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A new horse in the herd

When I decided to put Velmu to sleep, I was thinking that I will need a new horse. Well, finding a horse won't be a problem, as there are always a plenty of horses looking for a new home - so I had to think just what kind of horse I would like to have. Maybe a horse who is suitable for hauling loads? A horse who is safe and reliable to ride? No doubt, the main criteria is that the new horse should be a good company for Raiku. As, after all, in a herd of two horses it is essential that the horses are okay with each other. And that is something which is not easy to know beforehand.

I had been thinking of a finn-horse, because I already know this traditional breed, and they are well adapted to our climate. Then my neighbours asked if I could host one of their horses, Monica, an elder trotter mare. I agreed and started to prepare for introducing a new horse to my herd. I fenced a big open area so that they will have enough space to move about. Whenever a new horse arrives to a herd, the horses usually need couple of days to sort out their herd hierarchy, and the process might involve some running around...

To simplify, horse herd hierarchy is communicated with movement. The higher ranking horse can tell the lower ranking horses to move, but not the other way around. This typically means that the leader is not moving that much, but can make the others to move a lot. Also, each horse has a certain sphere of personal space around them. Higher ranking horses can decide if they allow other horses inside their personal space or not. And the higher the rank, the bigger the personal sphere is. (Uh, these are such over simplified statements that I'm having a hard time posting them like that, without lengthy footnotes to examine them in more detail =) Okay, but for today I let it be like this.)

When Monica arrived to the herd, the initial reaction was rather smooth. All the three horses were interested to get to know each other, and apparently Monica wanted to rest a bit after transportation. The action started the next day. Being an elder mare, I thought Monica is the potential leader, and I was bit unsure how would Velmu react to that. As Velmu has always been a leader with such a great confidence, but now with his sore leg he might not be physically able to act according to his inner feelings. Well, I saw Monica claiming the leadership in a rather peaceful way; first, Raiku and Velmu were eating together and Monica was farther away minding her own business. Then Monica started approaching the spot where Raiku and Velmu were, and with her body language Monica told that she would like the others to move away - which they did. Velmu didn't even try to protest, he just saw Monica walking in such a determined and confident way that Velmu decided not to challenge. So Velmu and Raiku went eating elsewhere, and Monica didn't follow them.

That seemed promising - no kicking, no biting, no chasing. Velmu and Raiku respected the sphere of Monica's personal space, and Monica was not bullying the others. But would Monica and Raiku make friends? I don't have a stable with separate boxes for each horse - they just have a barn with old mats hanging at the entrance to keep the flies out. The horses can move freely in and out whenever they feel like - but that also means that the horses should be able to be together inside a same room which is about three times bigger than a typical box in a stall. In the evening I saw Monica resting, she had laid down on the ground. Raiku approached her slowly, with respect. Monica allowed Raiku to approach, and finally Raiku came so close that they could sniff the noses of each other. But then Raiku gave a slightly annoyed squeal, and launched a kicking gesture in the air, provocating Monica to get back on her feet. Why was that, I certainly don't know - but I remember Raiku was like that with Velmu, until they slowly made friends. And Raiku has been like that with me, and I have been always trying to offer her peace and tranquility when she offers me anxiety. So, let's see how Monica will handle Raiku's emotions.

I saw Monica chasing Raiku in a somewhat aggressive way. Velmu chose to stay away from those situations, often resting inside the safety of the barn. Many times a day, when Raiku was somewhere eating, Monica ran towards her with an angry face, and when Raiku moved away, Monica could chase her for a moment just to make it sure that who is the boss here. That went on for two days. At the same time I was taking care of my own process, too. As the three horses had already eaten almost all the grass growing inside their pen, I brought them fresh hay with a wheel barrow. And every time when I was approaching with a load of hay the horses came closer to the fence - and I asked them to move, and to stay away from my personal sphere. I dumped the hay on the ground, not allowing any of the horses to come to eat, because the hay was still inside the sphere of my personal space. And when I saw that all the horses are calmly waiting outside that sphere, I told them "okay, now you can come", and then went away. In the beginning Monica was kind of a testing me - several times trying to just sneak into my personal space, but soon she realized that it won't help. After couple of days this process had become more smooth.

