Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Herd Integration and Socializing Challenges

Socializing within horse herds comes quite naturally.  Horses are curious creatures.  They enjoy sniffing noses with new acquaintances and getting to know one another...to a point.  But, when you talk about integrating an outsider into an established and close-knit herd.  Well, that's another can of worms entirely. 

See this guy down below?  That's Shad.  Shad is our little herd's "lord and ruler".  We call him the "herdmeister".  Shad takes his job very seriously. 

 We've had the same horses at our little farm give or take a few that have passed away, for 14 years and in some cases, more.  That results in a very, very tight little family unit.  They have established a very consistent social heiarchy within that realm of personalities.  Every single horse knows exactly where that individual stands.  Shad's the boss.  Period.  He rules by intimidation and everyone accepts that without question.  Even the neighbor horses, more or less, accept Shad's authority.  Shad accepts his position of authority with grace for the most part.  He hasn't had anyone ever challange his position, and the occasional newcomer has always ran away.  Shad is, for the lack of a better explanation...quite animated and very dramatic in his body language.  It's always sufficed.  Always.

Until now.  We've had Eagle for a little more than 2 weeks now.  We haven't even tried to put all the horses together in the same pasture yet.  Frankly, we're terrified to try this.  For a few reasons.  For one, Harley is almost completely blind now.  He relies on mostly Katie to be his eyes, but he will stick close to both of the other horses periodically as well.  Without knowing where his herdmates are at, Harley is uneasy and cannot relax until he's reunited with everyone.  Siri used to call out when Harley yelled for his companions, thereby indicating where at least, she was at.  So far, nobody else has stepped up and accepted the "town cryer" position for Harley since Siri's demise. 

The other day, I accidentally left the gate open during feeding time...Eagle spotted the open gate and proceeded calmly and directly to where Kadie was eating.  Kadie gave him her best "scally look", but Eagle was unimpressed and continued eating alongside Kadie.  Kadie accepted and continued to eat.  No big deal.  Ladde could have cared less about Eagle.  Ladde is all about the food, and was satisfied that he had his ration and all was well within his world.  Harley was completely unaware that Eagle had joined the dinner table...

Shad however...did one of those comical "doubletakes" like..."what the????", and proceeded straight as an arrow to where Eagle was, all puffed up like a peacock, neck arched, spun around and presented his big, red butt and bellowed like a bucking bronc and began a kicking match on the intruder.  Eagle responded in kind.  Eagle was not impressed, nor was Eagle intimidated.  At all.  Eagle has great guns and gave whack for whack.  I was in a state of sheer panic and grabbed the, now frightened Harley, and got him the heck out of there before he could get caught in the crossfire.  Hubby comes running with the lunge whip and gets everybody's attention and breaks up the kicking match.

When the dust settles, Kadie's in the corner with Shad protecting her like armour.  Ladde's in front of Shad, and Harley's running around in the corral wondering what the heck is going on?  Eagle is standing calmly, butt facing the trio in the corner, about 20 feet away.  Everybody's thinking things over, it seems.  I walk up to Eagle, halter him and get him out of there before round 2 gets started.

Now, I'm still not sure whether what I did was the right thing to do, or not.  I did not want anybody getting seriously hurt.  I wanted to check everybody out and see if any damage had already been done.  But...if we were'nt there to intervene, would that have been it?  Or, would they have gone at it again?  We'll never know for sure, but my bet's on round 2. 

We've had the horses where they've been able to sniff and squeal and get acquainted for just over 2 weeks now, and we need and want to get Eagle integrated into the herd.  That's quite obviously what Eagle wants.  Shad, on the other hand, likes things the way they are - thank you very much!  *sigh*  What to do???  I know at some point, we are going to have to let them do what they will.  I remember Ray Hunt telling me that "you have to go through it, to get past it".  True, but scary at times.  For me; this is one of those times because one well-placed kick could mean a broken bone.  That, I don't want. 

Does anyone have any experience dealing with a situation like this?  What have you done when integrating a new horse into an established "equine family"?  Do you remove the herd boss and let that horse work out things with the new guy first?  Or, do you just let everybody out together at the same time? 

