"Wild horses…"


What? “…couldn’t drag me away” [Richards & Jagger, 1971]? Well, of course they couldn’t, or more accurately, wouldn’t, you City Slickers, cuz they is wild, innit? They neither bear weight on their backs, nor pull it via harness. Their theme song is, “I’ll Never Be Your Beast of Burden” [Richards & Jagger, 1978]. What they will do, if you intrude into their established territory, however, is charge you and possibly trample you.

Which is not to say that they run amok, or obey no Code of Conduct, according to the equine ethologists who study them, particularly the band of 250 [wild horses, not ethologists] who live on Cumberland Island, Georgia. The observers note that the horses tend to organize themselves into Family Groups [a stud, his mares, and their offspring], who rotate through the various grazing venues on the island: meadows, marshes, woods, and beach dunes. An anthropomorphic explanation of this nomadic behavior might be that the families are altruistically sharing the nutritional wealth of the island with their equine brethren. There are two flies in that Utopian ointment, though. One is, well, flies. Inland, where the grass is lush and plentiful, the horses are tormented by flesh-eating flies; whereas on the shore, where the sparse, tough dune grass grows, the constant sea breeze blows the flies away. So perhaps [as Harris opined in Cows, Pigs, Wars & Witches] local geography shapes what is considered to be The Right Thing to Do. [In this case, to keep hoofing it, to the next ambivalent stand-off between eating well and being “eaten alive.”]

Also, as in most human cultures, there is an Out Group, who are forcibly excluded from the Happy Families scenario: bands of Bachelor Horses. The observers offer an illustrative vignette, in which a bold Bachelor Horse put just one hoof onto the territory of a Family Group, which was marked by what is euphemistically called a Stud Pile [of dung], and was immediately charged by the stallion and “shown off the property.” Insert your own current human example of such behavior here. It is not clear [Is it ever?] how the hapless members of the Out Group drew the short straw. What is inspiring is that, every so often, a pariah horse bravely challenges the authority of the humiliating and/or fearsome studs.

Speaking of inspiring, this photo of two Bachelor Horses was taken by my [90-ish] mother-in-law, who trudged 10 miles down the beach to find them, yet [uncharacteristically, for her] heeded the warnings of the island guides, to keep a respectful distance away from her subjects, lest they “pass on the pain” and trample her. Having got what she came for, she trudged the 10 miles back to rejoin the Band of Ecotourists, of whom she & my father-in-law were the oldest by several decades, though not made to feel like members of an Out Group, for all that.

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Filed under ethology, power subtext, zero-sum-gaming

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