Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘herd behavior

Double Visits

leave a comment »

Yesterday, we had a precious opportunity to visit our horses because we were invited to lunch with friends on the lakeshore at Gary Larson’s home, and the two destinations are in close proximity to each other. Our double accomplishment came at a cost of limited time at each location, but the blessing of any amount of time with a treasured group of really great friends and a hands-on visit with our horses fills our hearts and energizes our souls.

After a luscious lunch (Thank you, Gary!) and a quick dip in Christmas Lake, I switched into long pants and boots and Cyndie and I drove a little further west to spend a few minutes with Dezirea, Cayenne, Hunter, and their old (re-newed) herd-mates.

When we arrived, the horses were out of sight, down the hill from our point of entrance. A short walk in and we spotted them before they sensed us. It was calls of alert overhead from ospreys nesting on a platform by the car that caused the horses to take notice of someone inside the fence.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

They all moved to the base of the incline and peered up at us with great interest, but came no closer. We slowly walked down to meet them.

The interactions with the large herd are a little complicated by us having a close relationship with three of the horses but barely familiar with the others. It was difficult at first to have focused time with our horses while surrounded by the heightened curiosity from the others over the strangers in their midst.

I was allowed to have a brief connection with Dezirea before her new gang of worshippers interrupted, probably trying to figure out what she was getting that they might be missing.

Eventually, we had a chance to spend quality time with each of our three horses. Cyndie pictured with Cayenne above, me with Hunter below.

Hunter appears to have adjusted well in his return to the old herd that formerly held him toward the bottom of the pecking order. At one point, when I was standing with Cayenne and him, I heard one of the other horses in the vicinity give a little shout and the group of three who had strayed a little too close suddenly hustled away. I didn’t see what he did, but Hunter clearly claimed our space and the others definitely got the message to leave us alone.

All too soon we needed to start the drive back to tend to Delilah at home alone all day. Cayenne and Hunter insisted on a long Minnesota goodbye and stepped after us as we tried to break contact to leave.

When we looked back from the top of the hill, those two were still alone together in the spot where we left them, as if lingering in the in-between of time with us and returning to the herd.

In the car on the drive home, Cyndie and I smelled like horses. The rest of the day we lingered in the in-between of time with them and returning to the rest of our real world.

.

.

 

 

Written by johnwhays

August 25, 2019 at 6:00 am

Visiting Horses

with 3 comments

Yesterday we made the drive west to reconnect with our horses in their new (old) location. For me, it was my first opportunity to see them since the day they were relocated. It was wonderful, …and a little heartbreaking.

I was beginning to adjust to the void left by their absence. It was a treat to hold them again and breath in their smell, but it also touched a sensitive nerve.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Dezirea looked great. When we arrived at the far side of the big pasture, we weren’t sure how the groups of horses had been arranged. It was the middle of the day and the horses were looking ready for a nap in the sun. There was a group of seven horses in the big field, most of them far enough away that we couldn’t make a positive identification.

After we started approaching the closest group, two geldings made a point of coming to greet us. In an instant, we made new friends. Slowly, others wandered near, but without crowding us uncomfortably. Meanwhile, one horse stayed against the far fence, focused on horses in the paddocks below.

None of the six that had come toward us were ours, so my attention was on that last horse. We kept walking. Eventually, we spotted that freshly trimmed tail. It had to be Dezirea, but, surprisingly, she didn’t turn around to show us her face until we had gotten very close.

Once she did, it was an emotional rush to see her reaction of recognition.

After spending some time with her and her posse of geldings, we headed off to check on Cayenne and Hunter. I think they are who she was fixated on as she stood against the far fence. The younger two horses had been moved down to a paddock by the barn.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Hunter approached us right away, but soon decided he was more interested in some hay on the far side of the paddock. We soaked up as much of Cayenne as possible in the time we had.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Finally, we headed across to pal around with Hunter. He was very much his old self, showing us the yummy hay was just as valuable as our surprise visit.

It was really great to see the three of them again, despite the renewed pangs of loss we feel over their absence from our place. I’m glad they had this chance to know we are still connected to them, even though won’t see each other every day.

I very much appreciate their ability to live in the moment. They accepted our time together without concern for the past or the future. It made for a very precious visit.

.

.

Written by johnwhays

April 15, 2019 at 6:00 am

Couple Updates

leave a comment »

Do you remember the triumphant moment back in September of 2017, when Cyndie’s brothers and cousins helped me place a heavy stone atop the two boulders in the center of our labyrinth? Elysa captured the accomplishment in pictures.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Those were the good old days. Jump ahead to today and I can report that the freeze/thaw cycle of the earth offered its own opinion of my design. 

