.  As you probably remember, they will come into the waterhole after the other bands and even stallions with a single mare.  They know where they rank in the herd!   Utah, Spring 2011






Some stallions will live their entire lives in bachelor bands, choosing to live with their friends rather than fight for a harem.



South Steens HMA, Spring 2010









Some stallions will choose not to join a stallion band at all.  It seems that just about every herd we have visited has had one stallion that seems to prefer to stay alone. 


Most of the time, it appears this is the stallion's choice, though we have also seen a stallion trying to join a stallion band but not being let in by one or more stallions.


Many times, stallions will wander on their own for several days or weeks and then will show up with another stallion or with a small band.  Stallion bands are often in a state of flux, with stallions coming and going constantly.


This white stallion was alone but on the fringes of the larger herd last spring and again this spring.  He didn't show any particular interest in joining in with any of the stallion bands but just followed along behind the other horses.






Finally!  A Family Band of His Own



Whether a stallion has one mare or 14, he has his hands full watching out for them, keeping them safe and keeping other stallions from stealing their family away.



This vigilant stallion had a large harem of mares and foals last spring when we were there (Utah).  There was a gather early this year and he lost all but one mare.  He seemed even more watchful than last year and just a bit unhappy!












Stallions with large bands, like this bay from South Steens (Spring, 2012) more than have their hands full.  Most stallions with this many mares and foals (~14)  have a lieutenant to help them out.  More about that later...














As observers, one of the most entertaining behaviors of stallions is snaking.


Snaking is when a stallion puts his head down and crouches down to move his family.  This rarely involves touching them, though sometimes a gentle nudge with his nose will help things along.  Even the young foals respond, immediately jumping up when the stallion goes into his snaking position.


He might snake them away from another stallion, but it might be to take them in a different direction than they are headed, usually invisible to us.  We've watched mares who want to run away being snaked back to where they started- sometimes, you might recall, even right in front of us!




This foal didn't need a nudge!  The stallion only had to start walking his way, with head down and the foal got up.  This is typical.














Sometimes snaking is going on all over the place!  LOL


All three of these photos are from Utah, Spring 2011













The recently deceased silver pinto stallion from the South Steens HMA.  Fall, 2011















Defending His Harem


Yes, stallions fight, particularly in the spring when mares are in season.  As much as people are uncomfortable with this, it is the way they get mares.  


Injuries from fights can certainly happen; bites, pulled muscles, sprains and even more serious injuries, but they are not as common as most people think.  Most of the time, it is about posturing to the other stallion.  This is a bit like a man flexing his muscles or puffing up to make himself look bigger.  Actually, it's very like that.


There are differences in how stallions tussle with each other.  Youngsters “goof around”, sometimes 24/7.  They are at each other like 10 year olds (I have a couple of that age grandsons, so I know!).  This goofing around is important way for them to stay fit, but also to learn the skills they will eventually need to get a mare or a harem.  Of course, that won’t come too soon, as far as they are concerned!


If these youngsters, say 2 to 4 year olds, are challenged by a mature stallion they will immediately back down, if they don’t go out of their way to avoid it in the first place.  In no way do they have the size or the skills to win that kind of fight and they know it.


More mature bachelors, perhaps 4-10 years old, are usually a little more dignified about it.  Oh, don’t take me wrong, they will mix it up with other stallions in their bachelor band.  It usually isn’t constant though.  It might take an actual bump or some other offense- maybe a glance.  LOL 


Most of the time, I’ve never been able to tell what starts these things.  One moment they are standing side by side eating, the next they are at each other.  These fights are almost never serious and I’ve never seen blood drawn, though I have seen a few bloody aftereffects.  Again, they are important  for fitness and even more important for the “teenage” boys to refine their skills for when they will need them.  Most stallions will get their first mare or harem around the age of 10 years, give or take.  But believe me, they are “practicing” for years before that.


The closer they get to that age, the more serious the confrontations become and they are more likely to challenge a mature stallion.  They may start circling a family band, either alone or with other bachelors, just hoping they can pick a mare off.  Rarely does it work the way they want it to!  They sure can annoy the mature stallions though.  Can you imagine having a bunch of teenage boys just outside your front door all day and all night, trying to get your teenage daughter to climb out the window and join them?  Yep.  That annoying.


Then there are the older, mature stallions.  You won’t often see a mature stallion fighting constantly, though there are some with cantankerous, cranky, picky personalities that seem to go off at the least little thing.  The more mature stallions won’t run off at the drop of a hat though, not if they don’t want to lose their mare(s) to a stallion who is smart enough to take advantage of his absence.  


In spring when the mares are in estrus (in season or in heat), the mature stallions most certainly do fight.  Their hormones are raging and it sometimes doesn’t take much to get them going.  This is not true later in the year (except in the case of PZP, which is another story).  Things are usually peaceful in late summer, fall and winter.


