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Horse Separation Anxiety AND Pasture Bully

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    Horse Separation Anxiety AND Pasture Bully

    Hello COTH community! I have had a 16 yr old 17.2 ISH gelding now for about 10 weeks. He was previously kept alone either in a stall or paddock turnout (he was at 'show barns' that do not do mixed turnout) and I was told he was always perfectly behaved.

    He came to my place where the horses are stalled at night and turned out in a 10 acre mixed-herd pasture during the day. He developed some real herd-bound behavior, particularly with one mare. I have spent the past two months working with him 5 days per week. He is now at a place where as long as I bring a buddy in from the pasture with him to the barn, I can take him out alone and ride him alone in the arena with no problem. This is a huge change from where we started which involved lots of sweating, pacing, and neighing at the smallest separation. I have employed A LOT of tips I received here and from online to slowly wean him from his buddies and build his confidence.

    Now the issue is that along with his herd-bound behavior (and certainly related to it) is the fact that he is a real alpha gelding. He has a group of 3 mares and 2 geldings he gets along with, but has had an issue with running at and even attacking two other geldings in the field. After a few good weeks of calm turnout, he unfortunately went after one of those geldings and body-slammed him into the fence. Both horses are fine and on the mend with just some bute, cold-hosing, and walking, though this is the fourth time this has happened.

    I spoke with the barn owner and we both agreed that he needs to go in a smaller turnout because the risk of injury to these other geldings is just too high. I am worried about how to navigate this and not ruin the progress we have made with his separation anxiety and herd-behavior. I have also always believed that horses should be turned out. The paddocks are a good enough size, but definitely a step down from mixed turnout in a pasture. Right now we are planning to put him in a turnout where he can see the pasture, but is not directly adjacent to it and put a gelding he gets along with in the turnout next-door (with a shared fence).

    Any tips? Do you think I am doing the right thing? Would it be better to put someone in the same turnout with him or put him next to the mare he is bonded with instead of the gelding? I am mostly just worried about him settling in. I will be out for the next five days as he transitions to this new turnout but I of course cannot monitor him constantly. Do you think it is worth putting wraps or something on him to protect against injury if he decides to be a maniac and run along the paddock fence?

    Man, herd bound is just the worst crap, isn't it?

    I try to keep the horses that fall in love like your guy and his mare as far apart as possible, and put them near horses they...tolerate, but don't really like. The screaming settles and they are fine with their "friend" but don't totally lose their brains about it.

    Can you talk to your vet about some drugs for this weaning period? Just to get over the worst of it?


      Sometimes a mixed herd does not work for certain horses, particularly geldings prone to stud-like behavior. He may or may not be acting studdish in the typical sense, but it sounds like he might be trying to defend "his" mares from the other geldings.

      If that is the case, generally just mares or just geldings is a good solution. Basically you need to remove the competition for the girls, which includes shared fence lines.
      Don't fall for a girl who fell for a horse just to be number two in her world... ~EFO


        Original Poster

        I am going to see how day 1 goes tomorrow and if it is a nightmare I can call the vet to make sure the transition is safe for everyone.

        I like the idea of putting him with someone he sort of just tolerates. This other gelding we have currently planned for his paddock-neighbor fits that category.

        I think you are right that he just can't do mixed turnout. He was acting quite stud-ish. He and another gelding even started marking poop piles, and would have some stud-like behavior 'flirting' with the mares. We confirmed he and the other gelding are both gelding. Something about being together in the pasture with the mares just brought out this alpha stud behavior in them.

        Unfortunately, the big pasture will always be mixed turnout so this may mean a downgrade to a smaller paddock for him, but I am out riding 5 days per week so he gets plenty of time out.

        Right now his stall is next to the mare he is obsessed with. Do you think it may be worth moving him?


          Originally posted by erinmcc View Post
          Right now his stall is next to the mare he is obsessed with. Do you think it may be worth moving him?
          ABSOLUTELY. The further away, the better! If his neighbors can be "just tolerated" that helps, ime. My two love birds live as far apart as possible from each other.

          Good luck!!


