Laws of Attraction – Part Three – “What does Love have to do with it?”
Laws of Attraction – Part Three – “What does love have to do with it?”
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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….
Laws of Attraction – Part two “The science of the language”
Laws of Attraction – Part 2
Last blog, I told the story of how multiple strange horses sorted themselves out in little spin-off groups when I turned 6 minis out in a large safe field.
Horses are social animals. Instinct tells them that they need to be in a herd in order to survive. Humans tend to destroy that need.
I feel sorry for horses in boarding stable situations because unless you had a really self-confident horse…how would he handle a less-than-perfect neighbor when they can’t get away? Most boarding stables are an artificial environment. Barns have solid wall stalls, with maybe a back window if they are lucky and the horses can’t see each other except if they face forward and see the guy across the aisle. And your horse becomes cranky from the solitary confinement. These barns must feel like a prison
sentence. After all, they are a herd animal. Some of the newer barns have short runs attached to their in-and-out stalls and that’s a huge improvement to have freedom of movement, no matter how small the turnout is. But what happens if you have a little pony Arab next to a great big mean-spirited warmblood with a neck that could snake out and bite your horse. If I was the Arab horse, I’d be terrified to step outside my bedroom! Hopefully the people running the barn take notice of such things and move the offender….
I watch for compatibility between horses when I have similar temperaments in my barn. I always try to stable or paddock them side by side FIRST to watch for signs that a bond may form ‘across the fence’ before I would ever try them together in a paddock. However…sometimes that’s no guarantee. Sometimes they only get along BECAUSE there is a fence between them…and sometimes the opposite is true.
Case in point: My warmblood has been turned out with many different horses over the years. Since he was 7 days old he’s been in the company of other horses. I have found that he gets along best with horses that don’t challenge him. He tends to be the school-yard bully and he will ACT dominant just so they don’t test his authority. Strike first-(make an ugly face) and hope they say “Ok..you can be the boss- end of story” and everything is fine. I have seen him make the ugly face to every newcomer that occupies the stall next to his…even if the horse is a miniature that clearly is NO threat… but he still has to establish his dominance so there is never any question. This can carry on for an hour or up to a couple of days. (Depends on the other horse’s reaction)
Certainly a lot of the posturing happens at meal times if the other horse ‘looks’ at him when he’s eating. It’s kind of odd that my 16 hand 1200 lb horse thinks that a 200 lb mini is a threat. I see my horse is a giant bunny rabbit. Lyric is easily threatened and feels vulnerable. His posturing is for show. When he LOOKS like he is saying “Stay away from me! I am mean and tough!” he’s really saying “Please don’t question me or hurt me”. He’s the uncomfortable one, yet he comes off as the total jerk. I have seen him rush the fence when the only horse next to him was a 28 inch mini (who didn’t EVEN flinch at the 1200 lb monster making ugly snake faces at him!)
Pretty funny, but also a little sad if my horse has concerns and feels that vulnerable.
And then there’s the pest…the horse that will the instigator of trouble….the horse that is so confident in the company of other horses, he is in EVERYONE’S face and has a high play drive. He needs someone that will want to play as hard as he does….
Put that horse in with a wall-flower and it becomes a high-stress situation when the extrovert is relentless.
Meet 28 inch Big Mac….The proverbial pest. Young enough (2 yr old) that the older horses will cut him a little slack for being a pain in the butt. “Play with me! Play now!” Always on the go…and when turned out with the established minis of my farm, interesting things happened. Introvert Breaker could NOT handle the constant badgering of Big Mac and literally pleaded to removed from the same paddock. He was forced to react and kick out at Big Mac because Mac wouldn’t take NO for an answer. And when Big Mac was turned out with River, who wanted to have a nap…Mac was poking at him to get him to play. The word “relentless’ comes to mind. If the ugly face threats didn’t work, then he resorted to ignoring him completely in hopes that Mac would get bored and walk away. River is a protector. If forced…he would have gotten to his feet in resignation.
