Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘herd behavior

Horses Endure

leave a comment »

Our horses seemed about as pleased with the monumental April weekend of snow as we were. Despite the weeks of being confined to stalls at the beginning of the year, the relentless onslaught of blowing snow had them eager to get back indoors again.

In the picture above, you can see that Cayenne seems to have stepped up to the front position, which hints at her moving into the leadership void that was left by Legacy’s departure. We’ve noticed several instances lately where this new hierarchy appears to be normalizing. Dezirea, the senior mare, looks to be comfortable maintaining her usual position as the assistant manager, overseeing things from the back of the line.

There was a fair amount of urgency in their attitudes when it came time to bring them in each afternoon. Once inside, out of the wind and wet, the horses calmed significantly.

In the mornings, they willingly step out again for some fresh air, but after a few hours in the storm, they start to look for signs we are preparing to bring them back in.

When we didn’t get to it as quickly as they wished on Sunday when the snow was falling fast and furious, we started to hear a fair amount of vocalizations from them, expressing rather clearly that they felt they had endured enough of the harsh conditions.

It’s going to be a muddy mess out in the paddocks for a while now, but I think the arrival of some sunshine today, and again later in the week, will go a long way toward soothing their recent frustrations.

As it will for us all, I’m sure.

I can’t wait for April weather to actually get here for real.

As for this “Apruary,” we’ve had enough.

.

.

Written by johnwhays

April 17, 2018 at 6:00 am

Leaning Over

with 8 comments

The heavy rock that took five people to lift into place on the boulders at the center of our labyrinth has survived the worst that winter tossed its way. It didn’t fall out and roll to the ground. However, it did lean over to a significant degree.

I think it might be a metaphor for how Cyndie and I feel after the number of challenges we have faced in the last few months, starting with the unexpected death of our lead horse, Legacy.

Just as we began to think we were coming to terms with one thing, another challenge would blow in on us. It all pretty much tipped us over to a similar degree. It occurred to us, more than once, that one way to avoid falling to earth would be by simply choosing to jump down of our own volition.

It’s funny. In a way, it took a leap of faith in the first place to get where we are today. Now we have wondered about taking a leap right back out of here, to be done with the struggles confounding our original vision.

The thing is, as crucial a part of our dream as Legacy was, I don’t want his dying to linger as the insurmountable disturbance that extinguished the flame of possibility for good. It doesn’t do proper justice to him or his name. Losing Legacy can be a powerful lesson for us to grasp and embrace.

Really, anything we might accomplish going forward, will be in honor of him and all he contributed here.

This past weekend, for the first time since he died, we witnessed the three chestnuts execute a completely unexpected “Emergency Response Drill.” It was a big deal to us. Legacy, as herd leader, used to initiate these surprise escape drills at feeding time as a way to see he could get the herd moving in a moments notice, even if it meant leaving their food.

They all run away with a full-speed urgency that implies all lives are at stake. At about ten paces away, they pull up short, turn around to assess the situation, and then walk back and finish eating.

It’s invigorating to watch, especially when you just so happen to be standing in the vicinity with a manure scoop, at risk of being inadvertently trampled by their frantic departure.

Neither Cyndie nor I spotted who initiated the drill, but simply knowing the herd is resuming their group behaviors was comforting. I don’t know if this will culminate in a clear establishment of a new leader, but I’m pleased to see they are working on some kind of arrangement.

Cyndie reported that the mares initiated another drill yesterday, while Hunter just happened to be rolling on the wet, muddy ground, which forced him to abort his plan and get back to his feet, pronto.

Yes, they are definitely working on something. Poor guy is outnumbered now, so I won’t be surprised if either Cayenne (who has always behaved like a big sister with him) or Dezirea end up filling the role as primary head of their household.

We’ve all been pushed over a little bit since the start of the year, but we haven’t hit the ground.

Knowing the horses are working things out, and having a brood of new chicks to fawn over, helps provide inspiration for us to visualize righting ourselves and doing Legacy proud.

I think we are making strides toward steadying ourselves to lean into whatever might unfold next.

.

.

Written by johnwhays

March 27, 2018 at 6:00 am

Relative Sadness

with 8 comments

There is an aspect of grief that I visualize as wrestling an octopus. You can be engaged in the action for an immeasurable amount of time without ever having a clue if you’ve come close to pinning his shoulders to the mat.

Where the heck are octopus shoulders, anyway?

