Merging the Herds – The Three Lads Settle In

It’s now been over a month since Montaro, Jax and Juno climbed onto a trailer bound for the Kispiox Valley, and four weeks since we brought the two herds – my resident herd of five, and the three lads from down south – together into the Big Field. With large open spaces for running majestically, several patches of forest, a spring water creek and a bit of topography, this field is just under 30 acres but provides a lot of stimulus and meets many needs for our curious, dynamic, explorative animal friends. Hopefully we can fence more land soon, but for now the space is enough, especially since we’re feeding hay.

The boys on their first exploration

The freeze set in that same day we joined the herds. Since then, we’ve we’ve had snow off on, but the ground is frozen solid and the air is cold – anywhere from just under freezing to -16 degrees C. While this is normal for us up here, what was not normal was that the weather held off until late November. After weeks of rain, the two days that the trailer was on the road were clear and bright, and there was no slush or ice on the roads for the entire 1220km distance. And as soon as the boys were here, the temperature started dropping, but not so fast they were hit with a big cold right away to have to adjust to. It was bizarrely perfect.

The morning of Herd Integration Day, when the snow began to fall

Luckily, winter coats are stimulated by the shortening daylight and not by the actual temperature! So Montaro, Jax and Juno arrived with thick coats, and, as the temperatures crept down steadily, they showed no signs of concern. In fact, they seemed more at ease and comfortable than ever – maybe because, despite the cold, the dryer climate means they aren’t working against the soaking rain when activating their incredible evolutionary hair coat technology. Horses can warm themselves up much more easily than they can cool themselves down, especially when they’re dry and can puff up their coats for insulation. In this region, hardy draft crosses like these boys are bred for working in the mountains and thriving in the frigid winter months – so they are completely in their element.

Jax communing with Mt Sidina

If you tuned in a few weeks ago, you might have seen the video of the two herds convening. They stuck to their groupings and moved as two distinct units, with Montaro running the show, repeatedly moving the home herd off the (ample) hay supply until he was both convinced of his unquestioned rank (at the tippy-top!) and, incidentally, exhausted. This confluence of two powerful but incredibly different herds was fascinating to watch, thundering across this landscape that I know and love so dearly.

First meetings over the fence; Firefly and Montaro in the background, Falcon and Jax in the foreground.

While dramatic, there was very little actual violence. The few injuries sustained were from pulled muscles or bruised feet from misplaced steps, and as far as I could see no kicks or bites landed hard enough to swell or break the skin. It almost seemed like a dramatization of a battle, with elaborate lengths taken not to make contact (for the most part). A large part of this was that there was enough space to run without anyone getting cornered, and enough food that everyone had room to eat. But the largest factor was that nobody from the home herd contested Montaro’s claims. There is no distinct leader in this herd; each horse steps up to fill whichever role they do naturally. Spero keeps everyone together while Nechako greets the newcomers; Firefly breaks the ice and initiates interactions and movement; Falcon lets the new boys know when they’ve gone too far and Amalia quietly holds the centre. Nobody has the drive, personality, or motivation to challenge Montaro seriously, and everyone is content to allow him control if that’s what it takes to keep the peace.

“Rank” or “hierarchy” is rarely a top-down linear situation for horses (the “dominant” horse who can move everyone off feed is not necessarily the “leader” – if there even is one – and vise versa), but rather a fluid, lateral web of relationships. Every herd grouping and every environment generates different behaviour and different social structures. So while Montaro is a naturally confident, king-like being, the lower-density horse-to-space ratio here does not require as much physical direction (“You – there! And you – over there!”) as his last environment did, with 11 horses in a much tighter space. Keeping on top of everything is exhausting, and I’ve watched Montaro quickly take this in. He rests more, and pushes everyone as minimally as he can. He saves the running for fun and exploration now.

Our resident ravens are getting to know the new boys.

The wild cards, though, are the non-horses – the cows, goats and pigs that share space with these horses. Equally offensive and disturbing to the new guys, these strange, unpredictable beings could send three large powerful horses running for the hills, or provoke them to charge. Unlike most horses, all three other species would run away obligingly – but then turn back as soon as they felt safe and advance again.

