Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Herd Dynamics Observed

Quiet and normalcy seem to have been restored.  We got to the bottom of Midge's seizures, and she's been stabilized.  My mother-in-law is out of the hospital.  My ex-neighbor is on a plane flying back to his new home.  With everything going on, there was no way I was going to let the horses add to the problems, so I actively managed the herd, only turning out horses I could totally trust to be together without wreaking havoc.

I occasionally had to release them all together so that I could clean stalls quickly without having a horse standing on top of the manure, but the entire time I was having to discipline them.  Gabbrielle now knows better than to kick another horse in front of me, so she watches me closely and waits for me to walk off with my back to her.  As soon as I hear her feet moving, I whip around to see her with her ears pinned pushing another gelding into a corner where she can kick it.  So, I herd her into a clean stall, lock the gate behind her, and she instantly poops there because she knows I'll have to open the gate to clean it up.  She's a handful.

I've been watching the herd dynamic more closely, and I'm realizing that Lostine has a lot to do with Gabbrielle's aggressiveness.  Lostine pecks at Gabbrielle to get her to keep Rock away from her.  I don't know why Lostine is so terrified of Rock.  All he does is bulldoze the other horses.  He just slowly walks toward them with his ears pinned, and if they move out of his way, he strolls right past them.  If they don't move, he pushes them out of the way with his strength and mass.  But he doesn't kick them.  Lostine just panics when he comes near her, and I'm pretty sure that she cracked her own hip trying to escape him.

If I lock up Lostine, if there's no food around, if it's not anywhere near feeding time, and it's a nice enough day for the horses to get out of the shade, Gabbrielle and Rock take walks around the property together.  They like each other.  If I lock up Gabbrielle, Rock won't leave her side.  He stands next to her stall gate all day and night.  I often say to him, "Why are you mooning over that mare who nearly broke your leg?"

Gabbrielle just likes the attention she gets from any gelding.  If I turn her out with Bombay, she'll hang out with him.  The other day I had pulled the pair of blue jeans out of a water trough and hung them on the fence.  Bombay walked up, pulled them off the fence, and the proceeded to slap them against Gabbrielle's back legs like a wet car wash curtain.  She loved it.  They stood there for half an hour doing that.

Last night I let Gabbrielle out by herself, and when I woke up in the morning, Lostine was out, and Gabbrielle was locked in Lostine's stall.  I had to laugh at that one.  Basically, Gabbrielle had to break Lostine out, only to have Lostine lock her up.  I guess I'll have to go back to locking up the stall doors with bicycle chains if I hope to truly have control over who gets their exercise when.

The only horse that gets along with Lostine that Lostine will tolerate is Bombay.  So, even though Lostine doesn't kick anyone and cause injuries that suck up all of my time, money and energy, she is the catalyst for a lot of trouble down at the barn.  I never really considered her to be the issue, because she's so ancient and quiet.  Once it permanently cools down, I'll have to start lunging her and taking her for walks to see if that helps.  It's easy to give all of my attention to the other horses because they are ride-able and still in training.

I also suspect that the reason why Lostine tries to control the other herd members' actions so much is because she sees that they do things that upset me, like rip up fly masks, fight, poop where I just cleaned, etc.  She's always been my partner, and I think she's just trying to keep the other horses in line so that they won't upset me.  However, since she's too old to physically stop them, she orders Gabbrielle to do it.  Lostine used to be able to discipline the other horses with just a look, but no one seems to respect her anymore except for Gabbrielle.

The other day I went out to lunge all the horses together in the arena just to force them to get a little exercise while we had a few clouds.  I do that when I'm short on time and can't catch and lead each horse one by one to the round pen to be formally lunged.  The problem is the neighbors.  People hear the thundering hooves of my herd, and they come out to investigate.  Then they see me chasing the horses around with a whip and assume that I am beating them.  One lady stood on the cliff in my back yard filming me a few years ago.  I didn't know if she was focusing on all the pretty horses running, or if she was going to report me to the animal police for abuse.

Sure enough, while I was moving the horses out of the barn with the long whip, my ex-neighbor was watching me.  His wife is an animal activist, and I overheard her say once that she thought that I was being abusive by chasing the horses around with the whip.  I can't control what other people think, but I also didn't need the animal police showing up on my doorstep, so I put my lunge whip away and the horses lived to be couch potatoes for another day.

The irony is that these people own horses themselves, but they never play with them, exercise them, train them, ride them, or even pet them.  They think it is enough to just feed them twice a day.  They are the saddest horses.

My horses and I actually have a lot of fun when I lunge them in mass.  We play games and try to trick each other.  One horse will split off and hope that he or she can hide in the barn to rest while I chase the others.  But I stay on top of the strays and herd them back to their buddies to remain participants.  I'll run them back and forth along the fence like a cutting horse would to a cow, and they dance back and forth on their front ends with laughter in their eyes waiting for a chance to dodge out and around me.  Bombay is always hilarious.  You can see the wheels turning in his head.  He keeps coming up with new, creative ways to evade me.  The other horses quickly recognize how smart he is, and they all huddle close to his rump, waiting to follow his cue.

Good times.


Kathryn Little said...

What a lovely closeness you gave with them.

Linda said...

You have nosey neighbors! Even if they report you, you have a valid case for yourself. Horses need exercise. If it works to do it as a group, that's great! Your horses sure have personalities, too. I should create some opportunities for mine to play more.