Friday, December 31, 2010

Secret Life of the Herd

This morning Dove was standing on the track, halfway up the drive, while the rest of the herd were eating in the grazing cell. "Poor thing," I thought. "I'd better go help her." So I grabbed a halter, with a plan to put her back in with Journey until the weather gets better. Of course, she was having none of it - didn't want to be caught. So I walked her back to the pasture, instead. Then I had a look at the tracks in the snow. It seemed like the whole herd had last been along that stretch in the early part of the night, but then Journey had ventured out for a drink of water in the morning and was simply stopping to eat weeds. Maybe she's not so helpless after all.

After breakfast I headed out to the pasture to bring them in for feed and to close the gate, with a plan to move them to the next grazing cell after they got their buckets. Bruce and Iona came easily, I shut the gate and took Hunter out next, but Dove was not up for it. Catching Game in a 10 acre field in 6 inches of snow. "Oh, boy!" An hour in, it wasn't getting much better. (I realised that I wasn't being entirely consistent with my body language and responses, though, which was a useful revelation that I'll come back to in a moment.) I stuck with it, and fortunately Mark saw my problem from where he was working and hatched a plan. He drove to the pasture gate and got out of his car, which kind of drew her that way. I'm sure she was looking for a change of pattern. (I know I was!) I helped her out the gate and we corralled the four of them in the feeding area. I was finally able to get her haltered in this smaller area. 

What I could see was that she was frightened of the other horses, particularly the Fells. I don't think she likes being in close quarters with them at feeding time. Naturally their energy is a little high. I have made sure that she gets to eat in safety, but there have probably been some skirmishes at the water tank. The best I could do was to make sure I kept her safe while she ate her feed. She relaxed quickly when she saw that I would defend her space, and that the others respect me. I hope I got some leadership points, but I expect that it will be tricky to catch her off and on for awhile. 
The new grazing cell gate opens almost directly onto the water and feeding area, so at least we won't have horses missing the gate when the herd leaves without them this month. Perhaps we can establish some more positive patterns.

Mark and I drove out on the track, to connect the temporary fence of the new cell to the main live fence. What a story the tracks in the snow told. It seems that the horses left the loafing shed while the storm was still blowing last night. They probably stopped off in the pasture for awhile, and then they headed on up the track! They went quite a ways along the north side, maybe to shelter from the north wind in some trees. They emptied two of their five haynets on the way back to the pasture in the morning, where they lay down in the snow and went to sleep. 

I was surprised at how much they had moved around. The track doesn't currently make a complete loop, as we've had to close a section. I have had the impression that they haven't been using the north part of the track at all. But last night's activity made me wonder whether they move around a lot more at night than we realise. Or was last night different because of the storm? We only know what they did last night because of their tracks in the snow. Hmmm.

So back to that revelation. I realised that my Catching Game was wavering between putting pressure on Zone 5 and retreating when I got two eyes, and just plain trying to catch the darn horse! OMG! When did that creep into my habits? Who knows! But I think I understand now why things got stuck with Journey, too. Wish me luck!

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