I’d love for nothing more than to have an official slapping their hand down to declare the match complete, or at least to call time on the end of a round. The clock never runs out though, and the round goes on endlessly while grief and I just keep wrestling and wrestling.

It occurred to me yesterday that I was somewhat unconsciously avoiding going out to the barn since last Sunday when Legacy’s life ended there. It’s a struggle, because I normally find great comfort in standing among the horses, but there is currently a profound disturbance of energy here. I’m feeling little capacity toward consoling our other horses and even less confidence in my ability to contain my own sorrow while in their midst.

Between the understandable waves of tearful sadness, there remain the troughs of intangible gloom. I recognize that space well.

It defined the bulk of my adolescent and early adult life, which was shrouded by dysthymia.

At least now I am armed with much greater knowledge and understanding of the dynamics of these mental squalls, and I recognize the current grief casting a pall over our lives is completely situational. There is unending love cradling our sorrow and it is nurturing our healing and growth.

After Cyndie and I walked Delilah around the property yesterday afternoon, we all ventured to the barn to look in on the horses.

I worry they might be feeling neglected after the intense attention paid to Legacy, and then his sudden departure followed by this incredible void.

They seem to me to be in a state of shock. All we can do for each other is vibrate our energy of sorrow and loss.

I’m not crying; you’re crying.

Dezirea actually stepped away from me, as if she couldn’t handle my grief. Hunter and Cayenne tolerated my attempts to give them some loving scratches, but I didn’t get a sense that either of the three of us felt much solace out of the exchange.

Cyndie spent a little more time with Dezirea. I think Dezi seems particularly sad. I am wondering if she is feeling some stress over the possibility she will inherit the ultimate responsibility of a leadership role, being the elder mare. It could just as easily be filled by any one of them, or maybe they will devise a perfect balance of power across all three.

It’s just that the four horses that were organized into a little herd over five years ago worked out so tremendously. They were a band. An ever-shifting combination of two sets of two. It was incredibly, preciously perfect.

Beyond our ability to fully appreciate when they first arrived.

Now they’ll never be able to get the band back together again…

.

Aww, here comes another slippery hold from that octopus, dagnabbit.

.

.

.

Written by johnwhays

January 20, 2018 at 7:00 am

Different Behavior

with 4 comments

Yesterday was the second time in two weeks that I noticed something uncharacteristic about Legacy’s behavior. I’m not a guy with any history of horse experience, but after living with our herd for the last 4 years, I am able to perceive when their behavior changes.

Not knowing enough to make an educated guess, all I have to rely on is my intuition.

Last week, I came upon the three chestnuts grazing and lounging out in the hay-field, without their herd leader. Where was he?

Standing up under the barn overhang.

It was odd. I got the impression that he just didn’t want to walk all that way. Or, he’d rather stay out of the sun. I got the sense maybe he was feeling old.

It might be a reflection of my own issues, I’ll admit, but he is getting on in years. Not crazy old, but old enough that his arthritis might be sapping his interest in staying connected with the rest of the herd non-stop when they choose to venture so far away.

Yesterday, the oddity was more profound.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

I came out with a wheelbarrow full of hay to fill the box where Legacy always stands. I usually have to shoosh him away while I work, and he always starts eating before I can finish latching the chain over the grate. This time, I was surprised to find him down by the waterer, just standing, as if lost in thought.

My presence, with a fresh load of hay, didn’t engage his attention whatsoever.

Desirea almost didn’t know what to do with first access. She usually has to wait until he lets her in.

Legacy’s aloof behavior was so uncharacteristic, it startled me into taking pictures of the occasion.

I’m hoping Cyndie will be able to spend some quality time with the herd this week to see what she senses. Maybe she will be able to learn what is on Legacy’s mind.

It would be great if he would just tell her.

.

.

Written by johnwhays

December 11, 2017 at 7:00 am

Swollen Eye

with 3 comments

I was simply killing some time while waiting for a delivery after I got home from work. Strolling down the driveway from the house toward the barn, I decided to go see the horses.

I found all four of them fully engaged in grazing from the freshly filled hay boxes. Not wanting to bother them, since I really had no agenda, I scaled the fence and walked past them to go kick around one of my several landscape projects in the large paddock.

Minutes later, Cayenne appeared out of nowhere. Unhesitatingly, she closed the gap and came face to face with me. It was impossible to miss the extreme swelling in her left eye. She was obviously seeking help.

I phoned Cyndie in the house to alert her and comforted Cayenne as much as I could. She seemed to appreciate being scratched around the area of swelling. If there is such a thing as referred pain, I figure it’s possible there can be referred relief, as well.

