In the Shadow of Horse

In the Shadow of Horse
In the Shadow of Horse

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Equine Behavior Q&A; forage deprivation

Question: I have a 28 or so year old Palomino gelding. He is kicking my barn to pieces. He makes a weird \"roaring\" neigh and then kicks with his hind legs and has shattered boards and bent bars. He is barefoot behind. He does this behavior even though he is not confined to his stall and, in fact, has open access 24/7 to his paddock and the pasture. He can see the other two horses in the barn and frequently has a buddy turned out with him. We have checked him for just about everything. Treated him with Gastrogard even though the scope indicated only a tiny ulcer. We have put him through a course of antibiotics for possible tick infections. We have tried calming supplements and currently have him on an immune system supplement. He does seem to do this behavior to get attention or at feeding time. I have tried Quit Kick and he destroyed the receivers. I don\'t understand how he doesn\'t make himself lame, but he seems fine other than getting a scrape on his hock now and then. He had been diagnosed with cataracts which is why we retired him a couple summers ago. I hate the thought of putting kick chains on him. Do you have any suggestions? Could he just be senile and cranky in his old age? He does stop the behavior and will move away if I catch him in the act and yell at him.

This case is too specific and serious to address without a hands-on personal assessment of the horse and the stabling situation by a veterinarian. As you suggest, there may be some dementia. He needs a professional neurological evaluation, please. The horse cannot be coerced, nor should rigs or inhumane devices be applied. On a general note, the horses should never run out of forage, as is the case in natural settings. To allow grouped horses to run out of forage on a daily basis is to create unwelcome behaviors. Horses do not handle schedules or empty stomachs very well. Makes some crazy. Horses evolved to have forage in front of them 24/7, forage and the space to graze a ways away from others. When horses cannot chew all day long in their sacred personal space, some kick.

Question: My Molly Mule has a Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde personality. One day she will come to me in the pasture put her head down and let me put her halter on without a problem. A different day I can\'t get near her. What is going on with her besides the fact that she is a mule?

A mule is like a horse only more so, you know. That’s because the mare raised the hybrid. The mare taught the mule to be a horse, she tried, but that donkey lingers deep down in there, a very perceptive sort, a mule. So, the mule apparently does not approve of something you are wearing, how you smell, or perhaps she is not happy with that chip you carry on your shoulder on certain days. 
She can tell by your walk if she wants to associate with you on any given day, your walk, talk, smell, etc. 
On the other hand, being a mule, it may have nothing to do with you. 
In my experience they like to see you each and every day, and if you miss too many days, they really have better things to do next time you decide to show up, like graze.
When you learn to see as the mule sees, let me know.
Cheers and best wishes with Molly. Can you spot her in the photo here?

Sid Gustafson DVM
Equine Behavior Educator
(406) 995-2266

Dr Gustafson is a practicing veterinarian, equine behavior educator, and novelist. The application of behavior science enhances optimum health, performance, soundness, contentment, and longevity in animal athletes. Behavioral and nutritional strategies enrich the lives of stabled horses. Training and husbandry from the horse's perspective result in content, cooperative horses who are willing to learn and perform.

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