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.


Grey Horse Matters said...

Herd interactions are always interesting. Since Keil Bay is the big honcho at your place I can imagine how everyone vies for a favorite buddy position.

Good to hear you had some nice rides with the big bay. Your rides always sound so peaceful and lovely.

billie said...

I think my rides are peaceful and lovely because I take responsibility for everything that happens - and avoid as best I can taking things personally when something goes askew.

It helps that the crew here are great partners - they each have their quirks, and I have mine too - but we've worked out ways to enjoy the rides together.

I know with Keil Bay there is an element of pure adoration that kicks in - although he is not a "perfect" horse he comes close, imo, and it's very clear that he feels the adoration and lives up to it.

As happy as it makes me to just see his handsome self standing in the pasture, you can imagine how great it is to ride him. I wonder sometimes what it would be like to live with a horse I didn't have such a strong connection with - what would I do if I had to find other parts of the "ride" to make me feel good?

It's an interesting question. And yet I loved riding Salina and have a connection with her. Cody is so sensitive and workable in a very different way that Keil is - I know if he were the one I rode all the time we'd develop something special together. Working with the pony yielded a quick connection that felt really good.

I get excited about the successes and don't fret the times when things don't go as well. I guess that's a big part of it. And I base my definition of success on what I know about myself and the horse, not what other people think, which also makes a huge difference.

I am thankful for every minute I have with this herd. They really do make life good and interesting, every single day.

Victoria Cummings said...

Reading this post and your response to Arlene's comment reminds me of how glad I am that we are friends! If only more horse owners thought the way you do....

billie said...

Victoria, it is interesting to think about my own evolution with horses. I know when I was 9 and got my first horse I was equally as concerned about him and absolutely would not do anything that I felt was unfair or that might hurt him inadvertently, even back then.

The hard part when I was young was that I did not grow up in a horsey family - so all my horse experience was boarding, in one case with a very knowledgeable family's private stable and then in several different country farm situations where for the most part no one knew anything about horses but just rode the hell out of them every Sunday afternoon. I was completely on my own out there, doing my own research the best I could and trying to take care of my horse, who thankfully was healthy and I think happy.

There's no doubt that my diligence and care now stems from that time when I had the same sensibilities but much less control of the daily decisions.

One of the most painful times of my life was when my family sold my horse when I went to college. And that I was so upset by that I distanced myself from it and did not (and still don't) know what kind of home he went to. I understand looking back why I had to do that, but it's one of the few true regrets I have - that I did not keep up with him and put some energy into how I might have kept him.

I hope his life after he left my care was good.

Victoria Cummings said...

Billie - My childhood riding experiences were similar to yours.I started riding about the time I began to walk and bugged my parents endlessly about buying a horse, but they refused. My dad was a lawyer so he always tried to have a client who owned a stable and I was able to ride and help out with people who owned horses but had no time or desire to ride.. For a awhile, I exercised the forest ranger's gelding after he got a pick up truck and no longer rode his beautiful white Quarter Horse. That's what led me to be a cowgirl.
When I went to college, I lost touch with horses. I'm sure that it must have been so painful for you when your parents sold your horse. I see my daughter distancing herself from our horses as she gets closer to going to college. Hopefully, she'll rediscover her connection and love for them later in life,as I did.
I think that you and I and many of our friends here in the blogosphere are very fortunate to have reawakened our earlier interest in horses at a point in our lives where we can appreciate the deep lessons that they teach us beyond the saddle.

billie said...

I rode in college but then lost touch - until my own children became horse crazy, esp. my daughter. I am so grateful they led me back to a passion I had given up on.

And now that I have it, I am totally serious when I say that as I get older, and my horsey friends, cyber and local, get older too, I want us to explore whatever ways we can to keep our horses and live with them for the rest of our lives.

Between all of us we should be able to get the chores done and sit with the herd even if we can't ride! :)

Victoria Cummings said...

I agree - and that's why I've been so drawn to Carolyn Resnick who is getting on in years but enjoying her life with horses more than ever. One of her students, Stina Herberg, has put up all these videos on Youtube of her own herd of rescued wild horses. Stina lives on St. Vincent in the Carribean and it is so lush and tropical that I watch them for a virtual vacation. We will all have lots of enjoyment with our horses for many years to come!