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Contrary to the body language in the image, my horses all get along pretty well. Dharla (foreground) is a bit of a trash-talker, but Rascal (background) doesn’t take her nonsense seriously. He rules the roost and his feet don’t move, even when she gets persnickety with him. Bully on the other hand, lets her push him around. Oddly, I think he actually likes knowing his place in the herd. Absent that, I think he would be a bit of a pill. He’s not great leader material, like Rascal is. Over the years, all of our heard leaders have been the fair, calm, easy-going type. That’s not to say Rascal can’t get goofy at times or take offense to something, but he doesn’t get riled unnecessarily, and when he does he gets over it quickly.

Truthfully though, it’s the mare who makes most of all the herd decisions, and Rascal just humors her unless he strongly disagrees. In years past when our horses got loose the boys were content just hanging out in the side yard and eating green grass. But it was the mare who winked and them and said, “Let’s go!” and took off down the road. And the boys followed. Mares. Who can resist their siren song?


8 responses

  1. My very first “owned” horse looked just like Bully in color! I agree, horses are happiest when they “know their place”. An OTTB I leased for a while was a real asshole, no one could handle him, not even his owner. He would rush the gate, pull away from her, rear when he didn’t feel like lunging. Even the hands at the barn had problems with him. He was just a generally pushy asshole. I’d been leasing him for a few months, putting up with this nonsense, and one day, I tried to blanket him as it began to rain. He and I had a….’discussion’, that took 45 minutes of him running in circles when I tried to blanket him in his pen. I also stood over his pile of hay, and when he stopped running, I’d approach with the blanket AGAIN. After almost an hour, he suddenly stopped, dropped his head, and I went up and..by this time it had stopped raining..I went up to him and touched him with the blanket and said THERE. Turned around and left, because I was soaking wet. Too.
    From that moment on, he was like a lamb with me, and me only. Yes ma’am, no ma,am, he was ‘good’. He’d needed a leader all that time and no one had taken the role, until I did. It pissed his owner off, though, to see me handling this chestnut firebrand like he was someone’s old broke to death. babysitter. She revoked the lease…it was double indemnity…and continued to have problems after I left.

    March 26, 2021 at 10:33 AM

    • It’s my opinion that the human concept of leadership and the equine concept of leadership are very different. True, a higher ranked horse will seldom move their feet when an underling acts pushy, but herd dynamics are a funny thing and we humans tend to try to take an equine behavior like “leadership” and apply it to ourselves, often with varying degrees of success. (And of course, it all depends on one’s personal definition of success.) In most herds leadership is fluid, and my herd is no exception. Even the lowest ranked member of the group is sometimes the one in charge, especially in situations where his strengths play to the weaknesses of the other two higher ranked horses. For example, Bully is often far braver in new situations, be it a new herd mate, a change in pasture or when they hear (but can’t see) something “scary” like a passing herd of deer in the nearby woods. Where the other two will hold back and are clearly concerned, Bully never hesitates to push toward the scary thing and is always the first to explore someone or something new. His take-charge status only lasts long enough for the other two scardy-cats to see whatever it is won’t kill them, and then they take over again. Oddly enough, no matter how much the two higher ranked horses lord over him with their “leadership” ‘tude (what we humans try to mimic) it has absolutely NO lasting effect on him at all. He’s just as obnoxious and pushy and stubborn with them no matter how much they “correct” or discipline him. So I do tend to question the concept of human “leadership” with equines. I think being very clear with what I’m asking and not allowing my own emotions to affect my communication go much farther than pretending I’m a boss horse. All of my horses know that’s nonsense, even the lowest ranked in the group. I’d prefer my horses choose to do as asked because they know there’s something in it for them; a kind word, a scratch, a gentle pat, a flake of hay. And they’ve all learned I have boundaries that I expect them to respect. Sadly, too many owners need so badly to feel like their horses “love” them (they don’t) that much like parents today, they completely fail to set and maintain any boundaries. This rarely bodes well for most. 😦

