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I have enjoyed writing quite a bit about human relationships with horses and other animals, but interspecies relationships are equally important, if not more so. Horses spend significant amounts of time with other horses in herds, wild or domesticated, large or small, and of course, horses are social herd animals by nature. In large herds, horses usually form sub-groups or pairs, but in a small herd of only two, even though they cannot choose a friend, they still yearn to bond
For the past 10 months, I have had only two horses on the farm. For many years, I had two mares, a dam, and her foal, during their retirement years along with my riding horse, a gelding. The trio got along very well, the gelding being the alpha. That said, if my stakes winning thoroughbred mare wanted to get ahead, she would just squeeze in and take off, leaving my little paint confused and behind. She knew her speed and agility and used it to her advantage, even without a rider. Her dam, my oldest mare, beloved by all, equine and human, always maintained a level of respect even though she was third in the ranking. Horses are amazing, sensitive creatures with a great deal of heart.
This week, after months with only two horses I was both delighted and a bit surprised to see my two geldings grooming one another, and not once, but twice! Of course, I may have missed any number of nocturnal love sessions while they are out grazing and I am asleep, but I do believe this to be a recent behavioral change and a sign of a close friendship. They always got along well, but there had been some squealing, a few play bites, and a lack of interest.
With no choice in a herd of two, each horse has a friend assigned to him. Usually, horses accept this as they would strongly prefer to have a friend than to be alone. My two often separate, sometimes out of sight of one another, but have never had a serious fight.
Hence, when I saw them grooming each other's' manes and necks, I was very happy for them as this is a sign of a very close bond. I would wish that for every horse, to have a true friend. With two horses, it does not always happen, and in larger herds, some horses are excluded for a variety of reasons ranging from aggressive behavior to things we don’t yet understand. In case of my two older horses, a deep bond has formed, and that has, and will, make all the difference.