The process of learning

6 03 2011

Relationships matter most …

Duke napping in the early morning sunshine with Hook’s band behind him.

Cuatro with Hook’s in the background. This was the beautiful sunshine we had early in the morning after sunrise before the cloud band came up.

Steeldust’s band – which I’m going to start more appropriately calling Luna’s band henceforth – was off to the northwest – watching Hook’s and Duke’s bands when I first saw them. Another band I wanted to visit was farther east, and I had been thinking about how I was going to visit both (so greedy) when Luna’s started coming toward us. The first evidence of this was Steeldust chasing Mouse.

It caught the attention of all of us:

Hook’s watching Steeldust and Mouse.

Hook’s watching Mouse and Storm bringing up the rear. You can see we’ve now been covered in shade while the east-west hill and north(ish) hills are still glowing in sunlight.

I thought it was particularly interesting that Gideon followed Alpha … mama Luna and Butch were up ahead. Steeldust is most likely his sire, though Butch has claimed Luna since a little before Gideon was born.

Duke and the boys watching Luna and Butch …

… watching Alpha, Gideon and Steeldust.

They came down almost to the bottom of the arroyo … where Luna apparently decided it was time for a nap and everybody stopped.

Then it started to get interesting (!):

Storm caught up and walked down past mama and Luna and the others, crossed the arroyo and headed up toward …

Duke, Twister and Cuatro. Twister waited till Storm was on his side, then walked down to meet him.

Typical first greeting … (and I don’t think this is actually the first time they’ve met) …

Getting right down to business …

Cuatro followed very quickly …

A different greeting with a younger colt …

Twister takes the rear, Cuatro takes the front! From left, Twister is almost 4, Storm will be 3 in July, and Cuatro will be 2 in May.

They started with a little of this …

They know right where to aim, but note their ears – relaxed.

Check out the shoulder-check. This is what I was talking about in an earlier post. Now check these out:

From the shoulder-check, he goes for Storm’s front legs – which causes Storm to “bow” to get away …

Which leaves his back legs vulnerable. Something else interesting – the benefit of just a year or? – Storm doesn’t go for *Twister’s* hind legs – right in front of him – he goes into defensive mode.

Which just allows Twister to come around him …

And get him on the other side! And look how close he stays.

Twister is clearly calling the shots, and Storm is reacting.

Twister comes around again – look how tight. Storm has tucked his hindquarters to avoid bites, but he’s too close to get up the momentum for a kick.

Have you been keeping an eye on young Cuatro?

Now Storm’s going for Twister’s front legs, forcing Twister into defensive posture – but Cuatro’s helping his pal from the rear angle.

Then the action got a little hotter, and Cuatro here is heading back toward big bud Duke.

And yes, there was some of this.

Are you fascinated by the thought process?? Storm is bigger, but Twister is a year older (which means he has a year on Storm in learning these things) and smart – and quick.

Meanwhile, across the arroyo (except Gideon, who’s at the edge) … The only one (actively) payingΒ  attention is Butch, and this is still several minutes before he decided to join the goings-on.

Wondering where Mouse is during all of this? There he is at right – grazing on the edge of the arroyo. Another reason to show this – are you getting a sense of the size difference between these colts, one born in 2007, the other in summer 2008? It’s not great, but it’s enough to acknowledge. If Twister wasn’t an orphan, would it be so noticeable? If Twister wasn’t an orphan AND Storm wasn’t the son of an alpha mare who had no foals since Storm (because PZP-22 worked on her) and has been able to care for him exclusively these last couple of years – opposite ends of the spectrum – would it be so noticeable?

As Storm and Twister learned each others’ moves, there was some of this …

… and some of this …

… and eventually a few moments of this …

… and this. πŸ™‚

They were by no means done. Duke waded in not long after this – followed closely by Cuatro – but his main attention seemed to be on Mouse, and soon after, Twister and Storm had apparently sufficiently rested to start again. Butch eventually joined briefly, too, and Gideon, which you’ve already seen pix of.

SO much more to this than the “obvious.” What significant, subtle conversation(s) am I missing? I’d wager it’s much more than I’m able to “see” and/or interpret.

Fascinating!


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10 responses

6 03 2011
Linda Horn

TJ, you got me on this one! Everything started off so nicely that I was TOTALLY unprepared for what was to come. You said there’d be “aggression”, and you certainly meant it. I wonder what’s going through their minds as well, and how much they learn from each encounter.

Reminds me of Pam Nickoles “The Stallion and the Foal”, which was the first time I’d seen a stallion fight in sequence. Her (and your) photos are frightening enough. I can’t imagine being there.

