I think babies can throw a monkey wrench in the herd dynamics when it is a small group.
I saw a 3/4 month old pinning ears and kicking its mother while I was at the barn this week.
I was so worried about my first baby when he was young because he was like that. He was pushing his mom around by the time he was 2 months old. The other horses who were pastured with him would just tolerate his shenanigans without ever reprimanding him for disrespectful behavior. I definitely noticed a difference in how he behaved toward me as well. I was fighting to keep his respect and it wasn't clear who was winning.
So, I put my Mustang in the pen with him and the rest of them. The first thing little 2 month old Rafe did was to run up to Dobe, arch his neck, and squeal
. Dobe, being a very strong alpha personality, pinned his ears and gave his "you better back off" stink face. When Rafe continued to squeal and paw, Dobe charged him and took him completely down to the ground and just held him there for a minute. It didn't hurt him, but it certainly was a very powerful wake-up call. After Dobe let him up, they both just walked off together as if nothing had happened.
Immediately, Rafe started showing more respect to Dobe and the rest of the herd. Just as suddenly, my battle for respect with him was over. He's been nothing but a big sweetie since then. Thankfully, since he's standing 16.1 and weighs about 1400 now.
A herd tends to be much more stable and mellow when there is a strong herd alpha (not a bully
, just a strong alpha). When there is nothing but a bunch of lower level horses out there, I've noticed that they tend to bicker more because they are constantly trying to figure out who should be the alpha and sometimes it seems almost like none of them really want
Too many people read too much cruelty into the behaviors of a strong alpha. A good alpha will be the boss of the herd, they will warn and sometimes punish the other horses when they don't obey or if they start thinking above themselves and get snippy.
Just like this. This filly is new and completely feral, so I put Dobe in with her to teach her the mannerisms of a broke horse. They had been in the pen together for several minutes with him herding her around (not being pushy, just urging her to go where he wanted her to go). Once, he went to turn her and move her away from the stud that was 2 pens over. She started to pin her ears and give her own stink face. This was the result. He didn't hurt her, he didn't even have to touch her. Just the warning was enough. If she hadn't obeyed the warning, then he would have been more assertive and probably nipped her.
That's the same reason why so many people have trouble with getting respect from their horses. People want to pet the horse and give it treats and think that will make the horse "love" them. Those same people are the ones who think it cruel to kick a horse if it kicks you, to pop them on the nose if they go to bite, to use the rope or the whip to enforce your personal space bubble.
Those people only see cruelty or love, there is no in between. The problem with seeing horses like that is that horses simply aren't
that black and white. There are about a billion different shades of gray between the 2 extremes... and each horse is a different shade.
Most horses want someone else to be the alpha. Even Dobe, as strong of an alpha personality as he is, is still below me
in the pecking order...and he loves it that way. Once I got him over his initial charging behavior that previous owners taught him (he would charge them to chase them out of his pen, we had a come to Jesus meeting and fixed that), he has never pinned an ear at me, never offered to kick or nip, he will follow me wherever I want him to go regardless of how "scary" he thinks it is.
Having a good relationship with your horse doesn't mean getting them to "love" you. The best that any person can hope for from a horse is respect. With respect comes trust and loyalty. Not the loyalty that comes from love, but the loyalty that comes from them respecting and trusting their herd alpha (you) to do what is best for them.
People would see the relationship between me and Dobe, or Rafe, or Taz, or Denny, or any of the rest of mine and they might think "Wow, those horses really love her". They don't
, they respect and trust me. That's
what makes for a great relationship.
*steps down off my ranty and slightly off topic soap box*