Oddly enough, in group situations, SOMEONE has to be the boss. It doesn’t have to be the most confident horse (Lyric) but it’s the one that is either willing or needs to assume the position for other reasons. Lyric got along best with Hart (a Canadian Horse gelding) Hart was an introvert and didn’t WANT the job….he didn’t want the responsibility so if Lyric needed to be the boss- have at it! Hart could and would take over if he had to and if Lyric was willing to step up to the plate he was more than willing to be subservient.
And just to be clear, size has nothing to do with it. I have had minis turned out with full sized horses. It’s the personality that counts.
The body language is what talks….not the size.
What I know to be true:
*The first few seconds of meeting can be crucial.
*The first horse that moves their feet or demures to the pressure to move is subservient
*The more dominant personalities are usually Extroverted.
*Introverted horses can’t be bothered to fight- If they do, it’s going to be BIG, Explosive (usually with kicking) and over with as quickly as it started. They won’t do anymore than they HAVE to do to get their point across.
*Horses watch for eye contact and subtle moves in body language to read the approaching horse to get a clue whether they wish to make that first meeting. Unconfident horses will often appear bigger/tougher than they are so they DON’T get challenged (Lyric)
*True harmony is when everyone knows their place and the status quo is rarely questioned.
* I have seen geldings pick on mares (esp. if new to the herd) when she cycles. Wait until after the heat cycle before putting them together whenever possible.
* Stallions are often really good babysitters of young weanlings. Foals are cut slack by mature horses, and stallions aren’t threatened by their youth and take on a babysitter personae. One of my minis “Max” was often pastured with his father for several hours each day to kick-start the weanling process. Pip was amazing with his son.
*Even if you remove a horse for a ride, or a show, there tends to be another meet-n’-greet when the horses get back together again, even if only separated for a few hours.
* Horses really want to be together and if given the chance (as illustrated by Part One of this blog, will sort themselves into compatible groups.
* Make sure places where a horse could get trapped are kept to a minimum for optimum safety….no open doorways to stalls, no tiny paddocks or corners , even thick trees…anywhere a really angry dominant horse could trap another- this is where 90% of the accidents happen when horses can’t get away. Out in an open space, the Forrest Gump horse will run only far as the dominant horse WANTS to chase him.
* Natural horsemanship teaches you to read this equine language and THIS is what helps us teach our horses. We learn to mimic the language of the creature we are trying to talk to. Horses want effective leaders and that doesn’t mean just being the boss….think back to the principle of mutual grooming. You scratch- I scratch. So in other words: You promise to do your share to keep your horse safe and comfortable and THEN you become one of the herd….even if its only you and your horse. But that is the concept that makes horse-human relationships work.
I’ve given you the tools. The rest is up to you.
The Laws of Attraction- Part One “The dynamics of the herd”
How relationships form with horses – the Laws of Attraction
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…
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
I was witness to the whole event. Pretty cool
Stayed tuned for Part 2- more on the Laws of Attraction
My Horses: Flash
Flash (DJ’s in a Flash) is a striking black and white pinto mini that stands a mere 32 inches tall. Like River and Sky, Flash came for training and never left. Flash is a VERY right brained extroverted mini that had a lot of coping problems. There is a history of abuse in his early past and his former owner, although a wonderful horse person, wasn’t the right personality fit for Flash. Flash is probably one of the more difficult horses I have schooled because of his tendency to either explode and be off-the-wall reactive if unsure or go catatonic (withdraw inside himself) These are all coping mechanisms he employed and my job was to learn how to slow and break the components down enough for him to learn the task at hand. He hated to be wrong but was also afraid to try so I had to set him up for success in EVERYTHING I did with him. Flash is very clever, and becoming more confident all the time. He is my show off ‘trick’ horse…and knows a repertoire of tasks that he can be rewarded for that include picking up something on command, ringing a bell, playing the piano etc and sometimes he offers them to you without being asked because he knows they please us. And this gives him his much needed confidence. Maybe someday he will drive again but whatever he can give me is just fine with me. It’s more about the relationship than the goal for this little horse.