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Sunday, 25 March 2012

Traits Of The Herd

The Medicine Herd was finally turned out together yesterday. This has been a long time coming and was a very satisfying event to watch. In the sequence shown above ten month old APHA filly Sirius Eclipse locates a 'good grounding' spot and embarks on a vigorous roll. Life doesn't get much better than this for a young horse who was lucky enough to have been born in a very natural herd environment. She lived with the entire herd including several broodmares, yearlings and the herd sire along with a herd of cattle in Northern British Columbia. By my choice she and her sisters were only handled at the time of loading to be delivered to us at Highfields on Vancouver Island.

To the average horse person horses roll for 'fun', to help shed long winter coats or to help alleviate pain during a bout of colic.

While these are all valid observations I have also noted that horses return to the same locations to roll in order to ground their energy back to Mother Earth.

Children with emotional imbalances, children labelled with such things as Aspergers, Autism, ADD and ADHD when given the opportunity will freely gravitate to these locations. If you plan to assist children or anyone for that matter take special note of where your horses go 'to ground' and allow the people to have access to these areas with or without the horses nearby. I have witnessed autistic children stretch their arms out from their sides, 'float' their fingers using them as antennas and RUN straight across large fields to get to these spots!

The two older horses, Jet and Luc, are usually very tight together. The two sister fillies Sirius Eclipse and Trinity Red Star are rarely seen separate from each other. In these photographs you will notice The bay and white Sirius is with the bay Luc and the chestnut filly is with the chestnut mare. You'll also notice they are apart from one another even though all four get along in a tight group surprisingly well.

It could be said that the fillies choose to be with the horses bearing similar colors as their dams which could be part of it, however in my years of studying groups of horses I have found that they tend to 'color group' themselves even when the dams of the foals have been entirely different colors than the horse of choice. I feel that horses will try to group into similar colors and / or patterns in order to fool the eyes of predators much the same way as zebras and their stripes fool the eyes when they are grouped. It is harder for the predators to determine where one horse begins and ends. I first began to notice this behavior pattern while observing a mixed herd of approximately sixty horses. The buckskins grouped, the bays grouped, the chestnuts grouped and the patterned horses including Appaloosas and Paints grouped since there were fewer of those.

Grey / white horses were often completely ostracized from the herd, set apart and kept at a fairly great distance. I've had all kinds of thoughts about this behavior over the years and worked through thinking that perhaps because greys / whites are prone to cancers that illness kept them 'over there'.
I had a young grey mare arrive and when she was turned into the group I was quite surprised at how vicious the horses were with her. I tried all manner of combinations of turnout scenarios trying to find her some quiet companionship which she desperately wanted and sought.
Nothing was working until one day I began to think about the 'color grouping' behavior and covered her with a dark blue blanket.
When I turned her in with the horses she was immediately accepted!!!
This helped to dispel my theory on the cancer genes at least and started me on a few different trials.
The horses have shown me that unless a grey is turned out with other greys or light colored horses then she / he becomes like a white flag waving to show predators where the herd other words they draw attention to the group much like a surrender flag.

Luc and Jet's Role as Teachers

Normally when I do turn out, Jet goes out first (lead mare) then Luc since he is a big gentle non confrontational giant.
There is somewhat of a maze of paddocks and riding rings that the horses have access to and must make their way through on their way out to the one and one half acre grass paddocks. 
Jet, when let free immediately turned and sped out to pasture.
Luc on the other hand waited quietly, watching as I went to bring the two fillies. Trinity ran into the ring with him and he continued to wait. 
I brought Sirius into the ring, turned her loose and that is when Luc gently and quietly 'gathered them up' and led them through the maze out to grass.
His job complete, he dropped his head to eat grass. 

Meanwhile Jet took over, circled 'her girls', sped them up and took them around the pasture in two turns. First to the left with her head low, snaking as some call it....looking along the fence lines. For the second turn Jet went to the right with her head held high scanning from left to right as she ran with them.

This is how a mare will show her foals the boundaries. Probably more importantly this is how the mare checks for predators lurking in and under fences and hedgerows (looking low) and up into the trees (looking high)...she keeps her foal on the inside away from the potential danger until she has checked things out thoroughly. 

I use this in MareSpeak often, especially when working with frightened horses. As long as the 'foal' (any horse) knows you have checked things out and continue to 'watch' they will be able to relax..otherwise they must be on the alert for themselves and for you too.

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