Ahhh, one of my favorite subjects, not to say the most fun!
My friend Mary Ann asked me several years ago if I would rather be a (wild) stallion or mare. I hesitated for about five seconds before answering, “Stallion!”
Now, why would I say that? Stallions have a hard life. All that fighting to get a harem and keep it; eventually losing the harem. The risk of injury. The hard work keeping everyone in line.
But. Before they ever become a harem (band) stallion, they have years of unadulterated FUN!
Every harem stallion was once a young foal. Then he was a precocious young colt and then an older colt and then…well, you know what then.
For young foals, play is a constant feature. You can see stallion behavior from early on, can’t you?
Maestro (right), Spring 2010
At this point, young colts are beginning to be full of mischief and full of themselves!!
They are pretty sure they have the world by the tail!
Sometimes yearlings are brazen enough to challenge a full grown stallion!
This red roan stallion had the support of his palomino yearling. I love these kinds of interactions. They simply must be in the middle of everything! LOL
Once the stallion decided he couldn’t be bothered with such an unimportant little guy, the two yearlings proceeded to practice being big stallions.
This kind of playing is good practice for when they need to know how to do the real thing (breeding). You’ll commonly see young and even older bachelor stallions exhibiting this kind of behavior.
Shortly after this, they were joined by a third yearling. Chaos!
Occasionally, we see yearlings who want to be in a bachelor band. They just won’t stay out of the older bachelors’ space. Why they want to grow up so fast is beyond me. But then I often say that about human children, too!!
South Steens Herd Management Area, Spring 2011
Cochise, Ditto and Domino (left to right)
Sometimes something will happen and a yearling will end up in a bachelor band. We’ve seen this a couple of times. Generally, it occurs when something has happened to the dam, as was the case with Juniper from the South Steens HMA (Herd Management Area). His dam died (of old age) when he was just a little over a year old. They had been with a bachelor band prior to her death and he stayed with them after she was gone. The next spring, all of the bachelors but Ditto had acquired mares. Juniper and Ditto stayed together and appeared to be fast friends. Age didn’t matter.
A year later, I would say this is a greeting, not a challenge, wouldn’t you?
Ditto and Juniper, Spring 2013
If you think yearlings can be a handful, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet! Two year olds are so full of themselves, much like human teenagers. They want to try everything, be in the middle of everything, challenge everything. Being the mother of two boys and grandmother to grandsons, perhaps they have a special place in my life. I adore two year olds!
Running far away from his band to roughhouse with another two year old was commonplace for one of my favorite youngsters, Cochise, from the South Steens HMA. He was not worried about a thing – except having fun!!
Cochise playing, Spring 2012
Another commonly seen characteristic of two year olds is their curiosity, especially when it comes to what big daddy is doing. This never fails to get a laugh out of me – never!
Idaho (palomino and bay roan) youngsters, Spring 2012
“Hey Dad, can I help?” or maybe, it’s “Is that how you do it, Dad?” Either way, it’s pretty amusing to watch!
The lack of good sense can get two year olds into trouble. A couple of years ago, we watched a two year old roughhousing with another stallion just about in the middle of his band. The trouble is, there was a young foal in the band. The dam of the two was not happy and let her feelings be known.
The foal, which just happens to be a colt, was immensely curious about what the older two are doing (not shown here). Taking lessons?
Utah, Spring 2011
Two year olds do end up in stallion bands on occasion. Our two favorite perlino brothers (Utah) are with an older stallion this year. I can only guess what might have caused that to happen, since they were part of the big grullo’s family band.
One of the perlino’s dams was not in the harem this spring. It’s my guess that she was acquired by another stallion, the two year olds followed her and were kicked out of the band by the new stallion.
Unfortunately, they ended up with an older and very aggressive stallion. While the brothers had been very habituated to people, the older stallion was not. Whenever they got close to either the larger herd of horses or to us, the stallion would aggressively snake them away. They were so nervous, they didn’t seem to know what to do.
At the end of our week there, we were determined to see and photograph them again. We had seen them the first day there, but the stallion hadn’t allowed us to get close enough with even our big lenses since.
We knew they were hanging out way down the road. Those two shine like beacons against the green hillside, so they are often easy to see. This morning, interestingly, they looked like they were alone. We tried to find a way down and eventually did find a road that went somewhat close.