Cyndie arrived with a saline rinse and we moved Cayenne under the overhang to look after that eye. Hunter and Legacy seemed genuinely concerned for their ailing herd-mate and leaned over the fence to observe.

Cayenne was surprisingly cooperative with Cyndie’s effort to rinse, inspect, and clean the swollen eye. When the drops were applied, Cayenne actually turned her head in the optimum angle to accommodate the rinse, and blinked repeatedly to aid the wash.

It was as if she knew better than us what needed to happen, but just didn’t have the opposable thumbs to pull it off on her own.

We sent a picture of the eye to our vet, but it was after office hours already, so that contact will need to happen this morning. We will get a professional opinion and watch her closely to see if it the wash cleared out an irritant or some other problem is still brewing.

I’m sure glad about making that unplanned decision to wander down among horses. If I hadn’t, with darkness arriving at the hour earlier Central Standard Time, we wouldn’t have discovered how swollen it was until Cyndie showed up this morning to feed them.

.

.

Written by johnwhays

November 8, 2017 at 7:00 am

Tender Footed

with 2 comments

Last week, Cyndie mentioned to me that Cayenne looked a little uncomfortable on her feet. The next morning I confirmed back to Cyndie that Cayenne definitely was hurting. I brought out the morning pans of feed for the 4 horses and she didn’t move from her position down in the paddock.

Aware that she was having some problem, I chose to accommodate her and carry a pan down to where she was standing. I stopped one step short to see if she would move at all to get to the pan I had placed on the ground in front of her. She did, one hesitant step.

That morning, the tree trimmers were just pulling in and that startled the herd, sending the other 3 rushing down from the overhang, leaving their rations unfinished. Now they all wanted to eat from Cayenne’s pan. She didn’t move.

I lingered with the horses and watched as Legacy bit her in the butt a couple of times. I couldn’t tell if he wanted her to move, but one theory of Cyndie’s is that he is checking to see if he would be able to make her move in an emergency. It is very important to him as herd leader to know how serious her condition is, which then directs his decision-making, accounting for whatever her limitations may be.

dscn5826edscn5827e.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

She was not at all happy with his probing, and let him know in several ways, without ever moving a step. While I was standing with them, I noticed she was yawning frequently and then trying to get bites of snow from the mostly icy ground cover. I considered her usual behavior, which is to get a drink immediately after eating and decided I would offer her a bucket of water in case she was so uncomfortable she didn’t want to walk to the waterer.

That made her happy. She guzzled away at my offering.

Not knowing what else I could do for her, I decided to spend some time cleaning out the waterer while watching to see if her behavior would change. Somehow, while I was focused for a minute on scrubbing green scum away, she stealthily made her way over to the raised circle and was munching emphatically on hay.

It was shocking, because it seemed like I had looked away for a second, and somehow she just “beamed” from one spot to another.

A short time later, I watched her walk up the hill to the hay boxes under the overhang. My analysis was, she was definitely uncomfortable for some reason, but she wasn’t incapacitated by whatever the problem was.

Her behavior wavered better and worse over the weekend, so Cyndie asked the vet to stop by yesterday afternoon. After talking things through with him, our general consensus was likely bruising of the sensitive pads of her feet on the rough, icy terrain of late. This led to inflammation and resulted in her evident pain.

Cyndie had some anti-inflammatory pain-killer to give Cayenne and we are going to monitor for a change in her symptoms. The vet offered some alternative possibilities and decided to take a blood sample to check the function of her thyroid.

Here’s hoping she feels better soon and bruising is the only problem she has to face in this case. It’s tough seeing our most tender-hearted horse be so tender-footed.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Written by johnwhays

February 22, 2017 at 7:00 am

Horses Down

with 2 comments

One really great thing about the proximity of our chicken coop to the pastures is that we are able to observe the herd while we work. The middle of the day has been a time when it is not surprising to look out and find them settled in for a group nap.

dscn5250e

That is always such a captivating sight, having them all lay down for a rest at the same time.

I would assume that they feel much more comfortable conking out to that level of unconscious when they have enough light to safely survey the surroundings.

The funny thing for me is, the way they look here mirrors the way I tend to feel around those same hours while at the day-job lately. Trying to simultaneously design and build a chicken coop has me burning my candle at both ends. A long night’s sleep has been one of the things I’ve sacrificed.

Oh how I’d love to join the horses for a mid-morning power nap.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Written by johnwhays

October 12, 2016 at 6:00 am