Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Play-a-thon

Panama had a play-a-thon today — one scheduled playdate, followed by two unscheduled playdates. Sadly, I forgot my camera, which is too bad because there would have been some good pictures to be had.

I met Voodoo's mom at the barn just before 10am, and we turned our horses out together. It was overcast and a touch chilly, the kind of weather that makes horses frisky, so they ran around together and had a pretty good time.

Around the time Voodoo's mom had to leave, Lady's mom arrived, so Panama promptly got a replacement. He and Lady meandered around the arena as they like to (they are more interested in spending "quality time" together than frisking or playing), and experimented a bit more with mutual grooming. (Panama isn't very experienced with this, and Lady can be a bit marish about his awkward attempts, so it's taken them a while to be comfortable grooming one another. Judging by Panama's, er, level of excitement when grooming with Lady, I suspect she takes offense to his apparent priorities.)

Then Spaghetti's owner's mom showed up. His young owner recently got a part-time job, so her mom is helping out when she's at work. She came out to remove his blanket, but when she saw me there, asked if she could turn Spaghetti out with Panama and Lady.

I've mentioned before that Panama is highly possessive of Lady. Well, it seems he is feeling more comfortable in his role as Lady's protector, so he made a big show of chasing Spaghetti off at the slightest provocation. (Sometimes that meant if Lady showed interest in Spaghetti. He didn't try to herd Lady away this time, but he's faster than her, so he just made sure he got to Spaghetti first.) Poor Spaghetti seemed bewildered by the dramatic change in his relationship with his buddy — he wanted to play bitey face, and cowered helplessly when Panama galloped at him full speed across the arena.

Panama was pinning his ears when he was chasing charging Spaghetti, and I realized something surprising — that is the first time I've ever seen him pin his ears like that, flat against his skull, the you-are-dead-meat look. He is so submissive with older horses, and has NEVER pinned his ears at a human, but I guess he is socially savvy enough to realize that he can easily dominate his buddies anytime he wants to.

I also noticed, however, that although Panama charged up to Spaghetti multiple times with mouth agape and teeth bared, and appeared to take a chunk out of Spaghetti's rump every time, he never even shaved off the fur. And within a few minutes of Lady being removed from the arena, he trotted up to Spaghetti with his ears pricked, and they proceeded to play bitey face as though nothing had ever changed between them.

It's an awe-inspiring testament to horse behavior and the complexity of their relationships with one another. Panama plays differently with each of his friends — runs with Voodoo with a little bitey face mixed in, grooms and flirts with Lady (they only run now if I make them), and rears and plays bitey face with Spaghetti. And the dynamics easily change depending on whether they are two or more — a third horse is always excluded if Panama and Lady are involved, but when the three geldings are together, Voodoo and Spaghetti will exclude Panama. With all four turned out together, they pair off — Voodoo and Spaghetti play, while Panama and Lady meander around on the opposite end of the arena. I guess Panama's priorities are clearly the mares!

I've recently been reading a book about dogs, Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz. The theme is not that we overestimate them (although sometimes we do), but that they are more complicated and capable than we realize. I think the same goes for horses. Do you see examples of this watching your horses interact with one another?

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