Deer Friends

I first noticed it about three years ago—the horse down the road had company. The horse belonged to neighbors who kept it in a meadow which occupied a flat at the top of the ridge. A young deer stood munching contently in a far corner having its fill of the tender spring grass. The meadow was partially ringed with four courses of sagging barbed wire, a fence that sufficed to keep the horse from wandering but was hardly a barrier to a nimble deer.

Deer sharing a meadow with a horse

Making friends and just horsing around.

The house faced into the meadow and secured one side of the enclosure. There was no doubt that the horse was part of the family. In the early morning I would see it, its two front hooves resting on the stoop, waiting quietly for the door to open. I was into this familiar setting that the young deer wandered.

This singular sight was repeated many times in the next few months when I happened by at the right hour. That hour seemed to be when full sunlight warmed the glade. Normally the deer of the mountain come out in late twilight and bolt at the sight of a car. But this deer, fully exposed in the daylight, scarcely raised its head as I sailed by. Was the protection of the fence—or the horse—enough to overcome the inborn caution of a skittish deer?

Day by day the deer inched closer to the horse. Eventually the doe, now full grown and about half the size of the horse, could be seen grazing head to head with it, each apparently fully at ease in the other’s company.

The following year the horse was joined by more deer, some not yet fully grown. Were these the offspring of the doe who first took liberties in the meadow? By the third year the place was alive with deer—and the single horse. A sense of peace pervaded the meadow. No longer did the horse stand impatiently on the stoop waiting for company.

History is filled with such tales of unlikely alliances and in congruent pictures. It seems we animals share more than we sometimes realize. Was there a bond or simply a tolerance that developed between the horse and the deer? Or was there indifference in the face of abundance?

And then there is the aquatic tank at YSI in Vasona Park where the Western pond turtle frequently perches on top of the bullfrog for hours on end. The bullfrog, faster, larger and with powerful leg muscles, could certainly avoid this subservient posture or even hurl the turtle off if it chose. What is there in it for the turtle to ride atop the frog in this fashion? Why does the bullfrog comply? What force creates such cozy familiarity?

There is a lot that goes on in this world we know very little about. As for teaching tolerance, maybe there is a thing or two we could learn from others in our kingdom. A little horse sense never hurt anyone.

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