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  1. #1
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    Nov. 29, 2007
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    Default Anyone else have a horse that "doesn't get" herd dynamics?

    My new OTTB just does not seem to understand herd politics, LOL.

    He is always getting some new scrape or bite mark--so far nothing serious, but I am getting a little tired of him always getting beat up. The thing is--he's doing it to himself. He pesters other horses when they don't want to be bothered, and he doesn't listen to their warnings--or when he does, he backs off and then comes right back again for more.

    He is low man on the totem pole but won't accept it--he continues to try and muscle is way up the pecking order--tries to be first in line to come in, cross the creek, etc. They kick him to the end of the line and he just goes right back up and tries again.

    He is in a mixed herd of about 14 horses total. They have a really neat turnout situation--on a huge drylot with hay in the morning, and at noon they cross down through the woods and across a creek into a big grass pasture. He does not get chased off the hay--plenty of piles for everyone--unless he goes up and tries to push someone else out of the way.

    He has been in this herd for about 5 weeks. He is the only one who gets marked up like this.....all of the other horses just have the occasional scrape. They don't actively pick on my horse (he's not being bullied); but they do get after him when he's "out of line."

    This is not the 1st time he's been in a herd. He wintered on the farm during his racing career and was in group turnout. He was also in group turnout every day for 3 months before I got him. He does not seem stressed or anxious in any way.....he's generally a happy-go-lucky kind of guy.

    Anyone else have a horse like this?? Do they ever wisen up and get a clue? Is the solution here just to separate him? I hate to do that--he loves his turnout and I think he'd be frustrated in a smaller paddock.......

    Ugh. Maybe this is more of a vent than anything else. It's just so aggravating--like he's a glutton for punishment.



  2. #2
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    Aug. 30, 2007
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    Illinois, USA
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    I think I'd give him a bit more time. 5 weeks really isn't THAT much. Perhaps to save him a few bumps and scrapes you can throw a Kensington fly sheet on him? They're tough as nails and can kind of be like armor sometimes.

    If more time doesn't work, I'd try and find a quiet but firm alpha mare and put them in together, just the two of them. Not a bully mare, but a mare that will give him PLENTY of warning with pinned ears, swishing tail, raised foot, etc, before firing. And at the same time, a mare who will leave him alone and not bully him when he's behaving.
    Tell a Gelding. Ask a Stallion. Discuss it with a Mare... Pray if it's a Pony!



  3. #3
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    Sep. 25, 2005
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    Yup, I own one. They're called "ladder climbers." They aren't content with their herd position so they keep at it and keep at it until they achieve the desired ranking. I also think these types of horses are the toughest to work with because they're constantly challenging authority. I've been told that these types do better with just one herd member, that is preferably lower than them in rank and is content to stay there.

    It took my mare a whole year to settle down after I added just one more horse. She was constantly fretting and worrying over "getting on top of" that other mare, even though the other mare had no desire at ALL to challenge her. She constantly pushed and prodded her, and badgered her incessantly.

    It was like she couldn't see that she already WAS dominant over the other horse. She had to keep trying to "prove it."

    She's an amazing athlete and has the heart of 10 horses, which serves her well on the trail, but she wakes up every single day and says "Hmmmm, how can I challenge the human today." Sometimes it's as simple as me telling her to WHOA, and she has to take just.one.more.little.step. Or I ask her to back up, and she pins her ears, swishes the tail furiously, and THEN backs up a step. Nothing is ever done without attitude and opinion. Ocassionally it takes a whip or the popper on the end of the rope, and a come to jesus to chill her out and make her realize that no matter HOW hard she tries, she will NOT be dominant over the human. She's a horse that would kill a beginner in no time flat.

    She's also the one who has ulcers, and I think part of that is due to the fact that she's so darned worried about what everybody else is doing, and if someone is challenging her or not.



  4. #4
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    Jul. 22, 2007
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    Default

    I have one like that and I don't see it ever changing.

    He's a big goof ball. A big, happy, but rides the short bus gelding. Seriously, I have NEVER seen this horse even put his ears back. He is happy, happy, happy. An absolute love bug and worth his weight in gold.

