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herd dynamics...am I making sense or making this up?

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  • herd dynamics...am I making sense or making this up?

    My retired OTTB mare lives with one other horse. He's a 12 yo quarter horse gelding. They have lived together for over 1 year now, and truly are best friends, but the last 3 weeks, they have really started picking on each other. They are not hurting each other, and are not in an unsafe situation, but there's lots of ear pinning and squealing. They've been chasing each other away from blades of grass, etc. And feeding time has become a nightmare.

    They both have their own stalls, and until 3 weeks ago, they would come in from outside, eat, and go back out. Now they have been invading each other's stalls, chasing each other away from their food, etc. So they are locked in their stalls to eat, which has stopped that problem...but the squealing, wall kicking, etc continues.

    For the record, they both have a 12 x 24 stall and eat at opposite corners...so they are plenty far enough away from each other, but both run to the wall in the middle to terrorize each other (make faces and squeal) ...and like I said, it's only been the last 3 weeks. They are also both fed exactly the same feed...so it's not like one has something "better" than the other.

    So my thought on the matter, since nothing in their lives has changed, and I mean absolutely nothing...the weather, but other than that...perhaps its just because there are no herd dynamics with just 2 horses. They have very similar personalities... both were living as horses at the bottom of the totem pole in their turnout groups before they moved to retirement heaven. And they are not being physically aggressive, just putting on a show. I'm thinking maybe now the honeymoon is over, and they are struggling for power since they are both comfortable with where they are and who they live with.

    Do you think introducing a third family member may help even the score? We were thinking about getting a donkey, and were before all of this began, but I thought perhaps if we add a third, actually creating a herd, things might even out? Am I nuts?
    Strong promoter of READING the entire post before responding.

  • #2
    Did anything in the diet change recently for both, haywise grain or supplements? Did the neighbor get a new horse that happens to be a mare? Does anyone have any minor digestive issues? Recent wormings or other treatments?


    • #3
      Could it be something as simple as the summer grass is going away and because there is not much to choose from they start fighting over the scraps?? (probably too simple, but had to ask)


      • #4
        I dont think adding another horse in the group is going to fix them.

        Could they think they're hungrier, with the grass dying off?

        Could there be a health issue with one of them that's making him/her grumpy, stirring up problems between the two? For example cold weather may bring on arthritis pain.
        Veterinarians for Equine Welfare


        • #5
          How old is your retiree? I have two geldings that have been together for years. Their herd dynamics have changed as the QH has aged (now 20). The boss horse has definitely changed.


          • Original Poster

            MY old girl is 21. They are both arthritic, so that could be...they are just grumpy. They still have plenty to graze on, and nothing in their diet has changed. Same hay they have been eating since August, same grain, same supplements. There are no other horses anywhere near them.

            There schedule has not changed at all either. They are fed at 5:30am, 4:00pm, and 9:00 pm (just a handful for supplements...their bedtime snack if you will.) They each have free choice hay. They are given 4-5 flakes in the AM, and that's replenished at 4, if they need more, and again at night before they are tucked in.

            It's just concerning because they spent last fall and winter together as well, and not a single issue came up until 3 weeks ago. Sure they'd squeal or pin ears...but the constant sibling rivalry was never like this. Their arthritis is stable, clinically. They both had x-rays 3 months ago, and they look identical to the ones from last year... not that this means they aren't more uncomfortable this year... but all I meant was they haven't had progression from a clinical standpoint.
            Strong promoter of READING the entire post before responding.


            • #7
              Is the mare in season? I have an old app turned out with a younger QH mare and they get along marvelously...until she comes into season. Then its all teeth and hooves and squeals and ugly faces. She turns into a royal pain, and he responds with aggression.

              It lasts a couple of weeks, then they go back to their normal, laid-back, don't give a crap routine.


              • #8
                I have a feeling one or both of them is either hungrier than normal or hurting. My broodmare group of 8 mares has a big personality change in the fall when grass starts dying out. We know it's time to put out round bales of hay when they start bickering and lashing out at each other more than is normal.

                We also used to keep two middle aged geldings together because they were big friends and got along well. However, on two occasions I came home to find the younger of the two geldings menacingly chasing the other gelding around the pasture. Each time, the problem was a stomach ache making the younger gelding upset. Once we treated him and he got past the stomach ache, he was back to his usual nice self.
                Susan N.