Most stallion rumbles last a few seconds.  It may appear very dramatic if you look at a single photo, but most of the time it isn’t.  It’s all but ignored by the mares and foals about 90% of the time.  If you want to know how serious it is, just watch them.  If they are standing and eating, it’s nothing.  If they run, watch out, the stallions mean it this time.






We have all seen this pose before and most of us love it.    It's often the only thing that happens.  One stallion spies another, races to him and goes into this classic position.




                                                                                                          Utah, Spring 2011














This is three stallions, but two of them seem particularly interested (and offended) by each other.  Yes, we have seen three way confrontations.



South Steens HMA, Spring 2010












This white (gray) and buckskin stallions had "issues" with each other.  The two palominos and the bay roan running into the scene from the left are young stallions from the white stallion's family band.  Every time the older stallion would confront another stallion (which was often!), those three would run up as if to say, "Whatcha doin'?"  or maybe "Is *that* how you do it?"  It was quite amusing.


Idaho, Spring 2012








Another classic posturing move is for a stallion to arch their neck and tuck their head into the withers of the other stallion. This is a way to identify their opponent-by smell- even if they just did this same move a half an hour ago!


This is almost always accompanied by loud "squealing" and pawing at the ground.



Idaho, Spring 2012





Sometimes the confrontation will end right there.  Other times, it will escalate to something more.





Aggressive behavior toward other stallions is largely confined to spring.  When things settle down in late summer and fall and into the winter months, those same stallions that fought all spring are suddenly best friends.  One of the concerns with the use of PZP (Porcine Zona Pellucida Vaccine, an injectable birth control) is that mares cycle monthly.  This keeps the stallions fighting longer into the year.  



Bringing Up Baby


Stallions have a very bad reputation.  One of the things I have heard repeatedly is that stallions kill foals (their's and other's).  Things like this have occurred, but they are very rare.  We have certainly never seen it and I've only heard of it happening once or twice.  In fact, we have found stallions to be extremely nurturing when it comes to their offspring.




This stallion stood patiently by, babysitting the young foal for almost an hour, while mom went off to graze- and get a few moments peace.



South Steens HMA, Spring 2009












This isn't unusual stallion behavior, but actually quite common.



Both of these stallions have reputations for being rough and tumble, yet they both are quite content with babysitting.


Souths Steens HMA, Spring 2010









Part of the stallion's job is keeping everyone close and making sure no one gets left behind.  You'll often see them "rounding up" the youngsters; making sure they stay close to the band.  You'll usually see this behavior more frequently from the stallions versus the mares.


This and the next two photos are from the South Steens HMA, Spring 2010

























I have shown this photo to many people and so far, no one has guessed this is a stallion and his foal!














This is another photo that would be likely to be misunderstood.  The gray horse is a stallion, nuzzling his yearling.


These two had a very affectionate relationship.  We watched them all morning.  They played together and the stallion allowed the yearling to jump on him, bite him and pull his mane, unmercifully.  We didn't see him get impatient even once.  He had the patience of Job!


Sand Wash Basin, Spring 2011






















This is about the place where I would be telling him to "take it elsewhere."  LOL














This is another favorite of mine- and Mary Ann's too.  I've never had a person correctly identify this.  It is two stallions walking with a young foal.


I love Mary Ann's description of this- Dad and uncle are taking the youngster on a "field trip."  The foal is keyed into the stallions, mimicking their head and ear position and the two stallions are also keyed into him.  



I just love what this represents!

Nevada, Fall 2010






We have seen so many examples of tender stallion behavior.  In fact, according to Mary Ann Simonds' research,  90% of interactions between stallions and their families were nurturing behaviors.  


The stallion is on the far right with his nose tenderly on the back of his foal.


Kigers, Spring 2007







The concept of lieutenants was a new one to me.  But once you understand the concept,  it make perfect sense.


Kiger Mustang M7574

It all started with this photo that many of you will recognize as our Facebook profile photo.


These are two Kiger stallions.  We first saw them in the fall of 2005.  There was no doubt that the band stallion was the dun on the right.  However, when we came back the next spring, the black stallion was the band stallion.  What in the world was that about?


I emailed Mary Ann Simonds and explained what we had seen.  She told me about lieutenants.


Many stallions, by our observations since 2005, and especially those with big family bands, have lieutenants.  When the band stallion is injured or just needs some time off to recuperate from the rigors of breeding season, he'll turn the band over to the lieutenant.  When he is rested or healed, he'll take over again.


Because the lieutenant is an accepted part of the band, the mares accept him, even allowing him to breed them.  Yes, the band stallion allows him to breed.  We have watched this on several occasions- the band stallion totally ignores the whole thing.


Since learning about lieutenants, we have seen many examples of it.  We've seen some band stallions who have become lazy and fat, watching their lieutenants run after other stallions constantly.  They'll just stand complacently by watching.




Just because a stallion allows his lieutenant to breed, doesn't mean he's always going to be okay with that.  


