Rocío’s Quiet Transformation From Subordinate to Alpha Mare
First of all, I’d like your input on turnout preferences. I’d love to see how the horse community feels about this issue.
While most things we have introduced Rocío to since her arrival have been new to her, turning her out with another horse was not. She had spent 5 years in a holding pen full of other mustangs, and, for this reason, we were sure that turning her out with another horse at Windflower would be a smooth process.
We chose Tica, Ainslie’s calmest mare, to be the first horse to turn Rocío out with.
We waited until the two had been properly introduced through the fence before introducing them. Additionally, the two had bonded from going out on trail walks together, where Ainslie would lead Tica and Rocío and I would follow.
However, it turned out that Rocío’s interaction with Tica was one of the most fascinating bits of herd dynamics I have ever observed.
When we were picking up Rocío from Orange on April 10th, we noticed that she was at the bottom of the pecking order. The other mares pushed her around. As a result, Rocío had gotten used to eating old, muddy scraps of hay because she usually couldn’t reach the good hay. We theorized that this was one of the reasons she had been so skinny when she arrived.
To observe this for yourself, you can take a peek at the pick-up video here. If you skip ahead to 0:27, you’ll see how shy she is compared to the other mares.
This is why we wanted her to be out with Tica specifically. Ainslie’s mare is very aloof in a herd and has “adopted” several of Ainslie’s young horses throughout the seventeen years Ainslie has owned her. She usually dominates but is not aggressive.
As soon as we were out together, the mares behaved just as we had predicted. Tica, the flashy Andalusian, pranced around the paddock, shooting warning faces at Rocío while Rocío tried to follow her around. In these first few minutes, Rocío accepted her place as subordinate mare very quickly.
Then, Tica settled down and ate some hay, while Rocío circled her for a few minutes. Tica wasn’t letting her approach the hay, and Rocío’s behavior was odd. She seemed to be approaching and retreating Tica from different angles.
All of a sudden, minutes later, Rocío backed up into Tica and kicked her! With a squeal, Tica backed off from the hay, and before we knew it, Rocío was chasing her around!
We were shocked at this quick transformation, and Rocío’s methodical, quiet, relatively drama-free way of switching the dynamic. I’ve seen horses fight for dominance before, and sometimes those fights escalate. Usually, a complete switch from subordinate to alpha mare could be very explosive, but Rocío proved to be extremely calculated.
The fact that she had been out with her herd in Orange, MA for days and stayed at the bottom of the pecking order told me that she has gained a lot of confidence at Windflower since she has arrived. She became the bold lead mare within twenty minutes or less.
This made me feel very happy for her, as well as reinforcing my opinion of how intelligent and sensible this little mare is.
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