I'm not sure exactly why was Monica chasing Raiku. As I can't observe them 24 hours a day, I might have missed some situations. Anyhow, I was starting to think that what will happen next - it seemed like Monica wanted to emphasize her leadership. The more Raiku has to move her legs because of Monica telling so, the more it will make Raiku to respect Monica as a leader, yes? Once again one of those situations started so that Raiku was minding her own business in one corner of the pen, and Monica ran towards Raiku with an angry face. But this time Raiku was seemingly ingnoring Monica, allowing Monica to come closer and closer. Just at the last moment Raiku took two steps forward to avoid a collision - Monica stopped running and stood still, facing Raiku's hindlegs right front of her nose. Raiku bucked a little but didn't launch a kick. And this seemed clear to me: during the whole process Monica had been running a lot, but Raiku moved only a little. By allowing Monica to come so close, Raiku showed that in her eyes there is only a small sphere of personal space around Monica, Monica was offering Raiku an aggressive energy, and Raiku replied with a calm gesture, and Monica found herself facing two hindlegs capable of delivering a lethal kick. At that very moment Monica would have an option to turn around herself so that she could kick back with her hindlegs - but I guess that Raiku's gesture had already told Monica that it would be risky business. And, in a way, Raiku was not even questioning Monica's leadership. It was more like Raiku telling: "Hey, calm down. You can't treat me like that. You can't bully me around. Look, I have peace and dignity inside myself, and if you try to put me down I'll ignore you." Now that changed the game.

After that I have not seen Monica trying to chase Raiku. On the contrary, it now seems that Monica respects Raiku. So, Raiku is the leader, but she doesn't need to prove it in any way. And Monica seems to enjoy the company of such a confident horse. If Raiku is standing somewhere, Monica might position herself standing so that Monica's head is next to Raiku's hindquarters. That kind of body language tells that Monica thinks that Raiku is taking care of the situation and Monica can just relax and rest there. And Raiku can allow Monica inside Raiku's sphere of personal space, now that Raiku feels that Monica respects Raiku's dignity. Seems like a beginning of a friendship.

The process was already at that stage when the vet came to put Velmu to sleep. Raiku understood what was happening, and gave a neigh as a farewell to Velmu. Now the herd is back to just two horses. It has been all peaceful, Raiku and Monica seem to get along pretty well. Also, watching this process has made me more confident about my own way of being around Raiku. The journey goes on.

Raiku and Monica eating together
Raiku and Monica eating together
Monica resting next to Raiku
Monica resting next to Raiku
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Are you still planning to get a Finn-Horse? They seem pretty cool from what I have read.

Probably not for a while. But of course it all depends on how things go in the future =)

EDIT: Raiku is a Finn-Horse mare, and in a way it is enough for me to own one Finn-Horse. I don't own Monica, I'm just hosting her at my place - but at the moment I don't know how things will be after two or three years. If I ever again face a situation where I'll buy a horse to own, then it will most likely be a Finn-Horse.

Slightly off topic, but what do you think of trot racng? Being a big fan of the sport and Finnhorses and a great fan of URW and your blog I just had to ask.

I'm not sure if I got my English terms correctly, but I assume "trot racing" is "raviurheilu" in Finnish - a popular form of horse competition, where trotters run a race with a driver sitting on a lightweight cart.

Well, personally I'm not that interested in any forms or racing - but I have nothing against it if other people are interested in things I'm not =) And that's about it. Generally speaking, I think we can't simply say "trot racing is bad" or "trot racing is good" - I know that it can be done is so many different ways. In the racing world there are some people who mistreat their horses, just to get maximum effort from the horse, even if it means using non-humane methods and causing un-necessary injuries and pain to the horse. And sadly enough, we can find this kind of people in nearly every field of working with animals. Similarly, I know there are a lot of good, talented and humane professionals out there, treating their horses with dignity. And to me that also seems to be a best way to win a race. A healthy horse willing to race is much more likely to win the race than a badly treated horse who runs just because he is scared and afraid.

Also, I'd guess that it was trot racing which kept the Finnhorse breed alive. In the post-war era a lot of work was still done with the horses. But when people could afford tractors, horse population declined. My uncle was one among the last stubborn horse-men who continued to haul timber with a horse - he was working in such terrains where machines couldn't go. Apart from a small bunch of that kind of die-hard horse people folks just changed their animals to machines. But some of the fastest horses were kept for trot racing, as it was (and still is) a popular form of sport. The gene-pool of Finnhorse narrowed down, as people were mostly breeding for good runners. But in the past decades there has been a rise in other ways of using Finnhorse, so now the situation seems to be slightly better. (And I assume Ruunaamaton sure knows all this, I just wanted to write briefly for the foreign readers.) So, this is another reason why I respect trot racing. Without it the whole Finnhorse breed might have been vanished by now.

Introducing a new horse to a herd can be quite challenging, and it's great to hear that the process went relatively smoothly. It's interesting to learn about horse herd hierarchy and how it's communicated through movement and personal space. It's also good to know that there are ways to help calm horses during these transitions, such as using the best horse calming supplement. Thank you for sharing your experience, and I hope that Raiku, Velmu, and Monica will continue to get along well together.


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