Life in our Foothills March 2023 – Safety in Numbers

Published 2:33 pm Thursday, March 30, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

According to the composer, Cole Porter, “Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it, let’s do it, let’s fall in love.”  

Might I just add that horses, wolves, gazelles, and lions do it too, and I am not just talking about falling head over heels in love!

I am sharing my research about forming strong relationships and sticking together. It is so important for us all to have a trusted companion, someone who has our back. Of course, there is the bonus of a larger gathering for support. Oh yes, lions prefer prides, bees a colony, wolves a pack, and horses a herd.  

Maritime with her new partner, Emily Holden

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

These creatures may find love in the mix, but they stick together in groups for another important reason. There is safety in numbers. This phrase emphasizes that being a part of a crowd makes an individual less likely to be harmed. Prey animals heavily rely on group dynamics for alerts of impending danger. Likewise, the carnivores are far more successful working as a team to hunt and secure a meal.    

Let us consider the swift, sprinting gazelles, which are highly social animals that congregate in massive herds. Some gazelle gatherings contain hundreds of individuals, while others are smaller herd groups segregated by sex. Looking at Thompson gazelles, females form migratory groups that enter into the territory of males, especially where water, shade and food are plentiful. 

The wise Pebbles surveying her pasture

Younger males gather in bachelor herds, which are excluded from areas claimed by territorial males. These bachelor groups are found mainly at the periphery of an area populated by breeding gazelles and are thus often the first to be encountered by predators. A lone gazelle, singled out from its herd, is vulnerable, and much easier prey to capture for a well-formed pride of lions. 

There is an African proverb that says,“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” 

I often witness numerous flocks of doves that scatter as a group when a hawk swoops in for a meal. Their instant flight, taking off in different directions, can confuse the predator. Likewise, there is a bonded pair of cardinal birds here on the ranch which spend considerable time in the shrubs and oak trees just beyond my fence line. The two of them are in constant conversation. They take turns being the sentry, keeping a vigilant watch to protect their mate feeding on the ground. Certainly, they have fallen in love, but their attentiveness is also about protection. They need one another to survive the larger birds of prey and barn cats on the prowl. If a female cardinal loses her mate, she must quickly find another for her own safety. 

Volunteer Bill McClelland and Pebbles tackling the scary noodles

Similarly, my bestie and pasture mate Sedona is my guardian. I love her continuous devotion. When I decide it’s time for my beauty rest, she stands over me. Sedona is watchful for possible predators, as we do have packs of coyotes and black bears which roam our woods. No horse enjoys being left alone to fend for itself. As they say, “Together we stick; divided we are stuck.”

Take for example the recent saga of the stunningly beautiful five-year-old mare, Maritime. She lived here quite happily within our herd on the ranch. Maritime is gentle and sweet-natured. Therefore it was not surprising that she was adopted quickly after completing her under saddle training in the care of our rescue, Helping Equines Regain Dignity (HERD.) A family adopted Maritime for their teenage daughter who was taking lessons with a trainer. She wanted a fancy horse to compete with at shows. Maritime relocated, moving to Tennessee. Reports and photos came in of her excellent progress with her young equestrian partner. Then communication stopped abruptly. 

My mistress, Heather Freeman, reached out to Maritime’s owner to discover that the daughter had stopped riding. Her parents wanted to rehome the horse. Maritime was now living out alone in a 50-acre field. There was not another equine on the property. Maritime was left out 24/7, no company, no engagement with the young woman, nothing. Our hearts broke for this sweet, lonely horse. 

“Sedona and Pebbles,” oil painting by artist Jennifer Ann Gordon Grant

HERD engaged our devoted foster and trainer Kailey Greene to drive up to pick up Maritime with our check in hand to purchase her back from the family. Kailey reported that Maritime was afraid and on edge when she was brought out to load onto her horse trailer. We learned she had been whipped for refusing to get into a trailer that was too small for her earlier during her time on this farm. Maritime had struggled and fallen over backwards.  

Maritime reluctantly loaded on the empty trailer for Kailey, and two headed back to North Carolina. Upon arrival, Maritime saw other horses out the trailer window and began calling to them immediately. Her entire body shook with excitement. It had been many months since she had seen another horse. 

Kailey led her into the barn for the night and she blissfully rested in a stall full of deep shavings, with horses on either side of her. Maritime was in heaven. Kailey was thrilled to see the immediate change in Maritime’s disposition. She was calm, relaxed, and feeling safe.   

None of us had any idea this sad situation would transpire for Maritime. Leaving her all alone, with no protective companionship was so hard on this mare. Although she was in good weight, Kailey also had to shave off the long shaggy coat she had grown to endure the elements in the cold mountains. Rain rot marred her bright chestnut fur. 

Next, a wonderful turn of events happened. While Maritime started retraining in Rutherfordton, Kailey’s sister, Emily Holden, fell in love with her and decided, let’s do it! The mare quickly had a new home, with lots of equine friends and a person who will spoil and protect her. No more lonely days and cold, scary nights for Maritime. She now had a new love of her own, and the safety in numbers a herd provides.

Volunteer Valerie Lowe with Sedona practicing the obstacle course