Comedy of Errors: How to Add a Horse to Your Pasture Full of Horses

I had just stepped out to let the dogs pee and check on the geldings. I was so confident that it would be a quick excursion that I left the movie I was watching on pause and didn’t even turn off the tv.

Yesterday I reintroduced two geldings to the herd, part of acclimating the new gelding Ned. I had left Ned and two quiet geldings alone in the pasture for two days, so Ned could get used to the terrain and boundaries of the ten-acre field, with its creek and tree groves along that creek. All was going well. I had already reintroduced some geldings, two by two, so the herd was back up to seven. There were just two more to add, two of the more assertive geldings. I was going to take my time.

I had already taken my time to ridiculous lengths. When Ned first arrived, I put him in a corral next to the mare who arrived with him. They stayed there for about a week, getting a sense of the place, getting to know us, letting me get to know them. I would turn them out separately to graze and visit over the fence with horses they would eventually be running with.

When the mare made it clear that she was absolutely best friends with one of the mares she had been visiting, I put her out with that mare in a large paddock and started bringing the geldings in one by one to spend a day and night or so next to Ned. On rainy days they were in adjoining stalls. After cycling through all eight geldings, I put Ned out with Goliath, the oldest gelding at 29 and also the largest at 16 hands 2 inches. They got along fine, though Goliath was very stern with Ned and would not play with him. He even exerted himself to run after Ned on occasion. I was confident that Goliath would not hurt Ned because he had never injured any other horse, and also he simply wasn’t quick enough to catch Ned.

After about a week of that, I added Junior to the group. Junior had also not injured any horse I knew of, and he had shown a penchant for young ones. He had been the baby sitter for young Nevada, who was now a robust and somewhat arrogant seven year old.

Nevada was one of the last ones I planned to turn out with Ned.

After a few days with the three of them together, I pulled the other six geldings out of the pasture and locked them here and there in the corrals and smaller paddocks. I then let Ned, Goliath and Junior loose in the pasture.

I quickly discovered that Ned did not know what to do about a creek. When his companions crossed, he backed away and began running back and forth calling to them. They were unmoved and continued to graze on the other side. I went to his rescue with a halter and led him across. Of course, he almost jumped on me. That is exactly what a horse will do if you lead them across water they are afraid of. Why not? Obviously the only safe place to step is exactly where you step. If you are not quick enough to get out of the way, that’s your problem.

The first crossing started well enough...

The first crossing started well enough…

On a side note, this is why you don’t get off at obstacles on the trail and lead your horse anywhere. If you must, let someone on a horse do the leading. The horse won’t jump on another horse. Even if he does, he probably won’t hurt the other horse or crush the rider.

Ned studying his creek crossing options.

Ned studying his creek crossing options.

I thought the problem was solved until about an hour later, when I heard Ned screaming his head off. I went out and found Goliath and Junior standing next to the creek, back on this side. They were positioned with a good view of Ned as he ran up and down the field, hollering for help.

Just because the horse learns to cross the creek here, in this direction, does not mean he knows how to cross back, or in another place.

This time I put the halter on Goliath and led him out, then back across, pausing frequently for Ned to get brave enough to stay with us. Finally Ned crossed in a gigantic leap. The creek is probably three inches deep and not four feet across at its widest point.

That solved, I left the three to their devices.

Quiet companions ignore playful Ned.

Quiet companions ignore playful Ned.

After a couple of days I introduced Sonny and Felix. Sonny has a history of health problems, the most relevant being a fractured pelvis that was displaced. Now he has something like a short hind leg, or a long one, depending on how you look at it. He is on the fragile side, but he hides it pretty well. Ned tested him but backed off when Sonny threatened to kick. Ned had no idea Sonny really can’t kick anymore. Just in case Ned didn’t get the message, Sonny bowed his neck and struck the ground with a foreleg.

Ned then met Felix. Ned immediately struck the ground with a foreleg. I had not seen him do that before. Did he learn it from Sonny?

The next morning I went out to check everyone before watching early morning World Championship hockey games online, and did not see Ned. I saw his four companions, all hanging out by the barn.

Of course I panicked because horses just don’t wander off on their own, unless they are one of those horses who does, and they don’t often get into the habit until their later years. I went out into the pasture, stumbling in alarm, heart pounding, wondering what I planned to do, should I go get wire cutters, my phone, a rope? I looked for him in the creek bed (where I was sure I would find him upside down and dead), in the trees, in the other trees, called his name even though I didn’t expect him to respond.

On my way to the part of the fence that I don’t trust (where I was sure to find him tangled in barbed wire and impaled on a stake, and again, dead) I saw him ambling out from behind a little grove. He looked at me with ears forward, head held high, as if surprised to see me there. Then he whinnied and came running over. That part was cute but… I guess I need to add him to the list of horses who wander off on their own.

The next day I introduced Gus and Brown. I knew Gus might be a problem because he is pretty low on the totem pole and does not like it. I worried that he might be over aggressive in the hopes of climbing a little higher. He was not. He seemed quite enchanted with Ned. Ned also greeted him affectionately, though he began with a foreleg strike to the ground. He really seemed to like that move now.

All settled in for the serious business of grazing.

All settled in for the serious business of grazing.

Brown, Ned kicked. Not hard, just as if to say “I wonder what would happen if I did this?” Perhaps the strike move was not getting the reaction he wanted. Brown was not offended, and walked away.  I decided to leave the group as is for a couple of days before introducing the final two bays, the ones I expected some trouble from.