It appears that gravity prefers the third rock be in closer communion with the ground. Looks like I need to get the band back together for another session of heavy lifting. Although, I’m not sure that it wouldn’t just produce the same outcome twelve months hence.

The ground around here moves like the surface of the sea, just at a much slower frequency.

The other update I have to offer this morning is more rewarding. One day after relocating our horses, Cyndie received this report from Mercedes:

“The two groups got a little more social by end of day yesterday, everybody drinking out of the water trough and at full run whinnying for Fernando’s feed times 🙂

Dezirea and Max are super bonded today, and Max has sort of left Cayenne to herself now. I rechecked Dez both this morning and afternoon and legs looking good – no more swelling and cuts scanned over so I think we are in the clear, just some ointment now to keep moisturized so don’t crack and for hair regrowth 🙂 All three have been really friendly – I can tell they are used to treats and love 🙂

Today Apache whinnying to communicate with Cayenne and Hunter, and they are staying much closer to the group. So all in all really smooth transition”

We couldn’t be happier about this news. I’m feeling a strong desire to visit them soon to see for myself, but knowing how well they are doing provides great comfort for the sorrowful pangs we are experiencing by the void of their absence.

Already, we are taking advantage of the reduction in responsibility at home, as Cyndie is flying to Florida tomorrow to spend time with her parents. We cleaned up after the horses in the barn yesterday and teased each other that we might actually miss that chore. If we do, it will be because cleaning up after them is an honor when you have them as companions. In and of itself, scooping up manure holds no allure.

I rearranged leftover hay bales and did a final count in the hay shed yesterday. We’ll check with local folks we know who might have interest, and if they don’t want it, post it to the online neighborhood group for all to see.

Bittersweet steps of furthering this transition, made so much easier by knowing the horses are happy, back with their friends, and under the best of care.

.

.

Written by johnwhays

March 30, 2019 at 9:00 am

Best Outcome

with 4 comments

It all started out so well. Moving horses that aren’t fond of trailers proved to be a little more dramatic than we hoped yesterday. Cyndie brought them out, one by one. First, Cayenne.

Cayenne was understandably cautious, but eventually made it all the way to the front position inside the trailer, remaining calm while Hunter whinnied from the barn. His turn came next.

You might sense his uncertainty, visible in his body language in that image. Regardless, he championed through navigation of his footing on the unfamiliar ramp, and took up his assigned position near Cayenne.

We learned, after the fact, that Dezirea does not like being trailered. She actually surprised me by how impressively she overcame her usual heightened sensitivities and soldiered through the “scary” sights and sounds to get into the trailer. All except that last step, where one back foot slipped off the side of the ramp.

She had a bit of a tantrum in the back of the trailer and stalled proceedings for quite some time while we struggled to calm her and secure her position. She ended up backward from our initial intentions, but that ultimately turned out okay, and actually ended up making her exit that much easier.

The best news of all was that the return to their former home worked out brilliantly.

In fact, Cyndie and I now have a better understanding of just how right our decision was to rehome the horses, not for our sake, but for the horses’.

They have been well cared for and deeply loved by us, but their world as horses wasn’t all it could be. After Legacy died, their world changed. They all lost their leader, but Dezirea had lost her partner. Their health forced us to restrict their access to our rich pastures.

Their world had shrunk.

When Cyndie described how all three were welcomed back by their old herd-mates yesterday, and saw how quickly Dezirea got to be the boss mare again, adored by the geldings/boys who she helped raise when they were young, it solidified a belief that the return of the three horses we were caring for was ultimately the best outcome.

It is very jarring now to walk past our paddocks and through the barn and not have their precious energy present. That will take some getting used to. But, knowing they are among their old herd again and have returned to their previous horse relationships, greatly eases angst we were having about the difficult decision of sending them home.

 

.

.

Written by johnwhays

March 29, 2019 at 6:00 am

Normal Returns

leave a comment »

Yesterday afternoon’s visit to the barn provided a return to normalcy. Apparently, Cayenne learned whatever it was the other two were trying to convey earlier in the morning, and she was again back in front of the line-up for pans of nutrition pellets.

With the endless mosquito-like buzzing of snowmobilers annoyingly goosing their engines in short staccato bursts (do they understand how engines work?) as they motor past our property on the marked trail, the horses have figured out how to act as if everything is fine and this is the way life should be.

Personally, I prefer the calm and quiet of the months when there was nothing but ice covering the ground, despite the scary challenge it presented for trying to walk anywhere. The snow machines remained parked in storage until about three weeks ago.

The chickens responded to the moderated afternoon temperatures with a (lately) rare excursion out of the coop. At this point, I think all of them are showing signs of some frostbite on their wattles and combs, but we have yet to witness any problems arising as a result. Time will tell.

They were happy to help clean up after Hunter beneath the hay bag where he was dining.

