Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Company of Others

I had a question a couple of weeks ago that I have been meaning to answer:

"Is Tessa the only horse on your property living with the donkeys? If so, maybe she misses being around other horses. I say this because when I had my miniature horse and would bring him over to a friend's place when we went on vacation, he would be out with her miniature donkeys and though they got along, he preferred to stand by the fence next to the other horses on the other side of the fence. Just wondering if horses prefer other horses as opposed to donkeys. Though, they do look like they really love each other and happy to see each other."

Tessa is the only horse here now, but that was not always the case.  In general, I think most animals do prefer the company of their own kind.  However, like most generalities, this one is subject to individual circumstance.  

I bought Tessa as a two year old.  She was born on a farm in the south where there was a lot of human activity, but little interaction between horses was allowed.  Tessa was turned out with her mother, but never any other horses.  As a weanling she was sold to a show barn where she also saw few other horses.  Then, the economy went to hell and her owner gave her away to a friend who raised Friesians and cross breds and Tessa was turned out with a large herd - who generally beat the crap out of her.

When Tessa came here, I still had my old mare and a friend's mare who were both very dominant.  The hooves were flying so bad I ended up taking my old mare over to FBs place in the hopes of calming things down.  That worked for a while until the other mare went after Tessa and nearly killed her.  At that point, both the older mares went to live up north, where they are still living the life all horses wish they could have.  

That left me with a badly injured Tessa and some tough decisions to make.  Her future was very uncertain and nearly everybody thought I should put her down.  Instead, I bought a donkey out of a bad situation to keep her company and give her a chance to heal.  

It worked.  With a few unexpected (Ramsey!!) twists along the way.

Up until that point, I had always found Tessa to be a bit of an enigma.  In the barn and around the farm, she was always nervous, never relaxed and her constant jitters drove me nuts.  She was calm and easy to work with though.  I had intended to sell her because no amount of ground work or patience ever seemed to make a dent in her flighty barn behavior.  Then I sent her out for saddle training and she proved, at three years old, to be the steadiest, most unflappable horse I have ever ridden.  It was a conundrum.  

Once I took the other horses out of the picture and gave Tessa a safe quiet companion who was no threat, her whole demeanor changed.  She relaxed in a way that I had never seen before and she tought me an amazing lesson about recognizing stress in horses and just how often we misinterpret it.  

So, to answer the original question, does Tessa miss the company of horses? 

I think she might miss the idea of horses, if that makes any sense at all.  She likes to visit other horses, especially Hawkeye, in an environment where she feels safe.  Such as, over a fence line, through a window or under saddle.  She does NOT like being turned out with other horses.  She loves the donkeys and she feels safe with them. With ten and without other horses, she radiates calm and contentment that is very rare to see.  If she lived with Hawkeye, they would be fine together and Tessa would eventually be happy because Hawkeye is a gentleman and she looooves him.  Would she be so relaxed and content? That, I am not so sure about.

As for the donkeys.....that will have to be a whole other post as I am out of time right now.


  1. Poor Tessa. She is so lucky to have found you. Book?

  2. People don't always understand how savage mares can be. I had a mare that was never accepted in the herd, she was perfectly happy with the cows. She would look at the mare herd but happily follow the cow calf pairs. She never had any issues without horses in her life. Her foals never seemed to have a hard time joining the weaned foals and becoming herd members with the horses.

  3. Tessa and Hawkeye would probably get along very well but I'm not so sure how things would go with Izolde in the mix, she can be quite persnickety!
    Do you remember before Ramsey arrived how close she and Emma were? I'm so glad Emma has a place for Tessa in her little herd!

  4. I love your posts. Just so you know :-)

  5. I've had horses who loved to live alone and some that preferred company. I had one ex-polocrosse mare who adored herd life and I've never seen a horse who was more adept at wangling her way into the friendship of the boss mare and living safely under her protection, while never needing to be bossy herself. It is a skill that I'm sure she learned while turned out in the big herds on farms that the polocrosse people tend to spell them in. She had plenty of scars to show it wasn't always like that. I'm glad that you can look at the individual personhood of each animal and decide what is right for them. Nothing is right for every horse (or donkey) any more than it is for every human.

    I sent the link to this post to my sister, who still has horses. I think what you wrote about how stress can look in a horse is very important.