Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Alpha Mare

The alpha mare's duty is to tend to the safety and well being of the entire herd.  She signals when to move, sleep, eat, drink, or run for safety.  She disciplines unruly youngster.  She is the leader, the boss, the matron.  She is usually an older, more experienced mare,  and she usually has to fight for her position.

Tori was only 4 when we bought her.  She came from a fairly large mixed breed herd to our house, all alone.  She was the alpha mare by default.  Mostly, she was nervous and skittish and lonely, and didn't sleep well.

Our second horse, Sailor, was an old pony gelding.  He imprinted on Tori like a werewolf on a vampire baby.  Instant.  No turning back.  Tori was the alpha mare, still by default, but less nervous and skittish.

We moved up north, to the land of ice and snow and bears.  Unfamiliar sights and sounds and smells.  Danger.  We lost Sailor.  Tori was alone.  She was the alpha mare by default.  Mostly, she was nervous and skittish and lonely, and didn't sleep well.

We bought Bella and Blondie (both 10ish).  Bella had been the alpha mare at her previous herd.  She walked in with attitude.  But this was Tori's pasture.  She was young, and long legged, and could outrun Bella's fury.  But she had to come back to eat.  Running away just seemed to make Bella angrier.  It took about three days for things to settle down to the point that I wasn't worried Bella was going to kill her.  Blondie was #2, as it had been in their previous herd.  As Blondie's pregnancy progressed she became more self preserving and less ambitious.  Tori fought her for position and came out as #2.

Within a week of our Ginger's birth, Blondie was back as #2.  Ginger seemed to be #3 by default.  Tori was on the bottom.

Rita (31) came to live with us.  She had been at the bottom of the pecking order in her previous herd.  Her calm and gentle spirit kept her there.  She followed the herd at a distance.  She wandered on the outer edge.  She just wanted to be left alone.

We bought Goliath(17).  He was a huge Belgium gelding.  He should have taken the role of a stallion, to protect the herd.  He fought Bella for alpha.  She conceded, after weeks of kicking and biting.

We bought Trigger (over 40, according to our farrier).   He had been a stallion.  He was gelded at about 20 years old.  Goliath hated him.  Chased him off repeatedly.  He settled in with Rita.  The beginnings of a sub herd.

By this time Ginger was in splints full time.  Although Bella still lavished attention on her, she couldn't keep up with the rest of them.  She and Blondie joined Rita and Trigger.

Money came to live with us.  She was an alpha mare by default at her previous home, and a royal bitch in general.  She bit and kicked anyone and everyone.  The size of the Belgiums was no deterrent to her violence.  She never accepted Goliath as leader, always fighting for position.  She never one.  We sold her after a year of waiting for things to settle down.  It never happened.

Trigger died.  We put Ginger down.

We bought Sugar(15), and Thunder(3ish), a pony stallion.  Things really changed.  We'd never had a stallion around before.  He was the smallest horse we'd ever owned.  And he was a stallion, through and through.  He would take this herd or die trying.  Goliath's size was no deterrent.  He claimed Sugar as his own right off the start.  Goliath tried to take her from him, and the tiny beast (12 hands) attacked Goliath (19 hands) with vengeance.  Rita accepted him without any fuss, and Sugar joined her herd. 

Blondie had been a go between since Ginger's passing.  She was friends with Rita, but no longer had to stay there to protect her foal.  Thunder claimed her next. 

For the first time in 4 years, Tori couldn't out run someone.  Thunder separated her from Goliath and Bella, and made her run all day long.  He chased her to the edges of the pasture and back again, right on her heels.  He was very fast for such a little thing.  Every time she stopped and tried to rejoin the herd, he chased her off again.  Finally at dusk he allowed her to join Rita.

Over the next few days Thunder alternated between fighting with Goliath and chasing and fighting Bella.  Goliath broke first.  Thunder backed him into a fence.  He hurt his leg.  He was beaten.  He joined Rita's herd.

As stubborn as she was, it only took Bella another day or so to realize she had to submit or live alone.  She submitted. 

Once they were all under Thunder's submission, the sub herd reemerged.  Bella was the alpha mare of her group.  Goliath tried to take it from her once, but Thunder wouldn't allow it.  Tori and Blondie joined her.  Sugar stayed with Rita.  Thunder ran the outskirts, always on guard.  Bella led the herd. 

Goliath died.  We sold Bella, Blondie and Thunder.

Rita was the alpha mare.  No fighting.  It was just accepted. 

When Rita died it could have been a toss up between Sugar and Tori.  I didn't see any real indications of who was on top.  And then Sugar broke her leg and we had to put her down.

Tori was alone.  Alpha mare by default.  Mostly, she was nervous and skittish and lonely, and didn't sleep well.

The new Ginger was the alpha mare in her previous herd.  There were four of them.  She is not domineering like Bella was.  She is not passive like Rita was.  She exudes an air of dignity, control, confidence, acceptance.  Tori seems mostly relieved to not be alone.  To not have to make decisions.  To not have to follow cows or goats- or worse- cows who think they are goats. I think she will accept the wisdom that comes with age, and defer to Ginger.  She may get more ambitious after a few nights of good sleep, but I don't think it was ever really in her personality to want that role.  Her ambitions seem to come more from the point of view of "I don't want to be bossed around" than "I want to be your leader".  Time will tell.

1 comment:

  1. That was interesting and complicated, very complicated. I will have to make a chart to keep track of it. I never realized there were such negotations and rivalry with horses. Of course, I catch Thelma pecking Louise and Fancy.