Wild Horses: Herds and Harems

Mustangs and the Land

HERDS AND HAREMS

 

Like all wild horses, the Pryor mustangs are herd animals living off the land in harems, dominated by the strongest stallions.

According the Save the American Wild Horse organization, a dominant stallion, usually 6 years of age or older, will be in the company of one mare or a group of mares 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. He sires the offspring, and these foals are with their band for at least one year, usually two. Many times the band has a dominant mare who will be responsible for leading the family group to grazing. She will also lead the family to a water hole and to the mineral lick where they dig for salt, a dietary supplement. She will guide them to sheltered places out of the wind when winter storms howl. When you see a group of wild horses moving across the landscape, normally the stallion will be in the rear. His main job is to protect the group from attack by another stallion.

Occasionally, a two or three-year old will still be with their band, but generally the stallion will discourage a young male who is coming of age from consorting with the band. A young female may be driven off by her mother, or she simply may choose to leave when she comes into estrous. The young female may select or be selected by another stallion who will breed with her and guard her vigilantly from rivals. By encouraging offspring to leave the band, wild horses avoid inbreeding. It's interesting to note that most wild horses are more genetically diverse than any of our domestic horse breeds. In other words, they are more able to deal with changing conditions and environments over time and can resist extreme drought or cold better than their domestic cousins.

This complex social dynamic holds the wild horse bands together, and each individual knows his or her place in the order. Rules of band behavior are carefully followed. Punishment to a young animal is swift, usually just a head movement with ears laid back or a nip or gentle kick. Affectionate displays of mutual grooming (simultaneously nibbling each other's necks and backs) are frequent between family members, occasionally even between the band stallion and his juvenile sons. Mutual grooming feels good and lessens tensions between these powerful mammals.

Schweiger says the Pryor is a unique region:

"You can never again re-create what we have in the Pryor Mountain horses because of their unique genetic make-up and their unique genetic heritage."

You'll find more about these questions in THE MUSTANG DILEMMA.


MUSTANGS
AND
HUMANS

MUSTANGS AND THE LAND

Public Land          Herds and Harems

THE
MUSTANG
DILEMMA