Sterling Foraging in the forest


So I saw Sterling out in the woods and wondered what he was foraging for! So I began to look and very carefully he was picking the sweet tops of a tall plant. This one

The sweet tops of the plants he's eating.

The sweet tops of the plants he’s       eating.

I don’t know what the plant is but I was on a guided Moonlight walk one evening last summer and the guide showed us how this plant has these sweet edible tops! So if we are out hiking and get hungry we can forage.  Well, Sterling didn’t need a guide, he has instinct or curiosity!

Off to forage some more!

Off to forage some more!

Coming 4


It’s February now and Sterling is coming 4 years old.  He acted in a more stallion like way than I have seen before and I can see by his behavior how he would be attractive to mares.

So, there were goose hunters collecting white snow goose decoys at dusk and all the horses were on high alert because they were jumping in and out of the ditch and looking sneaky even though they were 1000 yards away from us.  I came out to feed in the middle of this attention.  I got all the food ready and called the girls to come in and all but Summer gave up on the hunters and came to dinner. She and Sterling were looking with high intent at the hunters. Summer turned to run into the barn but couldn’t stay in her stall to settle and eat, she just turned around and ran out at full attention to watch the predators.

I waited on her and invited her in and stayed with her until she settled and could eat. Then I went out to feed the boys. ImageThey live together inside of the track the girls live on.  Harley is the bay gelding.

As always I brought out the boys buckets and proceeded to the round pen where Harley eats. He followed me right over while Sterling watched the hunters.  I poured Harley’s food in his bowl and he began to eat and I went to feed Sterling.  As soon as I exited the round pen, Sterling let out a loud blow of air with a big woosh; that got Harley’s attention and now he too was on high alert.

I continued to walk to Sterling ‘s bowl and he tracked with me all the way to the back though 150 yards away.  He was very animated in his movement looking every bit like a stallion, blowing hard  and loud on high alert and letting everyone know it.  While he was breath taking, I was staying very grounded appreciating his concern and attention yet not feeding it, afterall, I knew there was no real danger to us. I put his food in the bowl and got focused on the hunters making sure he knew I also knew and used our Social Intelligence (or collective knowing) to help him relax. I was not close to him, just standing calmly, breathing slowly and intentionally, he trotted himself right over to me and we stood together watching but only for a moment when I turned to walk toward his dinner.

We stopped about 10 feet from the bowl where Sterling was now calm and present to dinner, we shared a soft slow connected touch of “all is right in the world” and went to his dinner together.

I turned to leave but he instantly came with me, so I walked over to a jump in the field about 20 feet from him and sat facing the hunters.  He was able to eat in peace. Each time I glanced back at him, he was eating while watching me.

I was eventually able to walk away while he finished eating.  The hunters began to look less concerning when they began to walk to their truck.  I looked back to Sterling and when he was done, he galloped right over to me.  I did not have a concern in the world, he sidled up right next to me and we watched the hunters together.  I stayed with him for a long time while they got in their truck and left.

Then a couple of interesting things happened, when the danger was over.  I went in to let the girls out from dinner and Summer came out first, she ran right over to Sterling and for the first time put her nose over the fence to visit with him.  Anyone who knows the relationship that my horses have know Summer is the only one of the mares who has had no interest in Sterling whatsoever.  I believe it is because as a thoroughbred broodmare, she did not have, well, any say in the matter of stallions. Summer has never, since Sterling came as a 6 month old had any interest in him.  But this protective Stallion that showed up seemed to interest her!  I mean, how much experience does a domesticated mare actually have with stallions outside of the domesticated way we breed them? Usually stallions are kept far away from mares and the mares seem to be frustrated by the geldings they get to interact with! Ladies, what is attractive to us?


This is Summer.

Exploring his area of responsibility.

Autumn 2013 082So, I could not find Sterling anywhere in his field or in the woods.  If you have followed my blog at all, you know he has become quite the explorer this year.  So I was calling and I saw him down in the creek eating something.  He reminded me of a moose in the water.  That rope that crosses the creek in the following photo is the only thing that keeps him off the track where the girls live.  I will modify that, but it does look like he would need to limbo underneath it. Autumn 2013 083So, I called him and he came out of the creek to visit with me which is very easily accessed from the woods when the leaves and brush are not growing, like in the Autumn.
Autumn 2013 084Then, like he was showing me what he found, he went back in the water and decided to walk down the stream.  This is not anything the girls or any other horses have done for that matter in my space!  He is a brave explorer! Autumn 2013 085 Autumn 2013 086                                                                                                                                                       Then off he goes. Autumn 2013 087 Autumn 2013 088

He blazed right through all of the branches hanging down across the stream.  Made me wonder if he had not done this before. Autumn 2013 089 Autumn 2013 090

He went around the corner and out of sight!  I was hopeful that he would come back.  Happily I noticed a large tree had fallen across the creek and he was not interested (at least on this day) in jumping it! Autumn 2013 091 Autumn 2013 092

So he came back, foraging along the creek bank all the way, doing his best impression of a Moose with dripping greens hanging out of his mouth.  Autumn 2013 093 Autumn 2013 094

These branches hung across the whole creek, he needed to navigate them to not get stuck.  Autumn 2013 095 Autumn 2013 096

Without any trouble he came back and then I started the video on my phone as he played in the water.  Sorry about turning the phone, I didn’t know I couldn’t and I don’t know how to fix it now!

