Stallions and Mares, Oh My

Icelandic Mares

Summer is mating season on the farm and the Icelanders prefer their horses do it au natural. No turkey-baster artificial insemination for these mares. They bring one prize-winning stallion to the farm and fence him in with a herd of mares.

So one evening after we’ve put our horses out to pasture, a truck pulls up to Helga’s and backs into the driveway. We can hear a horse kicking the sides of the wooden trailer. Gunnar and the other men unlatch the back of the truck and bring out the stallion on a halter and lead rope. He emerges stomping his feet, throwing his head around, nostrils flaring, neighing with a nervous wild energy. He‘s ragged looking, crazed and skinny like a coke-addled rock star. We are told he spends his summer touring farms. He gets a week with thirty mares each, week after week for the three months of summer. “Poor guy, strung out on too much sex,” Esther says. But Helga says, “It’s not an easy life for stallions. They spend their lives separated from other horses except for mating season. It’s really a lonely life.”

Mating Season

View from the dinner table

Sitting at the dinner table that night we have a perfectly framed view out our window at the unfolding mating scene.  The stallion goes from one mare to the next, barely taking time to graze in between trysts. We’re exhausted simply from watching all this rampant hormonal activity. Periodically we put our forks down to declare, “He’s still at it.” Then one horse, a pretty white mare, goes down after he is finished with her. “Is she hurt?” Kathryn rushes to the window and we crowd around her, staring out the window. “Should we call someone?” The stallion is hanging over the mare, sniffing her, nudging her gently with his nose. Suddenly, to us, this is a love story and we go all gushy anthropomorphizing the equine world. “Oh, will you look at that,” we say. “She’s the love of his life. He’s upset she’s hurt.” The mare doesn’t move. She is lifeless and we slowly realize the mare died during mating, which happens more often with natural mating than we like to think about. The stallion butts his head against her as if trying to bring her back to life. “He’s grieving,” Kat says. “He’s heartsick.” He stands over her, nudging her every so often – and then, sure she’s dead, he struts up to another mare. “Oh,” Kathryn says, and then, “Oh, my. “ We watch incredulously as he mindlessly, instinctively mounts the next closest mare while the dead white one is only three feet away. “Yep. It’s a line up, girls – next!” Esther says. “Just like men,” we mutter.  One of us says under her breath, “I often wonder how long it would take my husband to find someone new if I died.”  We’ve all seen it before—the devoted husband who barely makes it out of his dear wife’s memorial service before hitching up to someone new. We shake our heads, equine-izing our husbands. Lonely life? He’ll live. 

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