Boys will be Boys
Updated: Jul 11
The pottokas never cease to challenge what I think I have learned. I was quite certain that I could write about the bond between Polita and Arbela, who had been firmly stuck together for years. But as soon as I sent off my last blog, they separated and do not seem at all concerned about it. I saw the same with Argi and Euri years ago. Born into the same band, they were inseparable even in natal dispersal and stayed together another two years. But their association ended when their stallion, Ibai, died, and they went their own ways. If they happen to meet now, they take no notice of each other.
In truth I do not see very firm friendships between mares: their bonds seem to be more towards their foals and the stallion. Feral mares don’t mutual groom – this seems to be general in all populations – but they do with their offspring and with the stallion.
Males have a livelier social life. From only a few weeks of age they seem to regard their mothers as milk providers but little more. Their fathers, though, fascinate them, so much so that people often think a pair are mare and foal when they’re really father and son. A stallion will play with his son, gently at first but with increasing vigour as time goes on. People sometimes assume they are fighting, and that the stallion finally drives his son away, but colts usually leave their natal band of their own free will, perhaps because it gets boring for them as their restless craving for adventure grows in adolescence. The only times I have seen a stallion eject a colt from the band it wasn’t his son but an adopted one that began to take sexual interest in a mare. When his own son behaves like that the stallion takes no notice, perhaps relying on the fact that the mare will reject him anyway.
Bachelors can’t resist playing, even when they´re going from one place to another.
Lucky colts have another colt in the natal band to play with; unlucky ones try playing with fillies, who don’t like their rough-and-tumble type of horseplay. So finally they leave, buddying up with other colts. These bachelor bands roam far and wide, cramming in all the experience they will need as adult stallions. We now have 11 bachelors between 2 and 4 years old, who swap around forming pairs or groups, getting to know each other. When they find a natal band the stallion will rush out to meet them, examining each one and playing with them, which delights them. Gradually he draws their play further and further from the mares, often going kilometres with them until he finds an excuse to dump them and go back to find his band, who might have wandered off somewhere else. If you don’t know the whole sequence you can be puzzled to find a band apparently abandoned by the stallion, or a stallion wandering around trying to track them or playing with colts far from his family.
Bihurri tries inefficiently to mount Hiru while Pintxo, behind him, takes no notice.
These colts play ceaselessly. Although they generally swap about, some form very lasting friendships. Sometimes as mature stallions their paths cross. They rush out to challenge the other, realise who it is and fall to playing happily together as if delighted to relive their carefree youth.
When Pintxo mounted the mare (very efficiently!), Bihirri rushed up and started courting her, blocking her so she stood still for his father.
Older bachelors sometimes spend time alone, getting more seriously attracted to mares. In the winter when food is scarce and the foals are no longer so vulnerable, the natal bands are less cohesive and some mares wander off with their foals. It’s the chance for an alert bachelor to follow them. Generally the mare doesn’t welcome him so he has to keep a distance, but if he’s persistent enough she may accept him as her stallion when the spring comes. More likely he gets distracted and loses her, but he’s getting practice. Mostly new bands are formed when a filly in season in her natal dispersal is found by a bachelor who mates her. Often she seems to fall madly in love with him and it is she, rather than he, who insists they stay together, for these young stallions spend a couple of years before becoming serious and single-minded about their responsibilities.
Handsome Erbi keeping an eye on his mares
This 4 minute video show Erbi with two young bachelors. The young boys had ventured close to Erbi’s band he rushed out to see them, gradually drawing them away from the group. The three of them hung out for a couple of hours. Eventually Erbi lured the colts into the walled garden you can see behind the abandoned building. When they were focused on grazing Erbi snuck out leaving the two of them behind and returning to the mares.
Young Erbi spent a good three years chasing any female or going off to play at being a bachelor again, but he’s so handsome and apparently irresistible to young mares that he’s now got a fine collection, and his own sons to play with, so he’s finally settled down.
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