Saturday, January 21, 2012

Mare Remaking Herself

Have you ever thought about horse personalities in terms of complexity?  As in, you take a given group of horses and consider who among them is fairly straight-forward, simple, offering few surprises vs...the other extreme?

DeCato as I first saw her.
Another angle, with the stallion behind her.
In my little band, a plain, red, coat covers the most complex brain of the bunch.  DeCato Copper, the BLM mustang, is different from the others in so many ways, and, although she and I have shared a living space, in a sense, for several years, I know her less well than I do the newer addition, Stormkite (who is an in-your-face, “here I am!” type boy).

I mention this because DeCato has recently changed so surprisingly that I am paying more attention to her and also thinking about her more often in my non-stable time.

A brief history: DeCato Copper was born in the Ely, Nevada area about 7 years ago.  At two months, she was captured with her dam in a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) round-up.  As you may know, the BLM rounds up mustangs, periodically, to control the herd sizes, and sells them at auction or keeps them indefinitely in holding facilities.
Already putting on weight at her new home.
I don’t know what happened to her during the following months, but when she was around two, she was shipped across country to be auctioned in a BLM auction at Cornell University.  Cornell has held at least one more such event in the past few years, last year, in fact. 

Coincidentally, I was at the very BLM event at which DeCato was sold.  I was there with my husband and friend, Trish, but we were not buying, just observing.  I certainly didn’t pick out the rangy little chestnut mare from all the other rangy little mares and geldings in the pens in the arena.  And actually, when we were there, the auction was over and the horses and donkeys were in the process of being loaded to go to their new homes.

It was quite a wild event, and the donkeys’ hiccupping brays added both a plaintive and humorous tone to the whole scene.

Still in isolation from the others, but safe from the bombers.
DeCato and another mustang mare spent the next year or two with a couple in the Southern Tier, not being fed very well and never having her feet trimmed.  She also lived with a grade, pinto-quarter-horsey type colt who grew to a stallion, but somehow, she avoided pregnancy.  Her double-barrel response to my band when she first arrived at my place was, no doubt, her birth control method.

Her previous owner advertised her on Craig’s List, and when I saw her picture, a horse in danger of starvation, a transaction was made and the red mare was again loaded on a trailer, this time to my stables.

Her previous owner said he had been successful in gentling the other mustang, but this one had flummoxed him.   As I got to know her, I could see why.  She is not the kind of horse an inexperienced person could train easily.
"Can I have it?"

However, within a few weeks, I was able to trim her feet (something the previous owner said no farriers would attempt, which was probably true, but a complete “fail” on the part of the previous owner).  She put on weight quickly and started to look healthy and sleek.  I taught her groundwork in the round pen and eventually rode her, but she has not had much riding since our first rides, so I will restart when the time comes.
"Got it.  Thanks." (Yeah, that's me, 40 pounds ago).

As a trainee, she is not worried about anything I do to her.  Tarps, bridges, plastic bottles full of rocks, no problem.  Eventually, she could probably be great horse for cowboy shooting competitions or anything else where the rider does crazy things from the horse’s back, because she is not fazed by anything like this.  Get her away from the herd, however, and she will spook at the reflection on a puddle.  No kidding.   She is very herdbound and afraid away from the others.

When I first started working her, she was the only horse I have worked with that struck with her front feet.  If you have never had a horse do this, it happens so fast that you could very well feel a pain in your shin and just stand there saying, “Wha’ happened?”

We got past that point, of course, but she was a difficult mare to train.  I’m not blaming mustangs for this, but this is just DeCato’s personality.

So, what has changed recently?  Well, DeCato has always been low in the pecking order. She was the lowest until Stormkite was mingled in with the bunch last April.   She is the self-appointed sentry of the group, often staying on the outer edge and keeping her eye trained in the distance, listening and looking.  The edge of the group has also been the safest spot for her, because it gives her plenty of room to run if someone decides to move her, which often happens.

