Monday, July 16, 2012

herd dynamics: jealousy in July

Last week I was doing barn clean-up while the horses were in with their fans and hay. Our usual routine during this time of year is to rotate the three geldings one at a time through the end stall on Salina's side of the barn - in the afternoon I close the sunny end of the barn and that stall feeds to the grass paddock at that end - so each gelding gets an afternoon to himself, the other two geldings get to share the three stalls on their side of the barn, and everyone gets a little change of routine which seems to keep them happy.

Since Salina's pressure wound is still healing (it's much better but she has had to regenerate skin tissue over the hip point which is taking time) and she is on limited night-time turn-out, I like giving her that entire side of the barn so she can have her choice of stalls, barnyards, etc. The donkeys stay with her at night when we bring her in, so it gives them more options as well.

Keil Bay and Cody have become extremely close buddies over the past year. They've always enjoyed grazing together, but this year I've noticed that Cody enjoys going into Keil Bay's stall and they stand in there and nap together during the hottest part of the day. It also effectively shuts down the pony's favorite thing to do - which is run Cody out of whatever stall he's in, and take over Keil Bay's stall, which makes Keil really angry. (this was why I started rotating them to the other side of the barn, to give each one a break from the pony!)

But when Cody and Keil Bay are in one stall there is no room for the pony to squeeze in. He can't chase Cody out if he has to get past Keil Bay to do it. And he can't horn in on Keil's space if Cody is already in there.

I had to laugh when I witnessed this new dynamic. And I noticed that the pony and Redford had become grazing buddies - Redford goes through the fence during the day to head out and graze with the pony. But for whatever reason, maybe just because the pony and Keil were the first "pair" to live here together, Apache Moon has not given up trying to get that best buddy spot back.

The day I was seeing all this last week was also a day when I rode the Big Bay, and while I was tacking up, he and Cody had a mutual grooming session over the stall door. I noticed the pony watching this closely - and then he came into Cody's stall and chased him out, right at the time when Keil and I were heading to the arena.

When we got back to the barn and I put Keil in his stall, Apache was watching and waiting and managed to beat Cody in there.

But instead of being bossy and taking over Keil's best fan spot, Apache started a very meticulous mutual grooming session. He was so obviously doing his best job, using his lips and teeth gently, moving up and down along Keil's neck (which he has to reach up to do) and paying close attention to what Keil Bay wanted. It was only a moment before Keil reciprocated and the two of them stood there for nearly half an hour.

Cody was in his stall looking left out.

Salina was by this time in her stall getting her first lunch. When I let her out, she took one look at the pony taking over Keil Bay (he is her favorite too), marched briskly to his stall door and started flagging. The pony lunged at her from inside the stall. She didn't back up, but she had to turn her head to keep clear of the pony's bared teeth.

Apache had lured his best buddy back and he wasn't letting even the boss mare stop him.

I admit, the next day I let Keil spend the day with Salina on her side of the barn, with both stall doors open so they could intermingle as they wished. Salina got a full body bath and we soaped and sponged and sprayed all her favorite spots. The donkeys were happy to go out with Cody and the pony. And Keil Bay and Salina got some senior time together.

I'm still fascinated by the connections they each make and how they reconfigure as needed when they feel the bonds being shifted.

As an aside, Keil and I had several nice rides last week. The nicest thing was how absolutely good my body felt in the saddle. We walked, did a little sitting trot, and for the most part Keil Bay led the ride. He found a nice figure 8 pattern using the entire arena and when the sun came out from behind the clouds, he headed for the shade offered by one or the other of the big oak trees. I rode on the buckle with one hand on the reins and enjoyed my relaxed body and the Big Bay's lovely stride. It was another of those days when it felt like we were back in time, riding because that was the way one got from one place to another.

Right now Apache Moon has come to my window to remind me that yes, it's time for breakfast tubs!

And this just in, research on Monty Roberts' round pen training method.

I'm not a fan of training methods that use the "make something so unpleasant they do what you ask" pressure - it's not anything I'd want anyone using on me. Certainly does nothing for developing a relationship built on partnership, and this research seems to address that aspect of this kind of training.