    But - he gets on my other geldings nerves. You'd think by now after living together for 5 years he would get a clue, but no. He still insists on coming in first - gets chased off each and every time. 99% of the time they all (3 - I also have a mare) exist peacefully, but when food is involved, or anything that involves seniority I can count on him getting chased and collecting another bite mark for his collection. I tried separating him once but he was absolutely miserable, and with 3 its hard - so here we are.

    Maybe as he gets older it will stop, but for now I love on him, dab ointment and tell him I love him even if his oats aren't all in the same bucket.



  5. #5
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    Oct. 6, 2002
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    Philadelphia PA
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    Frankie (who is three) doesn't seem to read (or maybe doesn't seem to REACT) at all to horsey body language. When he was introduced into his new herd, the boss gelding made his usual "I am the boss and you will MOVE WHEN I SAY MOVE" horrible face at Frankie. Frankie just stood there. Blank faced. No reaction. Didn't move, didn't defend himself by making a nasty face himself-- just stood there like he had no idea why the other horse was making faces. If the boss horse PHYSICALLY moves Frankie by getting into Frankie's space, then Frankie will move over and continue with the placid expression. Same thing when Frankie met the #2 horse in his herd. He doesn't challenge or back down from any other horses. He just continues along with a sort of friendly/neutral expression. I've never seen a horse like that... ever?! He's not trying to challenge/top the other horses. He just doesn't seem to care WHAT they do. He's going to keep on keeping on.

    Same thing if he sniffs a horse outside their stall while he's in the aisle. No matter how much the stalled horse makes nasty faces and squeals/kicks, Frankie just keeps sniffing. He's never dissuaded but he's also never drawn into squeal/kick himself.

    It's almost like he doesn't know what the other horses' body language means?! But that can't be true. He's not an orphan and he was raised around other horses.

    Maybe he's just more curious/friendly than reactive? I dunno. He wants to buddy EVERY horse he's ever met. No matter how many times Somerset has come at him with bared teeth, all Frankie wants to do is sniff some more through the stall grates. Frankie also LIVES (and I mean LIVES!) to smell things that other horses have worn (fly sheets, saddle pads). I mean he LIVES to smell them. He could smell a stinky fly sheet all day.

    Undersaddle he's very brave and not challenging. Figures stuff out quickly but not sneaky/naughty. Just happy to do what you ask. Happy happy happy. He's just happy about life and he's the only horse I own who comes CANTERING to the gate when you call his name. He's a big goofy baby, maybe he'll grow into some horse-body-language?

    Weird, huh? Maybe it's just him?!
    ~Veronica
    "The Son Dee Times" "Sustained" "Somerset" "Franklin Square"
    http://photobucket.com/albums/y192/vxf111/



  6. #6
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    Jun. 14, 2006
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    I've really only met two that just didn't get it...and both were horses that hadn't grown up with turnout in a herd. They had always been separated and just didn't seem to take the "cues" from the rest of the horses.
    A good horseman doesn't have to tell anyone...the horse already knows.

    Might be a reason, never an excuse...



  7. #7
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    Aug. 11, 2008
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    Yup, I have one. He's sweet as can be, and submissive, but he's just plain dumb when it comes to reading body language, horse or human. He'll get all the warnings, pinned ears, bared teeth, and he just doesn't even see it. He is completely oblivious to the concept of personal space. I'll work with him, he'll get it, then the next day, we're starting all over again!

    He's a 5 year old OTTB, and I think he must have been out of a very tolerant mare or never turned out with the herd, so never learned body language. Or, as one poster put it, maybe he just belongs on the gelding short bus.

    Usually there are 2 types of horses that get into constant trouble with their herd mates. The first is, what one poster called the 'ladder climber' who is dominant and insecure, so they are trying to move up the ladder, but they don't have the leadership skills necessary to inspire confidence in their herdmates. The 2nd are the ones like mine, that are submissive enough to be content at the bottom, but CLUELESS!
    Lowly Farm Hand with Delusions of Barn Biddieom.
    Witherun Farm
    http://witherun-farm.blogspot.com/



  8. #8
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    Jul. 22, 2007
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    Quote Originally Posted by BuddyRoo View Post
    I've really only met two that just didn't get it...and both were horses that hadn't grown up with turnout in a herd. They had always been separated and just didn't seem to take the "cues" from the rest of the horses.

