Feral v Wild
As per Collins Dictionary:
Feral: 1/ animals existing in a ‘wild’ or uncultivated state
2/ savage, brutal
Wild 1/animals living independently of man; not domesticated or tame
5/lacking restraint or control
At weekends I used to regularly ride as an assistant guide for a trail riding centre located in the Brecon Beacons. A group of keen riders, some from cities in the UK and even Europe would ride out on trails over the bracken covered mountains for four hours or so. My regular trusty mount, William, was the best trail horse that I ever discovered in my riding career. A Welsh Section D X Hannoverian, he was strong, sensitive, and fit. He presented as a well schooled horse who would yield to his rider obedience, courage and performance. He was no slouch and neither would he suffer fools.
On one particular outing, a group of trail riders was in the process of negotiating their way around the base of a steep hillside when I espied up on the hillside a small herd of Welsh Section C Ponies. In that part of the country they are released out onto the moorland hillsides so as to fatten up ready for sale as edible meat stock. The small feral herd comprised of four pairs of mares and foals and one obvious stallion. Amongst the mares was one notably lively white/grey pony. She was very obviously the dominant mare Suddenly, whilst I was watching, the stallion split off from the group and cantered down the hillside and directly towards us. Meanwhile the pony mare had moved to the rear of her family group and had started to chivvy them up. She wanted them out of reach of the humans and the domesticated horses.
The small stallion was coming straight for our us and he had adopted a very belligerent posture with teeth bared, ears back and tail raised. Suddenly several of our horses started to show signs of stress and it was very questionable whether the townies who were riding them would have the ability to keep their horses under control and in line. If the line broke, then the chances were that the horses might whirl, bolt and scatter. The little stallion could well have caused havoc. There was a real risk that one or more of the trail riders would come off and that location was no place to be injured from a fall off a horse. We would have had to call in the air ambulance helicopter.
The trek leader managed to take charge of the line of riders from up front. He hustled them up to canter and thereby separated our group from the pony who by now was getting close. It was time to act and I took my crop out of my boot and urged my trusty steed William around and towards the stallion. William did as he was told and with a lot of waving of my free arm and the crop and some loud cries of ’get away’, William and I managed to divert the stallion away from our group. Much to everyone’s relief, no one had fallen off.
Suddenly the stallion looked back and he could then see that his small herd was out of harm‘s way He turned away and cantered back to his ‘family’. No harm had come to anyone and it had all been a good experience for horses and humans.
In that part of the National Park feral/wild ponies were left to fend for themselves for months until later in the season when they were rounded up and shipped off to market. Whereas my trusty gelding William lived a relatively pampered life amongst a group of well schooled trail riding horses - all of which were geldings. Once noticed, any little minor behavioural issues would be quickly schooled out of him. He had a regular daily routine which included two meals a day. He was groomed and inspected for injury regularly. He had shelter and grazed on rich green grass. When you went to catch him, he would stand and would doff his poll to accept the head collar. He would respond readily to a trained rider‘s soft hand. William had made a deal with humans.
I would hope that there is a lot of difference in behaviour patters between my domesticated William and that feral pony stallion. Their instincts will have diverged from the day they are born,. A well looked after riding horse should, through routine and constant care, come to trust we humans, whereas that little stallion has good reason not to.
Horses aren’t stupid,. Some come to knowingly accept which side of their bread is buttered.