                Don't get confused between my personality & my attitude. My personality is who I am, my attitude depends on who you are.


                • #9
                  I agree, hungry or hurting. It doesn't have to be arthritis, it could be stomach pain or maybe your mare has a painful anovulatory haemorrhagic follicle which, I believe, would not be terribly uncommon at this time of year. One horse felt bad and started acting pissy which made the other one mad and now they are having lots of tiffs over and over. Some horses that are ulcer prone do not do well when they are eating a higher proportion of hay. It could be something as easy to miss as that.
                  Altamont Sport Horses
                  Trakehners * Knabstruppers * Appaloosa Sport Horses
                  Home of stallions: Ambrosius af Asgard "Atlantis" & Hollywood Hot Spot
                  Birmingham, AL


                  • #10
                    Trevor and Ice do this randomly - this year has been more so than other years because their turnout was different (stuck to the ring vs the field due to weather and Trevor's feet issues).

                    They've been together for 3 summers and headed into their 3rd winter now. They truly are friends but Ice, who's always been the more passive one, is now "turning" on T. Nothing but some missing hair really. They do swing with the feet every now and then but for the most part it's the mouth.

                    We added a 3rd and it got worse--they ganged up on the 3rd because they don't dislike each other, they are just like siblings picking on each other.

                    I say the change in weather is probably the biggest culprit-that and the dying off natural forage. Could be age though...Logan is awfully cranky at the ripe ol' age of 23
                    Lord Stanely, Lord Stanley - come back to Pittsburgh!!!
                    *** I LOVE PUIKA FAN CLUB***


                    • #11
                      Still even when you have what looks like plenty of grass, the nutrition isn't the same at this time of year so they probably are a bit hungry for the things which aren't in the grass now. That sounds a bit stupid I know.

                      COTH, keeping popcorn growers in business for years.

                      "I need your grace to remind me to find my own." Snow Patrol-Chasing Cars. This line reminds me why I have horses.


                      • #12
                        well ...

                        Weather can definitely have an impact (it is with our horses, and we're not too far from you) ... but I'm not sure to this extent.


                        • #13
                          Did something change in the diet in August?


                          • #14
                            Younger horse wants to either move up in the standing or is wondering if mare is threatening his status. You didn't say who was boss horse. Younger horse always seems to want to try moving up, part of being a herd animal, survival. Old horse resents it, but not ambitious enough to fight for position as hard as they used to. But the old one doesn't move down easily either, so they argue about it, fight off and on.

                            We have some younger, lower-status geldings, and they are thinking of moving higher. Starts with some shoving, being first at the gate. They are ambitious enough to work a bit at this improvement in standing, yet the old horses are not all ready to move aside either.

                            If yours are both cranky with some aches, it can add to the mix, no patience with anything.

                            I would take steps with closing some doors, enforcing aloneness, so they can eat peacefully, get done, without worrying about other horse coming over. Worrying about my food would add to the cranky attitudes. Alone time in stall can allow them to relax. Being on edge ALL THE TIME, looking for unexpected attacks sure doesn't help.

                            More work for you, shutting stalls, then returning to open the doors. But a easy solution to try, see if it helps. Could be just a seasonal thing, daylight length affecting their behaviour. We see that here in spring fighting, bouncing around, heat cycles not synced yet, as the days get longer. And ours have been together MANY years. Horses can be quite silly about things, just can't help themselves.


                            • #15
                              Even with two, probably one is technically the "boss', even if he doesn't show it in a really obvious way.

                              Not horses, but with cats, I had a sudden degeneration like this when one fell ill. We didn't see his illness, but the other cat sensed it and was either afraid of it or saw weakness and started hassling him.

                              They had been best buddies, slept together, groomed and played together for four years. All of a sudden they were fighting seriously every day and the well one was avoiding the sick one. Again, we didn't know at this point he was sick. After a week of this, I took both to the vet to see if they could figure out what was going on, and we discovered the younger one had developed diabetes and kidney problems.

                              So the "someone is hurting" theory might be worth pursuing. Maybe do some bloodwork or look for things like ulcers that might be invisible to the naked eye?

                              Good luck!