Join Date: Aug 2013
Location: New Brunswick Canada
Hierarchy changes- my little behavioural study
Our little herd of twos hierarchy has changed.
As many of you know I had to separate Spirit from Trouble due to her extreme aggression toward him. I usually wouldn't interfere, but he would not fight back and she was unfair in her aggression. It was dangerous for him and for me, after she pushed him through fences, overtop of me, into walls and god forbid she ever cornered him, she'd kick the daylights out of him unrelenting.
This has finally changed. I have been slowly reintegrating her back into his pasture over the past few months. She would be taken away from him when she did anything unfair (in horse terms) like chasing him for more than 5 minutes straight, kicking him over and over and over, etc. Now, they've been back in the same pasture for about a month with minimal issues.
A few weeks ago Trouble kicked her. Really planted her one. She was pushing him from behind while he stood at the gate and he double barrelled her in the neck. Since then he's been fighting back when she gets snarky with him. She will try to move him off his hay and he will hold his ground, and kick her. Now, he lifts his foot a few inches off the ground an she thinks twice.
I'm very relieved. I started watching their herd interactions from afar, a few hours a day. Their herd dynamics have truly changed. He now moves HER off her hay, in a fair and down to business manner. They even interact in a friendly manner, grooming and resting their heads on each others backs- something they've NEVER done. She used to be very defensive about him in her space and would lash out aggressively.
I'm so incredibly happy. I started thinking about WHY the change occurred. What has happened in the last few weeks that would have brought it on? When did I start seeing this? I came to the conclusion that I caused it. When I first saw him act defensive, I was holding both their leads, she barged into me and he bit her. I corrected them both but had a "wow he actually bit her" moment.
He's gotten defensive over me before, parking between other horses, laying his ears back when other horses approach me, etc. I always corrected this behaviour. He will also hide behind me when Spirit goes after him, and I corrected her harshly for this. I tolerate absolutely no shenanigans while I'm in the pasture.
So my final conclusion was this:
I gave him the confidence to react to unfair treatment. This strengthens my belief that a horse NEEDS a strong leader, who will teach him confidence in whatever he does. Just thought I'd share my studies of our small herd!
One thing that troubles me, the behaviour he exhibited before was behaviour of an unsocialized horse. This makes zero sense as he is very well socialized.
He ran in a herd with his mother, a stallion-sire- a second mare and her foal- which was close to his age- until he was nine months old. After that I bought him, he was quarantined for thirty days and let out with our main herd- consisting of two geldings, and two mares. One of those mares is our old appaloosa matriarch. She is a wonderful teacher, firm in her leadership but fair. With her there is no ifs, ands or buts about it but she never takes anything too far. She's wonderful at teaching young horses their manners, and herd dynamics. She immediately took him under her wing and taught him the go arounds of the farm. He was then moved at 2 1/2 to our farm, kept isolated with two goats for two months until we bought Spirit. He never had any issue with his goat friends, or about being without an equine buddy. He's never been herd bound, has always been brave and curious.
Spirit came into the picture and I theorize that he had no idea how to handle her. She was extremely aggressive, unfair and unrelenting. He was taught (by me and by other equines) that once the correction is dealt, that's the end of it. Spirit did not behave this way. Maybe I'm wrong in my findings, I'll never know.
I'll add, Spirit behaves in the exact same patterns and such as our bottle baby, who was a monster for the first 11 years of her life. We do not know any of her history beyond the last four years, so this may be the case. Again, I'll never know.
Anyway, I thought I'd share my behavioural studies of my small herd, as it's something I'm passionate about and love watching. Feel free to post any theories or any experience or knowledge you have on the subject!