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The Golden Girls have picked up a shadow. A young appaloosa, new to the pasture has adopted them. Like many other newbies, Tosh, short for Macintosh, has found safe haven with Pepper and Chickadee.
This boy is not even two years old and didn’t know thing one about life in a herd.
Truth be told, some of us thought Tosh was a bit young to be thrown into the pasture to fend for himself for food and community. The dominant horses did their usual yee-haw and giddy-up on him, chasing him and kicking each time he approached. He’s got the kick marks to show he tried. But Tosh is just a little too young to understand the ways of the herd.
Instead he chose to hang out with the Golden Girls.
Pepper may have given him “the look,” ears laid back accompanied by a snort or two, but that would likely be her only protest. So Tosh quickly learned he’d found a place of safety. It was probably a lot like being with his mom. And these two mares have been so good at taking in strays. Their maternal instinct is strong.
Pepper and Chickadee have allowed Tosh to tag along as they wander the pasture. He’s found a place of safety where he can ease himself into herd life. He’s also learned about getting treats. That one came quickly!
Occasionally we’ve found him hanging out with some of the other horses, but then he returns to his safe haven. It’s like a human toddler venturing out away from mom to learn about the world, and then returning to home base.
Come to think of it, Tosh is a toddler of sorts.
Watching this latest drama unfold in the pasture has made me reflect on the people and places in my life that offer me safe haven.
I am blessed to have a rather long list— long enough to customize depending on the situation and what I need. I have friends, family, and mentors, all of whom are willing to make themselves available to me. And I have many places of comfort—places that hold and soothe me, both in the natural world and in my home.
Like Tosh, from time to time, each of us needs people and/or places to comfort us, to offer us safe haven from the storms of our life.
The time will come when Tosh no longer needs the safety offered by two old mares.
As he grows into a strong young gelding, he will likely leave them to take his place in the larger herd. But until then, they have his back.
And don’t you just love them for it?
Last week when I was out with the Golden Girls and Jack, two boarders rode up on their horses to say hello. We did the usual chit chat about weather and horses. Then one rider shook her head and chuckled. “I’m surprised Jack wants to hang out with the old ladies,” she said.
My first reaction was somewhat defensive, though I didn’t say anything.
But I thought, Hey don’t go badmouthing my sweet old girls. Instead I chose a more diplomatic response and said, “Oh they’re old friends. They’ve been together for a long time. They’re family.”
She looked at me as if I’d said something really odd –like it simply didn’t compute. How could horses feel like family?
But they are a family. I guess the more accurate term is a herd. A herd of three. In my world, they’re family.
They hang out together away from the larger herd.
They find comfort in each other.
They watch each others’ backs.
They keep a vigil when one is missing.
And yes, on occasion they get a little snippy with each other. Usually over food. But they always make up.
I think that’s the lesson about human families too.
There is no such thing as a perfect one.
Families are messy, because people are messy. Even so, I can’t think of anything that’s more important.
When I need a reminder about loyalty or commitment or comfort, I usually find it at the pasture.
The horses have been some of my best teachers. And for that I feel really grateful!
“A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.”
I’m big on friends, but then I guess you already know that.
Relationships, friendships, people are what ring my chimes. And I am blessed to have a core group of real friends, who continue to be there for me. Through thick and thin, good and bad, smart decisions and many not so smart ones.
You know who you are and I thank you from the bottom of my overflowing heart for your steadfast presence in my life.
So in the pasture, there has been quite a lot of change this summer.
Horses coming and going. New fields opening up.
A few weeks ago I noticed two new horses, hanging out by the Golden Girls. They weren’t exactly together, but definitely in the vicinity.
When I talked with their owner, I learned they were indeed brand new to the pasture, and in fact new to life in a pasture. They’d spent their lives in a stall and paddock arrangement. Coming to the pasture was a huge change – sort of like lifelong New Yorkers moving to a ranch in Wyoming.
So these two geldings were desperately looking for their peeps.
Unfortunately, Miss P. and Chickadee weren’t impressed. They are pretty happy in their little herd of two. So, ears were flattened and hind legs kicked to tell the newcomers to skedaddle.
I thought the girls were a bit premature in their actions, but who am I to really know what’s in the heart of two aging mares?
The larger herd was not welcoming either, so these two boys just hung out with each other – another herd of two.
That is until Emma arrived on the scene.
Now she is one hot little number. A youngster compared to our Golden Girls with only eight years under her saddle. She is one good-looking, spunky little mare – sleek black coat with just a teensy bit of white. Gorgeous.
Emma also tried to join the Golden Girls, but it didn’t go well. Her friend-making skills aren’t that good. She started the negotiation by kicking and squealing at Pepper. You can imagine Miss P.’s reaction. “You are out of here,” was her exact sentiment.
