There have been many novels written about wild horses throughout history, in particular the Australian brumby and the American mustang. These books generally focus on the romance associated with wild horses – and nearly always have a central ‘hero’ character. Interestingly, this hero character is nearly always a stallion.
In books such as The Silver Brumby (Elaine Mitchell), the stallion is the central character, hero and leader of the herd. The majestic silver stallion, Thowra, battles other stallions, Mother Nature and the threat of man, rising triumphant against all three in order to remain free and protect his herd. In American tales, such The Black Stallion (Walter Farley), it is also the stallion who appears as the hero.
However, just how realistic is this representation of a wild stallion? Are they always leaders and heroes?
The fact is, wild horse herds that roam the plains of Montana or the slopes of Mt Kosciusko are not led by brave, majestic stallions – they are led by alpha mares. Stallions may fight other stallions in order to gain mating rights with mares, but they do not lay down the law within a herd. The alpha mare decides in which direction the herd travel, when to seek water and how young stock should be disciplined. It is the mare that is the true leader of a herd.
This being the case, why does most literature present the stallion as the hero and leader? At the end of the day, it all comes down to the human perception of horses. There is a romantic notion attached to the image of a wild stallion – and part of this is surely to do with the fact the human society has, in many cases, been patriarchal throughout history.
Visually, stallions also very pleasing to the human eye. They tend to be well-muscled, with a crested neck and deeper, richer coloured coat. You only need to look at any horse breeds book, and you will see that a picture of a stallion is often used to exemplify each breed.
When it comes to wild horse fiction, the stallion figure is easy to fall in love with – however, it is far from the truth. Perhaps one day we will see a story where a mare leads the herd to safety, drives off heckling colts and escapes the clutches of man to remain free at all costs. For now, the stallion continues to buck reality in literature.