Minding the Leaders 2

She’s done it again.  Twice in fact.  In one day.  My very pregnant mare met me at the fence Bowthorne Mattyand invited me to mount for a very short ride to the hay stack.  This offer of assistance is quite a compliment normally and even more so with her already carrying plenty of added weight.  I’ve ridden mares for similar short distances up until the day before they foaled with no adverse consequences.  Still, I find it remarkable that she offered.  Twice.

I read about some research a few years ago showing that equines can learn by watching familiar or more dominant members of the herd. (1)  I saw this research in action at the fence the other day.  My pregnant mare is the leader of the herd, but she wasn’t at the fence that day.  Instead, a younger mare was.  She too had been greeting me at the fence, but typically she put her head across the top rail.  On this day, though, she made me laugh.  She turned sideways to the fence, just like my pregnant mare has been doing, inviting me to mount.  It’s happened more than once now, so I know it wasn’t just random activity.  She’d been watching my pregnant mare being rewarded, and she mimicked the behavior.  I of course accepted the invitation!

This mimicking of behavior is something I take into account whenever I’m with my ponies.  If a herd leader is behaving in ways I don’t like, I know I need to make a change immediately to correct the behavior so that the rest of the herd doesn’t pick up any unwanted traits.  Most of the time, though, mimicking of behavior works out to my benefit, as in the invitation to mount at the fence for a ride to the haystack.  I’ll take help with chores any time!

  1. Morrissey, Jenifer. “Minding the Leaders,” The Partnered Pony:  What’s Possible, Practical, and Powerful with Small Equines, 2015, p. 127

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2016

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Breeder of Fell Ponies, teamster of work ponies, and author of Feather Notes, Fell Pony News, and A Humbling Experience: My First Few Years with Fell Ponies. Distributor of Dynamite Specialty Products for the health of our planet and the beings I share it with.
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