Tuesday, April 12, 2011

More Herd Dynamics

This morning, Drifter went into the dry lot with the geldings for the first time - we're still on limited grazing hours.  There were fewer fireworks this time, although Pie did manage to get himself kicked in the side again (this time by Drifter), when he wandered up to sniff noses and try to be friendly.  At one point, Drifter was off by himself and the four other geldings were clumped together looking at him.  Drifter spent most of his morning on the fence line with the mares, and driving any other horse away who came near the mares, whom he'd apparently adopted as "his".  Fred clung closely to Fritz and Pie and Scout stayed close to each other.  When I went back and checked, the other four had crept closer to Drifter and everyone was nibbling grass shoots.  His location on the fence line probably kept the other geldings from drinking during the morning, as the water trough is located in the corner on that fence line.

At noontime, I went and brought Drifter down to the arena for a little work session.  Getting him from the dry lot to the arena was a bit of an ordeal.  Although he greeted me at the gate, once we were leading to the barn and arena he was pretty agitated and wanted to go back.  I managed to put him for a bit into a small paddock and did some free lungeing in there for about 15 minutes until he was willing to come to me.  Then we led to the arena - he was still wanting to be out of control and I had to be very big on a number of occasions but we got the job done without my being mowed down.  Once in the arena, I let him go, he galloped off and we did more free lungeing.  It was probably a half hour before he settled enough to pay attention to me instead of the other horses and do a little work - he was panting and sweaty although it wasn't that warm.  I was pretty warm myself - our arena's big enough that I got plenty of exercise keeping him moving. We lunged at the walk and trot in both directions, and then we did some leading work.  I decided that was enough for that session - I could have tacked up and ridden but decided to defer - we could have done it but I didn't want to push my luck and I also wanted him to know that doing the work brought him the reward of getting back to his herd.  If I raise his stress level, I need to bring it back down again - he needs to learn that this is the result of working with me. We led back to the dry lot, better than we'd led out but still not easily - he kept trying to pass me and I kept bringing his head back in line, sometimes getting pretty big to do so, and maintaining him at an arm's length.

Interestingly enough, Fritz was waiting for him at the gate and nickering - maybe Fritz is glad to not have the responsibility of being alpha anymore.  When the horses went out to pasture, he was somewhat confused by the mares heading off in their pasture.  When the gate to the geldings' pasture was opened, he did at one point try to go to the lower pasture and herd Pie back up, but Scout came out to greet him at a trot and he veered off and came back up.  He also went nose to nose with Fred, who was at the trough, and there was no squealing, but then Fred's not a threat to anybody.  Fritz spent some time cantering around with Drifter - apparently Drifter has a fan.

It seems that Drifter isn't just defending himself but wants to be the alpha, and it looks for the moment as though he's succeeded.  And he wants to guard "his" mares - none of whom he's actually met.  It'll be interesting to see how this develops.  I did expect a spike in his herd-boundness when he went out with the others, and that's what's happening now.  We'll keep working a bit at a time and I know things will improve although our work may be more difficult for a while until he settles down.  The fact that he seems to be an alpha with the other horses also means that I need to be very strict with him about doing our work correctly - he may have a somewhat dominant personality as well as having babyish behaviors.

I may work some more with him later or I may not - I certainly want to get in a ride on Pie on this beautiful day.


  1. Interesting that Drifter, the baby, chooses the alpha role. You are right about that. If he is the top horse, you will have to assert yourself even more.

    All, in all, though, I think he's doing quite well. Could it be his excellent teacher? *S*

  2. Interesting. Reminds me of Sami, the newest and youngest member of our herd is always challenging Mellon for top spot. He hasn't gotten there yet and Mellon will never let him. It's still interesting to watch though.

    Drifter will probably wind up being the top guy eventually and he's certainly interested in "his" mares. You've got your work cut out for you with a personality like his. Should be very different from working with Pie.

  3. That's a lot of attitude from the new kid on the block. Says a lot about what he thinks of himself. You're so right about making sure he understands the straight and narrow.

  4. Interesting how the herd changes so drastically with a new member. But glad that he's fitting in relatively drama-free! If he's alpha in the herd, once you assert yourself as his alpha, the herd bound behavior *should* decrease - at least in an ideal world, lol.

    I only ever had trouble with Promise being herd bound years and years ago, when she was not the alpha, and was still being a baby about testing my authority. Now she is alpha and is very confident in my leadership of "our" herd. So, she is just as confident leaving "her" herd...it's as if they don't even exist. Her boyfriend is another matter entirely, he calls to her the entire time she is gone. But she doesn't seem to care in the least!


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