I treasure and jealously guard my days off from work because these are the times when I don't have to be ruled by the clock and can give myself totally over to "horse time".
This morning, after T'ai Chi practice at the bluff's edge and a nice hike with the pups, I traced a route that would have us intersecting the grassland sector to the west where Altamiro and his family band were grazing. After simply being still, among them, feeling the aroma of the autumn grass being lipped and cut with teeth, and smelling the sensation of whiskers and muzzles low to the ground, I recognized, once again, that to be within a group of contented horses is to find one's senses intermingling in a most transportive way.
Soon, Bella walked up to me and after exchanging greetings and providing itches, I set about removing some of the burrs from her mane and tail. It wasn't long when Silvestre came around to investigate what we were up to, with his typical gregarious foal insistence of inclusion. I did my best to continue ministering to Bella, while occasionally pushing away the prodding nose of the three month old colt, but in the end, Bella decided that she'd rather graze than share time with Silvestre in our midst.
Silvestre got his favorite itches and also a few burrs removed that he had picked up in his short frill of a forelock. While we were thus engaged, I noted that Ciente had decided to head for the forest and shortly--one by one--the other mares and foals followed her, leaving just me, Silvestre and Silvestre's sire, Altamiro (who was still grazing nearby, but totally focused on where the mares had headed).
I have been asked before if within Altamiro's family band there is a "lead mare". For the most part, there has been no distinct "lead mare". My impression is that these young mares (who are very clear about where they fit in with each other as mares) are still tentatively exploring their places within this exclusive world that the Sorraia stallion, Altamiro has imposed upon them.
Those following the Journal of Ravenseyrie will remember that prior to Encantara's birth this past May, all the equines that inhabit Ravenseyrie lived as one herd. It's curious to note that as a three year old, when Altamiro's first offspring each made their appearances last year, he did not feel the need to break away from the presence of the domestic horses (Mistral and Zeus) or the draft mules (Dee, Doll and Jerry). It was only as a four year old when Altamiro felt the urge to assert his over-bearing leadership, and he spent most of the late spring and summer splintering the herd in two...first beginning with Mistral and Zeus, then the mules, then his yearling sons and finally (by her own choice) Fada too left the family band.
To assure that HIS new rules were rigidly adhered to, Altamiro has assumed the role of a tyrant/dictator. Not one of the equines here have remained unscathed by his teeth and hooves and he keeps the mares and foals especially intimidated persistently driving them hither and yon for reasons neither they, nor myself, can understand--except for that testosterone has empowered Him into flexing his muscles as Supreme Dominator of the Harem!
The two photos above show that Altamrio even hazes his young son, Silvestre (Sorraia x Kiger Mustang), who is beginning to show his attractive Iberian form and grullo coloring much more than we would have guessed from how he looked as a newborn.
Most of the time the family band is bound to be traveling only where Altamiro directs them to, but from time to time, I have observed each of the mares (Bella, Belina, Ciente and Zorita) carefully assessing Altamrio's mood and then venturing to chart their own course of travel. Of all of them, it is Ciente, the Sorraia-type Kiger Mustang, who will amble off with some specific idea in mind and the rest of the herd follows.
What readers will find of particular interest is that within the so-called "pecking order" hierarchy of the mares, Ciente represents the lowest rung of the ladder. In the mornings, as I wheel my garden cart out among the family band to lay down for them their pans of oats, the first pan is claimed by Altamiro, and no other family member would dream of hazing him away from his breakfast. The next pan is claimed by Bella, and the next pan of oats is claimed by Belina and the next pan is claimed by Zorita and the pan after that is claimed by Ciente. Bella can take any of the other mares pans if she so desires and while Belina cannot take Bella's oats she can lay claim to Zorita's and Ciente's. Zorita wouldn't dream of chasing either Bella or Belina off their pan of oats, but she will deftly move Ciente off from hers. This is why I always lay out one extra pan so that if the mares and Altamiro begin shuffling between pans, there is always one free for Ciente to fall back upon. (The foals may or may not share in the pans of their parents, mostly only Encantara at this point is interested in eating oats.) This is the flow of the hierarchy and it hasn't varied since Zorita's integration with the herd last September. The fact that Ciente, much more than any of the other mares winds up being a trusted leader appears to be an example of horseman/author Mark Rashid's description of a "passive leader":
The horse we tried to be most like was a horse with a completely different temperament and role within the herd--a horse that leads by example, not force. A horse that is extremely dependable and confident, one that the vast majority of horses will not only willingly choose to follow, but that they actually seek out...
...The question then is, how do we get our horses to want to choose us as a leader? It has been my observation that before a horse (or person) can even be considered as a passive leader, it must first exhibit the qualities that make it desirable for it to be chosen. Those qualities are quiet confidence, dependability, consistency, and a willingness not to use force. (--Mark Rashid, from the introduction to his book HORSES NEVER LIE.)
All the mares possess the qualites of "quiet confidence", "dependability" and "consistency", but it is only Ciente who specifically prefers to act without force. Though the other mares will haze her away on a whim, they will follow her when she determinedly charts a course to some other sector of Ravenseyrie--and at these times, even Altamiro tags along devotedly.
Such was the case this morning, as Ciente lead the mares into the forest. I'd like to take you on a pictorial tour as we follow Silvestre and Altamiro who are now trying to catch up with the others...
Here, Altamiro and Silvestre have gone off at a trot to try to catch up with the mares as well as Segura and Encantara. Can you see Altamiro's rump up ahead?
While the horses nimbly negotiated the uneven, rock-jutted trail, I stumbled and nearly fell...which caused Altamiro to pause and look back at me.
Satisfied that I was not posing some strange threat with all my clumsy jogging, Altamiro continued back on the trail.
We've almost caught up with the others.
The mares have stopped and are getting a drink from one of the seasonal ponds deep in the forest within a small clearing, which, after splendid autumn rains, is once again a favorite source of water for them.
I'm including several video clips taken while the family band was at the waterhole.
The foals did not drink at this time, nor did Altamiro, who instead wandered around the other side of the pond.
And after the mares had left the waterhole, Altamiro came in to take his drink.
While Altamiro was getting his thirst quenched, the mares and foals trotted off on a different trail away from the watering hole. In the final video clip, you will see Altamiro pick his head up and look at one of the dogs (Maeb) as she navigates her way over to where I am standing, and then, finishing up with his drink, Altamiro wastes no time leaving the watering hole and dashes off to catch up once again with the mares.
The pups and I then followed the trail we had seen Altamiro leave on, and discovered that it lead out to the southwest sector of the grasslands...
...where the family band was soon back into the timelessness of grazing on a fine autumn morning.
I found a rock nearby and decided to just sit and reflect on the thrill of following the herd for their morning "tea time"...and who should leave her grazing and come to visit with me, but the lovely passive leader herself, Ciente!