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Laws of Attraction – Part Three – “What does Love have to do with it?”

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Laws of Attraction – Part Three – “What does love have to do with it?”

Full siblings JoJo and Sean

A dear friend suggested I carry on with this thread and talk about my observations on the different pairings between mares/mares….mares/geldings…geldings/geldings and even stallions with either of those two.  I can even go one step further and talk about siblings. 

Is there any BEST pairings out there that work the most consistently?  I tend to think not- I believe horses getting along are governed by these factors:

1)      Personality (confidence level)

2)      Safety / Comfort

3)      Need and Want

4)      Learned behavior

5)      Social Skills

6)      Environment

7)      Hormones/DNA

Bobbysox and Ajax - "Trying to see eye-to-eye"

Personality

Some horses are just plain easier to get along with than others.  On my farm currently I have both an Extrovert and an Introvert that I can turn out with any newcomer if need be.  These two horses are amiable and easy to get along with.  That’s not to say they don’t have ground rules and won’t kick out if provoked but generally other than the first few meet n’ greet moments I am pretty much guaranteed that peace will reign in very short order.  They are both geldings.  One, River, is very protective and always has been – almost maternal in nature.  I have spotted him many times herding a new horse away from my stallion (that is pastured beside them) until everyone knows each other better. 

River coming between the stallion and the newcomer....protective as always

The other gelding, Breaker, was a long time stallion that USED to have aggression issues towards other horses, and now that he doesn’t have spare parts, he is a trustworthy pasture/paddock mate.  Was his ‘aggression’ testosterone driven?  I would say probably yes.  My very first horse, Mis’tasini (aka “Mem”) was a mare, and she too had this get-along-with-anyone nature that made it easy.  She was a surrogate mother to my warmblood as a foal….she looked after him better than his own mother did.

 Unconfident horses that are easily threatened tend to either be like Lyric (the bully mentality: strike first so no one challenges you) or the complete social misfit that everyone LIKES to pick on because you don’t know the rules.  Flash is sort of that way….If you turn him out with strange horses, you might as well paint a target on his butt.  He’s getting better but I have to be careful with him (we’ll talk about that in #5- Social Skills) 

Safety and Comfort

These two issues are the deciding factor between any pairing in my opinion, because these are innately so important to our horses.  It’s the foundation of how our horses are hard-wired.  Quite simply -this makes or breaks it.  This is the reason they seek out others of their species whenever possible.  This is where you’ll find any successful companionship – whether its mare/mare…mare/gelding… or  gelding/geldings. 

 

Mem, Andy and Shalann- my first 3 horses

 

I have seen all these work in harmony because the issue of Safety and Comfort was addressed.  My first two horses were both mares and they got along famously.  Then I added a gelding.  They were for the most part, a very happy threesome.  Andy was the boss, and the mares demurred to that (or at least they let him believe it) Andy was quite introverted and Left brained.  He had the ability to ‘control’ the girls with merely “THE LOOK”.  As mentioned before, Introverts aren’t going to do anymore than necessary and as long as the girls listened to him, there was peace in the valley.  The girls felt safe with him.  Everyone knew their place and all was well. 

My warmblood gelding gets along with horses if he can be the boss because that’s what he needs to feel safe. 

Angel and Lyric

He may not be the BEST boss but the horses that don’t question him or push the envelope whether they are geldings or mares are his best pasture mates.  I have seen him more assertive with a mare when she cycles…He is sexually frustrated?  No, I don’t think so…he’s been a gelding since he was 10 months old.  I believe it’s because the MARE changes and becomes hormonal, that he is uncomfortable with HER change in demeanor and temperament so he has to chase her to prove a point, and to get back his status quo. 

 

Lyric and Silver

 

 

 

Need and Want

I mention this because I have seen horses band together because they don’t HAVE anyone else and in order to feel safe and comfortable, they bond with a horse that is less than perfect but will do under the circumstances.  Sort of like an arranged marriage, they become close and bond out of need.  Once they establish who the boss is, quite often things can settle down to be a relationship that works.  Maybe they can only be side-by-side (stallion next to a gelding for example) that wouldn’t work normally but a relationship is formed that is strong nonetheless. 