Really, it was Nevada I was most worried about. His climb up the ladder had been sudden and violent. Only Brown, who had no good reason to be the one, could boss Nevada. Brown was no higher in the herd than Gus, but for some reason he could intimidate the youngster where no one else, even Desperado, could.

Desperado should have been the heir apparent as herd boss, after his older brother died. But he didn’t step up. Perhaps it was due to his persistent lameness, which came and went in severity. The herd floundered with no one in charge, as disorderly as a game of rock, paper, scissors.

So the herd minus those bays was in its second day when I went out to check them without even turning off the tv.

I saw Goliath coming across the creek, followed by Ned. Goliath stopped to menace Ned for crowding him. He lifted a hind leg and stomped it. Then he stomped again and started walking backwards quickly in a circle, no longer in the direction of Ned. He seemed off balance and I became alarmed. He was near the high creek ledge and if he was running backwards in a state of confusion I feared he might go over the ledge.

I hurried up to him and pulled him to a stop with my arm around his neck. He was breathing hard and trembling a little. He was making odd sounds, groaning and grunting abnormally. He was starting to sweat. I decided to get him out of the pasture, but I didn’t want to put him in a small space if he was going to fall. I wanted to put him in the pen where Desperado and Nevada were. I figured he would be safe enough with them for as long as it took me to go get a halter and call the vet.

The dogs were remarkably helpful by making themselves scarce, except for the new dog, adopted last winter. He was under foot and very concerned. I tried to calmly tell him to get out, but he doesn’t understand that command as it applies to the pasture yet. I decided it was time he learned to avoid horse feet. I think he managed.

I got as far as the gate to the pen, where I found Desperado and Nevada both eagerly waiting for me to open the gate and let them out. I shooed them away only to have Ned come up behind me and push on the gate, wanting to get in. By now I had lost my grip on Goliath’s neck. I got the gate unlatched but Goliath had decided to leave, staggering away in a frighteningly unsteady gait.

I slung the chain back over the latch, making a mental note to go close it properly as soon as I could.

Now Goliath was heading for the creek, followed by a bevvy of excited geldings. I still had no rope so I took off my hoodie. Luckily I had a sports bra on so it didn’t look to freakish. That’s only important since we were headed into view of the highway. I caught up with Goliath before he made it down into the creek and got the hoodie sleeves around his neck. He seemed a bit more steady now but was still trembling and agitated. I hauled him through the cattle corral and put him in the round pen. There was no shade or water there but the footing was safe and there was room for him to go down if he had to.

On my way to get my phone and other necessities, I found the dogs sitting nervously in front of their kennel. Their ears were back and their faces were anxious. Apparently my alarm had made an impression on them. They were relieved to be locked up in their safe place.

I prepared to call the vet. “What do I say?” I asked myself. “He’s acting weird? He seems unsteady? I think he’s about to drop dead?” I knew I should take his temp and listen for gut sounds and check his gums first. I did all of that and found nothing out of order. His temp was even a little low for the heat of the day. I put the halter on him and took him for a little walk. His walking was normal now and his respiration had slowed. I put him in a big corral and studied him. While I was doing that, I saw several bay horses running by the cattle corral, headed out to pasture. Too many bay horses, with Ned running right along with them.

Aha, so I really needed to check that latch sooner. I figured that was that, everyone was with everyone now. Yeah, right. I rushed across the creek to follow and supervise. Well, at least take pictures and chase anyone who was misbehaving too badly.

Here is what I found:

Ned and Gus attempting to join the group.

Ned and Gus attempting to join the group.

Nevada runs them off.

Nevada runs them off.

Ned tries again, from a different angle.

Ned tries again, from a different angle.

Desperado sees that Ned is serious, sort of.

Desperado’s turn, but Ned stands his ground.

Ned and Gus at a safe distance.

Ned and Gus at a safe distance.

I checked on them a couple of hours later and found that Ned had already recruited supporters who were not fans of Nevada. No longer were Gus and Ned standing alone at a distance. Felix and Sonny had joined them.

And then they were four.

And then they were four.

Junior, on the other hand, had abandoned his charge and joined the bully crowd. That was a quick turnaround.

As for Goliath, I have no idea what was wrong with him. I never did call the vet, he seems fine. Perhaps he had been chasing Ned too much and maybe I scared him by being so scared. Maybe his stiff leg (he has one too, but different from Sonny’s) was just bothering him and he was trying to shake it off.

I kept him in anyway. Before dark, I went out to find Desperado and Nevada tag-teaming Gus back and forth along the creek. Gus seemed irritated but was not about to jump off a cliff. Ned, however, was nowhere to be seen. Again, I was sure he’d been chased through a fence or knocked over the cliff or… under the shelter by the barn I saw Junior. Over his back I could see Ned peeking cautiously. So Junior had not abandoned his charge after all.

After some minutes, Junior even came out and started randomly menacing bay horses. He didn’t actually kick or fight but he let it be known that he’d had enough of this ruckus. Then he chased Gus too. Gus is not a bay but he is a trouble-maker. Eventually Gus and Ned found each other again and stood a little ways apart from the group, though not as far as before.

For my own peace of mind I pulled Nevada back out and put him in the corral next to Goliath for the night.

After dark I checked one last time for the day. I found Ned dozing on his feet with Sonny lying down nearby, Felix and Gus grazing a few yards away. Desperado, Brown and Junior were some ways off. It may be some time before the two groups come together.

I can hardly recall what movie I was trying to watch.

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