These 40 acres are the primary reason I board where I do. I wanted Red to be with other horses. My horses get to move all day, part of the herd as it follows its pattern from the watering trough, to the open fields, to the shaded redwood trees, to the south fields protected by a fierce blackberry hedge. There is a rhythm to their movement . . . I've moved with them, a friendly two-legged known to all.
They move heads down, tearing off grass, chewing, stepping - grazing as equines have done throughout the ages. After about 45 minutes of filling their small stomachs, they stop and get comfy - some eyes close for a nap, others play wild horse games throughout the break time. Then back to serious grazing for another 45 minutes. Eventually they will work their way to the gate. With perfect timing the herd arrives at rush hour, around 5:00 pm, watching for the people who will come with halters and carrots for the lucky ones.
I think our general pasture is a hidden gem. Some folks think of it in less fond terms: "my horses cost to much to risk injury out there"; "those horses scare me"; "my horse will get buddy sour if I put her out there", "but they will get so cold at night." It can be wild, horses do get hurt when new members are turned out and the herd hierarchy is disrupted. So why do I keep my horses there? For the health of my horses, for the sense of wilderness I get at night hunting for Red, and for the sweet, sweet herd itself - my horse community.
This is Shaheen. He belongs to my friend Jessica who is about 23. She rode him in utero - they have been together all of her life. He is a the bottom of the herd hierarchy, often standing by himself on the periphery of the horses. Shaheen is a joy to trail ride with. He is steady, calm, fazed by nothing. What a good partner for Red.
Jerico is 18 and was the first horse I met at Freshwater. He is the most gorgeous horse I know, a kind and wise soul. Laura, his owner, said she trained him "the Indian way" by swimming with him and then mounting him in water. Once I couldn't fiind Red and was starting to become anxious. Jerico was watching me, picked up a stick and shook it up and down. I followed in the direction he pointed the stick. There was Red.
Red has many friends in the general pasture. These horses are important to me and I have relationships with all of them. I have never felt unsafe in their midst. I work at this, demanding that they respect my personal space, sending them away if they are disrespectful.
There is one driving passion that rules Red's life, to be at the side of Coal, his beloved and the general pasture boss mare. She is a huge percheron who was purchased in Lyndon, Washington. I wonder if she was once a PMU mare. Coal is, without question, at the very top of the herd hierarchy.
When she was first turned into the pasture there was chaos. Red was injured as horses sorted out a new order. Coal asserts herself by walking into horses and pushing them. If they don't submit she will whirl and kick - I don't think she has ever learned the subtle sequences of equine body language. Her rule is now absolute and totally undisputed. There is, however, keen competition for who gets to be her first gelding.
Red usually holds this prestigious spot. His only serious competition has been an older appaloosa gelding named Sweet Grass. This experienced senior gentlemen is a favorite with all the mares. Red is delighted that Sweet Grass is currently far away. Every summer he goes with his owner to work packing in the Trinity Alps. Red had quite a long time to enjoy the fruits of Coal's company with few challenges. The rules of herd hierarchy are a marvel to watch and teach me so much about how to be with my horses. The general pasture has seen peaceful interaction for the last few months. Not all geldings have Red's drive. Justus, Fino, Jerico, Quincy, Joe, and Shaheen are very happy to just be part of the herd. They are low to mid level status horses and are content to graze and groom each other or play gelding games in the sun.
This week a new gelding arrived and was turned into the GP. I was feeling sorry for him. I feel much less sorry for him tonight. One more chestnut horse, he is about 14 h - perhaps a mustang. Alert and focused he has been studying the mares. He covets Red's adored Coal but has started to build a small band of the lower status mares. Tonight when I came for Lyra he drove Lyra to the opposite end of the GP - I reclaimed her and took over his space, making him back and move off.
When I haltered Red he was reluctant to go with me, looking over his shoulder at Coal. As Red moved away, the new gelding made his move and trotted up to Coal. My boy flattened his ears, looked miserable, but respected my leadership. Heck. I turned him loose. He flew at the upstart horse, and grabbed his neck. Meeting with resistance, Red turned and kicked out twice . Oddly the kicks were not very hard, but his aim was good and he connected with the little gelding who turned and trotted off. I checked to be sure he was unhurt, walked up to Red and haltered him. He came willingly, content that he had defended his status as Coal's top gelding.