Thursday, June 24, 2010

Groomfest and Killdeers

Yesterday, I observed Maisie and Dawn grooming in the dry lot paddock for the first time since Maisie's return. When it was raining later in the morning, I also noticed that Dawn let Maisie share the quite small shelter with her.

So this morning, I took my camera to see if I could catch some pictures of them grooming. I think grooming is often a very important social behavior for horses, and one of the benefits of turnout with at least one other horse. That said, some horses seem to groom a lot and others rarely if at all. When Lily was at our barn, she and Maisie would groom without fail every morning when they were turned out to pasture, sometimes for as long as a half hour, despite there being grass available for eating. Grooming took precedence over grass.

In my observations of grooming, it seems to always be the dominant horse (Dawn in this case) who initiates grooming, although the subordinate horse may signal interest by standing to one side looking interested. It also seems to be the dominant horse who initiates side-switching, and who terminates the grooming session, often by moving the other horse away - in Lily's case with a glare and in Dawn's case with a nip. I haven't been able to detect whether there's any "handedness" in grooming in terms of which side the dominant horse grooms on first - I'll have to observe more closely - most horses have a preference for activities involving one side of their body so I wouldn't be surprised if they started regularly on one side - most horses like routine and predictability as well.

Here's Maisie as Dawn approaches for the grooming session:

Maisie's a pretty careful and gentle groomer - she's more of a "scraper":

Dawn's more of a "nipper":

This shows their differing coat colors and sizes - Maisie's at least 3 inches taller than Dawn, maybe more:

I caught a lot of almost closed eyes on Dawn's part - it's almost like she's in a trance:

I liked this shot - Dawn looks content and wise and the contrast with Maisie's rich color is pretty:

Dawn has to stretch to groom Maisie's top line:

A lot of concentration - grooming is a serious activity:

After they were done, I noticed an adult and two baby Killdeer running around the paddock - right from birth the babies are up and running and look just like miniature adults:

The weather's beautiful today, and the stormy weather has moved through, so I'm hoping for a ride today.


  1. I love the pictures! Panama isn't much of a groomer. He only really seems to be interested in it with his favorite mares, and then there is a definite sexual overtone.

  2. What sweet photos. You are so observant.

  3. Yes! Now this is a good subject. ....Please dont try this at home!

    Two weeks ago, while standing idly in the field, wondering where to put all the rocks. (These are appearing due to the drought were are having.)
    The young 15 month old filly "Sunny", an Apaloosa x, came and stood in front of me. She was facing me directly, and then moved to my right. But only in the sense that her head and shoulders were level with me.
    It took me a few seconds to catch on! She kept looking at me, and finally the penny dropped! Sunny wanted to groom!!!!!
    So, I started to groom her with my left hand on the wither, by rubbing hard with my finger ends. She loved it!!!!! I stood for ages! She stretched her neck, rolled her shoulders and then, started to lick her lips and rub her head against me.
    I took this to be a sign of submissive behaviour. So without understanding why this was happening, when there are so many other horses for her to groom. I started to lean over her back, then her rump and then from the other side. Brilliant. She was well handled anyway, but now? She is all over me like a cheap suit!

  4. Love the pictures of Maisie and Dawn grooming eachother! I truly enjoy watching horses in the pasture, particularly their grooming sessions. It so interesting to watch them comunicate as a herd....

  5. Adorable Dawn and Maisie. Best grooming buddies. Pie tries to groom me back when I am currying his neck - ouch. You really captured some poignant moments!

  6. Cheyenne - The only horse I let groom me if he wants is my old (30) gelding Noble - he's very sweet and submissive. He will gently nibble my shoulder when I scratch his shoulders - although he did give me a pretty good nip once! He's also the only one who I let do head rubs on me - he stops immediately and only does it if I offer. Maisie's never offered to groom me, and Dawn, Lily and Norman are too dominant and I like to discourage any use of teeth in a dominant horse - and Norman has a biting problem anyway. I do give scratches and they all enjoy that, and Dawn will do the "shoulder rest" when I'm grooming her sometimes. Sounds like your Sunny is pretty submissive.

  7. oh thank you for sharing this, this is one of the best posts ever cuz it explains the secret society of horses: )

    i love this stuff. your access to so many horses is enviable!


  8. Love, love the pictures! Thanks for sharing this quiet moment between Maisie and Dawn.

  9. Love the new look Kate, nice pics as always.

  10. Great pictures of the grooming session. All of our horses groom each other every day. Like you said some are scrapers, some nippers,some gentle and some really get into it. Mellon, our most neurotic of horses is what we like to refer to as Mr. Mel seems to hold court at his grooming salon with horses actually waiting in line for his celebrity touch. My horses are all so odd.

  11. I love your observations of horse behavior--well illustrated too.

    My Russell R. used to love to have his girth area scratched. He would sidle up to me, placing his body right near my hand and ask for a "grooming." It was one of his more endearing behaviors, and in a sense, I was always honored when he "asked" me to bond with him that way.

  12. Jean - your description of Russell R's behavior reminding me of some things Lily would do - she loved to have her butt scratched and would back up to you to ask for it - a bit intimidating - Lily has a very large butt - but once you understood what she was about it was OK. She also would demand to have her udder cleaned - I expect Melissa can tell you all about that!

  13. My guy grooms me neck to ankles after I do carrot stretches with him... I thought twice about letting him at first, but he is very gentle and I love the bonding. He hasn't had a horse to groom with for quite a while.

    Kate - just caught up on your clinic posts - great resource! Thanks :)

  14. I love watching horses give each other good grooms. My minis don't seem to groom each other that much. Abby used to try and groom me but I had to put an end to that.


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