Interesting herd dynamics observation!

tobiano1984

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Just a random observation, wondered if anyone else had experienced this - I take quite an interest in herd dynamics and base my training loosely on them.

First anecdote: I bought a 3 year old gelding, unhandled, from a bachelor herd. Took him home, put him out with 3 big grown up horses - they chased him round lots, stopped him from drinking, going near the humans, socialising etc - the usual stuff, for a while until he settled in but then was still very much bottom of the pile. Fast forward a few months, and he moves from this field (at my parents) to my yard, goes into a similar situation with grown up horses, bottom of the pile again. Another few months - goes in with a mare and a younger gelding, starts bossing younger gelding round, keeping him away from the mare, chasing him away from me etc. Definitely the boss. From that point onwards he was in with a variety of geldings, up to 6 or 7 at a time, varying from 12hh to 18hh (he was 15hh) and all older than him - and without exception he's been in charge of everyone, not in a nasty way but in a natural leader type way - rounding up, disciplining bad behaviour etc. None of the others questioned him as he was so certain in his actions.

This made me wonder if he learned to be boss when he was out with a younger submissive gelding, or was it just a natural progression and he was just destined to be in charge?

I sadly lost this lovely horse in an accident earlier this year at only 5, and as a result his herd turned into chaos with a previously subdued Hitler Haflinger decided to take charge by just chasing, persecuting and bullying.

Second anecdote: I have another young gelding, similar in build in type - he has always been bottom of the pile and although not a wimp he never challenges anyone and preferred to play and stay out of trouble - avoiding any confrontation with Hitler Haflinger.

As an experiment I turned him out (he's 4) in a different field with a new friend, a just turned 3, weedy TB gelding with no social experience. Cody immediately took charge, but in a nice way, leading the TB around, telling him off if he got in the way, always got to drink first, always caught/came in first. They were out like this for around a month.

Then today I put Cody back in with the main herd and HH - he was first in the field and went to the hay bale and started munching. HH was next out, and the moment he spotted Cody eating his precious food he was in a strop and as soon as he was let off he ran at him but rather than doing what he previously would have done, and backing off, Cody turned around and stood his ground which completely threw HH who then slowed down, looked confused (typical bully, relies on shock and fear and not actually any good at being in charge) and in that instant the balance changed and HH's dictatorship was lost. Cody returned to eating and HH quietly ate alongside. Gradually all the others were turned out and all tried to have a go at Cody who just threw a foreleg in the air and pulled a face and they left him alone.

I find this fascinating (some people might not ;)) and although time will tell if this is a permanent shift in dynamics, it made me wonder - can you 'teach' a horse to be in charge by setting them up to 'train' at being boss? I will be pleased if Cody eventually takes charge properly - the horse I lost was an excellent boss and no one was ever hurt, whereas with HH in charge there are numerous scrapes and general unsettlement.

I guess in the wild a colt will be disciplined by mares/stallion and then go into a bachelor herd and establish who is boss before finding their own herd. I would doubt the above would work with all horses, the TB for example just isn't cut out for leadership, nor is he interested in it, but Cody was gelded as a late 3 year old, is very intelligent and solid, and I think a prime candidate for being boss.


I'd be interested to hear other thoughts/experiences on this - just an observation, I've been written off riding for months following the accident that killed my previous field boss so I don't have much to do apart from watching them!
 

AmieeT

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Absolutely clueless tbh! It does make for an interesting read though.

My boy so far as I'm aware has always been middle of the pack- he stays away from the leader (who threw an almighty strop the first time I lead them out together- my friends TB, I'm loaning on the same yard mine's always been on) and plays with the younger geldings (there 5/6 he's 19 going on 5/6!).

When one of the younger geldings (ISHxTB) was introduced at 2yo, the TB would bite, kick and chase him away- until last year when he was 5, and she came into season! Think she realised he was a man horse (youngest gelding, must have something going for him- she's a total hussy :D ) now he's second in command, former 2nd in command, a 12yo Appaloosa is now about 4th as the other mares now cling to the ISHxTB too!
I think as an older gent, the mares pay no thought to my poor Welshie lol. Though the TB mare is a lot more tolerant of him since they've been turned out together. She has to go through the gate first though :'D

I would love to do a Monty Roberts and just sit in the field with them to observe!!

Ax
 
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