Herd behavior is so interesting to observe. With each change here at the ranch - whether it be a new horse moving in, a foal born, a horse going to their new home, an aging horse or a death – the herd adjusts and establishes a new order.  With wild horses there is always a mare in charge – and second in command is the stallion.  The rest of the herd falls somewhere under these two.

Here, from day one, the mare in charge has been Sugar.  She is the smallest but the mightiest.  A look from her or a toss of her head and horses scatter!  It’s really quite funny to watch. In her younger years, she might have popped that leg out to emphasize her point, but these days, it’s all in the flip of that head. However, in the last couple of years we have watched a slow progression.  Kit, Sugar’s undeniable daughter (they could not look or act more alike) is being groomed to take over and the process is almost complete. Kit is now 5 years old and all muscle and attitude, just like Sugar when we first brought her home. The confidence these two exude is admirable.  They are strong and forceful but not bullies.  It’s simply their duty within the herd to guide the others.  Sugar has been a phenomenal teacher. Kit has taken to her new position well, but I find it so sad to watch our Sugar age albeit gracefully.

Passing the torch requires changes from the older mare as much as the replacement.  Whether she instinctively has to or chooses to, I do not know, but she separates herself from the herd.  We’ve watched this escalate over the course of a few years.  Sugar spends more and more time grazing by herself or coming in for some human TLC.  My heart hurts as I watch her because I know how strong and regal she has always been.  However, when I look in her eyes I don’t see sadness.  She’s as proud as ever.  She’s just doing what she’s meant to do – taking care of her herd the way nature intended by training the younger, stronger Kit to take her place.

We have no stallion so our gelding Beau assumes the role of second in command. Since the two other boys we’ve had - Joey and Jackson -have been adopted into other families, he has never had to jockey for position.  Beau has been quite content to do whatever Sugar tells him for years.  It’s obvious that the transition to Kit is not complete in his head because he still gets annoyed with her for tagging along with him everywhere he goes!  It used to be him following Sugar’s path and I suppose that will soon be the case with Kit. 

The rest of the herd seeks their place within the lineup.  Although it doesn’t change often, it is by no means set within the lower ranks. It seems to depend on how they are being treated by the King and Queen as well as how they handle themselves among their peers. It’s not necessarily the strongest that are higher in rank.  Horses, like people, are so very individual.  Some horses have no interest in bossing around a herd-mate.  They are content to pull up the rear of the line at feed time. Some become Miss Congeniality and work at keeping the peace. Some are continually playful and dance around the others like every day is a party! And still others work hard to stay in the middle of the pack so that they aren’t really noticed.

I could tell you who currently holds each and every one of these positions within the C4 Ranch herd. Belle’s recent passing has defined the remaining herd members’ positions more than ever. She was the bridge between royalty and the commoners. I would have loved to see her as Sugar’s successor but she was far too docile for that.  I watched with awe and respect as she took a back seat to Kit, a mare thirteen years her junior.  Belle was bigger, stronger, faster and probably smarter than all the rest.  She never used those characteristics to bully her way to the top.  Horses seem to know and accept their positions in the herd without cockiness or shame.  Each role, from the bottom to the top, is of equal importance.  The end result is a functional family with unconditional love and respect for all members… I know a few human families that could benefit from sitting in our pasture and paying attention.

Sugar and Kit the day Kit was born.
Sugar with a three year old Kit.  A bit of a family resemblance,

don't you think?!

Kit in the forefront, literally and figuratively.


10/06/2014 2:23pm

Jamie, I love to read your stories! Your words are a beautiful gift to all of us who have known wonderful horses and miss them now that they are no longer here. Thank you so much for writing this.

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A look from her or a toss of her head and horses scatter! It’s really quite funny to watch. In her younger years, she might have popped that leg out to emphasize her point, but these days, it’s all in the flip of that head.

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    My name is Jamie.

    I left the culdesac for the country. My life is run by two Welsh Corgis. I discuss the biggest obstacles life throws at me with a horse named Belle. My family has suggested that I consider having my camera surgically attached. I pride myself on the fact that my armchair psychology has only caused a few disasters. And I love to write. I am not certain if I'm finding my sanity or losing it. That's where you come in - YOU decide! 

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