OBSERVATIONS OF THE HORSE FAMILY:
WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THE HOUYHNHNMS?
By Audrey Ferber, M.S.W., R.S.W.
#5 in a series
Boomer came a little earlier than we expected as we had anticipated that he would be a little past his due date like his two older brothers. As a result, he wasn't born in our maternity pasture but in one of our hilly pastures. Our first interaction with Boomer proved to be difficult, as the mare just didn't want us approaching him. Because we wanted to move them to our nursery area, we had to halter the mare and haze the baby alongside her to the other pasture. We got a neighbor to help us do this. This baby looked very similar to his oldest brother, Gus. Gus by this time had begun to develop a reputation of being the child who would get himself in trouble without trying. He just had the bad luck that if something bad was going to happen, he'd be in the middle of it. As a yearling he had the unfortunate habit of going from stop to full gallop instantly. The particularly bad part of this was that his 'get up and go' had a rear side kick which by the time Boomer was born, Gus had accidentally kicked three people because they were standing too near his 'get up and go'. On the day we hazed little Boomer, Gus again connected his kick that landed at the cheek of our neighbor's son. This resulted in the boy being knocked unconscious and taken by ambulance to hospital. The boy is fine, other than sporting a scar. However, this really solidified Gus' reputation for being a difficult horse.
The personalities of the three boys were all very different from each other. Gus literally vibrated when standing still and though not a mean horse really had high adrenaline and went into flight instantaneously which got him into trouble with the humans. His horse family learned to give him lots of space and never to get cornered by him. Jake, the next boy was turning out to be a real sweetheart and was the guy who got along with everyone. Although he was not ever the boss, he was always second in command. He managed to get along with whoever was the boss of the herd and also with those who had lesser authority than he. Because he was big, he became a kind of protector/buffer for young Boomer and would keep himself between Boomer and Gus. This, of course, came later because initially the mare, stallion and baby Boomer were alone in the field, with Gus and Jake in with their grandmother, Peppy.
We noticed a shift in the mare with this baby in that she was not nearly as possessive of this child. In fact, she rapidly turned over the childcare to the stallion. Her time with the child seemed to be to nurse and protect if outsiders arrived. An outsider did arrive within the month and that was Fella's new girlfriend, Jade. Jade was a paint with brown and white patches. She was of large stature and she really liked Fella, but she did defer to Sassy, the wife. At first we put Jade in with Peppy and the boys. Then with all the whinnying up and down the fence line we decided to turn her in with Fella, Sassy, and Boomer. We weren't sure what the dynamics would be, but we did know Boomer would be well protected. As it turned out, after Sassy briefly asserted her dominance, she turned the childcare to Auntie Jade, and Fella. Jade became part of the team along with Fella who were responsible for guarding the fence line from invaders and overall lieutenant in charge of protecting the mare and baby. Fella never fully abandoned his loyalty to Sassy and she continued to be the #1 wife to him. Jade seemed to accept this second in line status and took on her place in the family with vigor. She was strongly attracted to the stallion, deferred authority to Sassy and took on her protective auntie status with commitment. We hoped she would become pregnant that summer, but the season ended without her stopping 'horsing around' with Fella throughout the winter. Sassy, however, did again become pregnant, due in August 2001.