Herd dynamics: Or, how Freedom got to be in charge

Freedom giving the evil eye
Here's an example of Freedom guarding his hay. He's got the evil eye down pat.

When I first got Freedom he was a mild mannered horse who was completely dominated by Kroni, my Trakehener gelding.

It’s interesting to see how he has evolved — today he’s the alpha horse in our small herd and bosses around the three girls (amazing to me that he’s managed to do that). He’s a relatively benevolent dictator: he rarely does more than cock a leg or give them the evil eye. But it works — his space is sacrosanct and if he wants to eat from a specific pile of hay, everyone moves out of his way.

I suspect that when he raced, he didn’t have much experience socializing with other horses. Although he’d been off the track for awhile when I got him, I heard that he was terrorized by the other horse owned by the woman who first adopted him.

Certainly he gave Kroni a lot of respect. It took him several months before he tried to play with Kroni. He delighted in pulling at Kroni’s blanket and then darting away when Kroni kicked out. Soon after he started playing blanket tag I found the two of them playing in their paddock, rearing up, squealing and then running the length of the field together. He’d learned how to make friends.

After Kroni died, Freedom spent a few months turned out with another gelding, Van. They got along okay, but they mostly just co-existed.

It wasn’t until he was turned out with the girls that he really came into his own. I had some reservations about turning him out with just mares but there really wasn’t any choice. For awhile we had four mares and him. I’d never had him out with a mare before. I knew he didn’t want to be alone, so he had to go out in a mixed herd. He had already bonded with one of the mares: Fortune is is hunting buddy and the two are often trailered together. But Fortune was also the alpha mare who ruled her paddock with an iron hoof.

We introduced them slowly. First he went out with two mares, then eventually all four. Gradually, Freedom started to rule the roost. I’ve never seen him really go after another horse the way Fortune will (she will chase some of the other mares off food quite aggressively).  But in his own way, he’s managed to take control of the herd. It’s great to see them together because they all get along quite well.

Sometimes I wonder how he will react if we ever get another gelding at the barn and Freedom has to share “his” mares. But for now, I think I’ll just let him enjoy it while it lasts.

4 thoughts on “Herd dynamics: Or, how Freedom got to be in charge

  1. I have a similar herd dynamic here. My gelding rules the roost, but my mare, Molly, rules with an iron hoof, and is aggressive like your Fortune.

    I put them both in boarding for a bit, and Casey took over the herd there too, usurping a very dominant mare. Molly was not boss mare in that herd. Just here at home with the other two mares I’ve acquired in the months since they came home from that particular boarding situation.

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