Sunday, November 2, 2008

She Defends Her Lover

During my time among the herd earlier today, I noticed that on several occasions Zeus (a teenage Thoroughbred gelding) was not so much requesting his usual rough-n-tumble game with Altamiro--rather, he was engaging in a bit of bullying (something Zeus is exceptionally good at). Most of the time, Altamiro (and the others) will not carry on much of a conversation with Zeus when he is in such a state of mind, and will make haste to leave for a less rancorous part of the area. Perhaps because Altamiro has been feeling the heady surging of maturing stallion hormones, today he is no longer so ready to yield his space to the copper "thunder god".

There had been quite a discussion between Zeus and Altamiro regarding who should yield to whom earlier, happening just feet away from where I was standing. I had my camera at the ready but hadn't yet used it today, so I was utterly dismayed when I turned the thing on and the screen remained dark with the caption "change batteries" showing. Grrr. Of course by the time I changed the batteries, the heated debate was finished and I didn't even get to see who won!

When a similar debate between Zeus and Altamiro erupted, I had been grooming one of the mares so was a little slow to get the camera turned on and focused on the scene. What I captured was very brief, but utterly fascinating.

Here, let's have a look at the short clip:

What is especially interesting here is not only has diminutive Zorita decided to intercede on her lover's behalf, she has gone after a 16h notorious bully! I'm here to tell you that there is not one herd member (other than Mistral) who has ever so much as looked side-ways at Zeus. Zeus takes orders from Mistral and no one else--until today, and didn't Zorita just seize the opportunity.

Now Bonnie has relayed to me numerous times that Zorita is an alpha mare and quite capable of asserting herself within a group of horses. So far, Zorita has been serenely content to let the other mares have the greater say in matters, only imposing her will over the mules and the foals.

I don't like to box in horses with notions of hierarchy, because throughout the day, I so often see frequent examples of shared leadership and "lower status" horses obtaining a yieldings from "higher status" horses. Whatever hierarchy is in place here has a lot of fluidity depending on different situations. But each herd member is keenly aware of where each of them feel they rightfully line up when called to hierarchy is configured thusly: Mistral first, Zeus second. Then Bella and the other grullas and then the mules. With the exception of Mistral and Zeus, all the others shuffle each other from pan to pan, some days more-so than others. But no one pushes Mistral off his pan, and Mistral is the only one capable of pushing Zeus off his pan (which he only does if he happens to finish his own breakfast first--a rare thing).

Obviously Zorita saw something in Zeus that she felt she could triumph over in that moment, and likely she felt that if Zeus didn't back off, Altamiro and her together could change his mind about things. Perhaps Zorita felt there was something ungentlemanly about Zeus's conversation with Altamiro, and like a school mistress decided to remind the gelding of his better manners. We must wonder too, what did Altamiro make of this--having a female defend his honor?

It will be curious to see how this show of force alters the relationship between Zorita and Zeus.

To close, I'm sharing some still photos I've extracted from the moving footage. Very impressive mare, this Zorita, eh?

Setting the scene: Altamiro has just been roughed up from behind by Zeus


Kris McCormack said...

The expressions on Zeus's face are priceless, Lynne. He is clearly astonished by Zorita's wrath -- doesn't quite believe it in the first instant, but then his attitude changes to "Oh, sorry maam, Yes, yes I'm backing off right now. It won't happen again...."

The last photo is interesting. Zeus is clearly aware of Mistral on his right in addition to being VERY aware of Zorita.... I can see him thinking "Now what do I do? -- I can't bump into Mistral...."

Great photos, Lynne!

Annemiek said...

How exciting this is. First the film and then the photo’s! The photo’s are really helpful, because it happened so fast. The look on Zeus’ face is priceless indeed, as if he can’t believe this is really happening!

eva said...

Have you guys ever seen a male horse not look duped when getting the evil eye from a mare?

You've got a feisty girl there, Lynne.