I do know one thing for certain.  Harley will have to be removed for his own protection.  He cannot see to avoid a situation and would almost certainly get hurt.  Kadie's an aged mare and doesn't move as quickly as she once did.  Plus, she's as close to "married" as any horse possibly can be...and to Shad.  It's his duty to protect Kadie at all costs.  Even if there's nothing to protect her from - Shad sees things differently than we do.  Like I said before, Shad takes his job very, very seriously...and he is the protector.

Ladde, undoubtedly will be the easiest.  He's already had a squabble with Eagle and has learned that the powerful, even if smaller, Mustang has..."great guns".  Ladde's butt shows Eagle's perfect hoof mark as a reminder.  And, as second in command, Ladde will follow Shad's lead.

I'd definitely appreciate any advice that you can offer.  Life's experiences can provide great insight and wisdom...we're open to any and all of your thoughts.

Blessings all,


Kate said...

I hate bringing in new horses, although it usually works out. Usually we introduce over the fence for a few days and then put a horse with a low-ranking horse first, then add each herd member working up to the top-ranked horse. Sometimes there's fireworks, sometimes not. Any old or disabled horse needs to be protected or separated.

I've not been able to integrate Drift into the herd - I think he may have never been properly socialized with other horses, especially geldings - he seems to prefer mares but we run separate mare and gelding hers and our alpha mare (Dawn) would probably kill him - she's very aggressive. He was extremely aggressive with the other geldings - lots of striking, chest-smashing and kicking. Then things mostly settled down, but Pie got pulled from turnout due to problems with our grass. When I put Pie back in several months later, Drift relentlessly harassed him, chasing him and driving him into corners. Drift is now on solo turnout, maybe forever.

Fantastyk Voyager said...

That's a tough one. I've had my current horses for about 15 years too and then Yalla! was born into the herd so, no problem there. Unfortunately, I have no suggestions, only well wishes for your herd.

Carolynn said...

I don't own horses, so I won't offer any advise. Herd dynamics are really interesting though. It certainly helps that you know everyone's personality well. Keeping Harley clear of the action is a wise thing to do.

I'm sure it will all work out. Time & patience.

fernvalley01 said...

my best guess is to put Shad and Eagle in together, let sort it out with no clear "herd " to boss if they settle add Ladde , then Kadie, aand finally if all is going well reintroduce Harley . Too bad you don't have a mare like Sunshine was she was blind but if the boys got silly she would still hand them thier own Arses

BrownEyed Cowgirl said...

Boy it can be tough when you have an established herd and one in particular who just does not need to be in the middle of a 'who's boss' fiasco.

The last adult horse we had to integrate took about 8 months. She had never really been in a herd situation before and certainly never been in a large pasture. We were worried about turning her out at all at first.

What we do though is turn the new horse out with one of the more easy going horses first. We give them time to get relaxed together and the new horse to find the perimeters of the pastures (days or weeks-depending on how comfortable the new horse seems) and then add another horse that gets along with the original herd-mate. The last horse(s) to go in the mix are the aggressive, I'm-the-boss horses.

You might need to keep Eagle and whoever he gets along with out during the day and turn the others out at night (or alternate days) for quite some time. I have also found that integrating in the winter is often easier than the rest of the year. We all know Spring makes horses goofy, Fall has a similar effect and Summer can be difficult because horses are used to pairing or grouping up to combat insects. In the winter, the hormones are less active and horses are often more relaxed just hanging out together.

I have been hoping to get my 2y/o filly integrated into the herd, but so far there are only 2 of the geldings I trust aren't going to go after her and she is so timid and inexperienced, I'm afraid she would go through the fence to get away from anyone chasing her. Not that she can handle much of being choused around anyway. I'm awful careful with her because of her hind foot. So she just goes out with one or both of her 'safe' guys and when I put her up, the others go out. It's time consuming to switch horses around so much, but the effort seems minimal vs. the vet bill I know I could incur or the fact that she could even be killed.

C-ingspots said...

Thanks everyone for your insightful comments. My first instincts tell me to put the herd boss out with Eagle, and let them get along first, but you've given me some ideas to ponder. Bottom line seems to be this: it varies greatly and is a genuine pain in the behind!! Thanks again!
And, BEC...never thought of alternating between night and day. Good idea!