The Young and The Restless: An Introduction to Herd Dynamics
The Salt River Wild Horse Herd of the Tonto National Forest is comprised of bands (family units) whose group dynamics are in constant flux.
One day, while out in the field, I witnessed a unique display of behavior between two family units. A young adolescent female purposely left her band to go and visit with a mature band stallion in an adjacent band. Although not unheard of, bands do not usually intermingle. They can be found grazing in very close proximity to each other, without any physical interaction. Almost as if, an invisible line of demarcation exists that adjacent bands honor.
I can only venture a guess, but it was as if that line of demarcation did not exist for one young and very head strong female. Without any sense of decorum, she proceeded to engage in a flirtatious bout that would be awarded a ten, if an Olympic sport.
The behavior that ensued was what you might expect: clumsy, a bit erratic and very time consuming. The female would approach the male, who would then smell her (taking his time doing so) and then walk away only to be followed by the young female, who would tire easily of being the pursuer, turn to leave only to be followed and approached/sniffed by the before mentioned male.
Such behavior seemed as if caught in a time-warp. But when least expected, a young and boisterous female from the male’s band quite literally attempted to separate the two.
As the visiting female held her ground, the other female retreated and the pseudo courtship began once again
As we all so well know, although young love has no sense of time, head stallions do. From around the bend appeared the head stallion of the young female’s band. Authoritatively and without a sound, stood at the perimeter between the two grazing sights, staring directly at the young female.
Without a moment of hesitation, the young female returned to her band.
As genetic diversity/viability is essential to promote a sustainable herd, the behavior detailed above is believed to be learned via observation and thusly, passed on from one generation to the next. This female will one day leave and/or be expelled from her original band to join with another. Such behavior will help to ensure a healthy, viable and sustainable gene pool for future generations.