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New horse changing other's behavior??? Or something else?

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  • New horse changing other's behavior??? Or something else?

    Background - we've had three horses on a 6 acre pasture. No catching problems, in fact they used to come running in when they saw me walking to the barn. In the winter and muddy spring they are confined to a relatively small sacrifice paddock. In early March, we got horse #4.

    At first I thought it was because we were letting them back out on grass gradually and they were smart enough to figure out that if they came in they were going to get locked in the sacrifice paddock, but now NONE of them come in to eat. In the past, transitioning to pasture has not caused this. One by one, they're even starting to get hard to catch. The new one is the worst... he came to us a bit hard to catch - he will run and snort and just create quite a fuss. Eventually we get them all, but it's becoming a chore. The thing is, they've been out 24/7 now for a couple of weeks and things aren't getting any better... and I'm getting quite tired of it. Today they were all standing right by the gate when I came out, the new guy bolted when he saw me and the rest followed . I'm starting to blame the new behavior all on the new guy.

    A little background on the new one - although he had a wonderful owner for the last two years before us... prior to that he was a New Holland guy. No idea about his background but he often seems suspicious about people, particularly people carrying sticks (incl shavings forks) I don't think things have always gone real well for him

    For the last few weeks since this started we've been going out at non-feeding times to just catch/pet/treat the horses, but I can only do that on weekends because of work.

    Tonight the new guy is staying in the sacrifice paddock while the rest get the pasture. I'm thinking of trying this for a couple of days to see if the original three go back to their NORMAL behavior. The main problem with that is there's no shelter for him in the paddock unless I open the gate to the run-in. If I do that, then I have to shut the gate to the pasture which would prevent the other three from getting to the run-in. Without building a new run-in, someone gets stuck without shelter if separated.

    Of course, I'm not thinking that he is going to understand the cause & effect of "I didn't come in easily so I'm stuck in the paddock". In fact, I imagine this will probably cause him to be harder to catch. The reason I'm doing it for now really is to see if I can get the other three back to normal, and if not, then there's something else going on.

    Any experience with a new horse causing behavior changes in ALL your other horses? Any suggestions for what to do? Oh, to add to this - no other changes have taken place besides gradually going from hay to going back out on pasture (feed, work, tack, schedules, stalls, bedding, etc. all the same) and that has never caused a problem before. After they come in, they eat all their food. If the original three's behavior does go back to normal after separating them... wow, does that mean I'll have to always keep them separate??? WWYD?
  • Original Poster

    Am I the only one this has happened to? I feel so special

    To update, two feedings later, the original three horses have come in just fine, no problems. The new guy is catchable (is that a word?) in the paddock especially since he sees everyone else going in to eat. SO... I'm guessing he's sending bad vibes their way when it's catching time.

    Glad I have that part figured out... now to get it to where he can go out with the rest of them. He's the one who needs the pasture more than any of 'em.


    • #3
      Well, I've noticed that a new horse can certainly change the existing group's behavior but I didn't have anything specific to say that would help you w/the catching game! Fortunately I have seen it work the opposite way too, as in for the better. . .

      So they sure can learn from watching!


      • #4
        Don't know if this will help your situation, but here's my experience. I introduced my mare into a small pasture boarded band of mares (6). Before the other mares knew what hit them, she immediately took control and drove them around the pasture for about 15 minutes before settling down. Over the following week, the old alpha grazed at the opposite end of the pasture while my mare used the others for cover. She became very difficult to catch - either galluping off and taking the herd with her, or else weaving in and out, using them as "body shields". But, during that week, I was persistent and proved to her over and over again that I *could* catch her.

        Over the past couple of months, the old alpha got her position back and my mare is a relaxed and easy-going middle of the pack kind of gal. My guess is that her way of dealing with being at a new place was to take charge until she could find a reliable leader. Once we started bonding, it was as though she didn't neet to control the other horses and she could let down and relax.


        • #5
          I've seen some minor changes when a new horse joins, but nothing comparable, so didn't have any suggestions. The herd my new horse is in is a mix of catchable and hard to catch boarder's horses. Mine was hard to catch for the first few weeks, but then he gave it up and has become friendly. It was funny, he'd go hide behind other horses, hoping I wouldn't take him off the yummy grass.

          I'd guess if you work out your relationship with the new lead horse that will solve the overall problem. But I have no suggestion as to how to do that! Keep us up to date!


          • Original Poster

            Yeah, what was weird was that when we first brought him home (while separated) he *wasn't* hard to catch! Not until being introduced to the group. So BeaSting, that's an interesting perspecitive you've given me... he DID come in and start asserting himself as the alpha. Previously our TB mare was always the first in the gate - everyone else would actually stand there and wait for her to come across the pasture if they were at the gate first, watch her pass through, and THEN come in. When we mixed him into the herd he started breaking that rule and coming in first. So maybe this does have something to do with it. I'm also going to keep working on just being buddies with him, and he has quite a few ground manners that are not up to my standard at this point that need some work too.

            And yes, I really did hope he would just follow the other three's lead as far as what our procedures are around here! I guess I'm spoiled because I usually seem to either get easy-to-catch horses, or make them that way relatively quickly... I've never had them suddenly BECOME hard to catch!


            • #7
              Horses are very interesting critters to observe. Your horses were exhibiting herd instincts that have been in them since the evoluation of horses. Horses were/and are still animals that are "preyed upon" and have the flight instinct. New horse in herd runs away from you, the others must have though "guess I better run too before something happens to me also!" But after things settled down, the others again realized there was nothing to be worried about - they revert back to the behaviour you are accustomed to.