Sunday, December 30, 2007

The accidental milestone

I was planning to put the horses and burros together soon, but my cautious nature kept me from doing it on a holiday weekend. In the extraordinarily unlikely event that one of them got hurt, I didn't want to deal with a vet emergency. But given the number of gates and doors in the barn, and the number of times I'm at the barn in a single day, and the number of animals that shuffle in and out of the was inevitable that I would screw up and that Hank, Lyle, George and Alan would find themselves together by accident. And exactly that happened yesterday morning during breakfast. I looked out the window and there was Alan in Lyle's stall, eating Lyle's hay. Everyone was behaving themselves, but I went outside and casually moved them all back to where they belonged before they tried to establish a new herd pecking order inside one of the stalls - that necessary exercise would be better left to a much larger area...say the whole 80 acres.

Since their impromptu get-together session in the morning proved uneventful, I threw caution to the wind and after lunch opened the entire pasture to all who wanted to go out. George and Alan led the way. Hank and Lyle mosied out a little later. Hank was the first to realize they were all together. He gave chase to the burros half-heartedly. They moved out of the way, and that was about the extent of the "sorting out the pecking order" exercise.

I followed them all around for an hour or so. Whenever the burros scurried off to a new area of the pasture, Hank would chase them for a few strides, claim the area, the burros would run off, then come right back to Hank. Lyle just did his own thing, following Hank around and minding his own business. I was pleased to see that the burros were not at all afraid of the horses, but they were certainly respectful. Eventually, something spooked Hank and he raced back to the safety of the barn, with Lyle close on his heels. The burros couldn't imagine why a) the horses were spooked, b) they would waste so much energy running all the way back to the barn when there was stuff to eat out in the pasture. So they stayed right where they were and kept on grazing. I walked back to the barn to get warm.

Hank and Lyle were standing in the sun behind the barn, just outside the burros' stall. George walked up to them very assertively to reclaim his area, with Alan following closely behind. Hank took one step toward George and the burros turned tail and ran off. 'Nuff said. Hank is the 5-star general in any herd; the burros know that now and there should be peace in the herd with little, if any, challenging for the top position.

Knowing I can put them all together will make my herd-management chores easier. I will still keep them separate at feeding times - it would be just plain stupid to give two horses and two burros the opportunity to congregate in one 12' x 12' stall. But I'm looking forward to watching the herd dynamics develop, and I'm sure it won't be long before I look out the window and see all four napping together in the sun.

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