    I wish I could say that about my guy, but he's always been turned out with other horses and I've had him since he was a yearling. Until my old mare died last year she taught him as much as she taught my other 2.



  9. #9
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    Apr. 17, 2002
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    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by vxf111 View Post
    Frankie (who is three) doesn't seem to read (or maybe doesn't seem to REACT) at all to horsey body language. When he was introduced into his new herd, the boss gelding made his usual "I am the boss and you will MOVE WHEN I SAY MOVE" horrible face at Frankie. Frankie just stood there. Blank faced. No reaction. Didn't move, didn't defend himself by making a nasty face himself-- just stood there like he had no idea why the other horse was making faces. If the boss horse PHYSICALLY moves Frankie by getting into Frankie's space, then Frankie will move over and continue with the placid expression. Same thing when Frankie met the #2 horse in his herd. He doesn't challenge or back down from any other horses. He just continues along with a sort of friendly/neutral expression. I've never seen a horse like that... ever?! He's not trying to challenge/top the other horses. He just doesn't seem to care WHAT they do. He's going to keep on keeping on.

    Same thing if he sniffs a horse outside their stall while he's in the aisle. No matter how much the stalled horse makes nasty faces and squeals/kicks, Frankie just keeps sniffing. He's never dissuaded but he's also never drawn into squeal/kick himself.

    It's almost like he doesn't know what the other horses' body language means?! But that can't be true. He's not an orphan and he was raised around other horses.

    Maybe he's just more curious/friendly than reactive? I dunno. He wants to buddy EVERY horse he's ever met. No matter how many times Somerset has come at him with bared teeth, all Frankie wants to do is sniff some more through the stall grates. Frankie also LIVES (and I mean LIVES!) to smell things that other horses have worn (fly sheets, saddle pads). I mean he LIVES to smell them. He could smell a stinky fly sheet all day.

    Undersaddle he's very brave and not challenging. Figures stuff out quickly but not sneaky/naughty. Just happy to do what you ask. Happy happy happy. He's just happy about life and he's the only horse I own who comes CANTERING to the gate when you call his name. He's a big goofy baby, maybe he'll grow into some horse-body-language?

    Weird, huh? Maybe it's just him?!
    I started his twin last winter and he was raised in a herd situation with his momma in it. Brought him here, put him out with my mellow, bottom of the pecking order gelding- and he HATED him- that little colt had no clue how to read another horse's visual cues. I suspected Momma took care of any mess he got himself into, which his owner confirmed as the truth: see, his momma was the herd boss. I think Buck just never got a chance to learn the repercussions of his actions. It gradually became clear to him: I finally stuck him out with my three geldings and filly and after his butt became a roadmap, literally, he at least learned how to stay out of the way. It improved his ground manners with people, too.

    So it's not only orphans lacking social skills, or barn raised/solo raised babies.



  10. #10
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    Dec. 15, 2005
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    Some horses are like ADHD children. They have too much energy and are clueless about how to interact with others. We had one like that. He got better over time, but it was a long, slow, process.



  11. #11
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    Nov. 29, 2007
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    IL
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    Thanks for all the input. I am feeling better now that I know I'm not the only one with a "special" horse!

    He is quite calm and even-tempered for an OTTB--one of the reasons I got him. He's very easy to handle, not spooky, not dominant, and is generally lazy. I ride 4-6 times per week so I doubt it's energy....maybe just boredom? He was turned out with a very rambunctious 3-year-old prior to my owning him, and I think they just chased each other around all day long.

    *Sigh*.....I guess I will just keep experimenting with ointments, LOL. So far I've used Furazone and Corona, which suck in the summer because they melt in the sun and get all gooey and yucky, and Red-Kote, which sticks a lot better but freaks out the little barn kids who think he's bleeding to death.



  12. #12
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    Jul. 27, 2007
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    Ugh, my big guy doesn't get inter-equine interaction at all. I don't know that he's ever, in his 8 years, been turned out regularly with other horses, so I guess nobody ever taught him the ropes.

