HERD LIFE – Part one
As I drive around the countryside and see horses living a solitary life in paddocks I feel a little sad that they have to be separated so they have less interaction with their own species.
I realise that some owners have no choice and are doing their very best to protect their beloved horses from injury.
But when I see our herd here at the trekking centre interacting and playing together I am certain that this natural way of life is best for them.
I realised quite early on after creating my trekking centre that the more turnout I could provide for my horses the better life would be for them.
At first they were stabled at night and out during the day but when I turned them out round the clock I noticed the benefits immediately. I found there were huge improvements in their behavior.
Horses like Red, who had issues with stress when I first bought him, quickly became much more relaxed and that was enormously beneficial in training. Our lovely new boy Tyri, who came here from a stables environment, was simply energised by the companionship of the herd.
Equally, a horse that is a little bit sharp or unruly often has his behavior sorted out by his herd mates. They learn from horse body language what the rules are and the older ones often put the youngsters in their place.
My vet always says that it is horse heaven here at the Trekking Centre. They have the perfect combination of herd life, lots of individual attention and exercise.
When I was growing up at my family home all our horses were kept stabled. They were often quite bad tempered and nippy but we don’t have any problems like that with our herd.
It is great to watch as the herd is turned out and as they make their way up to the winter field and the hay feeders.
Off they go, bucking and leaping and playing, happy to be in each other’s company and reinforcing relationships as they canter away. As I am writing this blog there are at least 15 of them enjoying a game of tag before they join their friends who are already eating.
One who is everybody’s playmate is Pirate. He loves a game and at this moment his partner in crime is Ross and they are nipping each other’s legs and bucking.
Observing herd life is endlessly fascinating and I think it is quite unusual these days to have such a large group – about 40 horses – living together. Many yards split the sexes, fearing fighting and injury.
But our boys and girls have a distinct pecking order and get on well together. It is interesting to see who is in the sub-herds and groups.
Buttons is the herd leader and has Capulate as his second in command. They lead the top group, made up of Melody, Paddy, Atlantis, Splash, Benson and Gabriel. Of course that group includes a love triangle! Paddy adores Melody, but she has a crush on Buttons! (They’re like the cool kids)
The Love Triangle – Buttons, Melody & Paddy
And interestingly, our bold and confident youngster Oregon, son of my stallion Zidane, has moved his way up the pecking order and has now joined that top group. I am sure that eventually he will challenge Buttons for the herd leadership.
The Welsh Section D’s, a group that includes Emrys, Gabriel, Spirit, Capulate and his son Atlantis, often like to spend part of the day hanging out together. (Like the football jocks)
There are lots of other close relationships. Alfie and Saffy are boyfriend and girlfriend and he always waits for her at turnout so they can wander off together. Her first love was Jake, but she has dumped him in favour of Alfie.
Alfie and Saffy are members of a sub-herd that also includes the jilted Jake, Lola and Montana. Sometimes Sahara and Dakota choose to spend time with them. Another devoted pair are our pretty little mare Autumn and our donkey Eeyore.
And then there are the loners. Connor and Zeus prefer to be solitary, although the herd is all around them. And the kind and gentle mare Tia is also aloof, although she does love her babies, Arizona and Colorado.
Our newest girls, Kitty and Nymeria, have both established their places in the herd. Kitty is comfortable in the middle with a whole group of friends, while Nymeria likes to spend time with her brother Pele, but has a special affinity with Nutmeg, one of our little ponies.
When a new horse comes we will first turn it out with a companion of its own age and then gradually add the others, starting with the stronger characters.
The new horse is often kept away from the main herd for a while, usually a few days. They will operate a shift system on guard duty until they decide it is time to accept the new arrival. It is always different horses that take up this duty, it is fascinating that is usually a horse or pony of the same sex and similar age. It may be tough to watch but we have to let them sort it out themselves, although we keep a close watch and never let it get nasty.
And once the newbie is accepted it will be playtime again. I just love to see the fun and games – even if it does cost me a fortune in ripped rugs!
One aspect of our herd life that I have not mentioned is family relationships. Our group is also unusual that we have so many family partners and I will tell you about them all in my next blog.