At the end there when he scales the opposite bank, effortlessly I might add,  that is why I can no longer use the creek as a fence.  I thought there really was no inviting place on the other side of the creek to cross.  Or at least there wasn’t before there was!  The boys bridge

This is the bridge we build for the boys to cross the creek.  And, until now this is how they always crossed over into the woods.  You know what they say about idle hooves!

The Sweetest Thing…

It was already dark when I got home, and as big as this Harvest Moon is, it wasn’t very high in the sky.  The girls were already in the barn eating and the boys were still far away grazing, so I went out with their dinner calling them.  Sterling appeared shining in the moonlight first trotting across the bridge, Harley shortly behind.  Sterling greeted me in his usual lovely way and went and stood by his food bowl and waited.  I got Harley all managed with his dinner and brought over Sterling’s dinner, he met me half way and we walked together back to his bowl, went through his dinner time rituals and I left him to eat.  

After the girls were done and the hay ready, I went to let Harley out of the round pen where he eats and noticed Sterling standing in the shed, so I went to see why, because this was unusual.  I began scratching his back and he moved forward so I was closer to his tail and he lifted it to pass gas, but it was gurgly sounding.  I thought ” he does not feel well” so I went to his head and began to rub around his eyes across his cheeks and onto his ears, circling from base to tip over and over.  I did this for about five minutes and his head was down by my knees.  His eyes were closed but I could hear him masturbating, so I guessed he was enjoying this and wondered if he would be masterbating if he did not feel well.  

ImageAfter a little bit he lifted his head and looked out of the shed, thinking we were done, I went to let Harley out, usually Sterling comes over and investigates Harley’s food bowl or just visits, Sterling followed me out of the shed and instead of going in the round pen, he came right to me and put his nose on my hand and began licking and licking and licking, he licked it, for a long time.  He’s 3.5 years old and has lived with me for 3 of them and he has never licked me.  I had the distinct feeling it was a gesture of gratitude. My heart was moved, It was the sweetest thing. 

It’s the environment that we create….

It’s the environment that we create…..    That creates the horses we have.

No matter where we find ourselves, we are creating our environment and the environment our horses are living into.  Just look around and see how it’s going.  Is your herd happy? Do they get along with one another?  Are they biting, kicking chasing each other off of the hay?


Or are they willing to share? Share space, share food, share you? Do they have real leadership?

It all changed here at In the Company of Horses Inc. when a true lead mare entered our herd.  In the olden days I would mistake dominance for leadership, that is because true leadership was not present.  I found out that true leaders are clear; willing to engage and willing to walk away; friendly; consistent, they observe situations and claim the space they want by clarity and intention not by force.  It’s like in Star Wars, they use The force, not force.

I was recently in the company of other people with my horses and our event was over and while we packed up I threw a hay bag like the one pictured above into the arena where it was cooler than in the trailer.  One gal commented that her horses would break out into a fight over that hay and not share food so nicely.  I had forgotten about that since I started to play with food to see if it would be safe to use in the Equine Assisted Learning Arena.

Part of what works around here is the horses live outside together in a herd 24 hours a day 7 days a week unless I’m doing something with them.  They travel together on in our track system, separated by a fence only because we have an intact boy. The boys travel next to the girls though and visit with one another through their shared windows in the run in shed.  The horses are EXPECTED to manage themselves together and act appropriately and that’s what they do.  I am not saying  no one ever kicks anyone else or moves them forcefully; I’m saying it’s the very rare occasion when anyone forcefully moves anyone else through touch, it’s usually through other means of communication, and NO ONE is allowed to move anyone else while I’m around.  ESPECIALLY if that someone is engaged with me.  I learned how to be clear, friendly and share my intention by doing way less sooner rather than waiting until it’s  too late.  Thank you to lead mare’s everywhere!

Springtime number three…..

And the grass is sweet!

And the grass is sweet!

The flowers are blooming and the grass is green.  The annual shedding ritual has come and gone and only a few remnants of winter remain.  My boy is growing into the most lovely man.  Strong; bold; athletic; interested and attentive.  Attentive to me, his gelding friend and his herd of seven mares. He holds himself and carries himself in the most attractive ways.  He is officially three years old now! Oh how time flies.
Happily during a recent horsemanship workshop at my house where there were new horses coming and going, Sterling did the right thing and stayed quietly with his herd or by his gelding friend Harley in their woods field.  He was quiet, and all the while attentive and calm.  I could not ask for anything more.

@ 2.5 years old, he reminds me of my human sons!

Most days I bring him out of his field, have a bit of time with him, maybe walk or eat hay or maybe some grain, perhaps I’ll groom him, but I always tie him to the hitching rail for 1/2 hour or so.  All this goes well, but having him stand with his front feet on the hoof jack for trimming is always an adventure.



When I lift up his front foot to put it on the hoof jack out in front of him, he has quite a bit of trouble just keeping his foot there without lifting it high up in the air to do something sassy with it.   I’ve changed the height of the hoof jack to make it taller/more comfortable and still He can’t seem to keep his foot calmly there or his other past time is putting his mouth with the potential of teeth on my head/neck/shoulders because I’m out there in front of him bent over looking at his foot.  So, what I do is employ all of my techniques and ideas until I eventually get mad and yell at him.  Then, he stands quietly,  and softly lays his nose on the side of my head, not biting or messing with my hair, for as long as I want.  And here is my question about it all. Why can’t he just stand there and wait BEFORE I get mad?  My sons grew out of testing behaviors, I trust Sterling will too!