One aspect of equine behavior that we don’t see much in domestic life is the sparring fights that occur between mature stallions. Occasionally one bears witness to more casual, playful sparring, often from young geldings. Whilst it’s probably for the best that our domestic horses don’t fight seriously, it is worth appreciating the place of these fights in the heart of the equine psyche.
True fights for dominance occur between mature stallions over the possession of mares. In the wild, young colts live in bachelor bands where they hone their horse-etiquette with other youngsters and are kept in line by the oldest stallions. Although these older stallions are past their prime at defending a band of mares, they are no slouches when it comes to educating the whippersnappers, and their lifetime of surviving the hazards of the wild makes them wise teachers.
After a young stallion has spent some years learning the subtle intricacies of equine body language and the toothy and hoof-y consequences of challenging these boundaries, he may attempt at gathering a few mares of his own. All horses, even domestic ones, communicate dominance through body posturing. The young stallion will usually get his first mares by stealing them from a larger band. It is a testament to the dominance of a stallion if he is able to command a large group of mares because inevitably, some will range a bit farther from the group and possibly be snaked (google it 🙂 ) and stolen by a young go-getter. The herd stallion can repel these advances by using his body posture to show his presence; head and tail raised high, neck arched, and nostrils flared, moving in a direct line towards the on-comer. The younger horse has learned by now that these postures signal serious intent and can decide now whether or not to retreat or stand his ground. If he chooses the latter, the fight will ensue.
Horses never fight to kill one another, only to intimidate the other into retreating. Rearing, to make themselves larger than their opponent, or pinning the opponent to the ground on his knees in a position of vulnerability. The fight is over when one party has had enough and gives up. These fights don’t last long and the combatants don’t usually sustain serious injury, but in the moment, we as observers can see all the power and athleticism of the horse in it’s natural state, and that’s the inspiration behind “Fighting Stallions.”