Geldings finding balance

Yukon Sticking his tongue out at me? I wouldn’t be surprised.

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Note – Gelding is a male horse that has been castrated- making them no longer stallions. Typically Geldings can be kept together. Stallions are often turned out alone – maybe some are turned out together but i have never seen it. I think that would lead to fighting. I have three Geldings living here.

Mare- female horse

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Once again this human is learning about horses and how they interact. Horses will teach us a lot…it will never stop. When Airy and Harley lived here we were very used to that dynamic of the two of them together. They ate their grain side by side. They shared a stall. Airy was the boss as many mares are when they are turned out with geldings. We were very comfortable with the routine with the two of them. After she died we knew we were going to add at tleast one new horse so Harley had a buddy.

I knew the dynamic would change and we would have to learn how the horses interacted, what their needs were and we would have to determine a new routine based on the dynamic between the new horse – and now its a dynamic of three horses since we also have my neigbors horse Hank here.

The arrival of Hank and his meeting Harley was very easy and I think I had thought this would be the case with Yukon.

Yukon arrived a few weeks ago with little fanfare. His arrival was uneventful. The truck and big trailer that was hauling Yukon pulled down our driveway and turn around and popped open the gate and out Yukon walked. Head up ears perked. “Where am I?”

We put him in one of our

Getting off the trailer with Sara the Days End Farm trainer

pastures and the current horse residents – Hank and Harley- began the dance of meeting by getting to know each other over the fence. I spent time watching all of the horses reactions.

Hank and Harley checking out Yukon.

Right off I could tell Yukon wanted to be top horse. He spent time nipping Harley – the current herd leader- from over the fence. Harley is my horse and we added Yukon so Harley could have a friend as we lost our mare Airy suddenly in August.

Hank had a few little pushing matches with Yukon over the fence but Hank is much smaller than Yukon and Hank is much different in personality then Yukon is.

Hank didn’t want to challenge Yukon at all and hung back from the fence more often than Harley did.

Over the first few days I spent some time with Yukon out in the field. I wanted some bonding time just he and I. It was a hot week when he arrived and he spent time back in the trees that line the property on one side. Hank did the same when he came.

I wandered out there with Yukon and we sat under the trees for a bit. He kept trying to chase off our barn cat Ziggy. He definitley has a bossy side and I think he is testing the waters. He;s a big horse 15.3 hands. Hands are measured at the withers of a horse- thats sits where the neck meets the back. So Yukon is 5’3″ to the withers and he has a very long neck making him oh so tall when he holds his head high. His body is very long as well. Harley is the same amount of hands but the rest of him just ins’t the size of Yukon.

Looking at the barn from the edge of the pasture. Oh and Yukon’s long back is in the photo too

Temperment wise Yukon is pretty good with humans. As I visited with him the field I was able to lean against him and take some photos over his back. He is nudgy about treats and loves attention. In many ways he reminds me of harley.

Speaking of Harley – I was under the impression that he would try to maintain his head of household status when we let them all be together. I wasn’t off on that. He was that way at first. But it turns out he was bossy over the fence but not once they met face to face.

We decided to introduce all of the horses a few days before we went out of town. I hoped that some routine would be established with feeding and such after they were together a few days.

When we put the together all the horses met up in the pasture and sniffed one another and there wasnt much fanfare. They began to graze near each other and that went on for a bit. I thought that was that. But after about half an hour Harley decided that Hank and Yukon could not be near eachother and he bagan this odd weaving between the two of them . I guess he didn’t want to give up his friend. (Hold on loosely Harley…Hold on loosley). That behavior went on for a while and then Harley began the hazing process by not allowing Yukon too close to the overhang part of the barn.

Here Harley performs his weaving ritual!:

But soon the tables turned and Yukon began to haze Harley. He didnt have to do much- just tip his ears back and drop his head – which is a sign from one horse to another – to move.

Hank has been kind of in the middle of all this. He isnt vying to be top horse. He just wants to be friends with both guys. It seems that he is -though both Harley and Yukon boss Hank around but he doesnt seem to mind. The conflict seems to be between Yukon and Harley.

When we left last Monday for the beach it seemed like things were getting more settled. I figured Yukon won for top horse.  What I realize now is that these things take time. Since i have gotten home I see that some things are better and other things need to be settled .

