Sunday, November 27, 2011

Big Dilemmas - Who With Whom

Obviously the menu is critical. And of course, the flowers and overall decor. But for a fabulous dinner party, one must put great care and effort into the seating arrangement

Who would be best placed next to the recently widowed Lady? Who would be amused by an evening of conversation with the boorish Baron? Would the famous Inventor prefer a more technically minded dinner partner or a sports fan? Which guest would be best to seat along side the Politician?

These are critical problems to solve. Done well, the dinner will be the talk of the town. Done poorly, the whole town will be talking about it for weeks to come.

This is not a problem we encounter on the farm. No, if we have a dinner party, we simply have to decide whether to add an extra picnic table.

But pasture assignments ARE a challenge. Which horse should go out with which horse, and in which pasture?

Some farms make this easy. Got a mare? She goes in the big field to the left. Got a gelding? Put him in the field to the right with the rest of the boys. Alternatively, some farms provide individual turnout paddocks.

We do neither. First, we believe horses, being herd animals, need pasture mates. Next, we believe that horses need to be matched and grouped on their own merits. And so far, we have found that mixing mares and geldings in small groups of 3 or 4 works just great. And a scientific study helped confirm we are doing well with our horses. In it, it said that geldings are much more likely to relax, roll, and lie down in pasture if a mare is there. Why? Mares are natural nuturers who instinctively watch over the herd. Multiple mares? Even better, as they will take turns watching over the sleeping horses. Very nice. And natural.

So we work hard on finding a good pasture arrangement. And everytime a new horse moves in or a horse moves out, we have to rethink the seating plan. Who goes with whom?

Several weeks ago, a big fairly young horse moved in. Under saddle, but not fully mature and still growing, we put him out with a retired mare who would be most likely to be okay with the amount of grass and winter hay he would require. After the usual scuffles, they hit it off famously. Eating side by side, mutual grooming, missing each other when separated. It was cute. And both owners were pleased to see their horses having best buddies.

More recently, a previously boarded horse moved back in. And of course, seeing her, her old pasture mates were thrilled. So, assigning her pasture was easy. Sometimes it is like that.

Then, last week, we moved the big youngster and his old lady friend to a pasture which had been rested, allowing their pasture to be rested for a few months. The pasture is between two others. One which has 3 geldings, the other which has 2 mares and 1 gelding.

At first, things went just fine. However, within a short amount of time, the big youngster was no longer interested in the retired mare. Instead, he was more interested in a big young gelding on the other side of the fence with two other geldings. All day long, the two big youngsters would play fight, pull off each other's fly masks, and ignore anyone who wanted to bring them in for the night! The two horses bonded over the fence.

A dinner party disaster! The Baron was ignoring the carefully selected people seated next to him and acting like old mates with the waitor!

Now the challenge. It's seems obvious we should try putting the two big goofballs in a pasture together. But how? What to do with the mare? What about the other geldings who will lose their buddy? Should a third be added to the twosome or with that result in jealousy and fights? And there are other things to consider, such as who's wearing shoes and who's not? And how safe will it be for the owners to extract their horses from the pasture for riding? In general, what are the risks of allowing these two youngsters to play WITHOUT a fence between them?

It's a dilemma, but one we face over and over as horses move in and out, and has horses look beyond their groups and express interest in other horses on the farm. In the end, the solution will either be the talk of the barn, or talked about all over barn.

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