            Original Poster

            Update: Day one of his new arrangement has gone so much better than expected! His gelding 'friend' has actually been much worse with a lot of pacing and neighing. My horse has been walking around in his paddock a lot (but no running around) and had a few moments of looking out to the pasture and whinnying, but has mostly been doing very well. I am giving him free-choice hay while he is in there to help distract, and also did a ground work session with him which got him focused and relaxed. I am pleasantly surprised and hoping this attitude continues. I am going to speak with the BO about moving his stall to be between the two geldings he sort of just tolerates, but doesn't obsess over.

            Thanks so much for the advice! I guess all those weeks of work we did on his separation issues paid off as this has been so much smoother so far than the first couple weeks after he was introduced to the pasture. Fingers crossed it continues this way.


              Yes keep him separated.

              No don't put another horse in with him unless you own it. You dont want to be making vet bills and injuries for other people's horses.
              It is better to ride 5 minutes a day than it is to ride 35 minutes on a Sunday.


                My gelding is great with all other geldings until there is a hint of a mare involved--even over a fence. He'll chase the other geldings away from "his" mares. So when I boarded he went out alone (which I hated and he didn't love) or he only went out with geldings. Solved all issues. He wasn't gelded until he was 6, so I'm guessing that was too much time as a man.


                  Originally posted by B-burg Dressage View Post
                  My gelding is great with all other geldings until there is a hint of a mare involved--even over a fence. He'll chase the other geldings away from "his" mares. So when I boarded he went out alone (which I hated and he didn't love) or he only went out with geldings. Solved all issues. He wasn't gelded until he was 6, so I'm guessing that was too much time as a man.
                  I have a similar situation. I have a pony mare and two geldings. Gelding #1 wasn’t gelded until age 9. He thinks he is the man, and becomes quite possessive of any mares that he is turned out with. Gelding #2 is quite docile in a group, but when turned out with the pony mare he was love struck and buddy bound.

                  So gelding #1 (Mr. Studly) can’t be with mares because he thinks he owns them, and will beat up gelding #2 in an attempt to keep him from even looking at the mare. Gelding #2 can’t go out with the mare because he loses brain cells and gets upset when separated from his one true love. The mare pony doesn’t really give a hoot about either of the boys - all of this action is totally unrequited.

                  So at my house the boys go out together and the mare is in an adjacent pasture. The boys tolerate each other but they aren’t so chummy that they lose their brain cells if separated.


                    This horse's history suggests he doesn't understand herd dynamics at all.

                    He seems extremely insecure, which accounts for his herd-bound behavior and bullying the other gelding. Again, I think this is related to his isolation from horses in his life.

                    Can you work on bringing him to the barn without a buddy? This will likely take lots of groundwork and having him learn to pay attention to you as "boss mare". This will take time, and you might as well start now. But, he's 16 with this behavior, it might be hard to turn around. Consider starting to groom him outside so he can see his mates but be away from them.

                    He'll need to be separated for now, and perhaps until a mare or gelding comes in and can put him in his place. It's interesting that the mares are tolerant of his behavior picking on the other geldings. Are any of them leaders in the herd? Luckily, the other gelding owner is amenable to the plan.

                    Yes, i think you are doing the right thing because he's challenging another gelding and the mares aren't chiming in. You don't want to pay for that gelding's vet bill. I would not put him next to the mare he's bonded to if he's herd-bound. He needs to understand that life goes on without this mare. Again, this screams major insecurity on his part and a need for a mare to tell him what to do (they're intact, geldings aren't). He might find himself bonded to whatever horse he's next to. Maybe his neighbor can rotate every month?

                    If anything, I'd put on bell boots. But not wraps, they can fall off. He'll be upset at first but will settle into whatever reality he has to deal with. I would take him out frequently and do ground work with him so he learns that he has to pay attention to the entity at hand, be it you or the gelding. He most certainly will have to learn to pay attention to you rather than the other horses, and this might take a while with patience to teach him. And most certainly will have to learn some confidence to live in life. This will take some work on your part.

                    Good luck!
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