6 03 2011
TJ

😦 Linda, I must have done a terrible job here. I want to emphasize THIS IS PLAY. Not literally aggressive (which is why I originally put it in quote marks – I thought it would be obvious this was play behavior) – there was zero intent to actually cause harm (my opinion from experience and observation) and definitely not frightening – to me or any of the horses involved. I think they learn from EVERY encounter. Clearly, Twister – a year older than Storm and with bachelors for a year or so – has learned things that Storm has yet to learn – I bet he learned some things from Twister this day! Gideon and Cuatro learned … Fierro learned! Pam’s sequence of the stallions fighting over/around the foal is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT than what these colts/young stallions were doing. No comparison at all. I’m upset about the confusion. I intended this to be an educational experience – the process of learning … the colts among themselves AND us about them. 😦

Again, this was NOT an aggressive event. It was NOT frightening. NONE of the horses was injured.

7 03 2011
Pat Amthor

TJ, I think you do a great job. Thanks for letting us see the interaction of WILD horses in THEIR environment. The study of how they interact with each other and learn from the older more experienced horese is obvious with Cuatro staying close and watching and envolving himself only enough to be present but not present a threat. I am so glad you show the whole of this part of life in the herd. We sometimes put human feelings to animal interactions and I think we have to be careful of that when we may be uncomfortable watching, what we may perceive as fights. It is what it is for survival. Let’s not forget that.

6 03 2011
Lynn Bauer and Kathy Pariso

It kinda seemed to us like “two young guys (bros) sorta sizing each other up – like the first day of BBall or Football practice.” We can obviously see the difference PHYSICALLY between Storm and Twister and we think it’s totally because Storm had the benefit of TWO years of his mother’s total attention, whereas, Twister is an orphan. T did well, though but, it’s obvious what all that extra time/devotion and experience (watching) has done for Storm. Yeah, if he’s allowed to stay, he’ll be a band leader and a strong one – no doubt!

7 03 2011
Linda Horn

TJ, you didn’t do a “terrible job” at all. As is evidenced by your reply and those of others, I’m the one who often needs educating, and I appreciate what people who’ve had direct experience with wild horses have to say. Although I’ve seen “formerly” wild horses at local STH and adoption events, I have yet to see them on the range. This undoubtedly has led to frequent misperceptions. I welcome whatever contributes to my own “process of learning”.

7 03 2011
TJ

Pat – Well said. These are wild animals – wildlife – and it doesn’t help us or them to anthropomorphize. I’m guilty of it – I try to curb it, I try to look beyond it to interpret what they’re really saying. Human nature to be human-centric. πŸ™‚

Lynn and Kathy – Storm is definitely on the “stay” list, for at least two reasons: He’s the only confirmed offspring of Alpha still in the basin, and a big, strong colt like him is exactly the sort of stallion that should stay to perpetuate his genetics. Other reasons: He represents the genetics of his sire, who was removed, and what an excellent start to our own studies of the health of mares treated with fertility control AND their foals.

Linda – I hope that’s the case. I want to be a realistic voice for these horses – emotional as I’m sure you all know by now I am (hello, my name is TJ, and I’m an emotional realist!) – and provide an educational opportunity for people to learn more about these amazing animals. I don’t have all the answers – evidenced, I hope, by all the questions I ask here on the blog that don’t have answers! I’ve learned much, what I have yet to learn is infinite, and I hope to spend the rest of my life in that pursuit – sharing along the way. If I’m not clear – if I can clarify anything at all – please let me know. I try not to take things for granted, but I realize I do when it comes to sharing information. It helps to be a journalist – but not perfectly. πŸ™‚

8 03 2011
Jessie

Awesome pictures and commentary! I need to remember to get on your site more often…and follow you following these horses. Do you use a zoom lens, or do they let you get fairly close? The Yakama horses would catch sight of me and they’d be gone and my 18-55mm lens fails to keep up with them as they canter out of range!

8 03 2011
TJ

Both. πŸ™‚ I use a Canon 100-400mm lens (which is basically a 160-640mm on my 40D), and I’ve been visiting nearly every week for three and a half years now. I’ve put in a LOT of time and effort to be with these horses, observing and documenting them to effect changes for the better (hopefully fertility control soon and hopefully, maybe later, nixing helicopter roundups in favor of bait trapping – at a much reduced interval). I don’t get any closer to the horses than they allow me to be.

A long lens helps, especially in the beginning. But if the horses are leaving as soon as they detect you, even that won’t help much! That may just come with frequent and careful visits (unless there’s a lot of pressure on them from others?). If you have a DSLR, look into Sigma or Tamron lenses. Less expensive than the Nikon or Canon (or other) name brands, but they’re pretty good from what I hear. I don’t know the prices (still not “cheap,” I’d bet), but look for something like a 75-300mm?

8 03 2011
prairiewindlady

I don’t want to butt in on the conversation above, but thought I’d throw out my 2 cents about lenses. I use Nikon but can’t afford most of their “name brand” lenses …in my experience Tamron stinks (I have had several and all were slow and eventually died), but Sigma is great! But my 80-400mm is a Tokina…not the fastest in the world but a tough lens, inexpensive and very sharp!

I hope I didn’t offend anyone by sticking my nose where it’s not needed/wanted…just thought I would try and share what has worked well for this broke photographer! πŸ˜‰

9 03 2011
TJ

Amy – Please offer any insights you have! I’m sure it would be helpful to more than just Jessie. πŸ™‚ Thank you!

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