One moment Yukon and harley will be hanging out in the dry lot next to eachother and the next Yukon won’t let harley under the barn overhang. He tries to claim all the hay piles for himself.

I know Yukons feeding regime is differet now, he had been fed in a closed stall- we do lock him up for his grain but have been letting him out after he finishes to allow him to share hay with the other horses.

Yukon has naviclular issues which means he has painful feet and being stalled can make him stiff so we havent wanted to stall him for too long. – I think his lack of manners when it comes to sharing hay is likley due to his being fed in a stall and not having to share his hay – and i think he thinks that all the hay that is put down is his.

One thing I feel is that the horses have to work these things out between themselves but when there are humans around them a horse cannot behave in a wiley manner and get all the other horses riled up.  Horses moving quiclky to avoid eachother and then a human being in that mix is very dangerous. So I will not allow them to behave crazily if we are working around them.

I have had to stand by while they are eating and not allow him to push another horse off the hay piles. Some posturing is normal but he cant have all the hay for himself. And he cant have the entire overhang to either especially in torrential rain. And we’ve had a lot of that lately.

I think it will take me a while to get used to having three horses. There is more crowding. More poop. More feeding. The good thing is we do have Austin -Hanks owner- who rotates in and helps with the care. Huge for me since I’m unable to do many of the chores now.

I am enjoying learning more about horse behavior. I know they will settle in- it just takes more time in some instances.  I will try to stay out of their posturing as much as possible – I know they will figure it out.

Yukon is a very nice horse. I think he just needs to settle in some.  Learn he doesnt have to own all the hay and know he will get lots of attention.

Since I began this post last week – yes last week (I can’t seem to find time to sit and write) – things have settled down more. I am pleased with this. It’s still a quite a frenzy at feeding time. I’m getting used to it.

I realize now how easy it really was to care for Harley and Airy. Three geldings together is different but fun. I’m pretty sure they will be quite the crew.

I’m sure it will make for some funny stories.

Did I mention Yukon is big?

This little surprise

So we didn’t get our new guardian horse Yukon yet. He comes to us next Monday. He wouldn’t load last week on the trailer we borrowed. Maybe he was too big. Maybe just a bit afraid. It had been a while since he had been on a trailer but he would not get on. So he is still at Days End.

So the rescue is bringing him to us next Monday. I think this will work out well. I am very grateful to Days End for the transport.

Harley has been doing fine. And here’s the surprise! Harley has a friend. Yep he got a buddy already. And he will have Yukon too!

As luck would have it our neighbor Austin decided he wanted to get a horse so he can do roping. Like in roping calves in a rodeo. Currently , Austin is a bull-rider. Yep a real cowboy and his sweet wife live right next door . They are the owners of the donkeys that I have posted photos of from time to time.

Austin isn’t retiring from riding bulls right now but I think he sees at some point his body may get too beaten up and it might be time to change to some other rodeo event.

So he decided to get a horse. He had a pony growing up. I saw a photo – so cute. They were buddies. His pony lived quite a long time. So Austin knows equines. So his getting this horse wasn’t jumping in to something he doesn’t know. And he rides giant bulls I don’t think any horse will intimidate him.

So anyway knowing that Harley was alone he asked us if he could keep an 8 yr old quarter horse on our property for a while. He needs to build some fencing on his land.

I knew Yukon was coming and I have never had more than two horses in our pasture. Both Harley and Airy are easy keepers. Which often -and in our case does – mean that they get very fat on grass. Grass can be harmful to horses like this so we only let them graze every other day or we use grazing muzzles which limit their grass intake. We always seem to have lots of grass and with Austin fencing in his pasture area there will be enough if we need to share.

So we agreed to have his horse here and we worked out the details and probably will tweak them every so often -and this past Sunday Mojo (now named Hank ) arrived.

Harley was very excited. He whinnied and pranced when he saw Hank for the first time. We have photos but It was dark.

We kept them apart for a couple nights. They nuzzled over the fence. Got to know each other a little. When Austin took Hank out for a ride on Hanks first full day here , Harley called to Hank and he called back. Buddies in the making.

When we put them together it was non-eventful. No kicking or biting. But I think I thought there would be no establishing for position because they got along so well over the fence. But of course I was wrong. Harley decided he needed to establish he was boss. So he pinned his ears as Hank approached him. Hank got the message and stayed away. They would graze nearish to eachother but if Hank got too close Harley would pin the ears back take a step and Hank would walk away.

