We can often feel like we’re on our own in the world. Not everyone feels like they have a community of people behind them. Sights like flocks of birds or horse images may not always be relatable. It can often give people a sense of pride to know that we’re independent and capable of navigating the world with nothing but ourselves. For many, this is a great feat worthy of praise. However, it can be this cloud of pride that tends to deter us from forming deeper and wider communities with those around us.
Safety in Numbers
There’s no better example of this than in the animal kingdom. On one of my photography expeditions, I had put myself up in the wilderness of North Dakota. While combing through the plains looking for suitable models for my black and white horse prints I came across some wild horses. There were about 180 wild Nakota horses, grazing on the lush grass that stretched across their serene home. All of these animals were a part of a collective unit, their herd. Any working knowledge of zoology or animal behavior will tell you that prey animals, like horses, do this for a very good reason.
As I approached the crowd of herbivores, one horse on the outskirts caught sight of me and immediately also perked up, His demeanor changed and suddenly he was in guard mode, tasked with alerting the rest of his herd of my presence. Soon all 180 or so horses had perked their heads up from their absentminded grazing. They all began to analyze me to determine if I was worth fleeing from their lunch. I helped them make this decision by backing off and also photographing their herd from a distance. Closer black and white horse prints could wait.
I returned the next day, and almost like clockwork, the same plot played out as I approached the herd. First the one, and then the whole. Every horse was aware of me and was also a part of the narrative. They were a solid unit.
Why a Herd?
There had to have been a premeditated reason to 180 animals deciding to stick together. Despite not having a language or higher processing capabilities, these herbivores were able to communicate the need for working and living in a group. Having dozens of animals working together can make it harder to single out one as prey. With herbivores like horses, it makes sense to want this layer of protection. Having multiple pairs of eyes watching out for the safety of the group is much better than individuals watching out for themselves.
Camouflage is another great reason to want to exist in a group. Having similar-looking individuals cluster together can make it difficult to prey on one. It is understandably difficult to hunt a single animal if you can’t even tell where it is in a group. Prey animals have utilized this to blend in together and also hide in plain sight. A popular example of this is the merging of stripes in zebra herds. Similarly, my horse images show how a sea of horses can easily hide the individuals in plain sight.
Why Don’t Humans Like Herds?
Most horse images we see, from amateur drawings to those in Christie’s auction, depict this herd behavior. Some of my favorite photographs and black and white horse prints do just this, they define unity. As much as we love to see it in other animals, humans don’t seem to embody it ourselves. We very much prefer to project the image of independence and self-sufficiency. Humans find communities comforting and seeing them in horse images similar to Christie’s auction, but often find that comfort to be a kind of weakness in their own lives.
However, there is much to learn from evolution and the way our animal counterparts live. Survival of the fittest has proven to favor communities over individuals in numerous species, ours included. Humans have found benefits to living in groups from the dawn of our species as hunter-gathers. Over time, the evolution of our species prompted the divergence from reliance on others and also focus on the self. While this has been advantageous for many people, it is difficult to ignore the history of our species. Perhaps it would be worth to take a cue from the horses. Maybe it would bring us all a bit closer and also ease the difficulties we face as their community does for them.
View more of our Horse Images
This horse was so powerful when he ran I could clearly see he was the alpha male.
The sun was descending over the horizon as I came upon some wild horses grazing on saltwater grass.
Two things could have happened; I could have ended up in the ER or ended up with an image like this one.
• 8” x 12” in/ 20.32 x 30.48 cm
• 17.5” x 26.25” in/ 44.45 x 66.675 cm
• 23.5” x 35.25” in/ 59.69 x 89.535 cm
• 35.5” x 53.25” in/ 90.17 x 135.255 cm
• 43.5” x 65.25” in/ 110.49 x 165.735 cm
• Black Frame
• White Frame