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The Laws of Attraction- Part One “The dynamics of the herd”

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How relationships form with horses – the Laws of Attraction

Part One

River and Max - aka The Mini Brothers...

 

 

Have you ever wondered why certain horses get along with some horses and not others? Me too!

I love to watch horses interact with one another and figure out what the factors might be that attracts or binds certain pairings, especially in a herd situation. I would imagine it’s pretty similar to us- why certain people become our friends and other people we might find pleasant but just don’t connect with on the same level.

 

I think that because for horses, knowing that SAFETY and COMFORT are uppermost in their minds, the first criteria for the horse in a new social situation would be if the new acquaintance in the field/paddock/or box stall next to him OFFERED him the chance to feel safe or comfortable in their presence…

 

Guess which one is the Extrovert ?

So what happens when horses are turned out in a herd situation? I have found that there’s almost always a meet-and-greet time when horses realize someone new has been added and they have to say hello. I’ve watched lots of posturing-strutting around…maybe squealing and sometimes some physical rearing or kicking, but it’s usually not that serious…just a way to establish themselves, figure out where they belong and lay down some ground rules. I have found that extroverted horses tend to ‘fight’ in a forward motion- with their front feet…rearing, rushing forward, biting motions etc and the introverted horses tend to ‘fight’ with the back end…kicking, bucking and pinning a horse in a corner etc. i.e. fighting backwards.

Six horses out together for the first time

 

I did an experiment last weekend and put 6 miniature geldings out together in the back 1.5 acre field. Three of the 6 have been pastured together for more than a year (2 Right brained Extroverts “River” and “Chance” and my Left Brained Introvert “Max”). The 4thhorse to be turned out is Extreme Right Brained extrovert “Flash”.  He is a bit of a problem child because he is socially backwards.  He was a stallion for 13 years and has little if no social skills…(he only learned how to mutual groom a year ago and it was another non-threatening horse that had to teach him the proper protocol) The last  two horses put into this ‘herd’, have only known each other for a week-  One of that group has been with me for 10 months (RB Introverted “Breaker”) and the other: the newcomer is RB extroverted “Tracker”. These two formed an immediate bond since day one.  Breaker is very easy going.  He gets along with anyone.  Tracker desperately needed to belong and really pushed for the bonding with Breaker out of the unconfidence that comes from being the new kid on the block.  The new horse has never met the first 3 horses. 

Picture this entire group of 6 horses.  It’s pretty much a new herd put together on neutral turf; a large completely open, flat, (safe) field of grass. Remember that I have the one oddball horse that doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere (Flash) and one horse (Tracker) that doesn’t know where he stands because he just arrived on the property a week ago. 

 

Flash hangs back to watch everyone else

 

I should mention as individual personalities go…every horse in this group is innately ‘reactive’ in nature (4 are RB Extroverts and Breaker is RB Introvert and therefore reactive but in a different way) .  The only non reactive horse in the mix is LB Introvert “Max” who’s motto in life is “What?  Me worry??  This would be interesting….How would they get along? The new pair went out first to establish themselves in a field they had seen a day before. Then I brought out the problem child – he knew Breaker and Tracker would need to greet him and it worried him. He worried about his safety. 

Tracker threatening to chase Flash away

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 He postured with his pawing front leg to say “stay away”  (If he didn’t, they would chase him…sort of like that movie when everyone picks on the slightly strange kid…Run Forrest Gump!  Run!)  Flash then distanced himself at the far end of the field as the two buddies paired off and went to grazing.

 

After 20 minutes, I fetched the last 3 horses (River, Max and Chance) that are used to being together and threw them out into the mix.  They haven’t seen this field since last year…They were excited to be in the big field!  Yay!  Grass.

 

Problem Child “Flash” stayed at far end of the field  and hoped no one would notice (to keep safe) …There’s now 5 horses to worry about.  How would he cope?  What would he do? 