The 7-Day weather forecast for our region tosses in a likelihood of more snow, but at least the temperatures don’t look scary for frostbite. After days of the biting harshness from 35°F below zero temps, normal days seem like a cinch.

It’s refreshing to have the chickens voluntarily out-and-about on a reasonable winter day.

It helped provide a welcome bit of normalcy to our Sunday.

.

.

Written by johnwhays

February 18, 2019 at 7:00 am

New Behavior

leave a comment »

We never know what we will find when heading down to the barn each morning. In the last few days, in a new twist, the horses have taken to hanging out beneath the willow tree located in the smaller paddock. As a result, we weren’t all that surprised to find Hunter and Cayenne parked there this morning as we approached, walking Delilah.

By the time we returned from a loop around the north pasture through the deep snow, Hunter had moved up under the overhang with Dezirea, but Cayenne remained under the tree.

While Cyndie was busy in the barn, preparing their servings of breakfast, I rolled a wheelbarrow out to clean up the frozen manure. The horses know this routine, and tend to step up in anticipation of pending food service. As I was raking, I sensed movement and looked up to find Dezirea energetically driving Cayenne down the slope, back toward that willow tree.

Not just once. Over, and over. I counted at least six times that Cayenne moved up and Dezirea pushed her back down, sometimes, way down, taking extra strides to ensure Cayenne got the message.

I have no idea what led to this very clear message. What could have gone on last night that led to this repeated “beat down” of Cayenne? Was it something she did? Something she didn’t do?

It’s a new behavior, in distinct contrast to previous activity among the three.

We will be watching with interest to see what the days ahead may reveal.

 

.

.

Written by johnwhays

February 17, 2019 at 10:33 am

Posted in Chronicle

Tagged with , ,

Harsh Environment

leave a comment »

It’s not always easy, carving out survival in all the crazy extremes of weather possible in the great outdoors. It may seem odd at first mention, but I think snow actually softens the blow of winter months, both figuratively and literally. We have received very little this year, and what did fall has mostly disappeared. After the rain and re-freeze, followed by a few days of melting, we settled into a pattern of cold that has created a particularly harsh environment outside.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

The ground is hard as rock and every other step is slippery from spots of ice.

Dezirea showed up with a bloody cut just under the joint of her cannon and pastern bones. If you look closely, there is a less obvious cut similarly located on her other front leg. I wondered if she maybe broke through some ice in the drainage rut that crosses the back pasture.

There isn’t any snow deep enough to have broken through a crust to get a cut like that.

Cyndie is up at the lake place for the weekend, so I sent her a text with the image. She asked if there was any blood on Hunter’s back hooves.

Hmm.

I hadn’t thought of that. Of course, there wasn’t.

Dezi was moving around just fine and didn’t seem any worse for the wear. There has been no further bleeding from the cut, so I am letting time do the natural healing it always provides, while also watching for any changes to the worse.

Delilah and I walked the pasture to look for any possible hazards or signs of a possible cause. Finding absolutely nothing, I’m beginning to think Cyndie may have identified the more likely culprit.

I sure hope Dezirea is dishing out as much as she is taking in the ongoing roughhousing happening among our three-horse herd.

Makes me miss Legacy that much more. Tomorrow is the first anniversary of his departure from this world. I’m definitely feeling it.

Toward the end of his life, Legacy’s poop took on a strikingly loose consistency. In an unsettlingly timed turn yesterday, while cleaning up after the horses in the paddock, I came upon a pile that was uncomfortably similar to what we used to see from the old herd leader.

Maybe the horses are feeling a little sick, too, over memories of what transpired a year ago on that oh-so-cold January thirteenth night.

A harsh environment, indeed.

.

.

Written by johnwhays

January 13, 2019 at 11:18 am

Dangerous Formula

with 2 comments

Take one part 3-inch snow burst, follow it with a day-long steady rain, and then finish it off with a quick drop in temperature to produce a solid freeze. What could go wrong?

We are currently enduring some of the worst footing since we moved to this property. It has us genuinely concerned about how to best protect our horses from critical injury.

Rain saturated the new snow on Thursday, creating an amazing amount of soupy slush. The snow on the ground absorbed as much water as possible while still being considered snow. It was basically thick water. After an overnight hard freeze, the conditions on Friday morning morphed into an uneven, rock-hard maze of slipperiness.

The splattered wake of tire tracks in Thursday’s slush are now locked solid in a bumpy, slippery, frozen echo of that rainy day.

The ground just beyond the barn overhang in the paddocks slopes down quickly enough that we sometimes worry about the horses staying safe on it on good days.

They were inside for the night when everything froze up, after getting miserably cold and wet the day before. We feared how they would handle the insane slipperiness if we put them outside without warning. The grassy footing of the back pasture seemed like a much better place to start.

