It’s always good to be mindful of your horse’s place within his social hierarchy.
Today, I’m particularly wary as our small band weaves its way through the tree line that separates the gentle confines of Legacy Stables from the surrounding wild area we call Narnia.
I’m on Maree, a small, deeply sweet Quarter Horse. Directly ahead of us on the narrow trail is Habakuk, a big, good-natured Belgian/Quarter Horse cross.
The two horses are bitter rivals. And I sense that Maree isn’t happy to be following her nemesis.
Both horses are people lovers. Maree is one of the most easygoing horses I’ve ever known. She never squirms on the crossties; she takes the bit without a fuss; she doesn’t run away in the pasture when you approach with a halter.
Perhaps most remarkably, Maree tolerates, possibly even enjoys, the attention of children. It’s not unusual to see her standing with quiet dignity as a small mob of kids cling to her like yellow sticky notes.
I have to shoo them away like flies when it’s my turn to ride.
Though Habakuk is one of the newer horses at the barn, it didn’t take him long to become one of the most popular. Strong and mild-mannered, he has a quiet charisma that makes him a favorite among the adult riders. Known affectionately as Habakuk the Handsome, he’s exceptionally easy to ride.
While both horses are adept at handling humans, they don’t handle each other as graciously. My riding instructor, Sensei, assures me that in the pasture, "sweet, gentle" Maree is at the top of the pecking order—a true alpha mare.
And when Habakuk arrived, he sought to dethrone Maree.
At first, the two horses were kept separate.
Experienced handlers like Sensei have the superpower ability to read thought bubbles over a horse’s head. This is good, because while the rest of us regard the pushing, kicking, and nipping as random acts of foolish nastiness, the experts know what’s behind it and when to watch out for it.
By reading body language, Sensei knew from the beginning that these two horses despised one another like Republicand and Democrats in a general-election year.
Food is the barometer of political status within any horse herd. Those on top eat first and decide who can and can’t dine with them.
A good horse handler knows which horse or group of horses to feed first. A clueless one randomly flings hay. Sometimes a melee results.
Sensei tells us it was an ineptly served supper that triggered the epic battle she’d been anticipating.
It started when Habakuk employed a head butt and a nip to chase away Snoopy—a harmless pony, but also one of Maree’s minions—from a flake of hay that had landed squarely in front of the little guy.
Ears plastered back, Maree responded by lunging after Habakuk, ramming the great horse like an irate torpedo.
It was on.
Habakuk wheeled and delivered a swift kick to Maree’s butt. Maree responded in kind with a powerful blow from those very same hindquarters.
Despite the size difference, the feisty little alpha mare had no intention of backing down. The two exchanged blows for what seemed like an eternity, but was actually closer to a minute and a half.
Still, that’s a lot of action.
Mutual exhaustion ended the fight. Despite Maree’s noble effort, Habakuk seemed to have proved his point and gained the edge. Both combatants were a little sore for a few days.
A Neigh Vote
So, as we continue our journey through Narnia, the Great Legacy Stables Showdown is much on my mind.
There are two reasons why I can’t allow Maree to pass Habakuk. First, there's absolutely no room to pass on the narrow trail—not if you consider the rider.
Maree would have no qualms about leaving me slung over a low-hanging tree branch if it meant she could squeeze ahead of her rival.
Second, if Maree starts to pass the big horse, a race will ensue, and the rivals would unburden themselves of all useless cargo.
I don’t mind that horses fight. I know it’s nature’s way. But I’d just as soon they not involve us in their politics.
Of course, I suppose they could say the same thing about us.
Freelance writer Bob Goddard lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with his wife, Jenny, and assorted pets. His latest book is Horse Crazy! A Tongue-in-Cheek Guide for Parents of HorseAddicted Girls. To order, and to read his humorous blog, “Bob the Equestrian,” visit www.horsecrazy.net.