The Adventure of the Missing Hay Pile

This is a hay pile.

This is not a hay pile.

Milton does not look for his hay. He waits for Rodney to find a pile and then pushes him off. This becomes a problem when Rodney can’t find the hay.

After breakfast, the horses eat their morning hay in the pasture. Lately, I have been putting the two piles high up on the hill to get the horses in the sun/keep them out of the mud. It has not been an easy transition.

First day: Rodney mills around the usual service area. I walk up to the pile and rattle it. Rodney comes over.

Second day: I decide that I wouldn’t show Rodney the hay pile. I want him to solve the problem for himself. I stand back. Rodney searches the breakfast area. Milton comes around the corner. He stands looking at Rodney, ‘Dude, you had one job …’

Rodney continues to mill, looking gormless and lost.

Milton gives up with palpable disgust, walks up the hill, spots a hay pile, starts eating.

Seeing that Milton has hay, Rodney walks as far as the first pile. Milton is not interested in sharing. Rodney circles Milton, looking longingly at the hay, occasionally lipping at stands of dead grass, ‘Why is there only one pile today? Gee, I wish there was another pile of hay for me to eat.’

I start playing hot/warm/cold with Rodney, trying to herd him up toward the second pile. He cuts around me to get back to Milton and the first pile. I consider the possibility of administering horse IQ tests. Milton continues to eat.

Finally, I push Rodney far enough up the hill. He sees the second pile. ‘Oh look, more hay.’

Third day: Rodney goes straight to the hay.

Thank you for reading,
Katherine Walcott

Categories: Horse Behavior, Horses, Pasture

5 replies »

  1. Equine eating habits are as odd as equine pooping habits. Our low man always gets booted. It used to bother me, this pecking order stuff, but after eleven years of watching the drama play out I’ve come to the conclusion that getting booted is actually important to him somehow. He seeks it, even though I’m pretty sure he KNOWS he’s going to get the pissy face and pinned ear treatment. Every. Single. Time. And not just from one horse, but from two. Since horses are smart (I’m saying that more for my benefit), I therefore have to assume that he does this to himself because he craves the ritual. I used to worry that he wouldn’t find his own hay and settle in, but he always does. Always. Because, smart. (?) Since getting Porta-Grazers I worry a lot less that he’ll get the short end of the stick. Can’t miss those suckers and he knows what they are and that they’re filled with hay. He’ll still start out by trying to share one of the other horse’s grazers, but that just confirms what I think: he actually craves having the pecking order reiterated daily. Weird.

  2. I agree. I think horses have a deep need for order. Although, I’ve read that herd hierarchies are not as rigid as previously thought. DNA testing has show that the lead stallion is not always the father of all the foals. Seems that some mares like a little behind-the-rock action with other dudes. Maybe they prefer charm over muscles? But I digress. The world is indeed vast & weird.

    • I also agree that herd hierarchies are probably not as rigid as previously thought … for some horses within a herd. Others are comfortable right where they are. I used to think herd leader was always herd leader. Turns out, I don’t think that anymore. Sometimes our little gelding is top horse, but other times he takes a total back seat to the mare. Interestingly enough, our low horse is ALWAYS low horse no matter how the herd dynamics shift here. (And no matter who comes and who goes) Another interesting thing? Low horse actually has the best survival skills and the most common sense for sure. (The other two are far more likely to respond to the unknown or any major surprises with The Sky Is Falling antics) A third thing I’ve noticed? The mare actually does the most jockeying to try to always be the leader, though I honestly believe the little gelding just occasionally lets her have her have at it because sometimes he just can’t be bothered with all that nonsense! Yes, definitely vast and weird!

  3. Since we have two, we see more of relationship between individuals than true herd dynamics. Years ago, we had a third for a few months. He was roundly ignored by everyone.

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