When horses live in wild herds, like mustangs, brumbies or Namibian wild horses, herds consist of a group of mares and foals with a stallion. Contrary to popular assumption, the stallion is not the boss. He’s the protector of the herd; he will face down rival stallions and predators. But the leader of the group is always a mare.
Horses have a point. (Just kidding. I did read Ephesians 5:22-28).
The lead mare has the last word; she says when to eat, sleep, drink, move, and run away from harm. She might not be the biggest mare, but she is the most stubborn and the most dominant. She’s always putting the other horses in their place. They must submit to her and let her be the boss, but in return, the lead mare has their lives in her hooves: if danger approaches, she’s the one who decides where and when to flee, she decides if it’s safe to go somewhere, and she will even attack a rival stallion or predator if she has to. She’s even dominant over the stallion, as Skye vividly displayed to me by routinely taking out her bad moods on Achilles. (In her defence, she was pregnant, and violently hormonal).
As you may have guessed, Skye’s the lead mare of her little herd and always has been. But
it’s not about the lead mare that I’m going to waffle about today. It’s about the bachelor band. Grown colts and fillies are not allowed to remain in the herd; if they did, they’d breed with their own families, within a few generations they’d be horribly inbred, and that would be the end of horses. But God designed stallions to know which of the horses in their herds are their own offspring. Such young horses, around one or two years old, will leave the herd. The stallion will allow other stallions to take the fillies out of his herd (something he would never allow with the grown mares), and as for the colts, they’re kicked straight out.
Such colts are often very lonely, so they might shadow another herd, or, more commonly, form a “bachelor band”, a little herd of young colts. Once they’re old enough they will challenge another stallion for his mares, but for now they run, eat, sleep, and play-fight together as a group of vagabond brothers.
We have such a bachelor band now, but not by the horses’ own choice; this group of guys was orchestrated by mankind, i. e., the small part of it known as Firn C. Hyde. It’s been about two weeks since Achilles was gelded, so the Mutterer deemed him safe to live with the three colts, Thunder, Secret and Copper (his sons).
I had my reservations because I was afraid they’d get into a fight, especially Thunder; since Secret was weaned, he’s been the dominant member of the group, and I thought he might challenge Achilles for being the boss. (His being nearly two years old and becoming a bit of a stallion wouldn’t help).
But the Mutterer thought it safe, Achilles and the colts had been living in adjacent paddocks for weeks, there were plenty of people around to separate them if it went wrong, and I had prayed like mad, so off we went.
Armed with a lungeing whip, a helmet, a big strong dad and a prayer, I led Achilles over to the colts’ paddock and shoved him inside. Secret and Copper instantly glued themselves to one another like their furry coats were Velcro. Thunder, slightly braver, stepped in front of his little brothers and held out his nose, opening and closing his mouth in the gesture used by young horses, which seems to mean, “I’m just a baby. Don’t hurt me.”
Achilles arched his neck and pricked his ears, blowing in excitement through his nose. Father and son breathed into each other’s nostrils, smelling each other, stamping their identities on their long, equine memories. I was reminded sharply of Thunder’s birth nearly two years ago. He was just a tiny little golden colt beside a happy big golden mare, but he had eyes big enough to drown in. His nostrils were the size of teaspoons, coated in soft whiskers and a satin, silver down, flaring slightly as I bent forward and breathed my smell, my identity into his muzzle. He sniffed, then breathed back, little milky huffs from lungs which, one day, would fuel the speed of a creature born to run.
I wiped away a metaphorical and maternal tear. Achilles stomped over to his younger sons,
still Superglued together. They backed off, petrified. Can hardly blame them; they’re less than half his mass. But as half an hour went by, they settled down, smelling their father, getting to know him. The two babies quickly submitted to him; Thunder took a little longer, but no fights broke out. Eventually Achilles flattened his ears and stuck out his nose and Thunder, lowering his head, ground his teeth. The pecking order was established.
Now for the first time in years – in far too long, at the indiscretion of his caregiver, the aforementioned small piece of humanity – Achilles is in the same paddock as a group of other horses. And isn’t he loving it! They live in gentle harmony, their herd neatly ranked from oldest to youngest, biggest to smallest; Achilles as the boss, Thunder second-in-command, Secret third, and Copper at the bottom, like a lot of organ pipes. Despite their strict ranks, they are great friends. One more thing people can learn from God’s creature the horse; to live in love and peace even though you’re not at the top of the food chain, to govern with kindness, and to submit with joy. Go on, click the link to Ephesians. It’s all true.
Thunder is now the second-to-tallest horse we have, which is a bit scary. Oh, and for the first time ever I own a full-sized horse. Skye is borderline at 14.2hh and I hesitate to call her a pony because she doesn’t like it, and Arwen is definitely a pony at 14.1, but we measured Thunder on the 15th and he is a proud 149cm, or only just 14.3hh. Most of that is legs, because he weighs probably 100kg less than his mom, but he’s not gonna do any shrinkin’. It looks like the Mutterer’s prediction of fifteen hands or taller is going to come true. Dancer hasn’t been measured for a while – she’s probably made 14.3 by now, too – and Secret, at seven months, was 12.1hh. He will probably be about the same size as Arwen. Copper is the midget; he’s around 11.3-12hh now, to make about 13hh. It means that I’ll never be able to school him properly because I am too tall. Isn’t that nice to hear for a change? The tall bit, I mean. Copper is for sale and looking for a loving home, maybe yours?
So the boys have had an eventful few days. The ladies, less so; Arwen continues to be sweet and pretty and well-behaved; we haven’t tried riding out since Thursday, but on the lunge, in the arena, and over fences, she’s been positiviely seraphic. I’m telling you, it’s the haircut.
Skye is still on holiday and unimpressed, voicing her displeasure by breaking down a carefully built double while Arwen and I were jumping and my back was turned. The wind has gone to their heads and they gallop around like maniacs, including the apparently lame Skye, who throws in a buck or two just to tell me how perfectly rideable she’s feeling. Dear sweet lunatic.
Please Lord, let her be as sound as she thinks she is. I miss riding Your horse.