Lately, I noticed her pushing back a little bit.  If another horse tried to move her, she started pinning her ears and pushing back.  However, she would usually end up moving away.

However, in the last couple of weeks, she has just walked right into where the hay is being served up and started munching away, right next to Hudson.  This is unheard of behavior.  Hudson is the Supreme Queen of the stable and suffers no lesser equine in her vicinity when food is doled out.  The fact that she lets others eat at all is only due to my spreading the hay piles far enough apart that she can’t physically straddle them all at once.

Fat and sleek.
But all of a sudden, DeCato has decided it’s OK to just walk up to the bale that Hudson is hovering over, before I get a chance to get the strings off and spread it, and she just starts eating.   And yes, Hudson does usually move her off, but sometimes DeCato  moves off herself as I spread the hay in safer locals.

And the other night, I dressed Hudson in her new blanket, an activity that caused intense interest from the three paints, who gathered round.  DeCato was off at the edges, doing something else.  But then, all of a sudden, DeCato came in, thread her way through the other horses and planted herself in what I would consider to be a dangerous spot: between Hudson and the hot wire, with little room to spare.  I can’t  fathom DeCato ever putting herself in a dangerous spot, even by accident.  One shift from Hudson’s huge, white arse and DeCato would hit the hot wire.  Yet, here she was, making her way through the others like a shopper in a street market, landing deliberately in this very spot.  And yes, Hudson did take issue with this, having to tell DeCato not once, but twice, that she should remove herself from Hudson’s presence, and DeCato did move away after the second request.

If you have stuck with this long story to this point, you are likely someone who is interested in the complexities of horse herd dynamics (or my Mom.  Hi, Mom!).  So, this is where we are today.  DeCato has, apparently, purposely changed her behavior, and it’s not to pressure the next-highest up from her, who would be Dee, as you would expect. Instead, she has simply decided that, if there is hay to be had, she wants it now and she is no longer waiting for it, but will just go eat it next to the baddest boss mare in the place.  Or, if there is a new blanket to admire, she will just come ahead and take a look and a sniff, even if she has to work her way through all the other horses and pretty much touch Her Highness, to do it.
A good girl under saddle,.

What is up with this crazy red mare?  Her own personal safety has always been a high priority to her, and her way of staying safe was to stay at the edge and count on my getting food out to her.  Now, all of a sudden, she seems to have little regard about the teeth and hooves of the others and is in a “damn the torpedos. Full speed ahead!” mindset.

Seriously, this change is so odd to me, that I’m wondering if she doesn’t have a screw loose up there somewhere.  I’ll be keeping my eye on this little red mystery mare as we go ahead with her training.

And next time I call an animal communicator, I know who I want to talk to.  DeCato, you have some ‘splaining to do!   
One of the prettiest faces in my stable


  1. I love reading your posts. Makes me want to hop in the car and come up and meet the herd. :-) Very fitting post for me today. I arrived at the farm my pony is stabled at to help feed and clean. Because I was late due to the roads the feeding was done. I saw my friend and cohort with my pony and thought, oh how nice, she is bringing Allie in for me so we can ride after cleaning. Then I heard, Pam come get your horse. Unknown to me, my pony and her pasture mate whom she has been getting along with fine, got into quite the knock down, drag out scuffle and kicking match. My pony hadn't a visible bruise, but her "mate" had 3 bloody legs with minor abrasions. Allie went into her stall,still snorting as we tended the other horse, who will be fine by the way. I have to admit, I'm glad I didn't see it happen. Just thankful that our critters have good people watching over them.

  2. Thanks, Pam!
    OUCH. I wonder what got into them? I'm glad the wounds were minor. I hope you got a ride in, after all the excitement!

  3. Thanks. yes I did. It was a beautiful day for a ride. Pony has snow pads and borium so we rode in the snow. Wish I knew what happened. They had been getting along so well.