Welcome to Fern Valley

Here in central Alberta prime farm country,my husband Martin and I work together raising beef cattle and Appaloosa horses. Fern valley appaloosas have long been known for their quality of temperament conformation and color.I have recently rediscovered a love of writing and have published 2 collections of poetry. "Telling Tails" and Tails Trails and Campfire stories" . I look forward to a future spreading my wings as an author and as a horse woman .

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Becoming the Boss mare

My apologies to the gentlemen who read this , and the owners of geldings . The premise is similar for male horses /and handlers.It is just best described  with mares.There is no one better at the dynamics of herd management than a boss mare.
To Quote Dr Phil"If momma ain't happy,ain't nobody happy!"

So who is the boss in your herd?
Well hopefully YOU! but beyond that figuring out the "boss mare" in your herd is a matter of observation.Who she is NOT, is the silly one who rushes around stirring up crap and kicking at every little thing, nor is she the food obsessed filly who tries to steal from the submissive ones and must eat from every pile . She is not the one who goes into a pen or receives a new horse "guns a blazing" aggressively approaching all new comers . She is not necessarily the largest or the oldest ,or the fastest . But she is the wisest, and she is who you want to model .
This horse is often quite quiet in the herd until things get out of hand , she  doesn't vie for position at feeding time , because she doesn't need to , she knows her status and is calm and sure in the knowledge . The horse is calm and confident.
When a new horse comes in to the herd , she will often observe , not approaching the new herd member , rather allowing the horse to approach her . This is where you need to really watch and take heed. This mare will not become hugely aggressive , but will display very clear behaviors specifically designed to assert her authority .
She becomes "larger than life" Body language is very important , she will seem to ,well just get taller and larger carrying herself in a manner that exudes confidence and authority. When to new horse approaches , she will acknowledge them ,and sniff in greeting , but if that new horse comes into her personal space too quickly , she will warn, a foot stomp, a squeal(and from Ritchie it will curl your hair to hear it , that is often all it takes )a nip, and if all else fails she will rear and strike or as a last resort turn to kick. Unless she is confronted with an other Alpha mare ,it likely wont get much past the squeal stage . Now the remainder of the herd will jockey for position to be higher in the pecking order than the new horse , depending on the nature and skill level of the new horse ,it will be interesting to see where the dust settles . At this point a really good boss mare ,can keep the excitement to a minimum, as all of the others will still respond to her as well. A well timed Whinney from Rich , and everyone stops!

So how do you get to be boss?
Well we have identified what not to do , which to recap is , do not rush, do not challenge ,
 Do observe.
Do exude confidence
Do ,use appropriate body language to establish authority .
What is that body language?
Well you are not going to rear or strike, as such. But modeling that behavior, a foot stomp can be a hand clap(brisk clear assertive) a hand raised with a clearly stated WHOA! rearing and striking ? a raised hand , flat palm out and again a clearly stated command , (this is not where you sweet talk them , this is where you say NO, WHOA ,BACK, etc)
A nip? a lead rope or your flat palm, a quick sting essentially , a slap on the neck or shoulder . (you are not hurting them , you are  seriously not strong enough to do damage with the flat of your hand ,or a snap/sting  with the rope end of a lead.
Keep in mind you are not  anywhere near as big as a horse ,( no matter how big your thanksgiving dinner felt! )So another trick in showing a horse especially one who is questioning your authority , is be Big in your mind , and be willing to move into them each time , but obliquely, angling your body so that if they do rush you , you can let yourself bounce off the shoulder , and move out of the way . SAFETY IS THE #1 priority
I am going to stop here , for now . I am hoping a few fellow bloggers will add thier input and post as well in this regard. I hope I have been clear in my explanation . and to close I want to remind you of a couple things.
1. I am not a trainer,nor do I claim to be . I have had and worked horses for a long time , but I am by no means advocating my way is the only way.
2. Something Crystal said  reminded me of this .
Remember it is not personal! your horse is not hurting you or pushing boundaries , because they do or don't love you . Any more than your kids would . It is not  a matter of love , it is a matter of SAFETY


Anonymous said...

More good stuff - thanks!

I find being clear and decisive makes a difference - no waffling or ambiguity - horses like clarity and get nervous if things aren't clear. This doesn't mean being aggressive, but just that I say what I mean and mean what I say (I think that's also a quote from Dr. Suess). One way I get "bigger" when need be (particularly when among loose horses) is to carry a 10 foot lead rope with me - I can swing it to make myself "bigger" when need be.

aurora said...

