Moving into a new herd

Jazzmine joined the herd of three on Sunday, first over the fence, making introductions. Then she was insistent the next day, on being with them. I must go through that gate to be with them. She has been without a real herd for a couple of years, but grew up with one from birth. The herd of three was already quite well established in their rhythms, so she would face some challenges as a newcomer.


The horses had met one another individually in the past, and Jazzie had shared a pasture with Zuzka, my black mare, for about 8 months until Zuzka’s foal was weaned.

The first day all the horses enjoyed meeting over the fence. The next morning, Jazzie walked with me to the gate, eager to get out and spend time with them. They all have a great deal of space in both pastures (New Mexico-type pasture). I let her in and she kept her distance. The horses came to check her out, sniffing, moving around her, mostly one by one.

She went directly to Khami, the lead horse, even though Zuzka is also a lead horse. Zuzka really doesn’t want to engage in a lot of drama. She shares responsibilities with Khami, yet as long as I’ve known Khami – for 20 years, nobody has moved him, except me.  Jazzie befriended hm. It was important that she have a conversation with the CEO. She is a lead horse in her own right, by birth. Her mother was a lead horse, and her mother before her. It is in her DNA. Patches is the low horse, and was posturing and lunging at her, yet she paid him very little attention.

Khami_peekingthroughtreesWhen all the horses went into the far pasture area to graze, Jazzie came to me and wanted me toScreen Shot 2014-01-03 at 9.19.46 PM walk side by side with her to where they were. I was helpful to her in this way because I knew this language and it gave her confidence walking with me out to where they had gathered.

Everyone flattened their ears at her and moved her throughout that day. Khami got kicked. Zuzka also got kicked. It seemed that was the effective way for Jazzie to keep them from making physical contact with her. While I took her for a walk away from the pasture, they all whinnied and called for her. She was already missed for that brief time.

Day three, everything was much quieter. Everyone respected each other’s space. The only one really demonstrative was Patches, still flattening his ears, lunging and making ugly faces. In the existing herd, he pushes no one around. He seemed to relish the fact that Jazzie was new and he could tell her what to do.

I noticed several major changes: Jazzie could now move Khami off a place, and he could also move her. Zuzka didn’t interact with the others

Khami and Jazzie together
Khami and Jazzie together

much in this way, only moving Patches, which she always does. Jazzie stood behind Patches while he was at the trough, and tested to see how close she could get, and to see if she could get him to move. She turned to look at me as if to say, watch me.

As soon as he whirled his head and made an ugly face she stood perfectly still.  Then she took tiny steps and stopped. She did this repeatedly. She was effectively moving Patches, letting him think he was moving her. Soon, he tired of making ugly faces and went on to another feeder to sniff around.

If we observe the incredible patience that horses have with each other, it gives us huge insight as to why we do the Liberty Foundations as we do.

When I introduced Patches to the then herd of two, Khami was the one who approached him. Patches had always been the low horse in any configuration. Zuzka was the enforcer, taking up the duty of moving Patches around a lot. Khami and Patches became great friends, and Zuzka watches over Patches like a parent might. He doesn’t mind; in fact, she is like a compass to him with her solid, no-nonsense way.

With the introduction of Jazzmine, the dynamics change again. I realize I may have three lead horses, or maybe even four, because Patches thinks he might like to be one too, by virtue of being part of the herd before Jazzie came. Each day something changes within the herd. Today, Patches was standing at the water trough with Jazzie quietly, companionably.

Jazzie and Patches make peace.
Jazzie and Patches make peace.

IMG_3061A lot of the successful introduction meant listening to the horses themselves. Jazzie knew when it was time to be with them. She was willing to take the risk of being rejected and go forth into the new territory, not her own. But she claimed a space among them and they accept her now.

Who moves who is one of the primary foundations of herd activity, and keeps the herd healthy and safe. This has to be established so the horses can rely on it, should danger present itself and they need to run together. Currently, Jazzie and Khami can move everybody, including each other. Zuzka moves Patches as usual. And Patches, surprisingly, moves Jazzie!

I found my knowledge of the foundations so useful in making this transition with the horses, and there were some delightful surprises! I’m still not sure what social “shape” the herd will take, but every day I can’t wait to wake up and find out what they’re doing.


Related Stories:

The Healing Herd

(c) Susan Smith


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July 25 – Hang with the Herd – Join me and my herd under the cool canopy of the trees for some real quality time together –Experience herd, health and happiness. A new Liberty Foundations ½ day workshop for those who want an introduction to the work or to reinvigorate their liberty process. PayPal and credit card payment available.

We will sit in the cool of the trees with the herd during the morning, go work with the horses, then come back to the trees with cold drinks when it gets hot. Excellent herd to liberty experience! Space will be limited. Location TBA.  Time: 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. $75. Contact for information.


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