Herd dynamics and a day in the life

Ben and Rosie have been with us for just over two weeks now and they get on really well with Cassie and Minnie. I have spent a lot of time in the field with them and I’ve learned a lot. This herd of four is so different from the herd of four I had at the start of the summer. The make up of the herd is the same, one gelding and three mares, but the dynamics between them are worlds apart.

Sam was very dominant and he showed it by relentlessly driving the mares, often for no apparent reason. The herd never settled and there was constant strife. If I wanted to spend time with Cassie or Minnie in the field, I often had to drive Sam off first, only to have him driving them around the field the moment I left. He looked like an innocent little pony, but in fact he was a bit of a bully and as a consequence the other horses didn’t like him and so he often ended up grazing all by himself. I suppose his behaviour was typical alpha horse behaviour. There are training programmes based on trying to become or act like the alpha horse, but having watched the results of Sam’s actions and the instability it brought about is enough for me to seriously question why anyone would try becoming the alpha to their horse.

In contrast, Ben, who is without a doubt the most dominant horse here now, doesn’t behave like an alpha at all. When he arrived he behaved like a stallion with a magnificent display of baroque movements, but even then he basically left Minnie and Cassie alone. He was very protective of Rosie and for the first few days there was a stand off, but that didn’t last long. Now, there is a balance and harmony in the herd that was absent when Sam was here and it happened without any of the horses getting upset.

I have noticed that they have a pattern to their days now and they will be in certain areas at certain times. They spend the nights in the field that is closest to the house. They will be there when I check them before I go to bed,  I can hear them in the dark, moving about, the odd snort, sounds of grass being cropped. When I wake up in the morning, they are still there, backed into the hedge row, dozing or asleep.

They always come to this area for dozing or general chilling out time and they also have a favourite spot here for rolling.

After a while, they move to the eastern field. It is lovely there in the morning sun, but I don’t think that has anything to do with it, because the horses always spend the morning there, even when it rains

They move around a lot during the course of a day, sometimes grazing close together, at times far apart. They seem to move around by consensus. Ben doesn’t drive any of the mares, in fact the decision to move to another area is usually made by one of the mares. One of them will wander off into the next field and the rest of them eventually follow. 

The only time when Ben really shows his dominance is dinner time.

The horses have seen me coming with the buckets and Cassie and Ben come running. Cassie gets to me before Ben, but I wait for him and give him his dinner first. If I don’t, he’ll just take Cassie’s. Minnie and Rosie arrive a bit later, they are not in a hurry as they know the order in which I put the buckets down.

The horses start eating and I stay around until they are finished. If Ben finishes before Cassie, I position myself between them and protect Cassie until she is finished. Ben will make a few attempts to move around me, but I just block him and by the time he gives up, Minnie and Rosie will have finished too and there are only empty buckets to lick.

After dinner, they move to the back field to graze for a while and they stay fairly close together.

Later in the evening, they go down to the stream. Cassie goes first and Ben joins her.

Ben and Cassie seem to enjoy each others company this evening and they stay together, happily browsing.

Minnie has come down too and is sampling a tree. It’s an oak and I always thought oaks were poisonous to horses, but I decide I have to trust Minnie in this. There is plenty to eat and a wide variety of choice, so it is not as if starvation is forcing her to eat something that might harm her.

Ben looks up to find out what the noice is all about.

On this evening, Rosie didn’t come down with the others, she is still in the field. She often seems to enjoy spending a bit of time on her own. I think she knows that if she stays there, it won’t be long before the others will come back looking for her.


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