Tuesday, July 26, 2011

All Mine!

I spent some time this morning trying to figure out what was actually doing on with the herd dynamics in our gelding herd, where Drift is chasing Pie.  Part of the issue with our herds is that they're very small - 3 mares in one herd and 4 geldings in another herd.  Numbers that small can be very problematic when horses leave or join a herd - the dynamics tend to work better when the numbers are larger.

Before Drift arrived at the end of March, Pie and Scout were best buddies.  At that time, Fred was still with us, and he and Fritz were a tight pair.  When Drift came into the herd, he clearly and immediately established his alpha status - Fritz was a pretty weak alpha before that - but all the horses hung out together, although Fred, who was very feeble, did get picked on a bit, mostly by Scout.  Scout and Pie continued to be buddies.

Later that spring, Pie had to come out of the pasture due to a bout of mild laminitis, and we had a very wet spring which meant he couldn't go back out until things dried out.  When he went back out with the gelding herd, Drift started chasing him, particularly when Scout's owner came to take him out of the pasture and feed him mid-morning.  I wanted to see if I could figure out what was going on.

I don't generally interfere in pasture herd behavior - there's really no point in trying to keep the horses from doing what they're doing.  But I am willing to manipulate things a bit to see what happens.  This morning, I put Drift in a separate pasture and turned Pie out with Scout and Fritz.  Pie hung out with them and was grazing pretty close to Scout.  Then, a couple of hours later, I turned Drift out.  He quickly galloped off to where the others were grazing (some of these photos were taken into the sun and are greatly enlarged, so apologies for the quality, but they show the dynamics) - that's Fritz to the right and Scout and Pie are out of the frame to the left:

Then Drift started chasing Pie away from Scout - that's Pie on the left and Drift on the right and Scout's out of the frame to the left:

Pie took evasive and self-protective action and headed off to another part of the pasture - that's Pie kicking out, Drift to the right and Scout's unconcerned face at the far left inside the (intruding) post:

Drift said that Scout was all his, and kept a good eye on Pie:

Pie continued to graze by himself, probably 50 yards off, but kept an ear on Drift:

When Scout's owner came to get him out of the pasture, all the horses - mares and geldings both - came to the gates.  I expect this has been happening every morning.  Drift was in the corner near the gate with "his" mares:

Pie was at the gate, wanting out:

Pie yawned a few times, I expect to release some tension:

Drift kept an eye on Pie, but didn't do anything else - the gate Pie was standing by is not far from where Drift was camped out close to the mares:

Pie greeted Fritz - that's Pie on the left and Fritz on the right:

Drift wasn't too sure he liked this, but didn't do anything aggressive except stare at Pie - that's Drift to the left and Fritz to the right, and Pie's out of the frame to the right:

Now Pie demanded to come out of the pasture:

So then I did something a bit counterintuitive - I took Pie out, put him a separate one-acre pasture and then put Drift in with him.  Drift doesn't seem to have a problem with Pie except when Pie interacts with other horses.  So I took away the other horses - my hope is that Drift can come to accept Pie as a result of spending time with him, and than perhaps they may even become a pair as often happens with two horses that spend a lot of time together.  When I came to get Pie about an hour later, he was as close to the barn and as far away from Drift as he could get - I don't think Drift had chased him as he wan't breathing hard or sweaty, but he was certainly happy to get away from him.  I don't know yet whether I'll continue to put Pie and Drift out together with the herd or not right now - I'll have to think about that one . . .


  1. Interesting post and great pictures. Horses are amazing - a lot like little kids at times.

    Good luck.


  2. Drift definitely has an opinion doesn't he. It's like he's changed his pushy, teenage, behavior from humans to herd mates.

    What would he do if you put him and an equally alpha mare (not in season) together?

  3. Jeni - Dawn is a strong alpha mare, and she's already striking and bellowing at Drift through the fence. I'd hesitate to put them together, as they might kill each other - they're both prone to strike and kick and are both very dominant. When Dawn and Lily (now retired) were first together, they spent a lot of time kicking the sh*t out of each other until Dawn, battered and cut up - Lily was much bigger and more powerful - finally gave up. Now that Lily's gone, Dawn is our strong alpha mare.

  4. I liked this post, it has answered a question for me. I have had a similar situation going on here. Two geldings, one has just recently been added. The two mares are not bothered in the least!