 Learned Behavior

I have seen this become an issue because often foals of dominant mothers (lead mares) become dominant leaders by proxy.  They SEE the herd scatter when Mother walks by, or that SHE gets to choose the hay pile and therefore the foal learns that he/she also is offered the same seniority by association.  Lots of times this can carry out successfully throughout the horse’s life, but all it takes is one horse to question the authority and it could get ugly.  “You aren’t the boss of me”.   I’m just sayin’

Social Skills

This is where we can help when we raise our foals and see that they spend quality time with other compatible horses to learn HOW to be horses.  Case in point:  Flash didn’t know how to mutual groom and it took a very quiet Introvert to patiently teach him the proper protocol…”I scratch you-You scratch me.” Before Robin taught him how, horses would approach Flash and he would feel threatened by the overtures of the other horse to scratch and Flash would get bitten, kicked, or chased because he didn’t respond like a normal horse would. 

Flash paying the price of inappropriate behavior

Why didn’t he learn these skill sets as a youngster…?  Who knows?  But he was a stallion (therefore isolated) for 13 years so he wasn’t turned out with others.  He wasn’t aggressive but his inappropriate responses and body language set him up for failure as a suitable pasture mate.  Like I said, he might as well have a target on his butt.  “Run Forrest- Run!”   My other example of a horse learning social skills late in life is foster child Bobbysox…a horse that spent 14 years as a stallion in a box stall with extremely limited turnout.   Almost like a person in solitary confinement, he had to LEARN how to be a horse on ALL levels.  To this day he does not cope well with change, and in the beginning formed unnatural attachments to ANY horse close enough to touch and would get frantic if they were turned out for the day first.  He’s much better now and he has a new BFF Ajax that was chosen specifically for his easy-going temperament that would temper Bobby’s more off-the-wall behavior.  That bonding took place over several weeks to insure the friendship would be successful. 

Environment

I mention this because it ties into the Need and Want.  I have seen unconfident horses bond together BECAUSE of the environment in which they share.  For example: The horse that travels in a trailer with a strange horse to a show that might scream and yell the whole time during the show because the new buddy has disappeared.  They became friends

Horses bonding at a show..gelding Valentino with stallion Lad

because of the situation that thrust them together for the duration.  This is also why horses stick together if they go through some sort of trauma together.  Will this be a lasting relationship?  Hard to say.  Probably  not.  But any port in a storm.  And don’t forget horses in a team or pair….They bond because of the job.    They  might tolerate each other nicely because they are harnessed side by side…but….

 Therefore, use this knowledge and introduce a new potential pairing or group by setting them up for success.  Introduce them over a stall wall or over the fence before turning them in together, whether its 2 horses or 10….The bigger the horses, the more room you need so they can split off into groups that please them within the herd.  I had almost 2 acres to introduce 6 strange miniatures.  The same number of full sized horses would need double that until you know for sure everyone will, for the most part, get along.

 Hormones

There has to be something said about the opposite sexes attracting and forming bonds.  I have seen very successful mare and gelding pairings that endure years of horsey marriage.  I have also witnessed a sibling bonds that go deep. 

Full siblings running as one unit. How cool is this?

I have witnessed both full siblings and half siblings seek each other out and be compatible. Do they know?  Maybe it’s like having a missing twin?  Case in point…My River has two half siblings (same dam / different sire) and he has had the opportunity to either reunite or meet his siblings. 

Reindance and Riverdance - together after 10 years

Rein had not been on my farm or seen by River for 10 years, and yet I turned the two of them out together and they were off grazing within minutes. And when he met his half sister for the first time, there was a bit of a scuffling to see who the boss was, and then they two were side by side grazing.  Did River know they were related?  You tell me. 

Moon(sister) and River (brother)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 And lastly we need to discuss the stallion thing.  I have never believed that stallions should be isolated.  It just isn’t healthy on MANY levels.   I have heard of stallions pastured with both other stallions and also with geldings.  It can be done.  Depends on the stallion. 

Best Buddies- Lad and River

 They are more of a wild card because of the territorial -hormone thing.  It either wells really well or not at all!  Not much grey area.  Having said that, I have always pastured my stallions (a Morgan and a Welsh) beside other geldings (Miniatures).  I like this arrangement.  I admit to having my Morgan stallion Lad pastured with my River mini and it WAS very successful for several weeks until a mare came into season on my property.  Hormones trumped everything and Lad felt threatened by River so it just wasn’t worth the risk.  And yet I handled them together all the time. 

