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November 3, 2012: Herd Dynamics

Hubris is the belief that I know rather than I’m struggling to know.

I (obviously) spend considerable time in the horse enclosure, observing horse behavior. This is something I never tire of doing. This (in part) gives meaning to what some consider to be a non-sensical activity, that is pen cleaning. (I’ve been compared to the dude in Bullwinkle and Rocky’s Fractured Fairy Tales, the one who walks behind the horses, cleaning up.) But, as I have often thought, I would not do this if there were no animals in the pen, for then it would then be a rote activity, meaningless and boring.

It one day occurred to me that I needed to spend more time in the pen, doing nothing. So a week or so ago, I set aside my rake and shovel, and sat with my back to the shelter wall. One-by-one, four horses came over to me and sniffed me. And one-by-one, each walked off. None, it seemed, had any pressing concerns. All they wanted was food.

At one point, Tinni, clearly concerned, came charging around the corner, alert, ears up, eyes wide, ready to take on whatever it was that had captured the others’ interest. Right then, I realized that he’s the one in charge.

Dominance is an over-simplified term, which is like the weather, very subject to change. If, say, Tinni was in a differing herd, he might not be as vigilant as he now is. I saw this happen this past summer. Tinni and Siggi had for a long, long time, been sparring partners. They’d bite one another first gently, then not so gently. Tinni once took a huge chunk of skin out of Siggi’s neck, and Siggi took a huge chunk of mane out of Tinni’s forelock. Pete claimed that Tinni started it, and I claimed that Siggi started it. It was hard to tell.

For a while, we separated the two, putting one or the other in what we called the Time Out pen. However, Hrimmi’s arrival was a complication, for then we had five horses to keep an eye on. This of course also meant a change in herd dynamics. So, it was with some misgivings on my part that I decided to send Tinni to summer camp. As you all know, I love him dearly, and ride him often. He still has things to teach me, and for this reason, I was reluctant to part with him.

Tinni got excellent care at Vicki’s. He got his daily rations (which included beet pulp and alfalfa) and was exercised on a daily basis. But at the same time, he was picked on by Hunar, a younger and much stronger horse. It was Hunar’s barn, and Hunar’s food, and Hunar’s owner, and Hunar let Tinni know this.

In his absence, Pete and I prepared for Tinni’s homecoming by putting up another gate. This then created a third enclosed area. And Pete built a run-in shed, so that if need be, the horses (in their three areas) would have shelter from the elements.
I do not know what I do not know what I do not know. This is the beginning of learning.

This, though, is what I’ve been told. It has been said that dominant equine males drive away or kill younger males in the herd. This is how they protect the herd. It’s their nature. Weaker horses make the herd vulnerable.

So, we had a situation in which at one point in time, Tinni and Siggi went at it, and at another point in time, Hunar and Tinni went at it. In the first instance Tinni was the one who was stronger, and in the second instance, Hunar was the one who was stronger.

Upon Tinni’s return, we again put him in with Siggi and the rest of the herd. Amazingly, the two, except for one brief altercation, have been getting along. What gives?

Maybe, while over at Vicki’s, Tinni came to the realization that life here was more to his liking than it was over at Vicki’s, and vowed to behave.

Maybe Tinni knew that he wasn’t top dog over there, but was top dog over here, and consequently, has since seen no need to mix it up with Siggi.

Maybe Tinni is now too old to care, and now he just wants to avoid any and all conflict.

Maybe Tinni’s diet now better suits his metabolism, making him feel physically and mentally more at ease.

Maybe (heaven help us all) Tinni now sees Raudi as the one in charge.

Or Maybe Siggi has finally accepted the fact that Tinni is in charge.

Maybe is the operative word. I do not and will not say that the change is a direct result of one thing or another. Being an essayist, I enjoy speculating. I’m just pleased that, at least for now, all the horses are getting along. If they were not, we’d have to consider parting company with one or more of them. But we don’t. And I’m really pleased about this, for I love them all dearly.

Next: 329. 11/4/12: Herd Dynamics, Part II