Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Nature of a Wild Horse Herd -- WHEN LEAVES CHANGE COLOR

Wild horse herd along the Powder Rim in Wyoming. John Branney Photo.  

My newly released novel entitled WHEN LEAVES CHANGE COLOR is a historical adventure based on the introduction of horses to the Plains Indians in the latter years of the 17th Century. Even though most of the characters originated in my mind through my experiences, the storyline of the novel follows historically documented accounts from Native Americans who claimed to have been there at the first encounter with horses.

I wrote WHEN LEAVES CHANGE COLOR using separate plots for three different
The red roan colt in 2002, the inspiration for WHEN 
LEAVES CHANGE COLOR. John Branney Photo.  

characters. As the story develops the paths of these characters begin to intertwine. One of the main characters was a young Spaniard by the name of Santiago who was embarking on a journey back to the north to find his brother Luis, an Indian captive. Santiago despised the Indians for what they did to Luis and his family and he sought revenge for the Indians destroying his family and life. The second main character in the book was a young Indian hunter named Ouray. He was also on a quest, but his quest was in search of Haiwee, the girl he loved. A hostile tribe of Indians had taken Haiwee and Ouray vowed to find her and exact his revenge on the Indian people who stole her. However, Ouray in his search for Haiwee found something else instead, something so remarkable that it would transform his life and his tribe's life forever. The third character in WHEN LEAVES CHANGE COLOR was a wild horse herd. I won't spoil the book by telling you anymore, but below is a short outtake from the book briefly describing the horse herd.               

The big sorrel mare led the herd up the steep slope of a rock-strewn ridge. The hooves of the band of horses clattered against the cobbles of broken sandstone lying along the rough-cut animal trail. The big sorrel mare was the matriarch of the herd. Being the matriarch meant that she made all of the day to- day decisions for this particular group of horses. She decided which water hole they would drink from and where they would graze throughout the day. She decided when the herd would stay put and when they would move on to better pasture. She was also the disciplinarian in the herd, at least this matriarch was. She tolerated little. She meted out justice, in her own harsh way. The big sorrel mare had two characteristics that boded well for this horse herd: she was very intelligent and she was very careful. Most of the horses in the herd feared the big sorrel mare, but since she had always kept them out of harm’s way, they followed her without hesitation.

This particular morning, the big sorrel mare was leading the herd over the high ridge to a watering hole on the other side. Call it an extraordinary sense, but she knew that there was both water and forage over the ridge. Bringing up the rear was the other leader of the herd, a tall bay stallion. He was the monarch of the herd and the breeding stallion. His role was to protect the herd and to procreate. He would remain in his position as monarch as long as he could fight off all new challengers. When the day came when he could no longer defend against a younger and stronger stallion, he would leave the herd to live his final days alone. Ultimately, he would become prey to the wolves and other predators that roamed the area.

Wild horse herd along the painted clays in the
Washakie Basin of Wyoming. John Branney Photo.
Once the herd crested the windblown ridge, the horses followed the sorrel mare down a winding animal trail toward the water. The horses’ hoof prints intermingled on the powdery trail with tracks from deer, elk, coyote, and even wolves. Over the years, animals had carved out a deep path in the rocky soil, leading to and from this watering hole. When the horses neared their destination, they smelled the water and picked up their pace, loping along behind the sorrel mare with manes waving and tails swirling behind.

Why do horses live in herds? Horses live in herds because they are social animals and because the herd provides each member protection from predators. For each wild horse herd, there is a social pecking order and each horse has a role. The stallion in the herd serves the purpose of procreating and protecting the herd against predators, but it is the matriarch, the dominant mare, that officially leads the herd. The matriarch picks where the herd will get water and where the herd will graze. The matriarch leads the herd and makes all of the day-to-day decisions. She is the disciplinarian of the herd and usually has a way of dealing with anti-social behavior within the members of the herd. Her punishment can include driving the offender out of the herd and she decides when the offender can come back into the herd. Since the horse herd is in constant danger from predators, banishment from the herd can be fatal for the offender without the protection from the rest of the herd.

Read WHEN LEAVES CHANGE COLOR for the rest of the story.

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