    Unfortunately since he's dominant, and 1500 lbs, I'm not getting many volunteers for someone to teach him now

    Poor guy, he wants friends. But then he makes them bleed.



  13. #13
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    Jan. 31, 2003
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    Quote Originally Posted by Auventera Two View Post
    Yup, I own one. They're called "ladder climbers." They aren't content with their herd position so they keep at it and keep at it until they achieve the desired ranking. I also think these types of horses are the toughest to work with because they're constantly challenging authority. I've been told that these types do better with just one herd member, that is preferably lower than them in rank and is content to stay there.

    It took my mare a whole year to settle down after I added just one more horse. She was constantly fretting and worrying over "getting on top of" that other mare, even though the other mare had no desire at ALL to challenge her. She constantly pushed and prodded her, and badgered her incessantly.

    It was like she couldn't see that she already WAS dominant over the other horse. She had to keep trying to "prove it."

    She's an amazing athlete and has the heart of 10 horses, which serves her well on the trail, but she wakes up every single day and says "Hmmmm, how can I challenge the human today." Sometimes it's as simple as me telling her to WHOA, and she has to take just.one.more.little.step. Or I ask her to back up, and she pins her ears, swishes the tail furiously, and THEN backs up a step. Nothing is ever done without attitude and opinion. Ocassionally it takes a whip or the popper on the end of the rope, and a come to jesus to chill her out and make her realize that no matter HOW hard she tries, she will NOT be dominant over the human. She's a horse that would kill a beginner in no time flat.

    She's also the one who has ulcers, and I think part of that is due to the fact that she's so darned worried about what everybody else is doing, and if someone is challenging her or not.

    A2, what an incredibly insightful post. So refreshing to hear someone just lay it out there like that.

    Right now I am dealing with an owner who just doesn't get it, that she owns the same kind of horse. Here's hoping she doesn't get hurt before she "gets it".
    "Kindness is free" ~ Eurofoal
    ---
    The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances.



  14. #14
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    I agree, enjoyed your post A2. I'm not sure it exactly describes my horse, but it's pretty close.

    EqT, have you suggested clicker training to your client? I have found positive reinforcement really works better with mine than efforts to stay dominant (although I do use those as well).



  15. #15
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    Yes. It was a boarders horse and we ultimately, recently asked her to leave, as the situation had gotten dangerous.
    When they don't care about their place in the herd, you can't depend on the herd dynamics to keep them in line.
    No respect for the herd boss meant that she was unpredictable at best.
    The last straw was last week. My 12 year old was riding the mare boss on a trail with her owner. The horse (mounted with her adult owner) decided to corner my daughters horse under saddle and kick her twice. Once in the stomach and once in the leg. Daughters horse luckily only needed a few days off. But it could have been ugly if our horse had decided to fight back.
    I will never do a horse like that again.



  16. #16
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    Aug. 28, 2006
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    I've known horses like that. Some are social climbers, some just think everyone wants to play and they don't seem to get that they will repeatedly piss somebody off. The latter are the Peter Pan types.

    I'm glad my orphan didn't turn out clueless. When he got big enough to try really bullying the pony he was turned out with, she kicked the snot out of him. It scared him because he realized that she could whirl around faster than him. They've been the best of friends ever since. He is dominant over her, but he doesn't pester her.

    One horse I am thinking of in particular probably would have gotten along like gangbusters with my gelding. They probably would have played all day, every day. Some horses never really seem to grow up, or it takes a lot longer than usual.



  17. #17
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    May. 4, 2009
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    My TB gelding also didn't have a clue when I first got him. He believed that every horse in the pasture was absolutely dying to play with him and he wanted to give every horse that opportunity. At first I couldn't figure out why he was coming in with all the scrapes until I watched him in the pasture for a little bit. He would come up directly behind another horse and start biting them on their hocks and anywhere else he could find. These horses for the most part were pretty patient with him and would only give him a warning at first but he didn't understand and after a couple warnings he would get kicked.

