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A Lesson From Horses - Herd Instinct V Fear

A few weeks ago I wrote about equine friendships and the signs and ways they can develop based on herd instincts and circumstances. This week, I thought I would write about interspecies friendships. I have written about human relationships with animals, but this time, I wanted to explore bonds between horses and goats.

Recently, hurricane Isaiais pummeled the eastern United States creating a great deal of destruction, fallen trees, and downed wires causing millions to be without power for days and even weeks. Rainfall in our area was about 6 inches which caused rivers to flood and fields to fill with pools. Many farmers faced challenges.

One evening during the hurricane, my pet sitter and I were texting about dates and times and she told me that one of her client’s’ goat pen had been demolished by three fallen trees and downed wires and that she was trying to figure out how she could possibly contain the notorious escape artists. Since I have an empty stall in my barn, I invited the two goats to stay with me until their pen could be repaired and safe for their return.

Through a complicated arrangement, they found transportation after dark in a small truck. I was delighted when two adorable, hefty billy goats hopped out and were led into the barn. I offered various pasture space, but my pet sitter thought it was best to contain them in a stall. At this time of year when days are hot and humid, my horses are out at night when they can find relief from both flies and heat. Although the goats were near the pasture when they unloaded, the horses did not seem to notice them.

They certainly did in the morning when it was time to go into the barn. Terrified by what he could smell but not see, my horse's eyes grew white as he began snorting, unwilling to enter his stall. I coaxed him in, but he darted right out into his attached pen as far away as possible from the harmless goats. There he spent the day where he felt safe, away from the unfamiliar.

The next day, he came into his stall to look at the goats and felt comfortable going in and out of his pen past his barn guests.

A few days later when the goats departed down the driveway with their owner who had returned from vacation and created a new pen for them, Ranger cried after them in a way that reminded me how much and why I love horses, especially this one.

This story is about three things: helping others, fear, and herd instincts. In this day, with so many terrible things happening around us, it is important to find ways to help others. We will all need others to help us too. I made some new friends and felt happy to be a part of a community of farmers.

Ranger was afraid of the unknown, and horses want to run away, or at least avoid the unfamiliar and different. Of course, I would have felt better about this had he been 2 and not 21, but change always presents challenges for horses who love routines. In all fairness, I do not think that he has seen a goat in the 18 years that he has been with me, so I understand.

In a few short days, my horse cried for his new friends, creatures of another species who smelled weird and did not look like him. Herd instinct overpowered fear as it often does when horses have a chance to get to know another creature. It seems a powerful lesson for us humans: let fear of what may seem strangely different be overcome by the strength of community and watching out for others.

Katharine MacCornack
Published on 2020-08-19