I took this picture a little while ago and have since watched these same chickens follow Lou through the pasture almost every day, circling his head, sometimes staying close on his blind side, and snatching bugs that are stirred from the grass as he sweeps his mouth side to side, tearing off the green blades.
At first I thought the chickens, being so small compared to Lou, were a bit daring to be near him. Only weighing a few pounds, unseen on his left side, and simply one step away from eleven hundred pounds, they were taking a chance. Now I am not so sure.
Lou doesn’t mind the chickens coming near him like Pats or Zips do. Zips especially will lower his nose to their level and chase them, as if he’s the ball and the chickens are the pins - we call it chicken bowling. On the other hand, Pat will stomp a foot a few times to warn them not to come near. It’s as if these two are protecting their territory and are never in the mood to “share the grass”. Lou doesn’t care how close they come to him and maybe there is good reason.
I think that the chickens offer Lou some protection on his blind side. If something were to come up on his left, the chickens would most likely alert him naturally by scattering or clucking. We don’t have horse predators here, but Zips and Pats sometime like to chase Lou for fun since he’s older and half sighted, making him the beta of the herd. I don’t doubt that Lou has learned that when the chickens start to scramble, one of the other horses, or maybe something else, is coming up on his blind side.
On the other hand, I think that the chickens have come to trust Lou, sensing he isn’t likely to stomp at them or take up chicken bowling, and besides scattering bugs, Lou is a shield and shelter from scavenging hawks looking for easy pickings.
Thinking of it in these terms, I discarded the idea that their relationship is a coincidence. I am beginning to think of it as a natural relationship benefiting them all, whether they are conscious of it or not.