When someone talks about a 'herd', in my mind I see a group of horses grazing out in open land. I think of an order and hierarchy where the horses all know their order and place in the world. I never think of domestic herds; fences and stables, yet I am trying to create a herd with my own horses who like the comfort of stables as well as the freedom of their field. So how we do create this natural way of living when we domesticate horses and how do we cater to the horses who can't live as a herd but still require that type of connection and order?
I have five horses in my care and two of them currently cannot live with the other horses. It was essential that I created the ability for them to still feel part of the group and to learn from the other more mature horses in my care, yet have the alone time when they needed it.
One of them, Sovereign, has many physical problems and is not confident enough to live with the others. She is slow to react and not able to defend herself if needed. Faraon was a stallion till last year and originally from Spain. As a stallion in Spain he would have been stabled at all times unless exercised and as such he is very scared of the outside world. He is not good in social situations and still struggles to balance his moods and behaviour.
In order to create a herd environment I needed to meet all their individual requirements whilst creating a group feeling amongst the horses.
One of the things I have done to achieve this balance is that the horses can always see one another, even those that don't live out in the field with the main group. All stables face onto the main field and the horses swap around their grazing areas so they can talk over the fence and interact with one another. I change this interaction depending on the mood of the horses and what they need at that time.
One of our new horses, Sovereign for example, has a lot of physical problems and is not well enough to live out with the main herd. At first we had to introduce her over the fence to Ebony, our healing horse and the most mature of our horses. Even though she is firm she is good at setting boundaries and building confidence. It was only after a few weeks of this introduction that Brron our lead horse was confident that Sovereign was not going to cause problems or be a danger for the others. Even though she is not in the same field, Brron was being over defensive with her at first, so we had to take him out of the equation till he trusted her more and got used to her behaviour. This careful introduction meant we didn't have issues with them trying to fight over the fence and Sovereign settled in with no problems into her new home. April the youngster of the group will talk to Sovereign over the fence as well but we have to watch this interaction still and at times Brron will break them up if he feels that something might escalate between them as April takes longer to trust than the other horses and can at times get aggressive and over react.
Faraon will sometimes go out if he is in a calm mood and on these days depending on how calm he is depends on whether he can be in an area with direct contact over the fence or if he needs to have no physical contact that day. We have to judge this based on his mood and the mood of the other horses on that day.
They all are connected and part of a team even though they are far removed from the picture of a herd that I hold in my mind; they are a herd of a different kind. We have to adapt how our herd works depending on the individuals in that herd; the jobs we are asking them to do and how we fit into that dynamic. As times change the way we work with horses has to as well as wild and domestic merges; the balance has to be found.
As the horses in my herd are healers and work as equine therapy horses and teaching horses, they are extremely sensitive. This means that to keep the balance within the herd takes a different approach because they have heightened senses. I have to still consider their physical needs and that of their ancestral needs; the nature of the wild part of them. I also need to take into consideration their emotional, mental and spiritual needs, as their 'jobs' requires them to be good on all of these levels.
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