THE POWER OF THE HERD – Now we have our new Cannock Chase Trekking Centre website up and running I decided it was time I started writing my weekly blog again. And this week presented the perfect opportunity.
Anyone who enjoys visiting our ranch bistro knows how entertaining and interesting it is to watch the interactions and relationships between our horses.
Our team have a very natural life, living together as a herd with a distinct pecking order, and the power of the herd has a major influence on their behaviour. I often harness that power when I am introducing a new horse or training a youngster.
It can be a major training tool and it was demonstrated this week with our newest arrival, our five-year-old pure bred Andalusian. She is my trek leader Pele’s full sister and we have named her Nymeria.
She has always lived on the stud where she was born, never going beyond her birthplace and living a quiet life in the field.
Once arriving at the trekking centre we stable a new horse so we can carry out worming and health checks. This helps us start to bond with them before beginning their training.
But in Nymeria’s case she became very stressed. The big world outside was a scary place and she had never even been stabled before. She began to withdraw into the corner as if it was her sanctuary.
Three days after her arrival I decided to turn her out with the herd. One reason was to allow her to see and understand her surroundings. She is like a country girl arriving in the city. This is a big, busy trekking centre, she needed the company of other horses to help process this sensory overload.
I have started my natural horsemanship with her and she was starting to bond with me but I decided she would not relax properly until she joined the herd.
Joining the Herd
She was stabled alongside our lovely boy Skye, who is so friendly and laid back. We don’t just kick a new horse out with them all. We carry out a careful introduction procedure and first we put her in the field with Skye, her new friend and comfort blanket.
Then we added her big brother Pele and after ignoring each other for a little while they went off for a gallop and a play.
We continued the process by turning out boy, girl, boy, girl. We also find it helps to first turn out those of similar ages and the group slowly grew in size. If alarmed she ran back to Skye and she soon found she liked Kitty. Interestingly Kitty is our other newest arrival and still bottom of the pecking order. So Nymeria clearly recognised a kindred spirit.
It’s incredible to watch. The other horses were calm and assertive, but not aggressive. They put her in her place with their body language.
She won’t be allowed to fully integrate for a while. The mares will keep her at least 20 metres away until they are ready to make friends with her. They patrol and even operate a shift system like armed guards. One of them is always on watch to keep an eye on her.
She will learn to go out and come in with the gang and days of play, learning and interactions will expend her energy. The other horses will teach her that this is a safe place with nothing to be afraid of.
The power of the herd will have helped me to begin her training to become a trekking horse. Exciting times ahead for this beautiful girl!