Because documenting the brumbies in Tent Hill had proved difficult, we searched for greener (or any) pastures, back up the valley towards Mereenie. A massive storm was closing in on all sides as we roared up the dirt highways searching for brumbies. With disappointed looks at eachother, we split groups, with Chris heading back to Kings Creek to secure permission to document the horses elsewhere, and Brian and Anna (our fourth party-member) and I heading up towards Areyonga towards the valley of wild donkeys, scouting for horses along the way. Still part of the old Tempe Downs Station, the country’s rolling ‘tent’-like hills and abandoned water tanks were beautiful to capture in impending storm.
Over the next few days under the guidance of Kings Creek Station we managed to secure a new location for documenting west of Mereenie, a trip into sandhill country on the edges of the Western Desert.
At a permanent waterhole in a mulga open-forest surrounded by spinifex, native grasslands and red sand-dunes, bands of horses streamed through day and night at 30-60 minute intervals. Here we set up Mulga Camp amongst the trees.The horses here were in pretty good condition – a little thin, but tiny green pickings had just started pushing through the red dirt, providing a welcome reprieve and assuring that anyone who had survived up until now would continue to do so.
Each band, or group of horses, is a bit like a family group. Group sizes varied, but would always have at least one stallion, a handful of mares, perhaps a yearling or two, and, for this season, some foals. Often there would be a satellite stallion too, who would follow at a distance in the hope of stealing a mare or an opportunity to impregnate a mare. The average band size was around 5-7 horses, but when the young males (colts) are old and big enough they are kicked out of the band and must go off and find mares to create their own band.
The dynamics between each band are different, but in general the mares will lead each band between water and grazing land (I didn’t think coming out here would have anything to do with my specialisation of women in leadership – turns out I was wrong!). Stallions generally bring up the rear, and while the mares are usually very practical and placid, the stallions are often on the lookout for competing stallions or other mares. As you can see in the photos, while the stallions often looked beautiful and muscly and bulky, you could easily see the mares’ ribs, and in general they looked a little more haggard in comparison – a result of raising a new foal every year, sometimes up until the age of 20 or more.
Fights are a regular occurrence between stallions, and many are badly nicked or scarred. Stallions fight for dominance within their own band if there is more than one of them, as well as fighting between bands, often if one band gets too close to the other at the waterhole, or if mares are not yet loyal and attached to their stallion.