Monday, August 8, 2011

Two years: Observations

At the end of the first year of having the Quarters I thought I knew them, at the end of two years it seems that my earlier estimate of their personalities wasn't quite on the mark. You may recall that I was keeping them at a shabby boarding barn with mostly every day turnout. I thought that their biggest issue was Gwen losing her mind at being left alone and Coriander charging at other geldings over the fence. What I found out after I moved them to pasture board was that they were actually constantly stressed in that old barn, and that their personalities changed quite a bit once they could finally relax.

For one thing, Gwen is an absolute sweetheart, she really is. I know that I do a lot of writing about how reactive and flighty she is but you couldn't find a more cooperative, eager-to-please, downright affectionate horse than her. Another thing I've come to notice more and more in the last year is that she's actually quite curious and likes to explore. She's still not quite comfortable going out by herself but if another horse comes along she's in the lead checking things out. She's gaining confidence and growing much bolder. In all, she's a super fun horse and I just love getting to work with her.

Coriander is also not what I thought he was last year. For the first year he was my "easy" horse, the one I didn't have to worry about other people handling, the one I could ride. I took him a bit for granted. In this second year I've had to devote a lot of attention to him, he's taught me about thrush and how to be a better trimmer, he's taught me how to be a more effective rider, but most of all he's taught me a whole lot about compromise. Coriander has very strong opinions, opinions he will defend forcefully if need be, that I need to pay very close attention to because most of the time he's right (don't tell him that though, his ego is already pretty big). I've also learned this year that Coriander is playful. I never saw him playing during the first year I had him and it didn't strike me as odd until this spring when I noticed him playing with Butch, lately I've seen him initiating play with Gwen. It's nice to see him relax and enjoy himself.

They're also teaching me some interesting things about herd dynamics and dominance. Food hierarchy in the pasture goes like this: Butch then Rocky then Coriander then Gwen. Butch is definitely the Boss Hoss, he can eat wherever he wants, whenever he wants; Gwen is the exact opposite, everybody can push her off her food; yet Gwen appears to have become the herd matriarch. When Gwen decides it's time to graze somewhere else she'll just go- and the rest of the herd follows. For this reason I keep Gwen in the halter when I take the Quarters out for walks. Coriander will follow her anywhere, but if she's loose she'll decide at any time that she needs to return to the barn. At a gallop. That's not exactly safe, so she stays in my hand. I also think it's nice to give Coriander the chance to explore places on his own that I'm normally directing from the saddle.

This development is very interesting to me because it basically throws dominance theory on its head and, to me, proves Mark Rashid's passive leadership theory. Gwen is on the bottom of the hierarchy yet the herd loves her and will follow her anywhere. I'll be keeping that in mind the next time someone says you have to dominate your horses to be the boss.

This is why it's so wonderful to have horses, they have so many good lessons to teach us!


  1. A lifetime of lessons I think :) Congrats on the anniversary and here's to many many more!!

  2. Two horses with very distinct personalities. I find the mares (Dusty) although they may be at the bottom often set the tone for grazing or behavior of the herd.

    I'm so happy for you and your horses that you left the barn that was so stressful to Coriander and Gwen. It just goes to show we never really know what an animal is like until they are allowed to be themselves. I'm always amazed by how different each horse is once you get to know them. It's one of the reasons I can't deal with people who think horses are livestock with no feelings.

  3. I love watching my horses interact--and reading about other peoples' horses, too. Your Gwen is like my Dove--although Dove is also at the bottom of the "food chain" she's also my friendliest, most eager-to-please horse. The times when there has been a fence problem and they've gotten loose, Dove will always walk right up to me to be caught...and yes, she is the curious one, often visibly battling her urge to flee/examine scary new things for a lot longer than the other horses do.

    I think Mark's observations about herd dynamics are very important...horses do indeed have a lot to teach us!

  4. CFS- You are so right! I hope to have at least 20 more anniversaries with these two :)

    GHM- I don't get people who think they have no feelings either. Frankly those people worry me, they're either ignorant or they completely lack empathy. Not good.

    Fetlock- I think I'd like your Dove :) Have you read "Life Lessons From A Ranch Horse"? You'd probably like it.

  5. Wow. Two years. Where does the time go. I love that Gwen has the quiet strength the makes the others follow her to better grazing areas. And how wonderful the Coriander is learning to play. You appreciate the uniqueness of Gwen and Coriander and have worked with their personalities. I agree - we can learn so much from these beautiful animals. Congratulations on your anniversary and best wishes for many, many more.

  6. I know, right? The time just keeps whizzing by no matter how much we want to stop it. There's so much left to do and I'm going to need years and years to do it. I'm just lucky I have such wonderful critters to do it with :)

  7. I love this post!

    I really enjoyed reading about your observations of your horses and how they have changed over the past year. I have found over the past couple of years with our rescue horses and our ever changing herds that environment and pasture companions can have a huge impact on a horse's personality.