      March 26, 2021 at 11:57 AM

      • Love the photos – you’ve captured their characters right there. And they look in fine fettle – I’ve missed them! Just to add to the leadership debate … for what it’s worth! My own m.o. (not being leadership material among humans and never having had a bigger herd than 3) is not trying to mimic horse behaviour particularly, just being absolutely clear what I expect, consistent in signals and words and repetition. And as you know, not risking any more bone breaks! I also use give and take a lot, eg. at the moment the boys have to be moved across a few metres of lane to their current field. And oh the new grass is so green there. I need to hurry and they want to eat. But nothing is so pressing that we can’t swap a few bites for a few paces. I guess trying to understand and accommodate their primary needs makes them more willing to co-operate with all the bizarre things we ask of them. What drives me nuts is when my (non horseman) husband is “helping” and starts to argue or panic and raise his voice, which always complicates the issue. Basically it sounds like we are all on the same page. Calm, kind, consistent, persistant! But it sure takes many years and horses for us to work it all out for ourselves 😊

        March 27, 2021 at 4:13 AM

      • I agree with you, and if I sounded like I go alpha mare all the time, I didn’t intend for that. Alydar (a son of the ‘real’ Alydar) could be a pain in the ass and usually was because his owner allowed it. She’d bought him in order to rescue him, but had no idea how to let down a race horse. She was afraid of him, to be honest, but didn’t want to hurt his feelings. Thus he would drag her, push her aside, that sort of thing. A horse that will run over you to get into his stall is a danger to every one. One that rears when he doesn’t want to go forward (on the lunge) has learned how to avoid work. He had not been taught manners. I had to teach him that my space was MINE. Once we had that cleared up, I stopped being Alpha All The Time and he was much safer for me to handle. Mind you, he continued to act that way with everyone else.

        March 28, 2021 at 6:55 PM

  2. I have been lucky in that I’ve never owned a dangerously rude horse. I’ve had pushy horses, but never dangerously pushy and rude. That said, I worked at a race track as a teenager, so I have been around them and had to work with them. But I’ve never owned one like that. I’ve also seen a lot more than I care to admit at the handful of boarding barns where I’ve boarded briefly. Horses do what works for them and humans are often the biggest abetters to what we turn around and call “bad” behavior. This seems to be what you had going on there and it makes things very dangerous for anyone else who has to be around a horse that hasn’t been given any boundaries or rules. Ideally, one would try to reeducate a horse gradually, in small steps, but there’s this little thing called immediate danger, which is when you don’t have the luxury of tip-toeing around a thousand pound animal that’s hell bent on doing physical harm. Most people don’t realize just how dangerous a horse can be until it’s too late. You set your boundaries and maintained them and this poor, confused horse was much better (for you) for it. Sad, that his owner wasn’t interested in learning anything new. That’s another human trait I’ve often witnessed around horses. 😉

    March 29, 2021 at 7:50 AM

  3. Absolutely right. On all points.

    March 29, 2021 at 8:46 PM

  4. As for dangerous horses, oh..yes. My ex husband’s horse, Smoke, was scary dangerous. He was incredibly smart. You could see him thinking. He knew how to untie knots, knew how to open his stall from the outside, knew how to lift the stall door (on rollers) off it’s tracks…the only reason he didn’t in the barn we boarded at was because he just wasn’t tall enough to get the track on his poll. We ended up having to literally ‘lock’ the stall door by using the snaps…the half moon type that you activate with your thumb. If he’d had thumbs we would have been thoroughly screwed.
    Half TB/half appaloosa, he had the bad attributes of both breeds. The ex was enamored of him, but the longer we owned him, the more dangerous things he did to get rid of the ex. I ‘m talking not only pulling when tied, but striking, cow kicking, running away, backing up at high speed, and most dangerous of all, actually laying down and trying to roll with the ex in the saddle. THe ex was too stupid, so confident in his ability to ‘ride’ like the Man From Snowy River did because the he’d bought an Australian saddle…that was the trick, don’t you know? And you couldn’t tell him a thing different. It was only when Smoke bucked him off did the ex finally realize that this horse was Not Very Nice.

    March 29, 2021 at 8:54 PM

    • Sounds like a very unhappy horse who was probably in some sort of pain. They can’t speak. Absent that, they ‘show’ us when something is wrong by using the only tools they have. Many a gadget, often cruel ones, have been used on horses who can’t tell us their spine, their tummy or their feet hurt. But in our superior wisdom we press on in hot pursuit of our agenda. That’s a tough thing to witness firsthand, and even harder I’m sure to be married to it. 😦

      March 30, 2021 at 6:45 AM

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