Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Herd Integration Process

The past two days have been a learning experience to say the least.  Herd dynamics are rich and complicated.  It's difficult just to observe and not interfere.  My presence has a profound effect on how the horses behave toward one another, because it is clear that all four of them consider me to be in charge.  I try to let them work our their natural rituals regarding a new horse entering an existing group, but it's just too violent and I can't let any of them get hurt.

The new gelding has to somehow find his place amongst two mares and another gelding.  At first I kept all four in separate stalls with Rock next to Lostine, the alpha mare.  I figured Lostine would be the most sensible in her reactions to a new horse, and perhaps if she accepted him, then acceptance of this newcomer would be easier for Gabbrielle and Bombay.

Lostine's original reaction when Rock touched her nose was to squeal and strike the ground with her front hoof.  After a while, she just stood back away from the railing so that he couldn't touch her.  I found that if I let the three Arabs out to run free and kept the new horse Rock in a stall, things were more copacetic than if I locked up the three Arabs and had Rock walk free from stall to stall introducing himself.  When Bombay and Gabbrielle were locked up and Rock approached, they snorted, squealed, bit, struck out and reared at him.  Lostine didn't let him bother her.

So, I let Lostine and Rock roam free together a couple of times, and while Lostine ignored him, Rock would push her around, trying to lead her from behind, occasionally nipping at her rump.  She bucked at him once, but for the most part just tried to avoid him.

Then I locked up the girls and let Bombay out to roam with Rock.  This is where it gets really fascinating.  The two geldings acted just like stallions in the wild.  They first walked shoulder to shoulder having a pushing match, and then Bombay placed himself between Rock and the mares.  Anytime that Rock attempted to approach the mares, Bombay charged him with ears pinned back and teeth bared.  Rock spun, bucked in his face and ran.  Bombay kept Rock at a very specific distance away from the mares.

Gabbrielle acted like a demanding wife and actually pushed Bombay into protecting her.  She got increasingly agitated as Rock approached, and she would start biting Bombay on the neck to pressure him into taking action on her behalf.  Bombay is a major wimp, so seeing him act so aggressive toward another gelding is odd.  As long as Rock is locked up in a stall, Bombay will approach him and play this game of biting each other's faces.  It didn't take long for Bombay to encourage Rock to remove his fly mask.

The two gelding have such similar personalities that I suspect they will be great friends some day.  Unfortunately, right now they are entrenched in a phantom testosterone match.

I'm not sure what the deal is with Gabbrielle.  She has finally approached Rock when he is locked up without throwing a hissy fit, but she definitely feels threatened by him if she is locked up.  He's really a friendly fellow.  Perhaps she's just not in a good state in her heat cycle and is worried he's going to try to mate with her.  When they are all locked up and eating in their stalls, Gabbrielle looks back at Rock and pins her ears every few minutes.

At one point when Rock was roaming free, both Bombay and Gabbrielle were snorting, squealing and rearing in their stalls.  The pitch was getting so aggressive that I had to move Rock away to settle them down so that they wouldn't hurt themselves.  I "lead him from behind", as Carolyn Resnick puts it, and pushed him in a half circle at a sufficient distance away from the barn, and that helped settle the other horses down.

I vaguely remember having to keep Gabbrielle separated from Bombay and Lostine for about a week when I first brought her home, because they kept trying to bite each other's ears off over the fence.  When I finally put them together, Gabbrielle showed the other horses how to blow bubbles in the water trough, and that's how they all became friends.  I have no memory of integrating Lostine in with Bombay.  I think I just stuck them together.  Bringing a fourth horse, and a second male horse, into an existing herd is considerably more complicated.

I did learn that I can pretty much decide who goes where in the pecking order by waiting for a fight to break out, and then chasing off the horse I want to be lower on the totem pole.  Since the existing herd has such a good dynamic, I have to bring Rock in at the bottom.  He doesn't get intimidated by the other horses easily, though.  I definitely have to be there to prevent blood from being spilled.

I figured I may as well do some free lunging while we were out there, because Rock hadn't been getting much exercise over the past couples of days.  He has this nice, relaxed walk, and this big, floppy trot, but when he kicks it into gear, he goes straight into this powerful gallop filled with bucks and farts.  In fact he ran so fast and hard that he fell down twice, and all I did was lift my whip a little higher.  It's good to know that he has a gas pedal, but once we start riding him we'll have to be careful not to cross the threshold that lights his rocket boosters.

Unfortunately, we can't ride him for a while, because none of my saddles fit him.  I have to make some templates to get a general idea of what kind of tree we should be looking for, and then start the saddle fitting process.  Though he is only 15-hands high at the withers, his back is much higher, longer, and straighter than Bombay's.  I had trouble heaving my one trail saddle up over his back to try it on.  That's my biggest saddle with the widest tree, and my husband said it fit like a little hat perched on top of a fat man's head.

Sorry for not having pictures.  Everything is very dangerous and intense right now, so fiddling with a camera is not a good idea.  I need my full attention on the horses' body language.  Things are improving, though.  Previously, I had to lock all the horses up a night, but now I can leave the Arabs out and just lock up Rock.

Oh yeah, and I think I know one of the reasons why Rock might have been named Rock.  He eats rocks.


fernvalley01 said...

Interesting to watch them sort it out. Does Rock need a salt block?

Sam said...

Eats rocks? That is not good. Maybe a grazing muzzle?


Rebecca said...

I had a dog when I was younger who ate rocks too. Congrads on your new horse!

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Rock has a salt block. He just likes to pick up rocks and roll them around in his mouth like a game. Bombay does it too. I've never seen them actually swallow one.

fernvalley01 said...

Ok ,just wondering if he was looking for something or its just a habit

achieve1dream said...

Aww man I would have loved to see Bombay and Rock acting like stallions hehe. I know you weren't comfortable having a camera out there though so I won't be mad at you hehehehe! I hope things settle down between all of them soon. :)