So Emma was alone.
The larger herd had done their chasing number on her as well. Evening was coming on, and she was tired and scared.
That is until the new boys found her.
When they ambled toward her, she was throwing another snit fit, kicking and squealing and giving them nasty looks.
But they didn’t leave. Her bad mood didn’t seem to faze them.
Emma’s owner told me this story with a catch in her throat and a slick film of tears in her eyes. “They just stood with her while she threw her fit,” she said.
Eventually the three of them moved into the loafing shed, Emma still carrying a big load of attitude with her. But the boys just waited her out.
“They calmed her down,” Emma’s owner said. “Gentled her.”
And now, as you may have guessed, they are a solid herd of three.
Emma and the boys – three newbies to the pasture, are settling in nicely.
Emma’s owner told me, laughing, “Maybe all she needed was a good man, or two in her life!”
“Maybe so,” I replied. “It wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened in the world of relationships.”
Yesterday the weather was almost springlike and the horses were grooving on it. A few were stretched out on the ground, bellies to the sun. Our two old sweeties were at a far corner of the pasture, and when I called them in they ambled toward me in no particular hurry.
It was one of those slow, easy days – no wind, temps in the high fifties, and a brilliant blue sky overhead. It was perfect for horse and human.
Bud and Pepper munched away on their grain.
Some of the usual suspects lined up at the gate for snacks.
There was Amigo, Mama and her boy Brio, the shy girl called Chickadee, and Joe, one of the two venerable old men of the herd.
I made my way between our two sweeties and the Herd of Oldsters, talking, singing a little rock and roll, and handing out snacks.
Like I said, a perfect day.
And then kaboom! Something quite different happened.
A small herd of horses came barrelling across the pasture, kicking up dust and getting everyone worked up.
Soon other horses joined in.
It was more like a stampede than anything else.
Because the pasture is so darned dry, the dust in the air nearly shielded the sun.
Horses screamed and kicked up their back legs, racing in every direction.
Even the horses in the adjoining paddock ran wildly up and down the length of their enclosure.
And one horse waiting in a nearby round pen called to his buddies, kicking and bucking around the pen.
For a while the Oldsters at the gate ignored the ruckus.
Just a bunch of youngsters feeling their oats.
But then the youngsters brought the chaos to the gate, and the Oldsters had no choice but to get out of the way. Hooves were flying and the old guys had to make way.
This went on for a good ten minutes.
It was thrilling to watch.
And just the teeniest bit frightening.
Horses galloping at full tilt is truly something to behold.
My heart pounded in my chest. I could understand how the bystanders resonated with the action.
An ancient part of me wanted to join in. It was that kind of contagious energy.
Except for Bud and Pepper, who didn’t react at all.
They just kept eating, probably relieved they avoided all the giddy-up and yee-haw. I’m glad too, because with their arthritic old feet and legs, it wouldn’t be good for them. It’s exactly the kind of thing our vet worries about.
And then as quickly as it started, the action stopped.
The herd settled down.
The Oldsters returned to the fenceline.
One by one, the bystanders caught their breath and went back to enjoying the sunny day.
And Bud and Pepper finished eating and I led them back through the gate.
Just another day in paradise!
Horses are social animals. They are most comfortable in the safety and community of their herd.
When a horse is removed from the herd by one of us pesky humans for riding or grooming or doctoring, the remaining horses keep watch.
Sometimes they pace the fence line.
Sometimes they call out to their missing friend.
Almost always, they wait until the horse is returned.
It’s a great example of the power of community.
We humans are also social animals.
Like horses, the majority of us feel most comfortable in family groupings, getting together with friends, and living in neighborhoods of one kind or another.
It’s our version of the herd.
Last week I spent a day with two friends – women I’ve known for decades. We’ve been getting together once a month for a while now.
To be with these women- my longtime herd- is one of the most healing things I do for myself.
We have history, shared experience, and similar interests and values.
In many ways we’ve become like an old married couple, where not much surprises us. There is ease in being together.
We know each other’s children and they know us.
We’ve been together at weddings, funerals, births, anniversaries, parties, and the day-to-day events in our lives.
Last week was a busy one for me. I felt as if I were running on a treadmill like one of those little gerbils in a child’s Habitrail.
As the week went on, I grew more stressed, more tired, and frankly worn out.
It was a week of being slightly off the mark. I kept missing appointments, getting places without the one thing I really needed, and forgetting things I usually know.
Through it all, the wise part of me kept suggesting that what I needed was to slow down. Take care of myself. “But I don’t have time,” I countered. “Too much to do.”
Then Friday came like a miracle cure.
