I make what Darleen and I laughingly refer to as “my living” in part by testing rifles and shotguns and writing about them, so I drive out to the local gun range on a regular basis. There is a ranch on the south side of the highway on that side of town, and one pasture, a pie-shaped piece about half a section in size, is used exclusively for horses.
Prey animals group together for various reasons, not the least of which is safety. Many eyes, many ears, and many noses provide a better chance of early warning. And if a predator should attack, multiple simultaneous potential targets make it harder for the predator to concentrate on a single individual. The horse is a prey animal, so when I drive past that pasture I am always surprised to see one horse all by himself at the farthest, narrowest portion of the pie. If he were obviously extremely old or ill it would be understandable, but he’s not old, and if he is ill, he shows no sign of it and he’s been hanging in there for many months now.
I have seen horses band together to ostracize and isolate an individual, but it rarely happens, and when it does it is usually in self-defense. When one horse is so pugnacious and obnoxious and oblivious to the rules of equine behavior, the herd will eventually pool their resources and attack the individual, driving him away. Then an invisible perimeter is established that is as inflexible as it is moveable, and if the transgressor takes one step too close the herd will remind him he is not wanted. It’s a sad thing to see—sort of the equine equivalent of prison—but understandable, just as prisons are understandable and necessary for the good of the human herd.
I don’t know if that’s the case with the lone horse in the narrow end of the pie, but it always bothers me to see him like that. Anthropomorphizing, I try to tell myself it may be his choice, that he is perfectly content, or even happier, on his own, a lone wolf of a horse, you should pardon the expression, running free and easy, making and breaking his own rules, breathing easier in unshared air. Maybe he is supremely confident in his survival skills, a master of equine mixed martial arts. Maybe he’s concentrating on the writings of Descartes and considering writing a rebuttal. Maybe he’s meditating. Anything is possible, but it bothers me to see him alone.