Friday, October 05, 2007

Herd dynamics

I had an interesting lesson in herd dynamics this week when my friend Karen (yes, Lena's favorite masseuse) moved a mare to our barn.

Ellie is a four-year old thoroughbred mare who didn't race (I don't think). Pictures are coming, but I keep forgetting to grab my camera and since she's out in pasture, sometimes she's too far away. Karen is training her to sell and says she's a great trail horse.

Monday night, we picked Ellie up and moved her into the big pasture at our place with two Belgian mares - mother and daughter - and two geldings that are also new to the barn. Karen said Ellie was pretty dominant, but I was a little concerned because Ellie isn't very big and, well, I've seen those two mares be awfully nasty to some of the other horses in there.

I needn't have worried.

First of all, she out-ran all them -- trotting big, bouncy circles around them as they chased her, galloping with her tail up in the air while they watched her as if they had no idea what hit them.

Lena was watching me as well as all the commotion with great interest.

I left, telling Karen I'd be sure to check on Ellie when I got there in the morning, and telling Lena to keep her eye on Ellie, but still feeling vaguely worried.

The next morning, I got to the barn and saw the pasture bunch by the gate of their pasture. One of the mares pinned her ears and ran at Ellie, who pinned her ears back, but didn't budge one inch. Not one. She just swung her rear end in that direction slightly and the other mare veered off. Meanwhile, the two geldings were not only following Ellie like lost puppies, they were ready to defend her, too.

Today, they were all in relatively close proximity and mostly getting along.

The way I understand herd dynamics, that's about right. The alpha mare organizes the herd and keeps them together, though when a stallion is present he "technically" runs things. That probably defaults leadership to an alpha mare in a non-stallion environment, or so it would seem in this case.

I can't help but wonder what would happen if we had Lena and Ellie in the same pasture. Hmmm.

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