Tigger, whom we love dearly, spent a lot of time alone until he was 3 years old, and has, to put it mildly, very poor social skills – he just always seems to be saying or doing the wrong thing around other horses! In a stable herd he does OK, make changes to the group and anything could happen.
So, about 6 weeks ago Elvis injured his leg, needing stiches and rest in a small non-muddy paddock for 4 weeks. Paddy and Flynn were nominated to keep Elvis company, taking turns to stay in. Elvis, who has very good social skills, adjusted to this change in routine remarkably well. He didn’t show any great desire to go back out to the big field, and led out nicely in hand every day for some grazing. The only change in his behaviour was due to being fed treats while he was getting his dressing changed every day – he is much more interested in people approaching than previously, and nickers at the sight of hibiscrub and bandages J
So, all was well in the small paddock. Out in the big field… in the absence of Paddy and Elvis, Tigger finds new horses to hang out with. This causes all sorts of problems. Tigger has an ill-founded burst of confidence, and starts challenging horses whom he has always steered clear of in the past. This doesn’t work out too well for him and causes all sorts of trouble… he then becomes very attached to a 3 month old foal in the field, and doesn’t want to come in any more.
Now we have a fairly calm and content Elvis, but a Tigger who is distracted, unsafe to handle and having fights with other horses!
Elvis, Paddy and Flynn are now back in the field, and things have more or less settled down again. The video shows Elvis being turned out for the first time after his ‘paddock rest’. Elvis is a confident pony with, as I mentioned, excellent social skills, and it really shows. He enters the field, turns back for a treat, says ‘hi’ to the horses and ponies he hasn’t seen for nearly a month – all pretty relaxed. Meanwhile Paddy is back in the field also, and the drama is not Elvis rejoining the herd, but Paddy separating Tigger from the foal – and having to put a lot of effort into it – usually Paddy just flicks an ear and Tigger moves. The last clip is day 2, and you can see how much less Paddy has to do to tell Tigger to leave the foal.
Any point to this?
Firstly, that good social skills make such a difference to your horses social life - just as they do with people. With horses, there is so much focus on social dominance hierarchy, and how that affects their behaviour, and far too little focus on their social skills and how these may affect their behaviour towards other horses and people - and how badly a lack of social skills may affect them emotionally.
Secondly, to be aware of how changes to the social group can affect a horse, particularly one like Tigger. He changed very quickly from a rideable, manageable horse into one you could not even safely bring in from the field - all because Elvis left the field.