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Horse behavior--interesting situation

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  • Horse behavior--interesting situation

    My old man left a ancient "widow". She's blind and deaf and lame from ringbone. She has not done well after his death.

    I tried to turn her out with a couple of younger mares, and it didn't work. One has developed a genuine hatred for her and will savage her if she can get within range. She charges the old girl, leaves tooth marks, and has actually rolled her once.

    I've been told that in wild herd situations, the herd mares will decide that it's time an old horse should go away and will exhibit savaging behavior. I once took on an old mare (for Duncan) because the herd she was living with did this exact same thing.

    Is this true?

    I'm talking to the vet Monday about having Sophie put down. She's lonely, not moving much from her run in, and seems very disoriented. She feels safe with me and has become very snuggly. I could get her a mini or another companion, but I really think I was keeping her going just for Duncan who was devoted to her.
    "I'm a lumberjack, and I'm okay."
    Thread killer Extraordinaire

  • #2
    It could be her time, and probably some of the herd dynamics issues come from the fact she doesn't see the horse language and respond properly, ie move off when mare does ugly move over face.

    Do you have just one mild mannered filly or mare you could put next to her in a pen and see how they react? She may not be able to go out in a group without a protector.

    Ii really don't have any words of wisdom, I am sorry you are going through this.


    • Original Poster

      It's more than just not recognizing horse language. She has a run-in stall and paddock on one side of my shedrow, and the other mares are on the other side with run-in stalls that are adjacent to the old one's. If she gets too close to their side in her stall, which is closed off from them, the one mare will charge the front of old one's stall and bite her.
      "I'm a lumberjack, and I'm okay."
      Thread killer Extraordinaire


      • #4
        What an awful situation, poor thing!

        I don't have any suggestions (it sounds like you have thought this through, and will do the right thing by this old girl), but I wanted to share an experience relating to what you wrote about the "herd savaging an older mare."

        Years ago I boarded at a smallish facility where one of the kindly boarders had "rescued" an old mare (age indeterminate, maybe upper 20's, 30?); she had been a rental horse (for yahoos to "use like a motorcycle" for $15 an hour) for many, many years. Poor animal, she had surely paid her dues, and *deserved* a few years of peace and good treatment. (She had Cushings, a horribly swayed back, etc.) She was retired/turned out in a big field, with a herd consisting of a an older Morgan gelding (kept to himself, self sufficient and well behaved), and two horses who had been moved together to this facility--one was a nasty little mare (bad manners, spoiled, mean), and the other was a big old gelding, who I guess was her "bitch". One day they "tag teamed" this older mare (this was one day *after* I had seen them herding her away from the water trough and generally aggressing against her--I of course stopped this, and told the owner immediately), but the very next day they escalated the behavior, pushed/herded her into a corner and kicked the hell out of her. Luckily someone got there shortly thereafter, rescued her, and was able to get her out of there and call the vet, but they had ruptured her stomach wall with the kicking (among other things), and she had a hernia; she had to wear a special "girdle" (hubby and I had to re-tighten it several times daily when we were on "barn duty"), and the poor old thing was then removed from that field and put in a smaller paddock, with a rescued mini. So she lived through it (with long-term repercussions from her injuries, of course), but it was *so* clear that they "had it in for her" and would have killed her if they could. The couple who owned the bully horses were in "outraged denial" that their "babies" would have done such a thing, and refused to believe it. I wanted to shoot all 4 (husband, wife, bully horses.)

        So maybe there is some truth to this theory about horses in the wild? In any case, thank goodness for human compassion, but also for human objectivity when it comes to end of life decisions; I think they really do tell us when it's time to go. Maybe it's not yet time for your old girl, but at least you are trying to protect and care for her the best you can. This has been a rough summer, and I'm sorry...

        (We just lost an 25 gelding who has been boarded in my mare's 3 stall barn for 4 years; it's just been her, the BM's horse and this older guy, who succumbed to colic last weekend. Her reaction to his absence has been interesting; she is on long-term stall rest right now, but she still considered him "part of her herd", and seems confused by the fact that his stall is empty.)

        Keep us posted on this poor mare; this is a heartbreaking situation.
        "Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies."

        "It's supposed to be hard...the hard is what makes it great!" (Jimmy Dugan, "A League of Their Own")


        • Original Poster

          I should probably mention that the mare on the non-geriatric side who is doing most of the harm is the omega mare on that side.

          So probably Sophie's inability to read horse language does have a lot to do with it. But not all, because Duncan did protect her from the youngers for years.

          I know with Bud in the hospital and D dead after Bud left, the herd dynamics have to be in terrible flux.
          "I'm a lumberjack, and I'm okay."
          Thread killer Extraordinaire


          • #6
            Oh, how sad. I feel for her. I do think horses develop emotional attachments and they can eventually cope but they suffer in the meantime. After all, they aren't in the wild having to survive any more. I know you will do the best thing. It is odd how the other mare is now changing her behavior toward her, though.
            Proud & Permanent Student Of The Long Road
            Read me: EN (http://eventingnation.com/author/annemarch/) and HJU (http://horsejunkiesunited.com/author/holly-covey/)


            • #7
              Seems obvious that since she's blind and deaf he was her eyes and ears.

              Now she can't see or even hear cues from other herd members so her behavior can be misread as a challenge.

              Poor old dear.


              • #8
                The herds definitely do drive out the older guys. My old man (who is only 19, but has had difficulty with arthritis for at least 3 years now) used to live in a really large paddock with a whole load of other horses. He's always been the alpha horse in herd dynamics as a younger horse, but this year whenever I went he would be in a different spot to all the others. He never had bite/kick marks on him, but maybe he couldn't keep up, or maybe they just moved him off, who knows? I just felt desperately sad for him since he'd always been so social.

                Anyway now he's in a smaller paddock with my 4yo, and is teaching said youngster (who adores him and then some!) some manners. And they play "flymasks", which is where they rip each others masks off and play tug-of-war with them.

                Point of that long-winded story - you should definitely separate her from the herd. And maybe find one horse to be her friend. Just listen to her and she'll let you know when her time has come and she's not enjoying life any more.


                • #9
                  Poor girl - sounds like she's having a tough time.
                  I know you will do the right thing for her.

                  Originally posted by vineyridge View Post
                  It's more than just not recognizing horse language. She has a run-in stall and paddock on one side of my shedrow, and the other mares are on the other side with run-in stalls that are adjacent to the old one's. If she gets too close to their side in her stall, which is closed off from them, the one mare will charge the front of old one's stall and bite her.
                  The problem with political jokes is that they get elected.
                  H. Cate


                  • #10

                    I've seen exactly what you described and was shocked that I was seeing it..............I do believe horses know when anothers time is up and can be very brutal about trying to speed that clock up. Why in a domesticated situation thay still do it is my question but then again they are animals with instincts.