The opinions expressed in previous entries may or may not express the current opinion of the author.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Some Are Watching the Superbowl. I am Writing This Instead.

When it comes to deciphering dominance, George is not a very good example to follow. George gets what he wants, but getting your own way is not the be-all and end-all of dominance/leadership.

Dominant horses often enjoy very cordial relationships with others in the herd - sharing space, grooming, or playing. Sometimes they'll even allow another horse to share their food.

Between George and the mares, however, although a rapprochement is in progress, relations are little more tense. Dear George is, I feel, slightly dysfunctional, socially speaking. He doesn't really know how to play with the other children. He gets along very well with more dominant horses, but he has not figured out how to be dominant himself without becoming crabby. Noblesse oblige is a concept George has yet to fully take on board.

So I look to Bridget to explain things to me.

Bridget is clearly more dominant than Rose. If Bridget wants what Rose has, Bridget will get it. However, the two of them are friends and are able to eat together and be comfortable in each other's company.

What I can learn from Bridget is how a more dominant horse reacts when a less dominant one is "rude."

How does Bridget react? She doesn't.

If Bridget walks over to take Rose's food, Rose will give her the evil eye and snake out her head - even open her mouth and swipe. Does Bridget get mad? Not a bit of it. She just calmly proceeds with her coup de food. If Rose seems to be raising more objections than usual, Bridget produces the trump card - she turns around and backs up toward Rose, adding a ladylike kick if necessary - but the turning/backing usually does the trick. And no rancor or excitement accompanies the maneuver.

Bridget isn't always intent on taking something away from Rose - often she's simply saying, "Ok, I'm going to eat/stand here too, so move over!"

If Rose reaches out to nip at Bridget, Bridget sometimes flinches backwards, but she is not intimidated or deterred. Neither will she be moved to reprisal. It's enough that she knows she can win - she doesn't need to punish or scold in the process. And if all Rose wants is for Bridget to just stay out of her space, then -  no big deal - Bridget will shrug her shoulders and give in.

I have given up trying to be "dominant." However, I still sometimes need to be "in charge." Maybe it's a fine line linguistically, but to me there's a difference. I guess it helps to think of it in terms of children. When my children were little, I never thought it would be appropriate to "dominate" them. But there were (are!) many times when it was necessary to be in charge.

Bridget's example could be helpful for those times when I have to be in charge. I don't need to be superhumanly unflappable - Bridget flinches or startles when Rose produces one of her patented stink-eye swipes. Nor do I have to be punitive or defensive. I just have to choose - do I really want this? Or is it not a big deal? If I really want it, I can just politely insist, and if it's not a big deal, then I can let it go.


  1. The herd boss that my horses are with is like Bridget. When Butch wants something he just walks over and gets it, zero drama. Unfortunately the other horse they live with is the opposite, if Rocky wants something she launches an attack to get it. Apparently she learned this from another horse when she was a foal and now it's her go-to behavior :(

  2. That's interesting that Rocky's behavior is traceable to a childhood role model! It just shows how they imitate. And I think they imitate us too, which is another reason we should avoid aggression toward them.

    Do you think there's also an element of fear in Rocky's aggressiveness?

  3. Definitely, she really lacks confidence. What's sad is that I know she wants to get along, and bless my mare's heart she really tries to get along with Rocky, but when Rocky gets worried about things she doesn't know any other way to act.

  4. And you say she learned the behavior when she was a foal - I bet she was the target of the other horse's aggressive behavior and had to compete for food, and she grew up feeling anxious and threatened. I believe George went through something similar.