What in the Herd is going on……….?

As some of you may know we have had some changes in the heard here at Painted Horses, LLC. During this process I found myself thinking how closely the herd dynamics parallel human lives, and in this particular case, how families may cope with their children growing into adolescents, or adolescents growing into young adults.  The change in the herd started with the ongoing development/maturation of one of our young fillies into a mare. This process has offered many difficulties to the herd, such as horses running through fences, separating horses from each other for periods of time, and even having to switch stalls.


It has been challenging, at times, to watch this filly mature as she has had various events and herd dynamics that have affected her development within the herd. To begin with, she has had to cope with the herds’ expectations of her. In her situation, she is the only large mare horse out of 4 large horses. Generally, horses in the wild have a lead mare for each herd. The herd expects this lead mare to fulfill certain roles of leadership orienting around aspects of safety, nurturing, and setting guidelines to define appropriate horse behavior for the herd. Any colt or fillies in the herd are expected to heed the guidelines set by the lead mare, if not, the lead mare will encourage following the guideline through discipline of the colt or filly. Herd expectations can seem overwhelming to any colt or filly being raised in any herd. Our young mare has not had the exposure to a lead mare in a herd, as the fillies’ mother was returned to her previous owner.  Consequently, she has no model to guide her, and show her how to be a lead mare. Without a model to guide her, she is left to essentially guess what is expected of her. Guessing at how to be a lead mare has led the herd through many trying, and at times, risky events. 


One particular dynamic emerged with two events of breaking fences. Our young mare started to exert her power, challenging the other larger geldings through intimidating looks, nips, and kicks. She seemed almost giddy at times with her energy, and constant movement of immature behavior. It seemed as if her behavior was trying the patience of all herd members. Finally our senior gelding seemed to have enough of her behavior, and began to attempt to discipline the filly. In his efforts she became frightened, and on two occasions ran through fences.  It seemed as if she thought she was prepared to exert her power, but when it came down to it she was really fearful of having all that responsibility. Thankfully, she and the other horses were not hurt. Now separation had to occur between the two horses, with plans of re-uniting both of them once their emotions calmed, and behavior changed.   


Lastly, another herd dynamic affecting our young mare oriented from peer pressure, and association. This mare happens to have been born around the same time as one of our miniature horses. Due to kinship she has developed with the miniature mare she has seemed to identify herself with the miniature horse group, or herd. I like to say the miniature horses seem to be “her posse”, which is unfortunate, but true. This large horse mare has started to behave like a miniature horse, and seems to draw her courage from her formed identity with this group of horses, rather than the larger horse herd who is expecting her mature leadership. In order to change this dynamic, we separated her from her mini friends at times throughout the day; however, this did not seem to work as she would just stand by the gate of the paddock they were in.  Next we noticed her stall was next to her mini friend’s stall, so we changed her to be next to the big horses.  I also let her and all the big horses out to graze and eat their hay bale together before allowing the miniature horses out with the rest of the herd.  So far these small changes seem to be helping. 


  Overtime, the herd has been able to adapt to changes, and re-adjust, but it has been a trying experience.   I find a process like this similar to what I witness when working with adolescents, and their families. In either situation much consideration is given to paying attention to the adolescent behavior, working on modeling the behavior expected in the family, looking at how peer pressure affects the adolescent, identifying times in which to work on relationship building, engaging in problem solving, with much solution focused thinking. Have you ever felt this way in your herd?  Feel free to share.

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