Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Another Chance for Lady

For five years, I’ve kept Lady separate from our other two horses. Why? Because she previously seemed determined to kick the daylights out of any horse put with her! I watched one day as she ran across the paddock and planted both back feet on Sammy’s chest as he got up from rolling. No reason, I’m sure, other than her being a mare in heat. I had lost my first mare when she charged another horse, earning a defensive kick that broke her leg. I didn’t want to lose another horse that way.

Lady is what we call an “alpha,” a lead mare, the one whose hormones tell her she is in charge of the herd—with the need to tell other horses to respect her place of leadership. While some mares say it with strong facial expressions, Lady uses her back feet!

For safety reasons, therefore, Lady has the paddock in the morning and our two geldings are out in the afternoon. Not the easiest arrangement, especially if the weather is good only part of the day and someone gets robbed of their time outside. Recently, I read an article that explained how important it is that horses have contact with other horses, since they are basically herd animals. It was a very convincing article.

So last week, I decided to give Lady another chance.

She has mellowed some in the past five years. When she kicked Sammy, those two had a horsey love affair going, and I believe she was mad at him for not giving her the right kind of attention. Sammy is no longer with us. Now it’s old Traveller and young Rocky. Traveller doesn’t move as fast as he used to, and I’m not taking a chance on him getting hurt. Rocky, on the other hand is agile, and he can take care of himself without being aggressive.

Before bringing Lady in, I put Rocky out with her and watched. Before long they were running all over the paddock. Part of the time Lady was chasing Rocky and then they were running together. She did run backward once, right at him, but Rocky easily avoided contact and ran around her kicking up his heels as if to say, I’m not scared of you, Lady!

The next day, I again put them out together a few minutes before bringing her in. They ran again, touched noses a few times, and Lady squealed once. Again, she backed up with the apparent determination to kick, and again Rocky avoided contact.

On the third day, when Rocky went out, she walked over to him, and they touched noses. Rocky walked out into the paddock and Lady came to the door where I waited. And that was it. Wow. I let her in.

Fourth day. I put them together and watched a few minutes, then went to fill water buckets. A short time later, I heard running and looked out. Lady was chasing Rocky, then they were running side by side. I noticed she seemed to be pushing him toward the fence. Rocky suddenly stopped, letting her run past him as he crossed over behind her. I had to smile at his smart maneuvering. Lady had met her match!

While other horse owners at our stable put their horses out together all the time—even though they often come in with bite marks and hoof prints—I have been too scared to let mine enjoy their horsey fellowship. My memory of losing one mare because of her aggressive nature has kept Lady from enjoying her job as herd leader. Am I that over-protective Mom who deprives her kids of growing up with proper exposure to the world?

I’d love to hear from other mare owners with dominant females. Have you had any bad experiences putting a bossy mare with other horses? Does it make a difference if they are kept with other mares or with geldings? Or do you keep them separate? How much can we protect our animals without depriving them of healthy social growth? Please share!

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