This is when they first meet. Keeping a good distance but grazing calmly.

Moving closer. Notice the “dance” :

After a while , Hank came in to explore the paddock. I saw him sniffing the ground and checking out the trough and the stalls. Harley who was loading in a stall made sure Hank knew he wasn’t welcome in his stall right then. Come on Harley stop being a snob I thought.

Harley was hazing Hank and it seems mean but it’s what horses do. He might want a companion but they have to do their horse dance. Set the tone for their relationship. And after Harley was bossed around by Airy for so long I am not shocked Harley wants to be the boss now and Hank isn’t challenging that it seems.

Hank is the more spry one. Younger and a better mover but he is also one relaxed horse. Bombproof so far under saddle and very chilled out on the ground. So he let Harley do his thing and he seems ok with his place in this small herd.

Here is how calm this horse is. A ride in the corn(video by Austin Gosnell).

At one point Hank stood alone under the line of pine trees way out on the edge of our field. I came out to the paddock to check on them. I was hoping they would be hanging together. But Hank wasn’t there in the paddock so I walked into the pasture and looked all around and finally I spotted Hank hanging in the shadows of those trees. Maybe he wasn’t sure what he should do with Harley and his attitude.

I walked back to the barn and I looked at Harley who had ambled out of his stall to see what I was looking at way out in that field.

I said “Harley you have alienated your new friend and now he’s out there all by himself.”

And I looked at Harley and he stared out in the field – we couldn’t see Hank from there but I bet Harley could smell him. And what did Harley do? He called to Hank. I was like dang Anne he understood your scolding- wink wink.

Harley got no answer from Hank so he walked into the field and called again. Soon Hank was seen slowly walking towards Harley and what does that big oaf do? Decides to give Hank a run around. Harley head down trots toward Hank and Hank trots away from him. It’s a horse thing. Again it’s seems anti-social but it actually establishes the social hierarchy of a herd. Harley is not fast so it was funny. But I thought that may have been the final haze ritual Because once that runaround was completed they both began to graze much closer together.

That afternoon we had to head out of town for a few days to take my sons to college so we left Austin to care for the horses. Happily the next morning he reported that they were together and massaging each other. I’m not sure what that looked like but ok!

Later in the evening Austin couldn’t find Hank in the paddock and was surprised to see he had been invited into Harley’s stall. Just like he and Airy used to be. Watch the video by Austin Gosnell.

Now all this bliss will be shaken up on Monday with the arrival of Yukon. So that will be another story unto itself.

Hopefully three will be ok and not a crowd. Yukon is big and confident but lame (as in bad feet) so it will be interesting to see how it all flushes out.

More to come on that….

Here are some more photos of Hank (and family). Courtesy of the Gosnell’s.

Clarissa and Hank

Hank eating hay

Austin the bull rider and Hank

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Ziggy. The awesome cat.

Harley alone- maybe not for long…

Airy has been gone four days now. Things are quieter. Things still feel off.

Though he has quieted down a lot since Monday, Harley my Tennessee Walker was very upset the day we put Airy down. We had the vet img_5705give him a sedative and he saw Airy’s body. It didn’t settle him down too much. He pranced around the paddock calling to her. He got no answer. He was pushing up against the fencing trying to get to where he last saw her. I feared for his safety – I feared the fencing might give. So we opened the pasture gate- the one furthest away from her body and hoped he would graze.

He would run in and out of the pasture calling to her. Not gonna lie – my heart was breaking for Harley too. He was confused and stressed and I had no way to take it away. The first night was hard on everyone. My initial shock wore off and the dam of tears came flooding out. I could not stop crying. I cried for the loss and the trauma my horse went through leading to her death and I cried for my living horse who was calling periodically throughout the night for a friend who would never answer.

I could not sleep in my bed that first night. I took to the family room couch – it faces the front and side of the property and is furthest from our paddock. I couldn’t bare to hear Harley calling to her. I put earphones in and listened to the oceans waves and read my book and must have dozed for a few hours.  I woke at six and it was quiet. I hoped it would be a better day for Harley.

The truck came to take Airy’s body away. I could not stand to go out so my ever strong husband went.  Sadly Harley became very upset when he saw the truck. I could hear him from inside. There was no way to block his view and I am not sure he knew what was happening or if he just knew someone was near where he last saw his friend. When the truck pulled away Harley went on calling her.