This palomino was one of those lazy guys, watching his devoted lieutenant chase bachelor after bachelor away.  









This must be his favorite mare and I'd say she is pretty fond of him too - even though she was heavily pregnant, she allowed the palomino to breed her.  Yes, this happens.  Well, the lieutenant thought he should have his turn too.  Nope.  Not today.




Definitely NOT today!


No need to ask who won this very brief skirmish- the palomino!  A few minutes later, they were back to grazing side by side.  There was no lapse in the lieutenant's performance of his duties!  ;-)



Wyoming, Spring 2012











Ahhhh, the famous silver bay and his long time lieutenant.  You maybe thought I wasn't going to include him, didn't you?  ;-)  The silver bay has had up to 14 mares and foals in his harem, and while he is one tough stallion, even he can use the help!    Fall, 2010


Life Changes

Eventually every stallion is going to lose his band to a younger stallion.  It's part of the life cycle, and while it is a hard thing to watch, it's part of life in the wild.  It gives the younger stallions their time in the sun and is important to keeping the gene pool turning over.


Many of you know that this past week in the South Steens HMA,  there is a buckskin stallion in the process of losing his family band to a younger blue roan stallion.  The buckskin was recently injured (he was seen Memorial Day weekend by other photographers and was fine) and is limping badly.  The blue roan is taking advantage of this injury and is harassing him without mercy.  Though we haven't seen him for days, we suspect the blue roan has taken his mares and gone off somewhere.  If so, hopefully the buckskin will have time to heal and fatten back up for winter.  Whether or not he gets his mares back, only time will tell.



South Steens HMA

Spring  2012














We often see old stallions in with bachelor bands and even sometimes in with a family band.  They seem to adjust to their new roles and while some of them remain quite feisty, others seem quiet and settled in their retirement.




Stinkingwater HMA

Spring 2010









Other Cool Stallion Behavior


We have not been fortunate enough to witness many of the extraordinary things that stallions do, but I've certainly heard the stories.  Stories about stallions defending a very young foal from another stallion and then taking it back to it's band, witnessed and photographed by our friend and wild horse photographer, Pam Nickoles.  


You might have seen the story that circulated on Facebook and the internet recently about the stallion that pulled the filly out of the river in Arizona.  If you haven't seen this, it is worth your time.  Get your hanky first, though.



Mary Ann Simonds tells of several young stallions trying to care for an abandoned foal in Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge.


We personally witnessed an older stallion caring for his foal after the mare he had been with for 12 years died.  He would sometimes wander off but always came back to check on his offspring, according to rangers in Pryor Mountain HMA.  


I hope you have all learned some things about stallions.  Maybe your attitude is just a tad different toward these magnificent creatures.  I hope.....




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Other Important Stuff...  

If you liked this blog, you will likely like our DVD on wild horses; Wild Horses: Understanding the Natural Lives of Horses by Mary Ann Simonds, Marty and I.  If you love wild horses, this is not to be missed!  Photos and text are accompanied by the beautiful Native American style music by Grammy nominated musician, Diane Arkenstone.  You can view a trailer and purchase the DVD ($14.95) at http://wildhorsesdvd.maryannsimonds.com/


Proceeds from this DVD help us to stay on the road, studying, documenting and photographing our country's beautiful wild horses.  We thank you for your support.


I would like to give special recognition and thanks to Mary Ann.  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


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Just some eye candy to finish this week off; a few well known stallions and some not so well known.  It's by no means everyone, but I've tried to include some of our favorite stallion photos- and I'll bet you know most of these beauties.  See you next week!



Picasso, Sand Wash Basin HMA
















Pryor Mtn wild horses M7484

















                                                                                                                                           Cloud, Pryor Mtn HMA                                                                






Piceance Creek Wild Horses M112222















Colorado, Spring 2011






Wyoming Wild Horses M126297

















                                                                                                                                           Wyoming, Spring 2012



                                   McCullough Peaks Wild Horses M111631c_square
















                                                                                     McCullough Peaks, Spring 2011



Wyoming wild horses B5019



Wyoming, Fall 2010














South Steens HMA, Fall 2008















South Steens HMA, Spring 2011













                                      South Steens HMA, Spring 2006



RIP beautiful boy...

South Steens HMA, Spring 2010









Barbara Bentley(non-registered)
thanks so much for giving me a horse fix,and the beauty of these magnificent critters in the wild. It feeds my soul.
Thank you so much for all of this information on the Stallions. I just love seeing them in the wild as it should be. I love your site and enjoy all of the photos and these videos you put on to share with everyone.
Amy Morris(non-registered)
Beautiful work. Thank you for sharing!
Jo Mama Kin Furnari(non-registered)
This is BEAUTIFUL...thank you so much for sharing your adventures with these magnificent creatures of GOD! <3
Beverly Robb(non-registered)
This the first time I checked out your blog, after watching you on Facebook for a while. I enjoyed this long post on stallion behavior quite a lot. Thank you for all of your hard work.
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