Saturday, January 03, 2015

Hay Piles and Horse Psychology

Three for Three??

When the weather's decent, I put the hay out in the paddock on the ground for the Boys. Feeding them outside keeps the stalls cleaner and is essentially more natural.

But it's an interesting set of herd dynamics that emerge when I do.  "The grass is always greener, and I want what you have," seems to be the dominating principle.

Three horses, three piles of hay. Makes sense, yes?

To humans, maybe, but not to horses.  It always seems to turn into "hay carousel."

Chance is usually low man in the herd. The hay is nearest his stall so he's usually first to it.  Then along comes Tucker and herd boss, Toby.  No matter whether Chance is at the farthest pile or the nearest, Tucker will usually chase him away and start to eat from that pile. Invariably, the little gang plays musical hay pile for a while until they finally settle into some serious eating.

Today, Toby and Tucker ended up together at one pile, with Chance alone at a second pile, and the third pile completely abandoned by horse.

Now, it just so happened that the third pile was from a different bale and, even though all the hay is from the same load, it does vary in texture and make up. I think the third pile is a little softer blades so it's quite possible it is tastier, especially to 25 year old Toby.

However, I'm sure that even if I had put out four piles all from the same bale, or five piles from the same bale the hay carousel would still spin on.

I suspect it had something to do with herd hierarchy and horse dominance.  The herd boss would, of course, want the best food available.  So it's up to him to pick and choose. The "wannabe" boss would demand the best of the rest by chasing off the lower ranking horses.

What's kind of interesting out there now is that the Alpha and Beta horses are eating together. I'm not sure if they are bonded in some kind of alliance or whether Toby is just sick and tired of always having to put pushy Tucker back in his place.  (Oh, by the way, that's Toby cribbing between hay bites.)

The other day, however, Chance and Toby were hanging out together head to head while Tucker was off on the other side of the barn in his own little world. That went on for a couple days before the situation readjusted.

I have also seen Chance and Tucker together with Toby off my himself, though not as often.

Apparently, it's "pick and choose your buddy of the day" around here.

Just like it's "pick and choose your hay pile of the day."

Article in the local paper about me and my novels:


  1. We have the same thing going on here. The "herd boss" Mellon always feels the need to chase someone lower on the totem pole off just because he can. We have seven horses and seven hay nets set up along the fence lines. So there's plenty for all. Most times two will be eating from the same net. It's interesting and better than watching a soap opera on TV. I find herd dynamics fascinating.

  2. Anonymous12:04 PM

    Nice article about your writing and books!

    Red's always moving horses around, apparently just for the fun of it - he'll even nip at Pie's flanks and legs when Pie wants to drink. Pie is more aggressive about driving off horses he doesn't like, although he's subordinate to Red. I've found the beta is more often an enforcer type.