Monday, November 10, 2014

Being Social

When I first met DH, I was told to steer clear of him.   I was told that he wasn't a pleasant horse, that he bit people and was nasty with other horses.  For a gelding, DH displayed studdy behaviour and was not social with animals or humans.  What I found out was that DH was actually used as a stud before he partnered up with DH's Mom.   Because of that, he was kept in a stall away from everyone, only brought out in public when he was expected to compete or breed.   Gives you a whole different perspective on his personality when you take the time to understand his isolating circumstances prior to teaming up with DH's Mom.  Of course, it was a big culture shock for him when DH's Mom bought him and transported him to LA's. 

DH lost no time in establishing that he was the top horse when he was turned out with Gem and two other geldings in a small field.  Sort of funny to see a 14.3h paint giving 16.0h Gem the business!  It could be a bit nerve-racking getting Gem from the turnout area;  DH would try to come in between us and try to herd Gem away from me.  He was doing his job as leader.  Eventually, what I ended up doing was bringing a handful of horse treat kibble and throwing it off to the side.  While DH was busy looking for kibble, I would hook Gem and walk out of the gate.  The other geldings eventually were put out with the herd and Gem and DH remained roommates for the next 5 years. 

This past spring, DH was turned out with the herd.  He is now 16 years old and not as grumpy as he was 5 years ago.  After a bumpy start, he has settled in and has 3 girlfriends to call his own.  :-)  He is happy.   He is really socializing for the first time in his life.  I thought Gem might miss him, but it was basically a non-event for him.  Gem's turnout area is right on the main throughway for the herd to get to the watering trough, so he gets to see the comings and goings.  He is also surrounded by other turnout areas so any way he faces, he sees horses.  Sometimes nickers pass between him and members of the herd.  Gem is socializing from afar.  He's like me.....I nod to my neighbours over the fence or have a cordial chat as I am getting out of my car, but I don't encourage anyone to walk on to my property.  I like my privacy.  :-)

A few weeks ago, LA asked if it was OK to put Hank, a 15.1 QH, in with Gem.  As winter approaches, the older horses are brought into the largest turnout area near the house so they can be monitored.  If she could double up on the number of horses in the regular turnout areas, it would allow for horses to be out all day instead of rotating between morning or afternoon turnout.  We have been on trail rides with Hank and his person, and in fact, Hank's turnout was right next to Gem's so they know each other.  Made sense to me and I said go for it.

Later that same day I got a call from LA:

LA:  "Well I wanted you to hear it from me and not another boarder with added drama...."
Me:  "Oh, dear...."
LA:  "It didn't work out with Hank and Gem.  It started out well, but a couple of hours later I heard screaming.  I raced over to the turnout area and Gem was beating Hank up and I had to separate them."
Me:  "Is Hank hurt??!!!"
LA:  Well, to be honest there are some pretty bad bite marks and he already has a couple of areas that are swollen due to kicks.  I don't want to chance a more severe injury and I am sure his owner doesn't either."
Me:  "OMG!!!  I feel so bad."
LA:  "Don't feel bad.  This is what horses do.  Don't take it personally."

I saw Hank a few days later, and my stomach flipped.  His neck and back had quite a number of bites that were scabbing over - he was a mess.  I suspect that due to where the bites were located, his owner was not riding him.  I felt awful.  And as much as it's horses being horses, Hank's owner did take it personally and has not spoken to me since the incident! 

Rascal looks like this guy.
Early last week, LA called to ask if it was OK to try Rascal in with Gem.  Rascal is a beautiful white-faced QH, closer to Gem's size.  Somehow this gorgeous guy ended up on a feed lot and LA rescued him.  Up until 6 weeks ago, he was a stallion; LA had him gelded when he arrived.  Perhaps there was some residual chutzpah after he was gelded that would make him a match for Gem attitude-wise?  I said go for it.

I happened to be riding in the arena on Thursday when I overheard LA talking to one of her staff about turning Rascal out in another area.  What???  So I called LA to see what was going on.  Apparently, everything was fine between the two of them for three days.  But then all hell broke loose, resulting in Gem kicking Rascal in the mouth and one of his teeth being knocked out.  Sigh.  The vet had to be called in.  Again, LA told me not to take it personally.  But it's hard!  I don't want my horse to be the one that gets a bad reputation.  I don't want him to be thought of like DH was.  I don't want people or staff to be nervous of him.  LA told me that wouldn't be the case.  DH continues to have incidents with humans (he nipped a guy on the chin), but Gem hasn't been mean to the humans around the barn so there shouldn't be a bad reputation issue.  So, Rascal is now turned out with another horse and Gem is.....alone..... again......

When Gem left the farm where he was born to go live with his new owner, he was the only horse on her property.  He was out 24/7 and was ridden occasionally.  He was more of a pet.  I believe that it was this lack of socialization with other horses over a number of years that has impacted how he behaves when it comes to roommates.  He gets rude and territorial.  I often wonder how DH ever became the boss of Gem.  Being an aggressive horse to begin with, DH must have just bamboozled Gem from the moment Gem entered the turnout area when he first arrived 5 years ago and the hierarchy was set instantly and remains to this day.   

I think both LA and I have come to the realization that Gem will probably never have a roommate again.  This will mean that he will only get a half day outside during the winter, instead of 10 hours.  Better than a kick in the pants!  Makes me sad though, but it doesn't affect him at all, which is the main thing.  

On Sunday, I was sitting on Gem, waiting for my trail riding buddy to arrive when LA, accompanied by her Aussie cattle dog, came up to chat.  Her dog commenced wagging his butt and assumed a slightly submissive stance in front of Gem.  I have seen this many times and have never been concerned.  Although initially concerned because her dog had been kicked a few times by horses, LA no longer worries when he's around Gem.  I loosened Gem's reins, enough so that he could lower his head and allow the dog to lick around his mouth and nose ever so quietly and gently.  Gem then licked the dog back a couple of times.  I smiled and I could see that LA was amused also.  You see, when Gem was with his previous owner, his only real companions were a lab and a barn cat.  LA's dog knows that Gem won't hurt him.  And, the cats at LA's make themselves comfortable on Gem's window ledge regularly (sometimes leaving a present of a dead mouse!) or walk along his stall wall, allowing him to sniff and nibble at them.  So he may not be socialized with horses, but Gem is certainly socialized with the other barn residents.  He has company when he's IN the barn, which is sort of cool. 

I am OK with the current set up.  I think that Gem is getting what he needs.  If he wasn't, he would be a lunatic.  Perhaps he just has discriminating tastes when it comes to who he wants to spend time with....I think I might have made his short list.   :-)