Horse Behavior: Aggressive Herdmate

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Question Category: Horse Behavior

Question: HI, I have really appreciated your calm, common sense approach, so I wondered if I might ask you a horse behavior question, just to hear your thoughts. We recently (2weeks ago) introduced our new horse to my mare and mule. The mare and mule (the girls) are both very sweet and quiet natured. They have been in with other horses but not for about 2 years. Any way the new guy is an older app gelding. They had time in stalls for a few days to snort and touch noses etc and were let out together and seemed to be doing fine. Lately however, the last few days, the new gelding is becoming increasingly aggressive to the girls. we have a run-in barn, that is plenty large enough, but the new guy is now going in and intimidating the mare and mule so that they just stand out side. During cold, rain, fly season etc it is important that they all get to go in so I am getting really concerned. Does it take more than 2 weeks for them to settle into a herd, or does it sound like I have to do some thing different? And what? I really like the gelding but I love the older two, and can not build a new barn for him. If they are totally separated, the gelding is distraught. Any thoughts, suggestions, etc to have harmony here and 3 equines that can share a barn? (The barn is 36×32, has always been fine for 3 before).

Thank you for your time.

MC

Answer: It sounds like normal herd behavior going on with your bunch. The gelding is trying to make the mares submiss so that he has total control over them. Probably they are more bonded to each other than to him and that is driving him crazy. Stallions in the wild will herd his mares until they become submissive and obedient.

It is also possible that your gelding is just a bully. A good herd leader will establish his/her authority and then leave the other horses alone, only discipline them if they are disrespectful or disobedient. However, some horses are just bullies and will pick on the other horses in the herd relentlessly. Perhaps it is coincidence but I have known quite a few appy geldings that were bullies. By now, the herd hierarchy should have straightened out and he should be treating the mares better. If not, he may be a relentless bully and may need to be separated from the girls.

Good luck with your horse. I hope they have settled by now.

Julie Goodnight, Clinician and Trainer

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