They would still need access to the automatic waterer, so we opened a gate that would allow them to walk the flatter ground into the paddock as needed.

All good, in theory, but there would need to be a trick to the execution that we totally failed to consider.

Our plan was to take them out the back door and walk across the grass, past the chicken coop, to a double gate that they probably have never used. The catch was, with three horses, and only two of us, we wouldn’t be moving them all at once.

Without anticipating the consequences, we took Cayenne first. I walked her, while Cyndie managed the gate. Cayenne was expectedly cautious about the odd scene we were leading her through, so we took our time. Back in the barn, Hunter immediately voiced his dissatisfaction with our strange departure with one of the herd.

This also was to be expected, so we weren’t concerned. We would be back to get him and Dezirea soon enough.

Once inside the back pasture with Cayenne, I removed her halter.

Can you guess the next part?

She immediately headed back to familiar territory and Hunter’s call, and not as carefully as we wished. Since we had already opened the gate to allow them access to water, Cayenne trotted quickly back into the icy paddock, running right up that slippery slope to get under the overhang.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

To avoid further running, we decided to bring the other two out under the overhang to join Cayenne like normal. Unfortunately, just as we feared, Hunter lost footing on the icy slope right away. A back hoof slid out from under him, and in an athletic reaction to catch himself, he stomped on Cyndie’s foot with the opposite front hoof.

She yelped, he pulled off instantly, and calm was restored. Nothing broken, but definitely bruised.

This morning, when Cyndie went down to open the barn and let them out, she reported the horses showed no interest. They appeared quite satisfied with the safe footing in their stalls, despite the cramped quarters.

.

.

Written by johnwhays

December 29, 2018 at 9:51 am

Getting Nipped

with 2 comments

It wasn’t clear at first, but after repeated scrapes of similar appearance and orientation, Cyndie and I have come to the conclusion that Dezirea is getting bitten. Most likely, as a function of hierarchy “negotiations” within the tiny herd of three horses.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

A pattern of bite-sized scrapes is showing up on both sides of her rump with an unfortunate regularity of late. We haven’t caught anyone in the act, but I have seen Hunter pinning his ears back and moving her around enough to suspect that it’s him taking things to the next level when we’re not around.

I take some solace in remembering the time I was standing right next to them when Dezirea leaned forward and let loose a kick with two back hooves, landing them with such impact on Hunters chest that even I felt the energy. She knows how to dish out her own discipline when the situation calls for it.

If the evidence of biting continues, we may cover Dezirea with a blanket to give her hide a break, but for now we have chosen to see if they can work this out as nature would have it.

Cyndie already saw some interaction during yesterday afternoon’s mealtime that revealed Dezirea is not simply playing the victim. The elder mare moved the other two off each of their food, showing she can exert some control of her own.

Heck, it could be such behavior is why she is getting bitten in the first place.

This all tugs at our ongoing ache of missing Legacy, seeing them without the strong leadership he always commanded.

There were plenty of times when the three chestnuts would test things between each other, but it never went on for more than a brief time before Legacy would pass judgement and direct them all to knock it off.

In two months, it will have been a year since Legacy died, and the three are still searching for a new normal of life without him.

In plenty of ways, we are, too.

Reality bites.

.

.

Written by johnwhays

November 20, 2018 at 7:00 am

Drainage Tweak

leave a comment »

Before all that sloppy snow fell yesterday, I spent some time on Friday refining a drainage path in the paddock. The horses took immediate interest, more so because I was working near a gate they hoped I would open. I had no intention of giving them access to graze in the arena at the time, but they eventually charmed me into allowing it.

Unfortunately, Cayenne violated my trust and stepped through the web fence out there and spoiled it for everyone.

I had to stop what I was doing to go into the barn for a halter and then march out after her in order to walk her back into the paddock.

I was not happy about the interruption.

We have not had much luck keeping a path open to drain that side of the paddock because the perpetually wet soil there is constantly disrupted by hoof prints in the mud. I’m trying to create a wider swale with a lip on each side, knowing that it will still require repeated maintenance to prevent hoof traffic from plugging it up.

In the long run, I’m hoping to shape the lay of the land enough that their normal activity doesn’t interfere with the way it drains. Water will always flow down the easiest route available.

Meanwhile, I’m wondering if the initiative shown by Cayenne to venture astray on Friday has any relation to the behavior I noticed yesterday under the overhang. Is she taking on a leadership role in the 3-horse herd?

Look how they lined up behind her to wait until she was done eating.

Gives the impression she is the one in charge. Time will tell whether this settles into a new normal among the three of them.

.

.

Written by johnwhays

November 5, 2018 at 6:00 am