Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Free At Last

Friday January 31 was the day Rhio got to join the pasture herd and live like a horse again!  He's spent two months in his run, and has done really great.  He is happy, relaxed, eating well, enjoying his neighbors - but he has always been a horse that has lived with a herd on pasture, with freedom to roam at will.  He certainly likes his creature comforts - shelter, "catered" meals, warm blankets - but the best of both worlds for him is all the pasture turn out he wants, plus pampering.  So, now he will get that life again! 

I know that this is the very best way to keep him happy and healthy, but any change with horses can be stressful, and the social dynamics can lead to trouble.  So, I worry.  Happily, his buddy Leo lives in the herd, so E. came over and we had the boys eat their beet pulp together, then took them out to the paddock area (where the pasture herd has a large shelter and their automatic waterer) and showed Rhio the water.  We then turned them loose.  The rest of the herd was way out in the hay field, where hay had been spread on top of the snow for breakfast, and most seemed to be having a midday doze.  Rhio led the way across the paddock (we ride out through the paddock and hay field to get to the trail, so he is somewhat familiar with the surroundings) and then decided to go no further.  Leo wandered off across the small stream to take a nap in a little secluded corner, but Rhio retreated to the safe zone in the paddock. 

Rhio leads the way after they drank.

Soon, a Paint mare who is near the top of the hierarchy came in to drink, and check him out.  Rhio introduced himself across the paddock fence (a technique often employed by humans introducing new horses - but I haven't seen a horse do it himself before!) and she seemed to decide he was not much of a threat as there was no drama. Rhio followed her back out of the paddock at a canter, but stopped short of the gate to the hay field and turned to come back to safety.

Meeting across the fence.

Whee! This is fun! 

Never mind - scary out there.  I'm coming back!
After the Paint, a little bay Morgan gelding came up and did the same thing, but was more interested in hanging with E. and I, leaving Rhio to watch from the safe zone. 
Chatting with the Morgan.

Eventually, with Rhio showing no signs of wanting to leave the paddock on his own, I went to reassure him and let him follow me out of the paddock and across the stream to where Leo was chilling.  They hung out for a bit, and Rhio started looking for something to munch beneath the snow.  At this point, E and I retreated and watched from the barnyard a bit longer, then went on our way.
Going to hang with Leo in the secluded corner.
Checking for munchies beneath the snow.

I returned about 3 hours later to check on his progress and upon first glance, saw Leo out pawing through the snow to get at the grass in the hay field, along with the rest of the herd scattered about.  Granted, a gray horse against the snow is pretty hard to spot, but I couldn't immediately get my eye on Rhio.  I was fumbling with the gate, when suddenly Rhio appeared in front of me; he had been hanging out in the shed by himself.  After loving him up a bit, I started walking out to the pasture and he followed.  We went all the way out to Leo, who was eating with a little gray Arab mare, and Rhio started eating, too.  Quickly, the one other gray Arabian in the herd came over, and all four grays were hanging together. 
All four grays: foreground on the left, the youngster, then the little mare.  Leo has his rump to me, and Rhio is in the far back.

This seems cute, but I have seen it happen over, and over, and over again.  Horses of similar coloring have a tendency to group together.  Often, with only one gray or light colored horse in a group, that horse is "shunned" and stays somewhat apart from the group.  I wonder if it is because the light colored horse stand out from the crown, so to speak, and could potentially attract the attention of a predator.  But, with multiple grays, there is safety in numbers when they form a group. 

Shortly after  I'd settled Rhio out in the pasture, it was feeding time.  The herd went in to the paddock and milled around, with Rhio following them in but staying just outside the paddock and out of the commotion.  Soon, the hay truck came through the gate and made its way out to the field, where they would spread the hay out in a long trail, allowing all the horses plenty of space to eat.  The herd followed the truck, probably generally in about the order of standing in the social hierarchy.  Rhio was dead last, until he overtook the donkey and took the second-to-last spot.  He settled in to eating with the gray mare and a couple of the young horses, and everyone seemed content.  The herd continued to follow the truck, many of them coming all the way back to the paddock with it.  Rhio moseyed along the trail of hay, selecting his favorite spot, and started eating.  I didn't stay long enough to see what happened when the rest of the herd went back out to the hay, as it was getting dark.

Saturday morning I went to check on him, and the whole herd was eating peacefully along their morning arc of hay.  There wasn't a mark on him, so clearly he passed the night without trouble.  K. said he and Leo had been hanging out together, as E. and I had hoped, and that the big bully horse hadn't seemed to even notice him and certainly wasn't chasing him.  Some of the boarders think the bully horse out there is only savage to mares (and a young mare that is injured is the reason Rhio gets a slot in the 15-equine pasture herd.) 
The whole herd eats - Rhio is on the far right.

Saturday afternoon I went with his beet pulp, and to blanket him for the night.  I left him naked Friday night because if there had been trouble and he was in a blanket, I didn't want the possibility the blanket could have gotten torn up and entrapped him somehow.  But, I did promise pasture + pampering, so he'll be cozy in his blanket for the next week, as we have a long stretch of cold temperatures (lows in single digits or below zero many nights, and highs in the low teens).  When I arrived, he was not with Leo, but up in another section of the pasture with the majority of the herd.  I was very surprised to see him wearing a blanket, which is not mine!  There is a young girl who sometimes blankets the gray mare for her owner, and I think she must of not been able to tell them apart.  To me, it is obvious - the mare is, for one, a girl, and also is flea-bitten, meaning her gray is covered in red "freckles," plus she is a lot shorter than Rhio.  I switched blankets while Rhio ate his beet pulp, and trekked out through the snow to blanket the gray mare, too. 

He seems good!  I will continue to worry, gently.  The first two days went well, so I think it is likely to continue in this vein.  His weight is good, and I used the weight tape on him yesterday so I can monitor him to make sure he's not losing any.  He'll be getting his beet pulp every day, and plenty of self-exercise, which is awesome. 
Out in the hay field, where yummies can be found under the snow.