    Its the gelding who has been there the longest.. he chases the new one out of the field!!!! Found him twice now, in a different field!

    I am not happy, as the resident gelding has suddenly started being aggressive to me!
    I think maybe I should put both geldings in another field together?

  5. Anyone who could ride either Pie or Drift with you out on a trail? Sometimes going out together on adventures helps create a bond too.

    Trailering together, etc. all makes them a little more interactive and dependent on each other.

  6. Jean - don't have anyone else to ride them, so that option won't help. I could try trailering them together, but at this point Pie is very wary of Drift - in fact pretty much afraid of him. I'd be scared too if I were Pie.

    Cheyenne - I don't know if putting my two together is going to do the trick or not - only time will tell.

  7. Yep, the photos of Pie looking over the fence make it pretty clear he wants to get the heck out of there!

    Hope this will be something that improves with time--they really haven't spent too much time together thanks to Pie being in dry lot, sounds like. I think the ideas from other folks about trying to get them into situations where they have to depend on each other a little bit (while supervised) sound interesting.

  8. We have 7 horses and they've had their tussles. In the end they learned to figure it out for themselves. Sami and Grady will still occasionally go at it but it's more play fighting than anything.

    I think Drift is completely serious about telling Pie what to do. He seems like a bit of a bully. I feel sorry for Pie, he's such a sweet horse. Hope your plan gets them together and they become friends.

  9. I would either have them be buddies for awhile, at least a couple of weeks, or just leave things alone. Either way they should get things worked out, but I think it is most helpful to have the routine, whichever you choose, as consistent as possible. All the boys out together or Pie and Drift out together.

    I like how you describe it as horse politicis - so apropos!

  10. Definitely some interesting herd dynamics you've got going on over there. It's interesting that Drift is fine with Pie as long as other horses aren't around. Poor Pie, though, he's still terrified no matter what.

    Putting them together probably won't make much difference if Pie stays far away from Drift. As was mentioned, maybe a trailer ride or some other kind of interaction between them might help.

    Hopefully things improve between the horses.

  11. Interesting. I love to watch horses together. I can't tell for sure from your post, but I don't think Drift is hurting Pie? It's more that he keeps him on edge? Hope your plan works and they calm down a bit.

  12. Hope for Pie's sake that Drift relaxes a bit and accepts Pie. I think, because of Drift being so possessive of the other horses, that keeping him and Pie together without any other horses, may work well- Pie will become his herd.

  13. You already know this, but the dynamics can change around throughout the year even if you don't do anything.

    My Pie didn't really care for Foggy at first and Foggy and brother Sovey were best friends. Pie could not stand their friendship even though Pie likes people more than other horses. Now, Pie has to be tight against Foggy and Sovey is left out. If a person enters the pasture, though, Pie pushes Foggy away with a nip.

    I can't believe the switching partners that occurs with my three.

  14. I love how you illustrate with the pictures to tell the story. It's fun learning about their interactions and herd dynamics. Hope that you can soon end up with harmony in the herd. :)

  15. Fascinating series of photos showing your herd's behavior among one another.
    I think, that just like humans, Pie and Drift just don't like one another, and it probably won't ever change. But it doesn't hurt to try.
    Except it could backfire and cause a lot of stress for both of them if they are always forced to be together.
    Perhaps if they were able to ride down a trail together, either ponied off the other, or someone else riding one of them with you, they might learn to rely on one another, especially in scary situations, and stop focusing on what they don't like about each other. It's worth a try?


  16. Oooh. I was just reading through the comments and saw someone had the same idea as I did about riding them out together, or ponying them off one another.

    If you don't have anyone at the barn willing to ride one of your horses with you on the trail, perhaps you could hire a trainer to come out and ride with you and work Drift while on the trail?

    You must have some good trainers for hire in your area, what with the wonderful equine vet care that's available to you. Seems like a very horse-friendly area.

    I've learned from taking private and group lessons this year that sometimes you can't do it all and solve every problem on your own. And by bringing in someone else who is experienced and professional, they can often solve problems very quickly and much easier, especially when you've been struggling with them and can't figure out what to do.

    I'd suggest hiring a trainer, so you can get your herd dynamics problem solved sooner than later, so there is peace in the pasture for all.



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