My relationship continues to evolve with the eight horses I have access to on a daily basis, my neighbor’s herd of four (three geldings and a mare), the four grazing on my land (1 gelding and three mares). An interesting an unexpected lesson that the alpha’s of each herd taught me recently, is that hierarchy and pack dynamics matter, and that even as an outsider human, I have to cooperate with these aspects if I want to sustain harmonious relationships with all the horses. As I mentioned before, my neighbor’s horse Lefty shunned me for three days once the new herd arrived on my land. He had sort of laid a claim on me and tended to monopolize all my attention, pushing the other horses away or even biting them if they approached while I was petting him. Once he saw me lavishing affections on the new horses and feeding them apples that used to be for him, he ignored me for three days, wouldn’t come near me, and wouldn’t let me pet him. You could say he gave me the silent treatment. And it worked! I did feel snubbed and at first I couldn’t understand why. I hadn’t realized that horses are so temperamental.
This week, Cece gave me the silent treatment as well for a day and half, but for a different reason: I was being too fair and equal to all this horses in her herd, not giving her the greater share of attention and treats she was entitled to as the alpha. It started with an afternoon apple feeding. I cut two apples into eight slices, two slices for each horse. I gave each horse a slice in the order they were standing around me. Both Cece and Jasmine were suprisingly pushy, getting a little too used to getting sweet treats. When I went to give the last apple slice to the omega of the herd, the smaller, reddish mare, she was very hesitant to take it and I couldn’t understand why. She loves apples. As I was trying to give her the slice, Cece kept pushing into my personal space, and the reddish mare had a frightened look in her eyes. I tried to give her the apple one more time but she made a cry and jumped back, as Cece tried to pounce on the apple. I wasn’t going to try and force feed her the last slice, but I felt Cece didn’t deserve it because she had been so aggressive, so I gave the slice to the ever mellow and sweet gelding, Ticket. From then on Cece wouldn’t let me pet her for a day and a half. She even seemed to tease me. She would let me approach her, but as soon as I reached out to pet her she would quickly walk away as if to make a point. Point taken. I felt snubbed again and could feel the coolness of her emotions. She was mad at me.
After contemplating it for awhile, I think it was more than just being mad for giving away her slice. I think she is the alpha of the herd and is used to getting the first drink of water and the best patches of grass. I think she expects the others to defer to her and I’ve noticed they always do. By being fair about distributing the apples equally, I was actually going counter to the natural order of things. That’s why the red mare was hesitant, confused, then scared; I was trying to force on her what really did belong to Cece, what Cece was entitled to as leader of the herd. By not giving her the last slice, I basically disrespected her and sidestepped her authority.
Since then I’ve really taken the time and acted sensitively to win back Cece’s affections, and have succeeded very well. In fact, just two days ago she did something that no other horse has yet done; as I was petting her back, she stared leaning into me and swaying back and forth to rub her side on me. The swaying was very rhythmic, and with each sway should would lean into rub me. This went on for several minutes and felt quite intimate, especially feeling her massive weight pressed upon me, but her knowing just the right threshold of strength. Cece has also begun to act possessive of me like Lefty used to, and if I go pet any of the other horses for too long, she’ll approach to arrest my attention and push the other away. I guess now I’ll have to decide if I’d rather be friends with all the horses, but have Cece be a little cold to me, or if I should just have Cece as my best friend and maintain a more cordial relationship with the others. As you know, I am new to horses. I must say I never expected them to be so sensitive and tempremental. Yes, horses can be catty.
Today I walked a loop around my property at sunset. The horses were uncharacteristically scattered thoughout the pastures, each one doing his or her own thing. I intended to just pass the horses by and not bother them, but as I came up on each one, it ran up to greet me. They all knew I didn’t have apples. They just wanted to say hello and see what I was doing. Yes, my relationship with these horses continues to grow. They like me, we all get along, and we seem to have an understanding. I find it very fulfilling to be accepted by the herd, and they provide me endless delight. I often experience deep inner silence when I am with the horses as well. I feel their own silence by just spending time with them, and fall under its spell. They provide for me a portal to a more natural, wild, state of being. Horses are indeed noble creatures. I am honored to walk among them.