Life with the Forest Boyz
Owned, photographed and written by Laura Zugzda
I will never forget the day I discovered the Friesian horse. I couldn’t believe such a magical creature existed and I knew I wanted one in my life. My dream came true when I was able to purchase Meike, a 6-month-old Friesian colt in December of 2004. Up to this point in my life, I had never met or owned a stallion. Having grown up with the typical stallion stereotypes—that they are mean, aggressive and dangerous—I wondered if this was true? I once heard someone say, “there is nothing like the heart of a stallion,” and I knew I had to experience it for myself.
I dove in and wanted to do everything I could to make having a stallion as easy as possible. I decided that if it wasn’t easy or fun, then I wouldn’t do it. I determined that I needed to do 3 things: 1) give him room to run and not pen him up, 2) give him companionship with a buddy, not isolation, and 3) NO MARES! It would strictly be a boyz club. What started as a dream, and a single stallion, evolved into a bachelor herd of three, known as The Forest Boyz. This little dream took on a life of it’s own and has become so much bigger than I ever imagined.
Meike, Menno & Saphire live free in the forests of the northern California coast. A bachelor herd WORKS, and they are very happy. They grew up together on a heavily forested property. It was like a giant playground with old Redwood stumps to tear down and dismantle, thick shrubs and brush to conquer and climb through, endless trails to play hide and seek, and a variety of plant life to eat. With their strong desire for adventure, I continued to fence as much land as possible so I could give them new terrain to explore. They chased each other through the forest, running up and down hills that developed their muscle and agility. They learned to navigate slippery hills in wet weather and make choices about footing, braking, and cornering. The forest provided shelter from the wind and rain in the winter and shade in the summer. They are HARD on the land, but it benefits from being used. The horses push back the forest…they trample vines and undesirable shrubs, and they break up debris on the ground and fertilize it for new growth. Every tree becomes a rubbing post and shrubs are used to scratch the hard to reach places. The fragance of forest pitch can always be found on their hair.
Most of us are drawn to stallions for their beauty, power, and freedom. The last thing I wanted to do was take any of those things away. Horses are herd animals. There is safety in numbers and for a horse, being in a herd or having a companion is one of its most basic needs. A stallion that is kept alone is a stressed stallion. Whether he shows it outwardly or not, he is not designed to exist that way, and it effects his personality, his temperament, his sense of security and his health. It is possible to create an environment that a stallion will truly thrive in. It is an amazing thing to discover the fullness of their personality…they are playful, comical, intimate, very communicative and expressive, and I hope that comes through in the images I share.
I never had a plan to have a herd of stallions… it just evolved naturally into what it is. I do not have these boyz as stallions for breeding but simply to share life with them and be their friends. Nothing brings me more joy than giving them the best life that I possibly can. I love discovering who they are and seeing their individual personalities emerge. I not only discovered there is nothing like the heart of a stallion, I found out there is nothing like being their friend. I’ve been photographing them and documenting their lives together for the past 15 years. I hope it encourages others to give their stallions better lives with companionship and freedom. They inspire me every single day and through my art, I hope to offer a glimpse into our world. The three of them will live out their days together as stallions in a bachelor herd.
Is there such a thing as heaven on earth? I think there is. I love being free… and I love extending that freedom to my animals. Dreams don’t have to die. This shepherd girl is living the dream with three black stallions.
You can see more of the Boyz at ForestBoyz.com, or follow them on Facebook and Instagram @laurazugzda.
This article originally appeared in the December 2019 issue of Sport and Trail Magazine, including a number of brilliant photos not available in this blog post. Purchase a hard copy of the issue at Blurb.com