Horsin’ Around 1-11-10
Fort Collins, Colo.
The word agnostic means fighting, submission and escape attempts. When we turn a new horse into a group of new horses, by nature they must establish a pecking order. That is they decide the dominance hierarchy. Often times severe fighting can take place before this is established. For us this is hard to stand by and watch but it is a natural instinct, and has been carried on from the beginning of horses on this earth.
I have seen it in ranch horses, but the time that hurt me the most was when I was getting ready to travel to Germany and had to find a place to leave my horses. My old Dunne horse was not very aggressive but was in love with a filly that I had recently purchased and had been with him for a number of months. Taking them out to a friend’s place to turn in with his horses, I watched while they got acquainted.
Usually this is established with not more than some lost hair and hide or a few cuts and bruises. Therefore, I wasn’t too worried while Dunne held his own against the mare trying to steal her and I thought they would be fine. The next day I drove out to the pasture to check.
I hadn’t counted on the determined mind of a female horse, especially when she wants to mother a young filly. So when I got out there, I found my dejected gelding standing in a corner of the corral looking heartbroken. The mare and filly were out in the pasture with the mare standing between the filly and corral, glaring defiantly at the guy who had claimed the filly. My heart went out to Nugget, I know for a rough old cowboy you are not supposed to have feelings for your horses this way but I did. Therefore I made other arrangements to pasture the pair and took off for Germany.
This is not so amazing because in the natural, it is a dominant older mare who controls the herd and my gelding was not raised in that environment and was king of his small pasture. However stallions are not that dominant in the way we raise them any more. But when stallions are in a smaller pasture they may fight to the death.
There are a number of ranches, and I have worked for them, that have large pastures like in Wyoming or western Colorado that run mature stallions together in large pastures without problems. These pastures allow the less dominant stallion a place to go and hide from the more aggressive one. Once dominance is established, each stallion accepts his position in the pecking order and maneuvers his band of mares according to his rank at feed and water holes on the range.
Many horses are dominant, but not very aggressive. They rule by pinned ears, threatening gestures or intimidating charges at other horses with little intent to make contact. In these groups, so little dominance is displayed that they all eat together through out their lives.
The information in this educational article is based on information from the textbook, “Horses: A Practical and Scientific Approach” by Melvin Bradley.
Prior to his retirement, Roger Thompson was a CHA certified instructor of advanced Western horsemanship and beginning English riding.
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