A closer look at the Nokota horse band.
More than 20 years ago, Leo Kuntz and his brother Frank used personal funds to buy Nokota horses captured in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park to save the horses from slaughter.
The Kuntz ranch is home to several hundred Nokota horses who are bred to preserve the bloodlines of Sitting Bull's horses.
Kuntz, a North Dakota horseman, has lived more than a half century with horses, both free running and domestic. His knowledge is based upon a variety of experiences learning directly from the horses. He has studied wildlife management, and has been a farrier, race horse trainer, and guest ranch wrangler.
FAMILY TREE AND SOCIAL STRUCTURE
The "old line" (a term Leo prefers to "wild") dominant stallions would drive away their female offspring instead of breeding them. Leo says that some more tolerant stallions allow their sexually mature colts to mate with some of the herd's mares. Some dominant stallions allow a second stallion (probably a friend from their former, bachelor herd) to hang around and help defend their herd. He is often the first challenger, an intruder. He may be allowed to mate with the dominant stallion?s female offspring, thus starting his own herd while avoiding inbreeding. The dominant stallions differ (just as human fathers do) and some help with the foals.
To help preserve the young horse's opportunity to learn proper social behavior, Kuntz says, "We try to keep it as close as we can to the horses' natural social structure. The old mares teach respect to the young boys when several dominant, pregnant broodmares are included in a herd of colts."
PROTOCOL FOR COURTSHIP
For many years people thought, incorrectly, that animals do everything by instinct. In fact, much of a horse's behavior is learned behavior. For example, the colts and stallions have to learn "protocol,"especially about their behavior with mares. The old line horses would read body language, noting things that domestically raised horses do not notice, because domestic colts are not taught by older stallions.
MARE AS MATRON
The lead mare is like the family matron. She "runs the social order, like any person's family, she runs the house, the area," Leo says. Once again, personalities vary. Some mares are good at this role, others are not. Some mares act as if it's their job "to kick someone's ass." The more dominant horses get tested constantly, although some have been around and been boss long enough that no one challenges them.
Not every mare who wants to join a herd is allowed to. Some mares are rejected by the stallion; some are rejected by the other mares.
A VARIETY OF YOUNGSTERS
The young horses also vary by individual personality. Some young horses are good at the social structure, others are not. Some foals like to play games with others, some don?t. Some colts work their way up the social hierarchy, others won't fight their friends for a mare.
TO KNOW HORSES, OBSERVE PEOPLE
Kuntz's comments reminded me of when some friends and I would amuse ourselves by speculating on what kind of person each horse's personality resembled. We?d describe which horse was the school hero, or the class clown, or which other friends were like our horses. It is a lot of fun, and apparently great training for better understanding our horses.
Leo Kuntz is President and co-founder of the Nokota Horse Conservancy ( www.nokotahorse.org ). Contact Frank Kuntz and Shelly Hauge at the Nokota Horse Conservancy at 701-254-4302.
Susan Bayard Rifkin is an educator about holistic integrative care for people and their animals. She is a journalist and photographer who is also a Reiki master and astrologer. She jokes about her segue ?from physics to metaphysics.? She lives in Pennsylvania with her two cats, close to her Nokota gelding.
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