Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘herd behavior

Drainage Tweak

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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

Crazy Things

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I have finally seen the first egg laid without a shell. On Monday, Cyndie came from collecting eggs at the coop and showed me the crazy thing. The shell-less membrane was sturdy enough to be gently handled without rupturing, and as visible in the image, looked full-sized and held the shape of a regular egg.

We had read about this happening, but I could never picture what it would be like. Now I know. Very interesting.

I experienced another first yesterday, and it was a crazy thing, too.

Cayenne bit me on the shoulder while I was scooping poop under the overhang. That is a very uncharacteristic behavior from the sweetest of our three horses. My startled response and yelp made all the horses jump, but my amped up angry energy directed unmistakably toward her chased her out from under the overhang and pushed her trotting down the slope toward the waterer.

We all quickly went back to grazing, but I was much less generous about sharing space with them while I worked. None of the three were subsequently allowed the usual close quarters they are normally granted while I do the housekeeping chore.

I’m not sure what message she meant to send with that nip of my shoulder, but I get the impression that all three of the horses are feeling a little out of sorts lately. Don’t know if it might be the changing weather, or their continued uncertainty about a herd leader, or accumulated frustration over their restricted diet.

A diet which, by the way, has produced noticeable results in their weight this summer. Maybe they are feeling ornery because of the cooler temperatures and shorter days, and as a result they want to bulk up a little before it starts to get really cold. Cayenne may have been trying to urge me to stop with the clean up already and get on with serving some dinner.

I finished the evening with one last crazy thing just before bedtime. I went out in the dark and worked with Cyndie to load the foosball table top into the back of my car to deliver to a buyer who found it on Craigslist.

I’d actually forgotten about the listing that I put up the same time as the lawn tractor that sold in a few days. The one and only call of interest in the foosball table came around dinner time yesterday, and the proximity of my workplace in Plymouth turned out to be a convenient meeting place.

Pretty lucky for an ad that reported River Falls, WI as the location.

You might even call it, crazy.



Horses Endure

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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