One of the coolest things about keeping your horses at home is that you get to see them interact, and you get a much more intimate sense of their personalities and herd dynamics. Sure, you see a little bit of it if you board (or you hear it from the staff), but it's different when you can see them right out your back window. I thought I knew our horses well - after all, I'd had Cash for 13 years before we brought him home - but seeing them 24/7 brings it to a whole new level.
In our little herd, there are two distinct types of horses - leaders and followers - but there are different types of each.
The benevolent dictator
- Red and Brego. It's surprising how similar these two are, despite their obvious physical differences. Neither of them have ever had to try
to be the boss, they just are
, and they know it. They don't lord it over anyone either - a simple glare or pin of the ears, and everyone else falls in line. I've never seen either of them kick or bite anyone. It's like they're so alpha that they don't even have to mete out discipline. As long as everyone does what they say, there is peace in the world - and nobody ever
doesn't do what they say. But here's where the benevolent part comes in - both of them will share. Not grain, but they'll both allow others to share hay if they're in the mood - Red would share with Cash and nobody else.
Sharing is caring (the black blob on the left is Brego, I promise)
Being alpha comes with its own set of problems, though. You rarely get to lay down to nap, because you have to stand guard all the time. You have to be a true leader at all times, which means keep everyone else on a schedule, because they are looking to you to tell them what to do and when. There are times to eat, times to nap, times to go get water - you've gotta keep track of those things because everyone else is depending on you to make those decisions (Cash and Saga literally did not know what to do if Red was not around to tell them. They almost couldn't function without him). It also means you have to be a bit of a loner, because doing something as simple as grooming with another horse might be seen as a weakness. I've actually never seen Red groom with another horse, and Brego I've only seen doing it once or twice with Paddy - whereas the others I will see grooming a few times a week.
A rare napping moment.
One thing we were very careful about when we had Red and Brego at Wyvern Oaks at the same time, was never to turn them out together. Red's now 23, and we simply didn't want him and Brego to get into a fight trying to out-boss each other. Fortunately, Red and Cash are now together in their own little herd at the retirement barn, and Brego's got his little group here. Everyone gets to be alpha and nobody gets hurt.
The bachelor alpha
- Oberon. He was actually boss over Red but he never led the herd. He was pretty much a loner - always off by himself. It was almost like he didn't know how to interact with the others, but he was also a PMU baby so maybe that had something to do with it? Red ended up continuing to be herd boss and stayed out of Bo's way (as did most of the others), and Oberon just sort of did his own thing - he was alpha but not at all a leader. It was the oddest relationship I've ever seen.
I don't have many pics of Bo, and none out in the pasture, so this will have to do.
- Taran. He wants to be leader so badly
but he just doesn't know how it's done. Unlike the benevolent dictator type, he will go out of his way to pick on any horse lower than him (Cash, Saga, Paddy). If anyone comes in with bite marks, it's Taran's doing. Many times, I've watched him pin a horse against a fence and bite or kick them, apparently just for fun. He herds the others and will chase them too, because he can. It's like he's trying to demand their respect, but doesn't understand that respect is earned. He simply doesn't seem to have what it takes to be a true leader like Red or Brego, and the other horses know it. Interestingly, he's never disciplined for his actions by the alphas - I've wondered if we had mares, would they keep him in line more?
A rare moment of peace.
Is your horse a boss horse, and if so, does he or she fit into one of these categories? Do mares have entirely different categories? Share your stories!