    At this point if figured he just wasn't understanding the other horses cues and couldn't read the other horses. He had been isolated most of his life by an owner who was afraid that he would be killed if he went outside with another horse, so I think he just wasn't that experienced reading body language.

    I did end up taking him out of the big pasture situation and just put him in a turnout with our two other horses. After a few months he improved a lot. Even though he's still obnoxious in the pasture he's reading other horses so much better now and at least can get out of the way in time instead of totally missing the signals and getting nailed.

    I would just give your horse some time to figure it out. If possible maybe giving him some one on one time with another easy going horse that can show him whats appropriate will help him out. He may always be the one getting all the scapes but if he can get to where he can read the signs and get out of the way in time he'll be fine.



  18. #18
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    In my language the obnoxious social climbers and questioners are Dominant/Non Confidant. They want to be in charge, but aren't confident in that role, and as a rule...are jerks to deal with. NOT my kind of horse seven days a week. Heart or no heart, that's not a horse I'll ever want to own.

    That leaves three other types: Dominant/Confidant - the horse that manages the herd with a laid back of an ear, and accepts where they are in the hierarchy fairly and with minimum drama. People have to earn their respect and these horses require fairness, they know 'fair'- excellent horses. can be great babysitters b/c they are confident horses.

    Subordinate/Confidant: Happy to be wherever in the herd, usually lower in the structure b/c there are a bunch of D/NC and D/C out there, too. Happy horses, happy with their people, take to training well and can be ruined more easily b/c they won't speak up and say I'm tired or I don't get it, you clueless cow.

    Sub/NonConfident:Accept that you are the boss, fine- but pushy in the middle ground of the herd and pushy to train.

    These are not original thoughts...Equus did a great write up of these a zillion years ago, mine is mushy at best. The D/NC horses drive me insane, always scanning their contract with you for fineprint and legalease. hate it. The OPs horse....doesn't fit on my chart: utterly lacking skills with other horses- maybe he just doesn't have a pal in this herd yet, and he's a S/NC and can't find it readily.



  19. #19
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    Worst horse in turnout I ever knew was a gelding raised in a cow herd with no other horses. He had personal space issues, LOL.

    It took a long time, but he did slowly figure it out, and you never could have him in with a really aggressive horse because he was just not going to start responding fast enough.



  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by katarine View Post
    In my language the obnoxious social climbers and questioners are Dominant/Non Confidant. They want to be in charge, but aren't confident in that role, and as a rule...are jerks to deal with. NOT my kind of horse seven days a week. Heart or no heart, that's not a horse I'll ever want to own.

    That leaves three other types: Dominant/Confidant - the horse that manages the herd with a laid back of an ear, and accepts where they are in the hierarchy fairly and with minimum drama. People have to earn their respect and these horses require fairness, they know 'fair'- excellent horses. can be great babysitters b/c they are confident horses.

    Subordinate/Confidant: Happy to be wherever in the herd, usually lower in the structure b/c there are a bunch of D/NC and D/C out there, too. Happy horses, happy with their people, take to training well and can be ruined more easily b/c they won't speak up and say I'm tired or I don't get it, you clueless cow.

    Sub/NonConfident:Accept that you are the boss, fine- but pushy in the middle ground of the herd and pushy to train.

    These are not original thoughts...Equus did a great write up of these a zillion years ago, mine is mushy at best. The D/NC horses drive me insane, always scanning their contract with you for fineprint and legalease. hate it. The OPs horse....doesn't fit on my chart: utterly lacking skills with other horses- maybe he just doesn't have a pal in this herd yet, and he's a S/NC and can't find it readily.
    Well done.

    I didn't see the Equus article, but I agree. IME, the horses that make the most fuss and APPEAR dominant are NOT usually natural herd leaders. They're wannabees. The real leader asserts control with the flick of the ear and only rarely squeal, nip or even flatten both ears.

    OP, I have a horse that wasn't turned out in a herd until she was 11 years old. She had trouble reading the signals, too, and had the dings and bumps to prove it. Nothing serious and she wasn't bullied either. It took awhile -- and I mean 6-7 months -- but she's fluent in herd lingo now. And she's right in the middle of the hierarchy.
    __________________________
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