 

The other 5 said their hellos. New horse “Tracker” was the most reactive…He had to posture, circle… and rush at Max.  Why Max?  I guess because it was too much trouble for Max to react and it seemed like a threat to Tracker so he targeted the only horse that WOULDN’T move.  Remember that in horse language…the one that moves first is the loser…and Max simply couldn’t be bothered to move (not threatened) “Are you kidding me?  Argue and Fight?  When there’s grass? Sheesh!”  and it frustrated Tracker.  He then had to assert himself and was dominantly herding the others away from his buddy,Breaker.  Was it for protective reasons “I need to save him!” (although Breaker was NEVER unsafe nor did he act or look afraid!) or because he really felt vulnerable in a group of strangers that he might not have control over,  and the only horse that gave him comfort was new friend Breaker so he needed to get him off alone?

 

Extroverted "Tracker" circling around Introvert "Max" - establishing ground rules

Breaker couldn’t care less…Breaker is amiable (a lover not a fighter) and would rather do his own thing He never reacts unless he’s pushed and then its more of an explosion – “Would you STOP pushing me around?  Leave me alone.  You will force me to protest and kick at you to tell you to BACK OFF and let me eat….”

 

My 3 established guys moseyed off together in their own little clique because they are used to doing this everyday.. there was the safety and comfort in what they knew to be true.  The field was huge- there was plenty of room to form groups. There was no place for anyone to get trapped.

 

 

The Problem Child stood off alone.  He didn’t belong anywhere per se, but after a half hour of watching, He wanted to segueway himself into the group, to find out if he would be accepted….Somehow he knew that his best chance would be to wait until everyone settled into grazing and all the histrionics were over….He carefully eased in closer…in what would appear to be a nonchalant way but he was being careful NOT to draw attention to himself.  A lone horse out in the wild would be doomed.  He NEEDS the companionship in order to survive…so I watched….where would he go to get his safety and comfort?   Flash has been comfortable with Breaker over the fence, but with new horse Tracker’s jealous body language to the other horses, he knew Breaker was off limits-Tracker would chase him off.   He bypassed “Chance” who ignored him…Chance is also the type to chase him.  He had eye contact with and then sniffed noses with the introvert “Max” …no reaction except a friendly “Get out of my face…I don’t have time for ANYTHING but eating” so then Flash wandered over to approach Extrovert “River” who tends to be very maternal in his reactions and was standing near the back fence line. A little tentative hello and then I watched as Problem Child made the moves to say “I know how to mutual groom…will you accept me if I groom you?” and River agreed that this was a fine arrangement and the two of them spent the next 15 minutes grooming each other.

Max being polite to Flash

 So you had Tracker and a semi-reluctant Breaker that were paired off in one section, doing their own thing because Tracker NEEDED it to be that way…Then you had Max as a complete individual that didn’t want to be bothered by anything, and Chance also off eating alone and lastly, the 2 groomers, River and Flash off by themselves.  I found this to be so interesting.  They broke off into their own groups.   Two horses didn’t care where they were or with whom.  Tracker had to be in charge of Breaker for his own selfish needs of comfort (And Breaker was fine with that)  And lastly, the very sensitive Flash sought out the one horse in the group that offered him the best chance of acceptance.  Did he know that River is non-judgmental and patient?  Did that make him feel safe and comfortable and therefore was even willing to step

Mutual grooming Flash and River

outside his comfort zone to offer mutual grooming to make himself even more acceptable to River?  I found this all so amazing because mutual grooming is very intimate between horses- there is a line drawn in the sand that says “I scratch you and you scratch me” and it has to be pretty 50/50 or it can escalate into something ugly pretty fast.  And remember this was a new skill set for Flash- he’s not really good at this!  River was willing to overlook the rookie and welcome him into his ‘fold’.  I scratch you- you scratch me. I sat in awe, watching the dynamics play out, just sitting and watching strange horses of varying temperament and react-ability act out an age-old instinctive dance.   All was quiet in this huge field with everyone knowing their place of acceptance.  They sought out friends they felt offered them the best safety and comfort. 

 It was quite peaceful and took just over a half hour to settle down to this harmonious energy. 

Safety and Comfort for Flash

 I was witness to the whole event.   Pretty cool

 

Stayed tuned for Part 2- more on the Laws of Attraction


1 comment

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  1. What I love about Part Two is that I feel like I’m right there in the field with them. You describe what motivates their every move so well! I also like: “the first one who moves is the loser”. That really made me think back to what I have observed in herds. It explains so much.

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