Tara: Horse Pecking Order

Tara and Lucky

Tara and Lucky

Lucky Mini and Tara

Lucky Mini and Tara

At 3 AM this morning I awakened out of a sound sleep with thoughts about Tara. Tara is a seven-year-old mare that I put two months of training on two years ago. Her owner decided to allow a breeding between her and my Arabian stallion Titan. The result was a very pretty buckskin colt. Tara’s owner wanted a little more training or finishing, horsemanship lessons for his daughter and a chance to get Tara off the farm in order to wean the colt. The colt’s name is Lucky.

When a new horse enters the herd, the first order of business is for it to establish it’s position in the pecking order. For instance, if there are 10 horses, every horse has a rank from 1 to 10. Tara is half Quarter Horse and half Hackney pony. She’s about 12 hands. “Though she is but little; she is fierce. (Shakespeare). She is tough and willful. I put her in with the other mares two years ago and she immediately began to dominate and struggle her way to establish her role to the top. Pecking order with horses is not about physical strength. It is about a strong will to dominate.

Two weeks after lots of kicking, biting and squealing, Tara had established herself as top mare. I brought home Dawn Treader from the neighbors where she had been boarded. Dawn Treader had been the lowest in the long established pecking order, probably because she was the youngest. Dawn Treader and my other mares assumed Dawn Treader’s position was lowest in the pecking order, but Tara needed to establish her dominance over Dawn Treader so the battles began again. Dawn Treader persisted. After several days of more squealing kicking and biting, Tara gave up. The other mares resumed their dominance over Dawn Treader. Suddenly Tara found herself at the bottom of the pecking order under Dawn Treader and she could not regain her position as top horse.

When I brought Tara home this time I remembered how strong-willed Tara was two years ago and I was a little bit apprehensive about who to put her with. I don’t want them to hurt themselves or get all nicked up from bites and kicks. I put her with Kiwi thinking that Kiwi was little less willful, but immediately Kiwi and Tara got into a kicking match. Kiwi would not back down. I thought one of them was going to get hurt. So I put Tara with a short term boarder, a Shetland/Welsh cross named Gus, also new to the herd. Both horses being outsiders, the combination worked out fine. No fighting, they were friends from the start.

I put Tara and Gus in the training pen as a temporary pasture. Tara would not settle down. She trotted the fences intermittently all day long. I thought she trotted because she was harassed by the flies. Maybe she was not as used to our varieties of flies as my horses are.

At three in the morning I remembered how strong-willed Tara was. I thought maybe she trotted the fences because now she was using strong her will to figure out an escape to go home to her foal. I had an image of her heading off cross-country across the 20 miles or so back to Lucky, her foal. I went out in the starry darkness and found her still trotting the fences. I put she and Gus in the round pen with part of a bale of hay and there she finally stood quietly.

Tara and Gus

Tara and Gus relaxed at our place

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3 Responses to Tara: Horse Pecking Order

  1. Joy Hayenga says:

    Wow. What a challenge to let them work it out and yet watch out for everyone’s emotional and physical health!

    Beautiful horses and pictures!

  2. Mary Ofjord says:

    Joel – I see you now have Gus. Gus is a nice little old-man horse. If you don’t want him around, I would take him here. Good luck with Tara, she just needed a small herd of her own.
    Mares!

  3. J.R. says:

    Thank you Joy and Mary, but there is relatively no stress for me when it comes to their pecking order, unless one of them chases another one through the fence or something. They rarely if ever get hurt and I don’t think they ever suffer any mental anguish or damaged pride for being bottom of the herd or wherever they find themselves in the transition. We can banish all those anthropomorphic ideas about how we might feel if we were in their situation. Once they know their spot (which must happen as sure as the law of gravity) everyone is content again.

    However pecking order is very interesting to me, because it tells me of strengths, weaknesses and possible dangers of the horse that I’m about to train. It helps to know where he stands in the herd. It is because of this firm, long-standing foundation and heritage of pecking order in the herd life that we are able to train them at all, because it is fixed in their minds to follow their leader. As horse owners and trainers we must gently establish ourselves as the herd leader of the horse we’re about to train.

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