A new member of the herd

A few days ago, another pony arrived to spend the summer here. Sam at 19 is getting on a bit and his owner had been looking around for another pony for a while, so that Sam might enjoy a well deserved semi retirement. She found Pepper, a 12 year old Connemara mare and took her home for a two-week trial. When she decided to keep her, Pepper would come here and join Sam and my two mares. 

Pepper was covered in bite marks and scrapes, so she must have been kept in a place where she was bullied by another horse or horses. I thought that instead of throwing Pepper in at the deep end, it might be a good idea to introduce her to Cassie first, so on the day Pepper was to come up, I brought Cassie down in the horse-box. We went for a hack together on quiet country roads familiar to Pepper and then brought the two of them up in the box.

 As we walked down to the field with Cassie and Pepper, Sam and Minnie were already waiting for us at the fence. At the moment, only the perimeter of the land is fenced off. We have a lot of well established hedgerows, dividing the 16 acres in roughly 7 areas. Post and rail is a dream not likely to be fulfilled in the near future, so I use electric fencing to keep them in an area of about 4 acres at the time. I have to open the tape to take them in and out, which can be a bit awkward at times like this. Sam and Minnie were very excited at the sight of this new pony and were prancing around “the gate”. I opened the tape, walked in with Cassie and let her off. I drove Sam away, making space for Pepper to come in and closed the tape. Cassie had wandered off to find a nice place to roll, while the other two made a beeline for the stranger. Sam immediately started driving Pepper, closely followed by Minnie

Sam is very deliberate about this. He pins his ears right back, wrinkles his nose and puts on a menacing expression. He walks at a slow and steady pace, driving his victim relentlessly, without breaking into a faster gait. Speed is not necessary if you have power. Minnie would love to go faster, but in a situation like this she is glued to Sam and will match him pace for pace. Cassie, however, doesn’t take her cue from Sam at all. After she finished rolling she grazed for a while, keeping an eye on the proceedings, but not joining in. Eventually she decided to come over and stir things up a bit.

That immediately changed the whole dynamic. Minnie never needs much encouragement for a good gallop, so the two of them took off and raced each other all the way to the tree line, and then did a couple of circuits for good measure. I was watching Minnie galloping flat-out, wondering how her tendon was taking this kind of strain. The photo isn’t great, but it was evening and I had my camera on the wrong setting.

 Sam was now on his own with Pepper. He seemed a bit taken aback and Pepper took the opportunity to put more space between herself and Sam. After a while, my two seemed to have got the running out of their system, and rejoined the other two. Sam resumed driving, but the synchronicity between himself and Minnie was gone, and Cassie was up to no good at the back, so that one could question who was driving who here.

I left them to it, and went into the house for a while. When I came back later, they were all grazing, spread out in an evenly spaced line.

Since Pepper arrived, there is a lot going on between the three mares. Minnie is doing her best not to end up on the bottom rung of the pecking order and will lunge at Pepper with ears pinned and teeth bared whenever she gets too close. If Pepper has been taken out for a while, Minnie will be waiting at the fence to chase her away as soon as she comes back in. Cassie will still go off to do her own thing, but Pepper seems to see her as a safe haven and follow her, inviting more attacks from Minnie. Sam seems oblivious to it all, grazing away on his own.

Impressions can be deceptive though. Yesterday I was expecting the farrier. Cassie needed new shoes and I wanted the farrier to check if Minnie, who is barefoot, needed a trim. I took the two of them out of the field and brought them over to the stables to wait for the farrier’s arrival. Sam didn’t like this at all, and started calling frantically, trotting along the fence and looking very distressed. I put Minnie and Cassie in their stables. Cassie was happy to start munching hay, but Minnie stood at the door, whinnying. About 5 minutes later Sam appeared in my stable yard, having jumped the electric fence. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that a dominant horse can still be very herd bound  .

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