“The enemy fought with savage fury, and met death with all its horrors, without shrinking or complaining.” - Davy Crockett
In the wild, it is common to see two stallions sparring. Most times, it is largely a harmless encounter and just a collision - two young stallions playfully “practicing” their fighting skills for when is showdown time. Or, another common situation where a dominant stallion skillfully prevents a fight with another through a stern warning or quick expression of superior strength.
But, every once in a while, a true battle takes place - a fight where two wild stallions have a legitimate dispute and neither is willing to back down. It is rare, so in my years of doing wild horse photography, seeing a true battle is one of the highlights.
Sometimes these fights last over several days, with an ascendant bachelor stalking the band of another stallion, waiting for an opportune moment to draw him away from the band and into battle. Knowing that the band stallion has the responsibility of protecting the band, but also must sleep, the challenging stallion will wear his target down over several days, persistently dogging him with a series of skirmishes and doing what he can to prevent the other from resting.
The Ritual When the time is right, the aggressor will advance on the band, sometimes making direct overtures to a particular mare. As he approaches, the band stallion will move away from the band to prevent him from getting close to his family. One cannot say that he hasn’t been warned.
The pre-fight ritual is fascinating… a mesmerizing display of strength, dominance, and primal instinct. It may begin with the “stud pile”, the aggressor defecating on top of the pile where another has marked his territory.
As tensions rise and the anticipation builds, the air becomes saturated with a palpable energy. The two stallions, muscles tensed and eyes blazing, engage in an elaborate dance of posturing and intimidation. With their heads close together, as if in intimate conversation, they begin to snort and toss their heads, manes flowing like wild flames, adding to the fiery spectacle.
They begin to stomp and paw the ground, creating great clouds of dust around the fight scene. I have seen one stallion point his front leg directly at another, challenging his opponent as if to say, “You want a piece of me?” Their postures become regal, their bodies appearing to increase in size, and they begin rearing up to assert their dominance.
And So It Starts
At some point, though, the posturing ends and the battle begins. With flared nostrils and wide eyes, the two mustangs lock gazes, challenging each other’s authority. The collisions resound across the desert, as hooves and teeth impact against bodies. This is a clash of gladiators…
Rearing up again and again, bodies collide. Like heavyweight boxers, hooves are used alternately to protect and strike. Teeth are bared and any opening is an opportunity to sink them into neck or flank. A particularly strategic strike to the upper body when both are rearing may topple one stallion backwards. A lethal strike to a leg may cause one to fall to the ground.
These battles are serious, bloody and nasty. They are a fight to the death, or at least to the retreat, and often result in serious to one or both stallions - large chunks of flesh missing, bloodied faces and bodies, part of a tail missing or ear bitten off, broken ribs, broken legs…
If dominance has been established and the injury is only minimal, the victor may chase the loser off over the hills, sending the message that he is to stay away from the band. If the injuries are serious, the loser will limp off to a place of hiding and solitude to recover, sometimes for a span of several months.
The victor, if he is the band stallion, will return to his band, gather them together, and head to a safer place to rest and recover from the battle. Under the watchful eye of his lead mare, he may need days to return to normal - especially after a particularly vicious challenge.
If the challenging stallion comes out the winner, banishing the band stallion in the process, he will now have his work cut out for him. He will need to gain the trust and support of the mares of his new band and prove that he is capable of protecting and leading them.
The way of the wild is sometimes brutal and it can be disturbing to watch - especially when a younger stallion dominates an older, established stallion and takes his band.
There is something intrinsically compelling in the savage display of two stallions engaged in battle. It is a primal ritual that has been happening since the beginning of creation. It is an ongoing story in the life of the herd, a story that repeats itself each season.
In this continuing narrative, there are parallels to the human experience. In particular, a stallion put into a life-or-death situation where he must protect his band reminds me of the human parallel where a man must protect his family in the midst of overwhelming circumstances. These situations are, thankfully, few and far between in our society; but it does cause one to give serious thought to, perhaps, a deeper meaning for the phrase, “fighting for our relationship.”
Wild Horse Artwork
Wild horse fine art photography has become for me a means of storytelling, advocacy, and preservation. As I travel the untamed landscapes of the American West, capturing the grace and beauty of wild mustangs, I hope to instill in others the same sense of wonder and respect for these magnificent creatures and the beautiful creation all around us. So, reach out to me online and together, through art, let’s preserve the legacy of America's wild horses, ensuring that they remain forever free and wild.
A Wild Horse Photographer’s Journey
An equestrian for most of her life, award winning equine photographer Maria Marriott combines her passion for horses with her wild horse art and the desire to bring public awareness to the American mustangs and the healing power of horses. She is proud to have her equine fine art in collectors’ homes and offices throughout the world. Maria Marriott Photography is a proud supporter of non-profit organizations that tirelessly work to ensure the well-being of the American wild horses and promote healing through equine therapy.