Suddenly the big stallion comes tearing toward us from a mile or so away – at a full out gallop and looking frantic. He was obviously looking for his “harem.”
We watched curiously as the two brothers hid under a large juniper tree. He stopped, calling, spinning and running all over. The brothers did not respond in any way- they just hunkered under that tree.
The stallion ran part way back to the herd, turned around, came back and did it all over again. Still no response from the brothers…
We opted to not give them away, but sat quietly in the truck, watching from a distance with the binoculars.
He finally turned, running for the herd. The last we saw him, he was running all over that hill, calling and trying to find his little band, while the boys hunkered under that tree a mile away.
I seriously doubt they escaped from him. You can see them from miles away. Whatever kind of break they can get from him would be welcome, though. I’m sure they’ll eventually escape or mature enough to say, “NO!” In the meantime, at least they are with another horse who (more or less) knows the ropes. Poor boys!
Utah, Spring, 2013
Usually by the time a young stallion is three years old, he’s been booted out of the family band by the harem stallion. Why, you say?
Well, they are starting to get some real big ideas. Ideas that seriously muck up the family dynamics. They are bigger, stronger and want to fight the harem stallion for the rights to the mares. Time to go get their own pad- and life!
That usually means a bachelor band. They can hang out with likeminded young stallions and stay out of trouble.
Well, maybe not. They still seem to get into plenty of trouble.
This spring, we’ve seen three year olds still in their natal (birth) band on two different occasions.
The first is Benson, who remains in Jack’s band (South Steens Herd Management Area). I suspect (but don’t know) that Jack just doesn’t have the energy to run him out. He has his hands full keeping the four stallions at bay.
I have heard from that Jack and Benson were fighting seriously. Maybe he is closer to being kicked out on his own. He needs to be!
Jack & Benson, Spring 2013
The second instance was a big surprise for us, for there seems no ready explanation for the three year old still being in the band.
A little background history; the three year old is the beautiful blue-eyed buttermilk buckskin from three years ago (Wyoming). We revisited him again last spring. He’s quite a stunning young boy. The harem stallion is the big buckskin stallion that looks so much like Golden Boy.
This spring, he’s still in the middle of the family band. The first few days we were here (we’re still here), things were pretty calm. I thought maybe he was just so laid back he hadn’t earned that booting out yet.
Well, a couple of days ago, I was proven wrong. Here he is fighting his harem stallion (yes, he could be his sire, but hey, one never knows). I wonder how much longer it’s going to take?
So, what do you do when you are kicked out of your natal band? Well, just about every young stallion will enter a bachelor band. Yes, on occasion we’ve seen a lone young stallion, but it isn’t common and doesn’t seem to last long.
Bachelor bands vary from two stallions to a dozen or more. I would say the average is four or five stallions, which is plenty of chaos!
Most of the “bands” of two stallions seem to consist of an older and a younger stallion. Often, the older one, who has almost certainly loved and lost (had a harem and lost it), treats the younger stallion like one of his mares. They can be very bossy and pushy, constantly snaking the younger stallion around.
Wyoming, Spring 2012
These two acted so much like a stallion and a mare, it took me a few minutes to realize the gray (white) stallion was not a mare. There doesn’t seem to be a significant age difference here, but as you know, it can be hard to tell.
Sometimes, though, it seems to be a true friendship, or one where the younger is looked after by the older. Ditto and Juniper come to mind, but so do others.
These two have been together for at least a year. No pushiness here, they seem just like good old fashioned friends. (Utah, Spring 2013)
The younger stallion here was curious about us and the older one wanted to leave. He wouldn’t leave his younger companion though. He wasn’t pushy, wasn’t snaking, he just wouldn’t leave him. It was touching. (Idaho, Spring 2012)
With so many lovely bachelor bands to choose from, it's hard to decide what to show you. Here are some that stand out for us.
This is one of the larger stallion bands we’ve seen. There was plenty of chaos goin’ on here! LOL (Salt Wells HMA, Spring 2011)
One of the prettier stallion bands we’ve seen (South Steens, Spring 2013)
Stallion bands tend to stand on the edges of the larger group or groups. There, they can observe what normal stallion behavior should be. Learning by observation, shall we say?
Utah, Spring 2012
Getting the drift?
