Stallion-Like Behavior

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Hi Julie –
This is an unusual question that I haven’t seen addressed thus far. My friends recently bought an 8 y/o paint gelding from a ranch in Okla. Both their trainer and veterinarian observed & evaluated the horse before purchase. He was deemed sound and well-suited to trail riding. His single fault was that he hadn’t been ridden much in the last year. My friends elected to take him directly to their trainer’s facility for a month’s tune-up.

The gelding responded beautifully by quickly recovering his former abilities as well as learning several new skills. However, a major problem arose when they brought him home. In addition to the paint, they have two 20+ geldings and two 6-7 y/o mares.

They confined the new boy in their large cattle pen for a week to provide safe socialization from a distance. But even at a distance, he was very reactive & vocal with the mares. He paced, snorted, & whinnied the entire time. The mares were also very interested in him and they showed their interest by coming into heat.

Suspecting the paint might be “proud cut,” my friends released him, and then stood back & held their breath. Ignoring the other geldings, the paint immediately herded the mares into a corner of the pasture. After some initial kicking, biting & posturing, the mares presented to him. He mounted each, one after another, achieving full penetration. Although they didn’t observe any ejaculate, the posturing & mounting behavior continued for several hours until my friends managed to catch the gelding & separate him from the herd.

Is this behavior proof that a horse is actually proud cut? I’ve seen geldings exhibit stud-like behavior around mares in heat but certainly not to this extent. I also don’t know of any medical solutions to this problem, do you? Your opinion would be very much appreciated.
Disgusted with Lust

Dear Disgusted,
Yes, I’ve seen this behavior before, several times and although it is not common, it is certainly not that unusual. It is more likely a behavioral problem, not an issue of being ‘proud cut’ and it is likely that this horse was gelded later in life and learned how to breed mares before he was cut. Just like in dogs, gelding a horse does not unlearn behavior that has already been established.

Often when people see geldings display stallion-like behavior, they refer to him as being proud cut, and assume that something went wrong in the surgery and somehow part of the horse’s testicles were left in there. This is possible, but not probable. It is possible that a stallion only has one testicle descended at the time he is gelded (a cryptorchid) and that the vet assumes he only has one testicle and leaves the other testicle in there. But vets are pretty conscientious about this, so it rarely happens. Still, you should have this horse checked by a vet to make sure.

Removing the testicles only prevents the manufacture of semen. It does not preclude the horse getting an erection and/or displaying any of the other breeding behaviors of a stallion. You’ll see geldings get erections all the time, usually when they are day-dreaming (we can only guess about what), but most geldings have never learned or practiced real breeding behaviors so after they are gelded, they wouldn’t know what to do and don’t have the hormones prompting them to explore these behaviors.

As for your friend’s horse, it’s probably not as big a deal as they think it is. It’s likely that once he settles in and gets used to this new herd, most of these behaviors will disappear. He may still occasionally try to mount them when they are in heat, but the rest of the time things will seem pretty normal. One of my best-ever beginner school horses would occasionally mount and breed a mare—but he was the gentlest horse I ever had.

No horses, whether stallion, gelding or mare, should be allowed to display any kind of interest in each other or any herd behaviors once they are in-hand or being ridden. This should be met with the harshest correction and there should be a zero tolerance policy about fraternization. This is why breeding stallions can be shown and handled and ridden like regular horses. But what they do on their own time in the herd is up to them and there’s not much you can do about it.

If this horse is excessively aggressive to herd mates—geldings or mares—you can resolve this behavior with a training collar. But if this gelding is otherwise a good ride and well-mannered when being handled and ridden, I wouldn’t worry too much about it—just cover your eyes when the mares are in heat.
–Julie Goodnight

Dominance Rehabilitation

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Question:
I have a very dominant 9-year-old Tennessee walker. He is very proud, and was abused and starved. I’ve had him for 3 years. I am having problems with him on the ground and in the pasture. I am the “boss” of my three others, and they all respect me, except him. He rears up at me and attempts to bite me and chase me out of the pasture. We had a great respect and got along great, but lately I can’t get near him. Would like some info on what to do to gain back what we had before.

Thank you.

Dominance Rehab

Answer:

Dear Dominance Rehab,

This sounds like a tough horse! I would recommend that you separate him from the others. It sounds to me like he is becoming protective of “his” herd. Compounded by the fact that he has reason to dislike and distrust humans, he has reverted back to more natural or wild behaviors.

If you separate him from the others, he will not have the opportunity to protect his herd and he will be more reliant on you for companionship and to take care of his needs. Of course, to really gain respect and trust, you’ll need to build a relationship through groundwork. I would definitely start with round pen work, focusing on moving him away from you. I would not let a horse like this turn toward me when I ask him to turn around; instead, emphasize moving him out of your space.

Once he becomes more respectful of your space, then you can start doing inside turns with him. As he improves in the round pen, I would start doing lead-line work focusing on some basic rules of behavior like, stand still until I tell you to move, keep your nose in front of your chest while I am around you, and do walk-trot-halt transitions and turns away from you from both sides of the horse.

With any horse, and especially with one that has shown such aggressive tendencies, always make sure you have some sort of device in your hands when you work with him that allows you to keep a safe distance from the horse. A long whip, a lariat or a cattle sorting stick all work well; I prefer to use a “training wand” (available on my website). The purpose of the stick is not to hit the horse but it is an extension of your arm to give the horse communication and direction. And it allows you to keep a safer distance from the horse and protect yourself should he become aggressive.

With a horse that has been abused and has reason to distrust humans, you have to be careful not to get emotional or angry and escalate his emotions. Horses develop trust when they have basic rules of behavior to follow and you correct and reward them consistently. Start with some very fundamental issue, like moving him away from you, and then work just on that for a while.

I always like to remind people that you can only work on one issue at a time with a horse. So set your priorities and focus on one issue. A good example is when you are working on round pen and trying to control the horse’s speed, but then he starts coming off the rail and cutting off part of the arena. In this case, decide what your priority is at that moment: is it speed or is it staying on the rail? You cannot work on both at the same time. So maybe you step back and work on the horse staying on the rail for a few moments then when the horse is following that rule, you can go back and work on speed control.

Good luck to you and make sure you are very careful around this horse and watch yourself. Hopefully once he is separated from the herd, some of his aggressive behaviors will diminish.

–Julie Goodnight, Clinician and Trainer