A lesson in herd dynamics

I spend a lot of time watching my horses interact. This brings me great joy, but also informs me about how they are at rest, without my or another humans influence. 

When I brought Ripley home 6 years ago, I only had Othello and Stormy. They were a perfectly happy married couple. And, then, I went and brought home a baby that neither of them were interested in. 

The first 24 hours were harrowing, to say the least. They broke down every fence and stall gate I had in place to keep them separated. I saw a side of Othello I didn't know existed. He was protecting his mare and would not let Ripley anywhere near her. This was war. 

To Ripley's credit, he was small and quick. A lucky counterpoint to Othello's size and lack of speed. In addition, Ripley was not interested in any type of escalation. He spent an entire 24 hours out of harms way. 

Slowly, Othello became more settled. He began to see that Ripley was not interested in challenging him for his position as Stormy's guy. 

In 48 hours, everyone was grazing peacefully and it appeared that all had been sorted out.

 The three became a perfectly balanced family. They were a group that had such magic and synergy together it was a joy to watch. Stormy became the quiet leader, Othello her devoted partner, and Ripley, the third wheel that injected fun and play into everything they did.  It was common to look out in the morning and see Ripley and Othello playing the game I called " Clash of the Titans" both on their hind legs and then racing each other down the field.

I made ALL of the mistakes when I introduced the new herd member. The fence wasn't strong enough. The stall gates weren't sturdy enough. I didn't anticipate the experience that Othello had. I only thought about the newest member, Ripley. Nor, did I even consider how Stormy might fare in the mix.

This was long before I spent time watching horses' behavior. Ive learned a lot since then about how to introduce a new herd member. But, I also walked away from that experience with the understanding that there are just some things that have to run their course. 


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