I knew he was under duress and I wanted badly to help him. I had little I could do though. I went to the feed store and got some natural calming paste and I got some probiotics. In times of stress Probiotics are helpful to help alleviate ulcers. Thankfully Harley has been eating and drinking just fine.  I gave him half the paste in the tube and hoped it might help a little. I brushed him and pet him and talked to him.

Wednesday he was much more quiet. He called a couple times and was much more vocal at my approach to the barn. I have been watching him. And he mostly sticks to his stall. Thursday we opened the pasture gate closest to my neighbors horses and I was hoping he would feel some comfort in seeing them- if they venture out in this heat. I normally do night turn out in summer but now I will do whatever I can to make Harley less stressed.

We had six horses and two donkeys between four small farms on my side of the road. All of our pastures close together. Now only three of those horses remain as one of my neighbors lost two of her horses suddenly on the same day a few weeks ago. So it is a quieter place these days. I miss my neighbors horses too as I was “friends” with her equine boys.

Horses are natural herd animals and I feel they need companionship. That is not to say they can’t be alone – I have seen it before and even the vet said Harley may settle in and do fine as a lone horse. But would he miss having a buddy? I am not sure I should put the human term lonely onto an equine- do they get lonely? Is he grieving? I am not sure what it is but herd animals depend on each other for safety, companionship, and even to help keep the flies at bay (horse will stand near each other and swish their tails to keep the flies off each other!). There is a need there.

Since I can’t know what he feels because I am not a horse I can only go by my observations. I think Harley was confused and stressed that his companion was gone. If we had a third horse maybe I would not have seen the same level of stress. Horses do bond and I think when they are separated whether by one horse being moved to another farm, or herd, or through death it can cause stress. But something in Harley’s behavior leading up to Airy’s passing and after leads me to believe he knew it was a permanent parting. Horses may not understand death fully but I believe they feel something that lets them know that something more serious is up.

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Harley and Airy in the pasture

So I am sure Harley is confused- he’s always been in a herd. Maybe he is lonely or whatever a herd animal feels when it is now a herd of one. As the days move forward he will settle down and perhaps he could be ok as a lone horse but I am not sure it would be the best thing for him- and lets face it if I feel this way then it causes me stress so its not the best thing for me. Looking outside and seeing just one horse seems off to me.

So right after Airy died my concern shifted to Harley being alone. What were we going to do?  If Harley were being boarded with other horses or if we had a third i would not get another horse. Part of me doesn’t want another horse. There is the expense and there is the fact that physically I am not the same person I was when I bought my horses years ago. I have limited use of my one arm and at this point I can’t ride.  So I don’t want a horse that requires being ridden – if I can ride Harley again that would be so great but two needing to be ridden would be too much for me. We also considered having a boarder here. We could get some help maybe in exchange for board – but there is liability in this and I wasn’t sure I wanted to take that on.

I know there are tons and tons of horses out there in need of homes and I know there are plenty of horses just looking to be companions to other horses. Ones that can’t be ridden due to health issues or age. But I still don’t want to own one. The other day soon after Airy died I began my search to see if my needs for a horse could be met so I could meet Harley’s need for a companion. There are a vast number of horse rescues in Maryland but there is one in particular that I was pretty familiar with. I looked on their website – Days End Farm Horse Rescue  – and I saw what I was looking for – a guardian program! Ingenious really.

With the Guardian program a person take possession of the horse – typically these horses are not ridable but can be great companions “pasture pals” to other horses-  and Days End retains ownership of the horse. As guardian we would provide for all the horses needs but these expenses can be written off on the our taxes.  We could return the horse to the rescue if the need arose. This sounds like it could be a good fit for us.

Saturday we will go out to visit a prospective Guardian Program horse named Yukon. A quarter horse Gelding about 18 years old. Chestnut in color (coincidentally the same as Airy was). He is said to have a great temperament and gets along well with his current pasture mates.  We have to have a couple visits with him and one of the trainers at the rescue. If we all think he could be a fit for our farm then he will come here soon after.

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Harley and me- selfie

We need to restore some balance here. I am still grieving the sudden loss of my horse and that will ebb in time but life has to move on and the focus must be on the needs of the creatures that are still living here.

Maybe Yukon will be one of those creatures.  I will let you know how our meeting goes!