I stopped doing and focused on being.
Being nurturing to myself.
Being in my herd.
I felt the stress of the week trickle out of me. I began to breathe more deeply, laugh a little at the silliness of my self-imposed stress, and relax.
Sometimes all it takes is remembering that I am not alone.
We do indeed belong to each other.
They’re pals of the first order. It’s rare to see one without the other close by.
Now some of you may think that Amigo is simply an opportunist, hanging out with Bud only to get in on the daily snack regimen that I’ve established. And I’ll acknowledge that could be part of Amigo’s motivation.
But I don’t think it’s the whole story.
Amigo has found his herd, his peeps, his friends.
He’s the youngest member of the Herd of Oldsters – by almost ten years.
He has navicular syndrome – an inflammation or degeneration of the navicular bone and its surrounding tissues, usually on the front feet. It can lead to significant and even disabling lameness.
For Amigo it means he doesn’t compete so well with the young geldings that dominate the larger herd.
Yes, the Herd of Oldsters is the perfect family for him.
But sometimes, Amigo doesn’t get the love and attention he deserves. I don’t write about him as often as Bud and Pepper.
He’s the second banana of sorts.
I don’t mean to oversimplify life, but on some days it seems to me that society divides into two categories: the top bananas and the second bananas.
Top bananas are usually the center of attention. They thrive on it. “Hey you, notice me,” they shout in actual words or actions. When you enter a room (or pasture for that matter), there is never any question about the top bananas.
They may as well be wearing flashing lights.
They’re that obvious.
Second bananas are usually much more subtle.
No flashing lights.
No “Hey, notice me,” actions.
They’re there, doing their thing, but at the end of the day, you may not remember them.
Which would be a huge mistake. Second bananas can be very cool people. And horses.
And they are every bit as deserving of love and attention as those pesky attention-grabbing first bananas.
Thank you for your loyalty to Bud and the others in the Herd of Oldsters.
It wouldn’t be the same without you.
I’ve had a dear friend visiting this weekend. It’s been great fun reminiscing, talking about old adventures, looking at photographs, and getting caught up with each other. It’s been years since we’ve seen each other, so the time together is especially sweet.
Last night we took her with us to feed the horses. As we rounded the corner and drove toward the gate, we saw five horses waiting for us.
I looked closely.
It was the original cast of the Herd of Oldsters: Bud, Pepper, Red, Amigo and Chickadee. My heart did a little flippity flop.
No one else was around. It was just five old friends waiting for dinner and/or snacks.
I can’t predict what will happen tomorrow. Who can? But for this moment in time, it was a weekend of reunion; an all round celebration of friendship and connection. It was perfect. And wonderful.
It got me thinking how very important friends are to my well being. I suspect the same is true for you. Some days I get so busy hunkered down over my computer or other tasks, I don’t see anyone all day. When the days link together with more of the same, I start to feel this yearning.
I need to see my peeps.
Connect with the people who know me.
The ones who accept me for who I am.
Even when they know about all the warts and bumps.
There are many times when I don’t act on the yearning. I tell myself I don’t have time. “Keep you head down and continue working. You have a deadline to meet.”
Or a self-imposed goal.
Or a commitment to keep.
All good things in and of themselves. Until they begin to deprive me of the soul medicine I need.
Horses live in herds, as do many other animals. It’s how they survive. There’s a hierarchy, protocol and yes, politics that I sometimes don’t like. But all of it serves to keep them safe.
Spending these few days with my friend has made me realize how much I want my own herd. I need a predictable routine of time with people I care about, and who care about me.
Those who are near and far.
And with today’s technology, it should be easy enough to orchestrate. Facebook, chatting, texting (except for me) web cams, Skype, telephone, email, face-to-face time. To mention a few options.
And why is it that with more ways than ever to connect, many of us feel more isolated and alone?
How do you connect with your herd?
Is there someone you could reach out to today?
Beau, the romancer, the stealer of mares, the young upstart, hot pants, new comer to the pasture is getting to be a royal pain. I’m sure he’s a nice enough guy, and Pepper certainly is smitten, but he’s making feeding time a problem.
And the bachelors. Especially Bud.
Beau can’t be anywhere near Bud because he’ll charge at him, running like a steam engine, ears back, nostrils flaring. Beau is a fearsome sight, and Bud is appropriately afraid. I tell Bud the good news in all of this drama is that Beau obviously sees him as a threat. An Appaloosa that still has his mojo.
My reassurances fly over his head. He’s not convinced.
To get both of our horses fed and medicated, we’ve had to get creative.
We strategize, think, finagle, plan, organize, and problem-solve. Sounds like some corporate think tank instead of a horse pasture.
