Monday, February 21, 2011

Rights and Privileges

Horses in Charge

I have to laugh a bit about my Boys. With the freedom of being able to go in and out of the barn at will, they have clearly established their territory out there.  And, the herd hierarchy is very obvious.

Toby is the alpha horse with Tucker running a close second. So, whatever Toby wants, Toby gets. This morning,  under the leftover flakes of a mini now event--just a dusting, thank goodness--all three were under the west run in roof.  Well, sort of.  Toby was well inside, perhaps even in Chance's stall, Tucker was totally under the roof, and Chance, low man on the totem pole was half in, half out, clearly ready to take off should one of the other two decide he had to leave.

When I go out to feed, each Boy heads for his own stall.  Then I open Toby's inside stall gate to put in his hay. I'll usually put Tucker's hay in from the outside as I walk through Toby's stall. Toby feels it is then his right and privilege to walk into the aisle of the barn to browse and explore. He likes to nibble on stray pieces of hay, check out Chance's stall for some reason, and then go to stand by the feed room door trying to hurry me along.

In the process, he might knock over the garbage can for or kick the movable step out of the way.

Today, Tucker decided to follow Toby into the aisle. The aisle is about twelve feet wide and thirty four feet long, so there was plenty of room.  But not for Toby.  Apparently Tucker was infringing on his exclusive rights.  He did not get violent, but made it clear, with nasty faces that Tucker had to leave.  So Tuck headed back out, with Toby at his him a good nip on the hind end to hurry him along.  At least I know how the blankets lose their storm flaps!

It's not that often that I see Toby have to make physical contact to get his point across. As the boss horse, he has his rights and doesn't have to do much to enforce them.

Generally, as ulitimate "alpha horse," I don't need to make a lot of physical contact myself to get my point across.  But I must be ever mindful that there is always the urge to social climb within the herd.  Since I can't lay my ears back, I try to use assertive posture and attitude, resorting to a vocal "snarl" when one of the Boys tries to overstep my authority.

But every now and then, like Toby, I need to give a little "nip" to bring my point across. It's good to know such corrections are quite in the normal, natural order of things.


  1. Herd hierarchy is a fascinating thing to watch. In our herd it hasn't changed much over the years. Mellon is and I'm certain will always be in charge. Which is just as well because left to Nate the second in command I fear the herd would get into lots of trouble should he be at the helm of the ship.

    Your boys seem to have it all sorted out but I'm glad to hear that you are the boss mare of the herd and they listen to you too.

  2. Anonymous1:10 PM

    I love watching herd dynamics. It's also interesting to see the different "styles" of alphas - Lily was pretty low-key - all she had to do was walk slowly towards other horses and they would scatter - but then she was very formidable and they all knew it and some bore scars to prove it. Dawn is a very aggressive alpha - she does lots of chasing and threatening to bite and kick, but I think that's because she's more insecure about her status than Lily was.

    We've had all sorts of gelding alphas too - from extremely (dangerously) aggressive to laid-back. Fritz is the current very low-key alpha and I wouldn't be surprised if Pie makes a move up some day soon.

  3. Always a good reminder of nature's way of working things out. Your boys sure do have their little herd worked out and good thing you get to be boss mare.

    Fawkes was always middle man on the totem pole when I had him out in the group, and he sure has plenty of leftover 'battle' wounds from it. Fighting to keep his place. I do think, in retrospect, that there were too many horses for the amount of space that they were turned out in. A case of poor management and many horses paid the price for it.

    Glad I removed myself from that situation!

  4. I think you need some attachable horse ears that you can control! Wouldn't that be funny? But actually the horses wouldn't fall for that.

    I am sure that keeping their places in the herd occupies their minds in a very appropriate way.

  5. Herd dynamics are so fascinating. Sometimes you have to wonder about what they choose as their territory like a full barn aisle. LOL