Magic Mustang Tamer

Behavior: Equines Doing Odd Things

This is a little set of eight clips that cover a variety of strange and not-so-strange behaviors. In the not strange category is a horse sleeping in lateral recumbency. I can not tell you how many horse-loving people come here and are very concerned to see a horse laying down. It’s okay. It’s normal. Horses need to lay down at least twice a day to sleep for an hour or so. They love to lay in the sun in the winter. They prefer soft beds.

The first clip is a jack burro named Steve Earle braying. Donkeys are like fog horns. Their voices carry across the landscape. You need to know this if you live in a residential area and you want to adopt donkeys. Your neighbors might not like it. Jennies bray, but not as frequently as males.

The segment of Tigger, the zebra-pony hybrid, interacting with a donkey, named Snowflake, through the fence, raises some interesting questions. Equines will segregate by species. They prefer to spend their time with their own kind. Tigger, however, is the only zebra-pony hybrid on the property and he lives with horses. His dad is unfriendly to him, if not downright abusive. Does Tigger see himself more as a horse or zebra? Does he realize that little Snowflake is something else? It made me wonder if mules and hinnies thought of themselves as their mother’s species?

We have a mule named Chester here and a hinny named Cracker Joe. Chester’s mom was a horse. Cracker’s mom was a donkey. We will come back to them later.

The yawning is something you see occasionally in an equine. I have read a lot of debate about its significance. Some people say yawning is a calm-down signal, asking the other animal in a social situation to relax. Is Tigger asking Snowflake to chill-out? Please put any other yawning interpretations in the comments. I will be very interested in what you think.

Next, we have some cribbing. Cribbing is a stereotypic behavior where they are usually sucking on something like a fence post, a rail, a board, or I have even seen sucking on their own knee. It is a very undesirable habit for a horse to have. This was the only mustang I have had that cribbed. Stereotypic behaviors are thought to develop when the horse is deprived of the opportunity to engage in natural healthy behaviors. You see these behaviors most frequently in horses that live in stalls and don’t have other horses to engage with.

We don’t know the history of this horse. He could have been previously adopted and kept in a deprived environment. No matter the cause, the present result is that when he gets anxious or frustrated, this horse will go into the self-stimulation of cribbing, zoning out the rest of the world. His oral stimulation is all that matters to him at that point. We tried to keep him from lapsing into the habit by managing training carefully, but we were never totally successful. Sometimes you just have to wait for him to finish sucking his tongue before you could go on.

The clip of the donkey being offered food misses the full impression of what was happening. This donkey had been pretty normal before its foal was born. Then, she became very sensitive about food that she was handed, but not about the same food in a dish. She acted like it had cactus spines or big prickles that would stick her if he took the food. She was this way for about two weeks and then returned to normal.

Approaching by following backward, as we see Holbrook doing, is very species typical for donkeys. Their reverse gear works well. They will often approach something they are worried about by backing. My hinny has this same propensity. If Cracker is afraid of something, he can be talked into approaching it tail first, and he leads by the tail pretty well. The mule does not show this kind of behavior. It is too small of a sample to generalize but it’s an interesting phenomenon.

Jerome has a special thing with his tongue. I thought it might be a stereotypy¬†but he doesn’t seem to do it when stressed. I thought it was just him until I saw a YouTube of a mule that did exactly the same behavior. The mule was stressed. Now it’s one of those things that I will notice for the rest of my life.

Finally, we have the zebra stallion trying to get in a pen with another animal. In this specific example, it was with Steve Earle, but he is the same about any potential rivals. He breaks fences, eventually fatiguing the metal, and literally making things fall to pieces. He does much better with movable panels that go with him, but mind you, these are heavy duty panels weighing about 100 lbs each. What this signifies to me is that zebras are more emotionally passionate creatures than horses or donkeys. I suspect the human species ate the overly passionate equines under their care during the process of domestication.

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