Dynamics in a herd of three

Minnie has been with me since May last year, and because horses shouldn’t be without the company of other horses, a friend who had ended up with an only pony and I decided to keep the two together. Minnie and Sam lived on my land over the summer and spent the winter at the friend’s place. Sam is a 19 year old 13.2 hand gelding and quite dominant. Minnie is nervous and timid, a natural follower. Any time other horses come into their little herd of two for a while, Sam is always the leader. Minnie quickly ends up on the bottom of the pecking order.

When I brought Minnie and Sam home, I took them over to the field Cassie was in and let them go. Minnie and Sam seemed to ignore Cassie and cantered off. Cassie came over to me and stayed at my side, watching them. After a few minutes, Minnie and Sam stopped cantering and started grazing. At that point, Cassie left my side and approached the other two. Sam pinned his ears back and snaked his head and neck towards Cassie. She stopped, but didn’t retreat. Sam rushed at her and this time she did move. Sam then turned and started herding Minnie away, the two of them moving in perfect synchronisity, Sam keeping his body between the two mares.

For a while there were short bursts of activity with poor Sam, who is nowhere near as fast, miles behind the two mares, until Sam herded Minnie through a gap in the hedgerow into the next field. Cassie stayed where she was and resumed grazing, looking up every now and then in the direction the other two had gone.

Over the next couple of days, there seemed to be a stand off. Minnie and Sam stayed together, while Cassie kept to herself, not even always in the same field. She seemed to make no effort to become part of the herd, she just did her own thing. Then she came into season, and all of a sudden Minnie started to take a huge interest in her. She left Sam and started following Cassie and came into season herself a day or so later. Whenever I took Cassie out of the field, she would canter along the fence whinnying and then stand at the gate until Cassie returned. Cassie just accepted it. She would come to me if I turned up and follow me out without hesitation. Coming back, she would acknowledge Minnie and then wander off. Minnie would follow her. Sam seemed oblivious to it all, happy to graze on his own if the mares left him.

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