There is practicing going on...
It looks like he could need some more practice! ;-)
Utah, Spring 2013
Of course, while hanging out learning, they tend to get a little bored. That’s when the mischief starts!
Wyoming, Fall 2010
Utah, Spring 2011
Two Curly stallions
Wyoming, Spring 2012
It truly amazes me how long these youngsters can go on and on and on. This is a long video, but I promise you it will be worth your time (particularly if you need a smile). Note how the mature stallion runs in at one point to join them. He doesn’t exactly participate but neither does he get in their face.
The buckskin is also a bachelor, now trying very hard to be a lieutenant to a harem stallion. He doesn’t seem to like their presence at all.
Remember what I said about having fun? LOL
One of the other things I love about bachelors is their curiosity. You can almost always always count on them coming to check you out. That is a wonderful thing when you are a photographer, or even just a wild horse nut!
Idaho, Spring 2012
On several occasions, we’ve seen bachelor buddies “sharing” a mare. I suspect they have been together for awhile and when one of them acquires a mare, they just don’t break up.
I used to think this was an odd situation, but I’ve seen it quite a number of times now. It’s not exactly common, but neither is it uncommon.
Utah, Spring 2012
This little band was quite peaceful. The band is still together and the mare now has a foal (Spring 2013).
As a side story, this past year (2012), we watched a mature harem stallion run into this little band and breed the mare. The young stallions just stood an watched. When finished, the mature stallion turned and ran back to his own band. See why I always say you can't tell who the sire is?
Of course, it doesn’t always work out this way. Sometimes, there is constant fighting between the stallions and there is nothing but tension. That happens too.
So, just how long does a stallion live in a bachelor band? It varies from a few years to all their lives. Some stallions actually choose to stay in bachelor bands, just like human males may decide to be lifelong bachelors. Maybe they just aren't aggressive or don't want to have to fight for a family. Or maybe they are just having too much fun!
Often, the mere presence of bachelors is enough to set off a mature stallion. In fact, it’s the rule more often than the exception to the rule.
So, bachelors often are chased by mature stallions. They don’t even have to do anything but be there. They don’t even necessarily have to be close, just in the area. I feel sorry for them when that happens.
Once in a blue moon though, the stallion band is joined by a mature stallion. Not for challenging or fighting, but almost for a joyous break. We saw that twice this spring. Once, Cortez (South Steens Herd Management Area) joined a group of bachelors, flat out playing with them. He raced across the meadow, chasing, biting and rearing and the bachelors willingly participated. When he got that out of his system, he tossed his head and ran back to his band. What a fun thing to see!!
Cortez playing, Spring 2013
You can see a little bit of that in the video too. While he didn’t openly play, the mature stallion seemed to want to know what was up!
Not all bachelor bands are made up of young bachelors. It’s not uncommon for an older stallion who has lost his harem to join up with a group of bachelors. Usually, they’ll become the leader of the band and the younger ones seem to willingly defer to him.
Utah, Spring 2010
Single bachelors that don’t join up with a bachelor band can become trouble for the herd or for a single band. Most notable are the four bachelors harassing Jack; Blue, Casper, Four Socks and Dibs.
Why the four have ganged up on one stallion is a mystery. Perhaps, they sense he is vulnerable. Perhaps, it’s something else.
Casper and Blue on the fringes of Jack’s band, Spring 2013
A single bachelor stallion will sometimes pick out a harem stallion to either try to steal a mare from or perhaps, become a self-imposed lieutenant. They will continually pester, harass and pick at the stallion. As we all know, the harem stallion can become injured while trying to fend the bachelor off. Other times, the offending stallion is reluctantly accepted into the band as a lieutenant, as it appears in the case of Spitfire and Jack from the South Steens.
We do see bachelor stallions alone. Perhaps, it’s a personal choice. I would suspect some older stallions just don’t want to deal with the shenanigans of the younger crowd. Maybe they are content to be alone. It’s hard to say, but most of the lone stallions we have seen have been both older and appear to be content with their place in the world.
Utah, Spring 2011
Of course, many bachelor stallions go on to acquire mares and harems of their own. Not every one- it just doesn't work that way.
We always enjoy watching young stallions grow up, join a bachelor band for a few years and then finally acquire a mare. :-)
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