Photo by Vassil – Own work, Public Domain
It’s dark in the barn in the middle of the night as we wait, watching cautiously through the circular beam of light from the flashlight. It’s late spring, and the low racket of singing crickets and peepers filters through the barn windows. The barn itself is mostly quiet, except for the occasional snort or shuffling hooves from the other stalls. But we aren’t listening. We’re focused on the stall in front of us.
The reaction down the entire barn aisle is immediate. Everyone erupts with a roar of return whinnies, piled on top of each other. They know—without a doubt—that somehow there is a new horse in the barn. I know they don’t understand where he came from, but there’s no question that they recognize the new voice. Sometimes the foal even returns their greeting with another whinny.
It almost seems like something fictional out of a movie, but I’ve witnessed this many times—how the horse herd reacts to a new foal and how they immediately know it’s someone new and are very curious to meet the newcomer.
Two days later it’s time for baby’s first trip outside to the special foal-proof paddock. The rest of the horses are already outside in their own pastures, grazing away without a care. But as the new mom and baby approach the field, one of the other horses looks up and sees them. Sounding the alarm, she alerts the rest of the herd, and they all come running. Everyone wants to see the new baby up close. They stay for several minutes, just watching the baby. It really is amazing to watch; the herd not only knows that the baby is a new member of the herd, they care. They really want to watch and see who it is. It goes to show how observant horses are and how attuned they are to each other’s voices and appearances. But I think it also shows another part of a horse’s personality and herd dynamics in general—horses seem to express joy and happiness at the prospect of a new life in their midst. How wonderful is that?
Daniel Johnson is a freelance writer and professional photographer. He’s the author of several books, including How to Raise Horses: Everything You Need to Know, (Voyageur Press, 2014). Dan’s barn is home to Summer, a Welsh/TB cross, Orion, a Welsh Cob, and Mati and Amos, two Welsh Mountain Ponies. Follow him at www.facebook.com/foxhillphoto.