While talking with a friend (has some limited horse experience), he informed me that it is very bad to turn three horses out together. He was told this by some unnamed horse expert. Two is okay, 4, 5, ... but if it is just three then one of them will get hurt, picked on etc. I have three horses and yes one of them does have scratches, bites, etc. on him sometimes but he is also 3 years old (others are more mature) and he is a PEST.
Has anyone else heard this theory about not putting three horses out together?
Three is way better than two in my opinion. No idea why there would be a problem with that in general. Obviously individual horses could be a problem but that would be specific to that group of horses.
I think it totally depends on the individual horses and the way in which they are introduced to each other. I've seen numerous situations that have worked and those that have not even though the group sizes have been similar.
I had two horses and a donkey together. I got the donkey on the advice that two horses alone were miserable (and they were) because you could not work one without leaving one alone. So, donkey came to at least keep one busy while I worked one. It did work for the most part. It would have worked better if I had picked an old retiree horse who just wanted to eat, but I thought, hey, donkeys eat less. Yeah, but they also consume about three times the amount of energy and time that a horse does. And are three times as smart and cause three times as much trouble. So, I would not be worried about three horses together. But beware the donks!
Mine have been out in various groups of three, sometimes mixed groups, and done fine. Personalities were pretty well matched and turnouts were a good size. Other than a superficial scrape here and there that you'd expect from living in a group, no problems.
The only time my gelding really got pummeled was when he was out in a group of 6-8.
My experience has been that the herd dynamics and size of the turnout relative to the number of horses matters more than the exact number of horses.
I've seen it work as long as they all get along. My mare is likely going to be out with 2 lesson ponies soon assuming of course she's nice to them. She gets a bit herd bound so she's by herself right now but once winter comes (she's on outdoor board) she'll need to be in a turnout with a shelter. In theory it'll work as only one pony usually comes out for lessons at a time so she won't be a lunatic. The complication may be when I take her out and leave the two ponies behind.
"Those who know the least often know it the loudest."
Three is a wonderful number, most everyone I know agrees to that, in breeding farms, ranches and training barns.
I think that friend misunderstood.
As already stated, if there is fighting or not depends on the horses involved, younger ones and poorly socialized ones will have trouble in any herd of any number, until they adapt to the other horses.
Less than three, you get buddy sour problems with one or both, more than three, you have more horse's personalities to manage, so they all get along.
I often have a group of 3 and its never been a problem. My gelding has had more problems (wounds, hide missing etc) in a larger herd when I boarded than he ever has in a group of 3 (he is a low man in the pecking order)
Three is my preferred number in a group. Small enough that they are manageable at the gate, but an extra body in the field means you can take one away and not have a total meltdown. I'm not a fan of two (although, all of "groups" currently are two), and I hate groups getting much bigger than 4. Three's perfect.
Thanks for the responses. When he told me about this theory I did not really say anything because it did not sound right to me. I have taken care of lots of groups of three horses over the years and not really seen any patter of difficulty.
I just wanted to make sure that I had not missed something.
I think three is great--you take one out to ride and the two left behind are not by themselves.
But as with ALL herd situations it is MUCH more about each individual animal and how they all get along than it is about how many there are. Unless the quarters are very crowded, you have one individual who is just a royal PITA, or you have a bunch of youngsters, any number will probably work itself out eventually.
Over the years, I've often had my horses out in a group of three, and it's generally gone very well. As PP mentioned, it's usually very easy to take one out to ride, since the two remaining horses have each other for company. Really, I think 3-4 is my favorite herd size, since it's small enough to be pretty manageable and the herd dynamics aren't terribly complex, but it's large enough that having a horse be alone or buddy sour is less of a concern.
And interestingly, I used to work for a guy who turned some of his stallions out in groups of three. He swore that if he put just two of them together, they'd fight, but with three they acted like a bachelor herd and got along fine.
"In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn’t merely train him to be semi-human. The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming part dog."
I agree... I've had three on a couple of occasions. For a while it was a pony mare, a gelding and another mare. They all did fine together. Later it was two geldings and a mare, and again they were all fine. The only issue was that my daughter and I would head off on a trail, and inevitably one was left running up and down the pasture whinnying their head off.
In fact, I think the two geldings got a long better with the mare out there. I've come to realize she was some kind of peacekeeper. They don't hurt each other, but the one will sort of terrorize the other on occasion. I never saw that when we had the mare.
But I will say I'd heard the same "advice" about never having three turned out together. Like everything else, it really just depends on the horses.
My mare goes out with two other mares. Today I took her off for a ride. The other two didn't care. Came back. Put my horse (who today was desperately looking for someone, anyone, to service her womanly needs) back in. The two other horses trotted over and sniffed over my horse from head to foot, her two-hour absence apparently being traumatic for them. Much mutual grooming. Then my horse did the pee and wink thing. Then the two other mares got in a hissy fit over who was my horse's BFF (or whatever). My horse walked away and commenced grazing. The other horses got yelled at. Then they realized my horse had walked off to graze and wasn't even paying attention to them, and they decided she had the right idea and they went back to eating too.
This group has the occasional kerfuffle over who is the lead mare (definitely not my horse; she is loyal only to where the best spot in the pasture is that day), but 99% of the time all is bucolic. None of them really wants to argue with another horse when they could be eating. I wouldn't put this group in a small area though. Not worth the girly fights.