You see we have to figure out how to get Miss P. fed and back to the love triangle before Bud notices we’re at the gate.
Or vice-versa. Feed Bud before Pepper sees us.
We’ve been closing a gate to keep Beau away, but that doesn’t always work. He’s getting on to our tricks.
I hate it when horses are smarter than I am.
And it happens enough to make me wonder about my ability to think.
Okay that’s a topic for another post.
A few nights ago when we arrived at the pasture we saw the three bachelors in the far end of the field, away from everyone. They were close to the road grazing in the tall grass.
We drove to the regular feeding spot, and sure enough Miss Pepper saw us and ambled toward the gate with Chickadee and Beau following.
The bachelors were far enough away to not even notice.
Once Pepper finished eating, we decided to deliver room service to Bud.
He deserved a little pampering.
Rick held the feed pan up to the fence and Bud happily munched away. Amigo and Red bellied up to the fence for their share of snacks.
It was quite pleasant.
I always think ordering room service is fun.
When I drove up to the gate I noticed another car parked outside the fence. Beside it was a sorrel horse nose deep in a grain pan, happily munching away. As I got closer I saw that it was Amigo. I should have known since the rest of the herd of oldsters was lined up along the fence.
I uttered a quick hallelujah, thrilled that Amigo was getting some attention. I greeted Amigo and his keeper, and then set out the grain pans for our two old sweeties.
As Bud and Pepper snarfed up grain, Amigo’s keeper and I had a great conversation. It turns out Amigo is only sixteen years old. He’s a youngster, a kid. He could easily run the herd, but he yields to Red.
Amigo and Bud are fast friends. I often see the two of them hanging out with each other, a little apart from everyone else. Amigo’s keeper said that she’d had an offer to board him at a different facility. It would have saved her money and been more convenient.
But she refused.
Amigo is with his friends and she won’t move him.
We feel the same.
The core of this little herd – Bud, Pepper, Amigo and Red has been together for years. They are family. They watch out for each other. I love that. And the keepers watch out for each other’s horses. I like that too.
It made me think about my own herd – my tribe and how comforted I am by having them in my life. Friends are important to me. They help me feel connected, and part of something larger than myself. Friends help me be me. They help me feel safe in the world.
Speaking of friends, I think every writer’s fairy godmother might be Patricia Stoltey. She is one of those rock solid, no nonsense people who always has a kind word, a good idea, someone for you to talk to, or a new resource to check out. I feel blessed to have her in my corner.
So what about you? Do you have a herd – a tribe? How do friends fit into your life? Let me end with this question: What have you done to be a friend today?
Blessings for the weekend. You’ve become part of my tribe too. Thanks so very much!
A couple of weeks ago when I called my two old sweeties and the rest of their herd to come in for food, I snapped this photo.
I couldn’t get the image of the Sharks and Jets out of my mind. It looked like a face off – a rumble.
In case you’re wondering, it’s a reference to the 1957 award-winning Broadway musical West Side Story. It was also made into a 1961 movie – same glorious awards. It was a winner, full of music people still sing today.
Well, some people!
The story is about rival gangs in the 1950’s in New York City. The Sharks are made up of first generation Americans from Puerto Rico, and the Jets are the working-class Anglos. Tony, from the Sharks falls in love with Maria whose brother is in the Jets. It’s loosely based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
You can imagine the conflict.
The two gangs get into fights, though unlike gang activity of today, the face off often involves singing and dancing. Given the current level of violence, maybe today’s gangs should give the West Side Story version a try.
Okay, enough movie trivia. But if you don’t know West Side Story, you might want to check it out.
Horses are herd animals. They live in small family-style groups, usually with a dominant male and female. For many years, Bud and Pepper were herd leaders. Pepper still runs their small herd, but Bud has lost his status. These days, Red is dominant.
They don’t like the other horses and spend at least 90% of their time completely separate. The larger herd is younger and definitely rougher. It’s a relief to me to have Bud and Pepper in their own, small and safer group.
When they come in, they must sometimes make their way through the others. It always makes me a little nervous.
As the photo shows, Pepper almost always goes wide. She arcs as far away from the others as she can and then at the last possible moment, makes a break and runs for all she’s worth toward me and the gate.
Bud, on the other hand, remembers that he was once a feared and respected leader. He walks through the herd, though he sometimes stops to check things out before proceeding.
That’s what he’s doing in the photo – scoping out the danger.
And then he gets a little trot going, and makes his way to me. He really wants to be first out the gate, and will often squeeze his way in front of Pepper. She usually yields to him.
There is after all, a protocol to follow.
And old geldings deserve respect.
Pepper, is a wise old mare and knows exactly how to keep her men – all of them – happy.