Emotional Connection

Currently Ari lives in an open paddock stable with pasture and hay ad lib.

What often happens at renting stables is that horses come and go. The horses which stay always have to find their place again in the herd. This can cause emotional stress for them.

Horses are not so different from us. Imagine that you have lived for a period of time with a group of people in a small or bigger house. You have made friends and lived in a structured community, where everyone has his duties. And from one day to the other you will be ripped out of this community. Without knowing why or what is happening.

This summer our herd seemed very harmonious. 3 geldings, a Quarter, a Berber, a Franches-Montagnes (which is a Swiss breed described as either a “heavy warmblood” or a “light coldblood”) and Ari, my Spanish-mix. Yes, I know it is said that mixed herds with geldings and mares of all ages is ideal. But sometimes this is not possible. I am observing Ari very well and I can for sure tell that she is doing just fine with her boys.

It is a young group, Ari and two of the boys, 5 years old and the Quarter, 10 years old. A clear hierarchy, as we know it from wild horses for example, does somehow not exist. They split in two groups. Ari and Nabucco, the Franches-Montagnes. And the other two, although somehow the two guys seem more reserved and introverted. I have never seen them groom each other or show any affection towards other horses. For me their behavior makes absolutely sense due to other reasons, but this is not the story now.

The opposite is the case with Ari and Nabucco. It was love at first sight. There was a deep connection between the two from the beginning. I was very happy when Nabucco joined the herd. And only then, I realized how important a stable herd and also a friendship for every individual horse is.

Again, an example how similar we are to horses. Are we not looking for friendship, trust and safety in humans we love? Horses have the same need and it is a part of their natural behavior.

A month ago a new horse joined our herd, a 9 year old Arab mare. I liked the fact that Ari will finally have some female support but at the same time wondered if everything will be fine. In a lot of stables herds are just randomly put together without knowing the background of the horses and without thinking about the possible consequences for all horses involved.

For a week the new mare was separate in the paddock in order to get familiar with the other horses. Ari is always friendly with horses and not very complicated. She is still young, but she knows exactly how far she can go and defends herself from higher ranked horses, but at the same time respects them. With her curiosity she welcomed the new mare and often stood next to her, whereas the guys were grazing in pasture. It looked like they are going to get along very well.

Surprisingly, when the mare finally got integrated the situation changed. It’s not that the horses behaved aggressively or so, but it looked like the new mare did not like Ari that much. The new mare often chased away Ari. But at the same time there are moments when they graze together, with a certain individual distance.

It needs time, everything is new and the horses have to find their very own place in the herd.

I experienced a very beautiful and profound moment with them in pasture the other day. I was about to work at liberty with Ari. Sometimes, it is difficult because the other horses want to be part of it too, especially Nabucco, he is always the first one. However, on this particular afternoon, Ari, Nabucco and the new mare were grazing in pasture.

It was almost impossible to connect to Ari. This time it was the new mare which always came to me, chased away Ari and wanted my attention. I got into a conflict and decided to take some distance and just observe.

After the third attack on Ari, it seemed that Nabucco got a bit pissed off. He is a strong gelding, with a huge heart, a very nice guy who would never heart a fly.  His very sweet, playful, almost childish behavior makes him just so lovable. Although you have to be aware of his hugeness, because sometimes he forgets how strong he is.

Nabucco didn’t liked that the new mare chased Ari and so he started to chase her. I was very surprised because Nabucco is the Youngster, but clearly showed his position. It was so interesting to witness these 3 horses, and me in the middle of them. The new mare chasing Ari, and Nabucco chasing the new mare.

But it was also very touching. Because it was very clear that Nabucco was protecting Ari and defended her. Every time he went after the new mare, he would turn to Ari or walk to her, like he was telling her that he is here for her and he will take care of her.

Again, this is another example of the similar behavior of horse and human. We too want to protect and defend the ones we love, right?

Emotional Connection is a natural behavior of horses. It is a bonding and comfort behavior as well as playing behavior. It’s expressed through communications signals and attention to each other and takes place in positive moments. We can observe these moments, which for example are: the laying of the head or chin on the neck, the back or croup of the partner. Or the non-touching connection while standing very close together and grazing where occasionally contact can happen.

I thought a lot about it and realized that in randomly put together herds, there seem to be different rules than for wild horses, which usually spent a lifelong together.

In randomly put together herds the horses have a different background, different training methods and different breeds. And we humans expect them to emotionless adapt to any situation or herd we put them in.

It can work out well but often it doesn’t. Especially, when the space they share is too small. But how often do think about the emotional state of our horses. How often do we consider their emotional state when something is going wrong in the training, or when the horse all of sudden starts to have behavioral disorders? Should we not make sure that our horses, in order to be mentally and emotionally healthy, are able to live their natural behavior of emotional connection?

I can clearly say that Ari feels save in her herd and I am pretty sure that Nabucco contributes to her well-being, and vise-a-versa.

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As horse owners it is our job to consider this important aspect as well. We can have a wonderful relationship and friendship with our horse. But we will never be able to replace the herd or an emotional connection to another horse. Nor can and should our horses replace our relationship to other humans.

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