Jax prepares to defend Juno from the scourge of the goats.
Eleanor the cow

The cows – a herd of 8 very small Irish cows known as Dexters – normalized soon enough; they share the pasture and therefore hay permanently with the horses, so soon everyone was mingling together. The Dexters consists of 3 mamas, Betty, Adele and Eleanor, two heifer girls, Fiona and Frederica, and three young boys, Gage, Genji and Garnet.

It only took a couple days for the lads to allow the cows to graze amongst them, and now I see them intermingled and even curled up next to each other.

Jax and Nechako; Adele the cow in the background; Fiona and Frederica passing in the front.

But the goats and the pigs, who have their own areas but free access to the pasture, could come and go. Jax made it his special mission to neutralize the goat people (can’t be done), and even Montaro couldn’t stand against the amount of sass a single teen piglet can emit. Dogs are nothing new to the boys, and while they’ve met Louka the Big Orange Dog down south, the other two farm dogs are actually Jini’s dog Kumba’s sister and nephew. The two boy dogs light up when the horses start running and take off to join the merry chase. And gradually, these various offensive creatures have faded from terrible bogeymen to general irritants and providers of novelty.

Louka watches the horse-goat showdown.
Birdy baffling the boys with her complete indifference to their splendour.
Dotty, Flora and Zephyr (and Birdy’s right front foot)
PIGS!
Bowie expressing his dog-joy
Bowie and Montaro matching strides
Jax and Louie a moment before both spooking each other
A busy bunch of beautiful beasts
Falcon, Jax, and the goat-people

And of course, the interactions between the two groups of horses have become more nuanced and subtle as the initial excitement fades. Little Firefly is a big fan of her new guy friends, and often leaves her family to go exploring with the three boys, or watch Jax and Juno wrestle, or have a quiet meditation with Montaro. I wonder what they’re teaching her, and what she’s showing them of her world. She seems to love their big juicy energy, but interestingly she has become quieter, more grounded and more mature since they’ve arrived.

Firefly waits for everyone to catch up.

Both Falcon and Nechako take their moments with the three boys as well, eating and sometimes even playing with them. Spero and Amalia, who usually have no visible connection, have been sticking close together, moving in synch like a matched pair. Before the boys came, Amalia was Nechako’s partner, but for some reason now she is connecting deeply with Spero. Maybe it’s the change – these two have been together since the early days with me, weathering move after move, side by side. Once the dust settles, they tend to separate, but this is the first time I’ve seen them drawn together for such a sustained period of time.

It’s such a gift to be able to see each of them from new perspectives, with the arrival and hubbub of the three lads shifting and highlighting every being’s uniqueness. All of us humans are noticing new behaviours, distinct choices and surprising preferences in the animals we thought we knew so well. Its refreshing and endlessly interesting to watch.

Arguing over who should confront the lads

 

The fab five.

And we all carry on; more complex, more connected, more diverse, and more interesting than ever. The only constant is change – and now it seems accelerated somehow, with the arrival of the three lads on the southern breeze bringing a whiff of adventures to come, connections to faraway places and stories we have yet to tell. Anything could happen! Everything will happen! What do you think/feel/see/imagine? Let us know in the comments below… Sending big herd magic and love from our quiet winter sanctuary to wherever you may be.

The herd(s) at play.

Merging the Herds – The Three Lads Settle In

18 thoughts on “Merging the Herds – The Three Lads Settle In

  • December 29, 2019 at 6:43 am
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    Love reading your story! The horses are so happy and the beauty of the land is gorgeous!! Photographs are windy and I especially love the Fab Five image. just perfect!!!!

