"Mustang Herd" ink and watercolor wash by Jerry England ©1999
In the wild horse world every horse has a job, and there is a distinct pecking order established by hooves and teeth. Wild horse stallions are a little like a bunch of young cowboys. Now don't get me wrong. They don't actually hang out in the local saloon and scheme on the pretty señoritas, but then again they ain't much interested in locating groceries, or raisin' babies. That job falls to the herd's mares, especially the lead mare. Her job is to lead the herd to the best grasslands and good water holes, and to keep a watchful eye open for mountain lions and other predators.
You can examine any corral full of horses, and you'll find a mare pretty near the top of the heap. She always gets the best feed, and she gets it first! And if she moves toward the watering trough, just watch the geldings scatter. My gray mare doesn't take any prisoners, and she announces her intentions early. The first thing she'll do is a quick whirl, then she backs up a-kickin'.
A few years back I was helpin' an outfitter wrangle horses on a dude ride up Sheep Mountain near Wapiti, Wyoming . I was away from home, so a waddy friend of mine loaned me his ranch mare for the day. That mare was a swell little horse. She was plenty trail savvy and neck-reined just right. Coming back down the mountain we stopped at a staging area, where we loaded the dudes in trucks, so they could get their land legs back before the big bar-b-que planned for later that evening. We tied all the stock "head to tail," and us wranglers headed back to the home ranch, each leading a string of horses. I was riding squaw-reined with four horses behind me on a lead rope dallied around my saddle horn.
Horses being what they are--grazing animals--you can depend on some trail munchin' along the way. I guess the little gelding--first on the lead rope behind me--forgot himself for a moment because he planted himself solid to partake of some bunch grass; but as soon as the rope tugged off my saddle's cinch. the ranch mare went into action.
You'd have thought she was a movie star at Grauman's Chinese Theatre the way she embedded her hoof prints into the gelding's chest. He wasn't limping, but I knew he was hurt 'cause the grass grabbin' quit right then and there.
The outfitter was somewhat ticked off that one his stock horses got scared up, but for me it was valuable lesson that I added to my arsenal of cowboy wisdom. That's why you'll never see me leading any one of my geldings behind Kasidy May--the alpha mare of our outfit.