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Herd Dynamics Matter, especially in winter

Published: 12/20/2011
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By Maddy Butcher Gray

Have you ever noticed?
When the going gets tough, people get nicer. During big storms, neighbors become more neighborly. Folks seem more compassionate and forgiving in the wintertime.
Sometimes it’s holiday manners. Sometimes it’s Crisis Niceness.

But with horses, nature rules over niceness. There is no obvious altruism going on. At least none that I see.

Scroll down for video!

It’s Cold.
I’m Hungry.

These two facts drive every horse into a certain survival mode not seen when grass is plenty and there's ample of room to roam for calories. Not coincidentally, herd hierarchy gets more intense, especially when hay or grain is being delivered.

The dynamics fascinate and frustrate me.

Why fascinate?
-- Size doesn't matter.
-- Silence speaks loudly.
-- Attitude is everything.

Why frustrated?
-- I’d like everyone to get along.
-- It’s not "fair."

Of course, Nature is just being Nature.
But we’d prefer that our weakest not be bullied into starvation and picked off by coyotes, so we make adjustments, especially in the winter when calories are so vital and horses are more dependent on our food delivery.

My horses provide a good example of hierarchy and how qualities like size and age don’t matter. Read their descriptions, history, and rank ( complete with Star Trek insignia).

Your comments and observations are most welcome!

1: Brooke – 14 year old quarterhorse type, 14 hands, introduced 2nd to herd. Before arriving here, this rescued horse was kept in a stall with several other horses. I imagine she had to fight for food to survive.

2: Shea – 10 year old PMU, 15.3 hands. I’ve had her longer than all the others. Before arriving here, she was in spacious, open turnout with several other horses. 12 hours per day she was alone in a stall.

3: Peppermint – 14 year old pony, 13 hands, introduced 3rd to herd. Before arriving here, she was in open turnout with draft horse which she bullied.

4: Comet – 9 year old Paint mare, 15.3 hands, introduced 4th to herd. Before arriving here, she ranked in the middle of herd which ranged from four to 17 horses in open turnout.

Thanks to Steve Peters for his help with the video.

View Reader Comments:

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12/20/2011 Molly
Very interesting video Maddy thanks!
12/22/2011 Georgia
Yup, they never work it out -- Come winter I always have to separate my bullies from my wimps.

"Some of my best leading men have been dogs and horses" - Elizabeth Taylor