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    • December 29, 2019 at 9:05 am
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      I love that shot too! I’ve never gotten one like it because normally they don’t bunch up like that. But faced with the new guys’ unpredictable energy, they formed up for group photos…

      Reply
  • December 29, 2019 at 7:18 am
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    So appreciate the update! Your photos are fantastic and let us readers dive deep into the landscape and enjoy a piece of all the bountiful beautiful beasts! Kesia …it always helps rewild my mind & soul a bit when I get to visit your landscape through your images and writings! I am wondering if you have noticed much weight loss with the mighty 3? It seems this new environment & circumstances would definitely be a calorie burner! Do you feel or sense of any emotions from Juno…being away from Big Mama? I am sure they all have some feelings of loss…without the the two original gals…Big Ma Ma and Zorra?
    I know when Big Acea left us…when Dreamer came a couple of weeks later it was a beautiful distraction and helped Banner, Bullet and myself heal and focus on the now..
    (I know people say horses only live in the present…but the emotion and loss was palpable between us three…I don’t care what anyone says! ) So…Maybe…the home herd and the other residents are doing the same for the Lads? I also know they know Big Mama and Zorra are not physically gone …just back with Jini! Well again so grateful for your update! The highlight of my Sunday mornings…is this blog/family!
    ✌🏼❤️🐴

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    • December 29, 2019 at 9:14 am
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      Good morning Michelle! I love that the photos bring you wildness, maybe a shot of cold air.

      Jini said from photos that the boys had lost weight on the trailer ride alone from the stress… then they skimmed down further from that, still quite healthy but definitely lean. Now as they settle and aren’t running much, it’s kind of all about eating again and they don’t seem as lean to me – but Jini will be the judge when she sees them next!

      I haven’t felt sadness from Juno or any of them – doesn’t mean they don’t feel it of course. They are cheerful and tuned in every day, and Juno seems to be relishing this opportunity to grow. He loves hanging with Firefly and Falcon, who are older than him but still kids too. And Montaro is becoming a bit of a goofball, so he must be relaxing. Jax can be distant, but he’s always curious and gets into everything. Maybe because they are in a new place, they don’t register it as a loss? I don’t know, but it’s always harder for the ones left behind <3

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      • December 30, 2019 at 7:36 am
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        It is always harder for the ones left behind …That resonated with me so deeply! Not sure why I didn’t look at it like that? But really love this sentiment! It applies to so many situations!
        So many great comments …always nice when a lot of people chime in with their thoughts!
        ✌🏼❤️🐴

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  • December 29, 2019 at 8:01 am
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    So beautiful written Kesia! You have quite the gift for observation and story telling. I’m just so happy and relieved for all you humans and critters to be living with such freedom and expansiveness. When you asked what we see as next I quickly saw some of the young ones there which I’m sure will change things again.
    I have to also tell you that I see a book by Jini and you starting with the herd at her place and then this move and all the gorgeous photos and stories. It would fund things for you 🙂 maybe it’s already begun.
    Thank you for doing what you’re doing.

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    • December 29, 2019 at 9:17 am
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      Beautiful Jai, thanks for sharing! I too see a book – a few books! Meanwhile, the story keeps telling itself… might need to be an ongoing series, haha!

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      • December 29, 2019 at 1:40 pm
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        I love your comment – the story keeps telling itself! Your observation skills and ability to creatively document the narrative in words and photos is certainly engaging!
        I find it incredible that all the animals get to share the same pasture – that’s not the way it is usually done on other farms.
        I am new to the story so do not yet know if the pigs, goats and cattle are being raised to sell. If so, what will happen to inter-species social interactions when the time comes for livestock to be shipped off?

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        • December 29, 2019 at 11:06 pm
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          Hey Denise, glad you’re enjoying the story!

          Yup, quite the funny farm. Maybe not the most efficient but way entertaining (for us and the animals both). We love having everyone free to mingle, and even have “permeable fences” that allow the smaller species (goats, pigs and dogs) through from the barnyard, where they sleep, out to the big field. Soon we will have everyone out in the wooded rangeland, too!

          We rarely ship any animals, since we keep it small and harvest as necessary at home. While numbers fluctuate, we always have a core group of each species so overall the dynamics level out. The bigger shifts happen when we introduce new individuals who don’t know how we do things around here 🙂 but they always come round.

          Thanks for your comments and questions, it’s always so interesting to hear what others pick up on!

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  • December 29, 2019 at 1:00 pm
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    Such gorgeous pictures and vivid commentary – I felt like I was right there myself! I am happy to see the herd integrating well with the others and able to have so much room to roam.

