Help! Horse Shows Aggression Towards Other Horses with People Around
I recently had to move my horses that I boarded with my old trainer because she sold her property. I found a private facility owned by a woman and her husband with a nice setup for my horses.
The setup: On the property there are 3 partially covered corrals that open up to a 2 acre dry lot. There are no back panels on these corrals. Attached to the dry lot are two large pens (approximately 50 x 150 ft). There is a gelding in one of the pens owned by another boarder; my 24 yo Saddlebred gelding is in the adjacent pen. The barn owners’ 3 QH mares (2 are older; the other is about 4 yo) are turned out in the 2 acre lot with my 5 yo Saddlebred mare. All of the horses that were there prior to my arrival are very friendly, sweet, calm horses. Two of the mares (one of the older ones and the younger one) will follow you around and are happy to get any scratches or pets.
The background: Prior to moving my horses, I had to turn my two Saddlebreds out together. Unfortunately, in a week’s time, my horses became very attached to each other (I knew this might happen with my gelding as has become attached to a mare before, but I didn’t have any other options). The gelding is extremely bossy and food aggressive towards other horses though, and my horses both ended up with some minor hind leg injuries (which healed in a few days but still required a visit from the vet). Therefore, I don’t want them to be in the same enclosure as I want to avoid any additional injuries, and I also want them to become less attached. My mare currently rarely leaves the 50 ft fence line they both share. The gelding will run up and down the fence line, calling for the mare if I even walk her out in the pasture away from him. This concerns me because he has stringhalt, and when he attempts to run, he is mostly doing so as a three-legged horse.
The problem: If the 3 QHs turned out with my mare come close to her, she warns them off by pinning her ears, flashing her teeth and lunging towards them. I know there are herd dynamics to be sorted out, and this sort of behavior among the horses doesn’t really bother me or the barn owners. However, last night when I was out in the lot standing near my mare, 2 of the QHs came over to visit, and my mare responded with her aggressive behavior while I was standing right there. To me, this is unacceptable, as it is extremely dangerous to people. I waved her off with my arms and a vocal command (which she knows to mean stop) and she backed off, but I’m not sure this is the best way to stop this from happening again.
What can I do to help solve this problem? Also, is there anything I can do to sever the attachment between my two horses?
However, last night when I was out in the lot standing near my mare, 2 of the QHs came over to visit, and my mare responded with her aggressive behavior while I was standing right there.
Even though YOU were in the lot with her, its still a matter of herd dynamics. She doesnt have enough thought process to think "Oh, I better not react to these other horses like I normally would because mom is in here with us"
Its probably just best to avoid the situation. Shoo off the other horses if they come near you or better yet, dont mess with your mare while the other horses are in the pen with you.
My mare is the lowest gal in the herd but when I am out there trying to lead her in and a boss mare comes around, she pins her ears, bites, kicks. Its as if she gets more courage or whatever if I am there with her (now Im probably giving her too much thought process ability ) I got kicked once by a boss mare putting her back in her place. I learned to make sure we are no where near the other horses when Im leading her or changing her blankets, etc.
Thanks for the suggestion. I can probably try to shoo the other horses away, but I probably should have explained a little more about the setup.
The only gates to the geldings' pens open out onto the lot where the 4 mares are, and their feed buckets are by the gates. That means that in order to feed or take out the geldings, you have to walk through the lot with the mares. Feeding isn't so much of an issue because if you feed the 3 mares first, then my mare, then the two geldings everyone is occupied and getting along. However, if you want to take the geldings or mares out and put them in the cross ties across from the corrals, you will have to walk right by my mare, as she stands on the fence line near the only gate with access to the cross ties.
Also, the bull pen and arena can only be accessed through the pen where the 4 mares are, so I am not going to be able to avoid doing things with my mare without being in the pen with the other 3 mares.
So I'm concerned that I won't be able to avoid the other mares all of the time if I'm working with my mare. And I'm also concerned that she might do something if the other boarder is trying to work with her horse.
That's not a safe set up. It's bad enough having to leave a paddock with other horses in it. Having to travel through one to get somewhere, especially somewhere important like an arena or other public use area, it'd make me think twice about being there.
Unfortunately it's also so out of my realm of experience I can't really offer any constructive advice - except that sometimes after enough time has passed and the herd dynamics are established it can get easier. Hope so.
Are you saying that the only access to the arena is through a paddock inhabited by a mare band? If it were me I'd a) carry a driving whip with me at all times, brandishing it extravagantly, and b) start looking for a different barn. It sounds like the paddock arrangement doesn't really reflect a sufficient appreciation for equine behavior or human safety.
Dreadful Acres: the chronicle of my extraordinary unsuitability to country life
An update, one week later: We swapped the geldings, and so now my mare is far away from the gate access to the barn area when she chooses to hang out near my gelding. However, I went out in the paddock today, and it was a totally different situation. My gelding has become friendly with the other mares, so they will willingly approach the gate where he is standing. He also doesn't act as possessive towards my mare, which seems to make her more friendly with the other horses. I could go out there and scratch her and the other mares at the same time without anyone pinning their ears.
I understand everyone's concern about the set up. However, my gelding will not be leaving his paddock much (and the other boarder's gelding doesn't either, as his owner doesn't come out frequently), and so I don't need to access the barn area with him (I just tote my grooming supplies out to his paddock and walk him around there, as he isn't sound enough to do much else). I chose this place for the large paddock for my gelding as the footing is really soft, and it is extremely hard to find such a place in my locale (I'm in Southern California), let alone for such a reasonable price. And I really don't have a lot of time to work my mare due to my own work constraints, so I wanted her to have a large space to roam during the winter (again, it is really hard to find such a large space for her to have access to in my locale).
I also chose it for the access to trails, and I really just wanted to trail ride my mare, so I will likely not need to access the arena much. No one else uses the arena at this time, as all of these horses are just really pasture horses (mine included).
However, the mare band is very loosely organized, as they pretty much all keep to themselves. The youngest approaches me, but she backs off very willingly if I ask her. The boss mare spends most of her time near the feed tubs. The other mare does much of the same. If need be, I can put the other mares in the corrals and close the back panels if I can't access the arena easily, but I really don't foresee this being an issue, as this is a very mellow, extremely friendly group of horses. The boss mare and the youngest mare eat out of the same tub; the boss mare doesn't approach me or the other horses; and the other mare will only approach me if I am by myself, at which point she just wants me to scratch under her chin. And today when I was doing so, my mare came up and wanted me to scratch her face. There was no confrontation between the two!
Based on today's observations, I think everyone is settling in nicely, and I will certainly keep an eye on the situation. My mare spent most of her young life before I got her in a highly intensive training situation. (And it did not suit her personality. I have spent many months reteaching her ground manners and rebuilding trust in people.) And she has never really had the opportunity to be a horse as much as she has now, so I think this is a good opportunity for her to learn how to be one. I think she has already learned so much in one week about how to behave around other horses. Of course, if for one moment I ever think that any human or any horse could be in danger, I have no qualms about making some changes.