The Benefits of Being a Lover, not a Fighter

Although the saying: “a picture is worth a thousand words” is true, I have to wonder what words are being produced. Pictures create emotions, and each emotion is unique to the person viewing it. A common photo of horses is of stallions sparring. It’s an image that people love to hate. Some people love the dramatic side of two stallions rearing. It’s a quintessential part of wild horse society, and some romanticize it.  Others have the opposite response. They tend to think that fighting is too violent, and the phrase, “poor baby” is tossed around regarding the stud that is not a successful. They don’t want to see those types of images, if they ignore it, it’ll go away.

Both responses show a subjective way of looking at the way stallions approach band management. The reaction acts like a stallion is somehow less if they don’t spar well, or that sparing is the only approach to being a band stallion. The other assessment ignores that sparing is a natural behavior, often with more bravado than physical intent. I posted an earlier post about sparring, so I’d like to talk a bit about why not sparring is a benefit.

First let’s think about how much sparring uses. Numbers aren’t my strong suit, so I don’t have stats about calories burned while fighting, vs., running after a stallion, vs. snaking one’s ladies away, vs. ignoring a stallion, but my observations lead me to believe that not only do those last two expend less energy, there’s less of a chance of a stallion getting injured. I know I mentioned sparring is about bravado, but even without the threat of hooves and teeth, stallions still have to be athletes. Maybe overreacting about another stallion means a sore leg, or worse.  In rare instances fights lead to broken legs, and in that case the only thing to do is put down the suffering horse.

Galaxy spends much of his time either keeping his mares together, or chasing away other stallions.

Galaxy spends much of his time either keeping his mares together, or chasing away other stallions.

Some stallions react to any horse in the area, so it can be smart for a stallion to know when a horse is a threat. For example, should one chase away a stallion that just became a bachelor yesterday, or save that energy for a bachelor looking to become a band stallion? To me, the most obvious choice is to wait for a more pressing threat.

Fiddle likes bringing the Fiesta to the party, but considering he's pinned his ears at mares wandering his way before I'm not sure how that works for him.

Fiddle likes bringing the Fiesta to the party, but considering he’s pinned his ears at a mare wandering his way before I’m not sure how that works for him.

The band stallion Grijala plays with a young bachelor.

The band stallion Grijala plays with a young bachelor.

Of course, a stallion’s ability to defend his band depends on his mares. If they are not a cohesive unit, the stallion will work harder to defend them. On the other hand, a stallions choice in mares can go a long way in creating that cohesive unit. Sure, some of that has to do with being opportunistic, but if one mare is discontented, is it really worth trying to keep her from other stallions? Even if she is a stallion’s only mare, she will let him know if she’s happy. Unless the chances are high that she will produce a foal by that stallion, the only reason to keep her is for the status of having a mare.

Jasmine and Aztec have always been independent, but most of Casper's mares are loyal to him. It does not make sense for him to waste energy trying to woo them when the majority of his mares are satisfied with him.

Jasmine and Aztec have always been independent, but most of Casper’s mares are loyal to him. It does not make sense for him to waste energy trying to woo them when the majority of his mares are satisfied with him.

On the other hand, a mare’s decision about a stallion depends a lot on how she views him. A stallion needs to protect his mares, but he also needs to be nurturing. If his only approach is to be aggressive a mare may not appreciate it, nor will she appreciate if he lets other stallions pursue her.  If a stallion can find that balance, his mares will be a loyal cohesive unit.

Custer's two mares are very loyal to him, and a cohesive unit.

Custer’s two mares are very loyal to him, and a cohesive unit.

This post isn’t to say that one approach is better than another. Rather, a stallion needs to know when to act. A lot has to do with the temperament of the stallion and his mares. There’s a lot of pros and cons a stallion needs to make quickly before defending his band. Like all aspects of wild horse society being defending one’s band is more complex than a stallion that’s perceived as lazy for not chasing away bachelors, or a stallion that is perceived as too aggressive for confronting every nearby horse. It’s tempting to romanticize the actions of mustangs, but in reality their main needs are food, water, shelter, and starting a family.

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