    I am moving my two mares from their herd (total of five horses) in Colorado in a few months to pasture in northern Arizona where they will be integrated into a herd of approximately 10 horses. They have been with their current herd for 3 years and one of my girls is especially close with another mare in the herd to the point of freaking out when she can’t see her. Neither of my mares are all that close with each other. Any advice when it comes time to have to separate them?

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    • December 29, 2019 at 11:28 pm
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      Hi Michelle, great to hear from you – I had no idea how this would all turn out so it’s been fun (and a relief) to see it play out the way it has.

      Moving horses is always a tough one. I don’t actually have much to offer in terms of how to help separate them, but it helps to have a sit down and explain, in your head or out loud, why you’ve made this choice and what good you hope can come from it. Whether or not they take it in, it can really help just to get yourself clear so you can be more congruent when the time comes.

      I’ve move my horses way too many times, and like I mentioned here, Spoo and Amalia have never appeared to care for each other, but when they move they are each other’s most important being. Your mares will benefit from knowing each other on the move and in the new herd.

      The hardest part is splitting bonded horses. That’s basically how Jini ended up with several of her horses – she adopted the ones her chosen ones wouldn’t leave without! If that’s not an option, then you just have to do what you need to do. I always try to stay open energetically and let their fear and sadness run through without shutting it/myself down – just acknowledge, witness, release. You could also work with someone like Güliz to communicate more directly with your mates, and/or do something like Emotional Freedom Technique to help them (and/or yourself) process…let me know if you’d like any more info on any of that.

      But lord knows I have packed my fair share of horses into trailers, gritted my teeth and got ‘er done. We can’t always do it the “right” way or the way we’d hoped. Luckily, horses are resilient and forgiving. I try not to lean on that but it sure helps when I don’t know what else I can do but what needs to be done.

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      • December 30, 2019 at 11:35 am
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        Thank you Kesia, I appreciate your reply and your words of wisdom! I too have thought, as much as I hate to have to do it, I am just going to also have to grit my teeth and get ‘er done! I had planned to try to communicate to them out loud starting in a few weeks as the time gets closer but I had also thought about Güliz and would be very interested in maybe asking her to communicate to them on my behalf as she is much more qualified than I am.

        The mare who will be left behind is my barn owner’s mare and there is a gelding in the herd that she is extremely close to…he is also my barn owner’s horse and the two of them have been together since he was rescued at an auction barn as a foal 10 years ago. He is also the patriarch of this little herd. My mare seems to be the one more affected when separated and the barn owner’s mare seems to handle it fine so that is one positive thing, I suppose!

        I do really appreciate your kind words and support!

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        • December 30, 2019 at 10:23 pm
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          I love working with Güliz when I need a boost of communication juice! But you are most certainly qualified to talk to them, because you know them best. Even if you don’t think you get anything from them, or feel silly, it helps (I think). Check out the post from last week or the one before – Guliz’ info is all there if you choose to get some help connecting 🙂

          Otherwise yeah, sounds like a hard split but you can all do this <3 being in a new big herd will also be hard at first, and then endlessly interesting and rewarding too.

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          • December 31, 2019 at 1:38 pm
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            Thank you again so much for the support Kesia! I am going to try to talk to them and will probably ask Güliz as well so as to increase my odds of the message getting through! I appreciate the positiveness in looking at a new big herd to be interesting and rewarding, I am excited for that possibility!

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            • January 5, 2020 at 10:18 pm
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              Sending you all the good horse-moving juju we got! Let us know how it goes – would love to hear how they settle in over time 🙂

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              • January 5, 2020 at 10:27 pm
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                Thank you very much, I appreciate all the good horse-moving juju you can send! And I’ll update how it all went and how they settle in!

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  • December 29, 2019 at 8:53 pm
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    Love the different expressions of Nechako. I’ haven’t seen those before. Does he still have the sad look on occasion in the eyes from when he first came, or is he becoming a completely different horse?

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    • December 29, 2019 at 11:13 pm
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      Great question, Mary! I’d say he is almost a completely different horse… I don’t see the sad eyes much anymore, if at all, and he just seemed to come online in a new way when he started defending the home herd. He’s been here a year and a half, and seems to be getting younger.

      Reply

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