 I know of  stallions pastured with weaned babies and this type of compatibility comes out of the fact that the weanlings aren’t considered threats and therefore easily accepted.  (One of my minis, Max, was pastured with his father to help in the weaning process- Pip was a wonderful babysitter)  I have known of stallions turned out with mares to pasture breed, often with foals at foot and it can work well.  I have heard very successful pasture mates that were stallions turned out with non-fertile mares and then they became like an old married couple. 

Three geldings beside Sky (Welsh stallion)

 

Canadian stallion Tango and Flash

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I guess what I am trying to say is there no guarantee.  As the horse owner, you need to know your horse and his personality.  Then you try to put together successful pairs or groupings depending on what you have found works best.  

Three-way mutual grooming...Now THAT'S teamwork!

And if you are forced to match up less than perfect horses, take your time and introduce over a period of time (Days? Weeks?)  The compatibility might grow nicely out of the familiarity (like Ajax and Bobbysox) and what you find might surprise you.  Generally even numbers in a group works better than un-even so there’s no odd man out, but I have 2 groups of three that have worked nicely.   Years ago, my neighbor wanted to get a second horse for her older Arab gelding.  She tried a couple of different mature geldings and it became obvious quite quickly that this wasn’t going to work.    Her gelding acted aggressively towards ANY male newcomer. Maybe he WANTED to be solo? Then she decided to buy a 2 year old Canadian filly.  It turned out to be exactly the right thing to do.  The new horse was a ‘baby’ AND a female.  This is still a successful pairing even though the filly grew up to be a left-brained Introvert dominant mare and the gelding turned into the ‘hen-pecked’ husband… But it works because everyone knows their place.   The mare’s dam was the lead mare and she carried on with her learned behavior and the gelding learned quickly not to question the leadership- and if Ted forgets, Moxie is quick to remind him!

Ahh.  A match made in heaven….


6 comments

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  1. Deb, you mentioned that Mem was a surrogate mother to your warmblood, better than his own mother. This interests me because I’ve been re-reading Jane Smiley’s “A Year at the Races”, and she mentions that one foal whose mother died grew in to a really nervous adult. What do you think of that?? How important is the initial mother-foal relationship in giving confidence to the baby??

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    • Deb

      Studies have shown it’s EXTREMELY important. And only have my Lyric to base my observations on. His dam was a leased mare and she was a little fizzy…Right brained extrovert. She was reactive so I wanted to make sure that Lyric was turned out in the company of my three older horses to learn that sometimes you could stand around longer before you took off. I believe he was a week old when he was one of a herd with Auntie Mem, Auntie Shalann, and Uncle Andy. Mem was the surrogate mom. Shalann was the grumpy spinster aunt, and Andy was the calm “follow me, kid…I’ll show you the ropes”. Lyra was a wonderful mother, but I saw the value in giving Lyric a well rounded education being around different personalities. He got his genetics from his parents, and most of his life lessons from his hours with my three trusted older horses.

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      • LOL…I love the way you describe his “extended” family! How did Lyra feel about all this??

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        • Deb

          Lyra was not prepared emotionally to deal with such a precocious colt- her previous foal was a filly. I was a bit surprised that she was more than happy to take him to Play School each morning with the old horses. He WAS extremely outgoing.
          She would keep her eye on him from afar, and she was available whenever he needed a snack. He would have a drink and then go back to playing. The old horses were not as lenient as his mom, esp. spinster aunt Shalann…she was not tolerant of his playfulness and he KNEW it. They all brought valuable lessons to my colt in one way or another.

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  2. Katie

    Hi Deb, love these articles. I enjoy watching my little herd interact. Now that I have full siblings at my place, i notice that they are definetly not close, Shadow chases his sister off if they get to close, they work fine together harnessed, however he doesn’t have anything to do with her in the paddock. He is a bit of a loner and she is the bottom the pecking order. They were able to meet appropriatly and slowly, in all the right ways, and had been together quite a bit when younger, however Shadow is quite rude to his sister…is this just personalities clashing?

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  3. Deb

    I would wager Shadow is like Lyric….sort of unconfident so therefore a bully. This type of horse needs control of his situation in order to feel safe. Shadow is tolerant of his sister when in harness because you have control of the situation and he can feel safer knowing that you have his back

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