I still can't believe what we witnessed in the Park on that warm spring evening in May. We had just split up from our observations partners so that they could go back to town at the end of a long day of collecting behavior data. Driving west to where the north side of the loop road meets East River Road, I caught sight of horses just north of the Wind Canyon overlook. Turning the corner and looking back, we saw the double band of Red Face and Singlefoot along with Satellite, Singlefoot's second in charge. We decided to work them since they were so handy and we hadn't found them when looking for them earlier in the day.
Collecting data on Red Face's band first, we noticed that Molly's new little foal, Teddy Bear, was missing. It was apparent that she wanted to go look for him, but Red Face kept herding her back every time she attempted to leave the band. It's not unusual for a foal to be left behind sleeping when the bands moves off, but it is essential that he be found before nightfall. When Red Face moved farther down the butte to attend to another matter with his mares as they intermingled with Singlefoot's mares, Molly slipped away over a saddle between the two buttes. Strawberry almost gave her away when she started to follow, but hunger for the fresh green grass overcame her curiosity and she soon went back to grazing. Though Red Face looked off toward the saddle, he never left the band to look for Molly.
The rest of our 20 minute study went well with the usual feeding and resting behavior. When observing Singlefoot's band, we remarked that it was almost boring to have all feeding except for one move by Satellite that could be recorded as locomotion. We were about to put our equipment away and turn around old Air Force Blue, the Suburban we had been given to drive during the study, and head back to the camper for the night. It was about 6:15 and we had had a very successful day.
Suddenly Molly appeared just above River Road with her lost foal in tow. Right with her were Brutus and his small band of three. Brutus had spotted the lone mare and foal and attempted to add them to his harem, but Molly had led him right back to the double band with three defending stallions. The young Brutus was not one to back down from a fight. Red Face immediately met Brutus to reclaim his mare and the fight was on between the two strong stallions. Even with us parked right on the road and other vehicles passing by, they kept up a furious battle for several minutes while the mares tried to keep themselves and their vulnerable foals out of the way.
On the other side of the road, Singlefoot stayed with the mares, as usual, while his body guard, Satellite, charged up to join the battle. Red Face was trying to separate his mare from the other two while continuing to spar with Brutus. The mares finally sorted themselves out, Molly retuning to the double band below and Sweetheart, Cheyenne, and her young filly, Auney, disappearing over the hill from where they had come. Close behind was Satellite who had sensed an opportunity to take them from Brutus while he was distracted by Red Face. With no other horses getting in the way, Red Face soon had Brutus on the run, chasing him back over the hill to the west.
During a short lull in the action, the conquering Red Face returned to graze with the horses below as if the conflict we had just witnessed was all in a days work.
The drama didn't end there, however. Satellite soon reappeared with Brutus' two mares and foal. He had evidently had to convince them forcefully to come with him for Sweetheart, the striking black and white overo, had fresh blood streaming down her side from a vicious bite. We watched Satellite herd them to the other side of the valley by snaking at them, head lowered, his ears flat back against his neck. They didn't seem to want to go with him but knew they were no match for him, so ran obediently ahead of him.
It wasn't long before Brutus reappeared searching for his missing harem. He was not happy to see that Satellite had taken them. Though he kept a watchful eye toward Red Face, he went immediately to challenge Satellite for the mares. Satellite charged at him with so much force that they both almost went to the ground. Satellite succeeded in driving Brutus away. The seemingly confused Brutus then ran down the hill to pick a fight with Singlefoot, but that encounter was neither long lasting nor highly motivated. Brutus soon ran off to the south east, seemingly beaten and tired.
A few minutes later he appeared behind and above Satellite and the mares, having circled to attack from another direction. Hooves clashed and bodies pounded one another again. He chased Satellite while the frightened mares ran ahead until he was finally able to get between Satellite and the mares. After one last chase, Satellite gave up and returned to the bands below and his job as second in command while the victorious Brutus pranced across the skyline back to his mares.
We suspect there will future battles as Brutus gains more confidence. He had just fought three stallions for almost 45 minutes. He didn't win any additional mares this time, but he will be back.