This morning I read an article about some horse-related research, and shortly thereafter I got to see it in action. It was midday, and a snow storm was blowing in when I went out to feed. The seven ponies in the turnout were in high spirits with the change in weather, and the youngest were charging around, rearing, and tussling with each other.
The article I read was titled “Young Horses Behave Better Around Adults,” and indeed I was appreciative of my older mares. They exert a calming influence on the rambunctious youngsters, so entering the turnout isn’t quite as exciting as it would be otherwise on a day like today. “…adult horses play a pivotal role in channeling the aggressive behavior of immature herd mates…. Anti-social activities were four times more common in groups where juveniles outnumbered adults, compared with those herds with the highest proportion of adults.” (1)
It’s not that the older mares don’t get into the fun, but they tend to come down from the high faster than the younger ones. There have been a few times when I’ve had a large proportion of young ponies together, and it doesn’t take me long to figure out which older ponies I can add to the mix. Herdmates are together a lot more of the day than I am with them, so if I can mix my herd up from an age perspective, more socialization training gets done than I can ever do by myself. I try to keep at least one mare with my stallions for the same reason.
Some mares are better than others at discipline, and it seems to be related to position in the herd. The more dominant mares are more likely to ‘tell off’ youngsters than those lower in the ‘pecking order.’ I was surprised recently when I put together the video ‘Mothers & Daughters.’ The pictures I had of Newfarm Valencia were noticeably different than those of my other mares. Val was a great mother, but she was a bit permissive for my tastes. The pictures in the video all show her distant from her daughter, and the pictures of the other mare-and-daughter pairs show the mares much closer to their daughters. When she was here, Val was always the bottom mare, and her offspring required more of my attention in socialization.
I enjoyed watching the ponies cavort today in the snowstorm, both young and old. And when I entered their midst with a tub of hay, I didn’t have as much concern for my safety thanks to my mares. They were ready to get down to the business of eating without much delay, and the youngsters followed suit with only a few extra bucks and kicks.
© Jenifer Morrissey 2011