Herd dynamics are so interesting! Wish I has more opportunities to observe them in action. I too grab a rope if the situation appears to warrant one. This is great info Fern.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Another good and helpful post.

Another thing that I will do if my mare tries to crowd me when I'm bringing food into her paddock, is use a low, deep kind of growl voice telling her to "move on" or "Go on", out of my way. She knows right away that I mean business and she goes and stands patiently by her feeding area until I bring her food.


GoLightly said...

wow, what great posts and comments, all so true! Sorry I'm late, kinda sickish yesterday.
I have little to add, I could regale you with all the dumb things I did when I was a kid, such as standing behind a colicking horse, and being neatly kicked in the knee for my trouble.
The basic horse-handling skills they teach in Pony Club are pretty much spot-on, but for sure, I think the biggest fault people commit is treating their horse like their friend. Ignoring clear body language signs usually is a quick way to the hospital, or at least to the couch, hobbling.
Often we dither about what the best course of action is. In that split second of indecision, disasters can happen. Horses react as they feel. They don't consider whether or not your feelings or your body will be hurt, unless the rules have already been set, by you.

FV has heard this story before, can't remember if I blogged this or commented it.
I was in Barbados for the first time, on holidays, also for the first time, 21 years ago. My traveling partner was my shorter older sister. Sister didn't know she was pregnant, and spent most of the holiday sleeping. Yeah, fun. ANYway, there were horses for rent on the beach. I used their services almost daily.
One afternoon, I saw the little band of horses waiting for their next round of "riders", standing dozing in some shade.
I went over to talk to them, all caught up in the beauty and romance of horses on the beach, a dream I'd always cherished.
I turned my back on one chestnut gelding, his nostrils clearly drawn back in disdain of my caresses. He just wanted to nap. The gelding snaked his head at me, and pushed me away, very firmly, his closed teeth shoving me hard on the cheek of my face.
Smartened me right up, I tell ya. Horses aren't into romance. They are into eating, sleeping and getting herd directions. Sure, they can show you affection. They can also hurt you pretty bad, if you treat them like a character from a novel. They hadn't read the book I was dreaming about in my head.
I didn't get mad at the chestnut gelding, he was well within his rights to tell me to "go AWAY! Napping here!"
He wasn't my horse to chastise, or caress. He was busy napping. I was mooning over the sight of horses on a beach.

Crystal said...

Another good post, and interesting about the boss mare. Mine is Razz but to look at the herd you wouldnt know cause she has never made an agressive move at another horse, she doesnt need to, a pinned ear is enough.

Nicole said...

haha... very well put!

IanH said...

Great summary! Thanks. I have watched the interplay quite a few times, and normally the herd sorts it out without any huge ruckus.

Cut-N-Jump said...

If you don't assert yourself and take charge, the horse will. Believe me, they know where you are in the pecking order in the time it takes you to open the stall door.

Being assertive is one thing, abusive is another. You can be assertive without being abusive. Once established in your role, a strong voice is usually all it takes to get a horses attention and make them 'Straighten Up!'

As you said in comparison between the horses and kids- Your horse is not hurting you or pushing boundaries , because they do or don't love you. Any more than your kids would.

I like to use a few questions as rules of thumb-

Would I let a child get away with that? No, probably not.
Do they act like this at home? Yes or No- Well, they don't do it here!
and finally-
Who is the adult here? Then step up to the plate and act like it, would ya?

Pretty much spells it out.

C-ingspots said...

Wonderful!! Keep up the informative postings Sherry...love them. The roles have somewhat changed around in our herd with the addition of the Mustang. He's quiet, unassuming and very much in charge. Quite the opposite of Shad (former herd boss), who was flambuoyant and dramatic, never having to back up his assertion with action. Oh, how things have changed!!

Shirley said...

Good post; in my herd Coyote Belle is the one who is quietly in charge.
I'll do a post to put my two bits worth in on the subject.

Anonymous said...

So far, oddly enough, my gelding is the herd boss in a mixed herd (him and my mare Molly). In the past, he's taken herd leadership away from a mare in a large, mixed herd, which surprised a lot of people. It will be interesting to watch herd dynamics now that I've taken on a rescue mare and purchased a filly (who will be joining me in Georgia come spring).