In the Shadow of Horse

In the Shadow of Horse
In the Shadow of Horse

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Equine Behavior Q&A Leaping Fences

Question: My horse jumps the pasture fence. Even with a good pasture mate she goes for \"Walk-abouts\". She can clear 7\' w/out a rider. She bores easily & also gets into other trouble - taking gates off pin hinges, unhooking hotwire handles with the fence on, unclipping the carabineer from her stall door to open it, etc. I can\'t ride every day & she does this on days I can\'t ride. Any suggestions? She has gone into town before (3 miles) & eaten grapes at the vineyard next door. She won\'t play with Jolly Balls & putting jumps in her pasture didn\'t help either. Fence is currently at 6 feet & hot.

Well, this is easy. Horses form strong pair bonds. If you notice, most horses in groups are paired up if given a choice. Domestication was facilitated by the fact that horses form strong pair bonds, so strong that they will even allow a human to slip in to bond a bit. At the end of the day, unlike dog, a horse needs another horse. Your horse is looking for another horse to pair bond with. Find your horse a suitable pair-bonded other horse, and enjoy her choice to stay home with him. Even though you believe her pasture mate may be the one, she is seeking that special other. Your job is to find her a soul mate, it seems, a truly bonded other, please. Some horses have meaning in their actions, and it is apparent that she likes abundant activity and exercise as well as nourishing green grass. The more of that you offer at home, the more likely she may be to hang tight.
Also, the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, it seems.
As well, the Olympic tryouts are coming up, so go with the leaping and enter up, please.
Sid Gustafson DVM
Equine Behavior Educator
(406) 995-2266

Question: I recently found a new home for a 14 y.o. OTTB gelding I had for 7+ years. He was bred, owned and trained by my sister - she was a race horse trainer. I bought him at age 6 when he was retired from racing.

I told the new owner when she came to look at him before adoption that he challenges fences - showed her that I have 1 electric wire all the way around my pasture. He is very smart/clever/mischevious and will challenge you (not mean he is very kind). I also told her this and also not to ever let him win.

He has been at his new location since the end of March. The existing horses are a mare and pony mare. The new owner emailed me two weeks ago to inform me that he has been breaking fences and his stall to get to the mare. He hollers for her when they are separated. If they are not in the same field he runs the fence line until his is lathered. He has popped a splint and may have other lameness from the constant pounding. He does not stop to graze or eat hay and has lost weight. He is acting like a stallion with all the behaviors including mounting - the mare is a willing participant in this behavior.

He was a ridgeling and was gelded at age two - this required a operation to remove them from his body cavity - neither was descended. He has never shown any stallion type behavior but he has always been turned out with geldings.

The new owner says she has done everything she knows how to do - different turn out arrangements and a lot of prayer and at this point needs to place him elsewhere - did I want him back. I cannot because of health issues, which is why I had him up for adoption in the first place but I feel responsible for the horse, he has been part of our family his whole life. I talked to a equine behaviorist/trainer and told her what was going on. She said it sounded to her like a management problem. I tend to agree but in order to be fair to the horse and the new owner should he be tested for hormones to see if he somehow was \"cut proud\"? Why is he acting like this after all these years. Is there any way to manage this via training or medication or is finding a new home for him the only option at this point? The behavior has been going on unmanaged for about 5 months now.

Let the horses live together, please. I am not sure why letting the gelding and mares live together has not already been accommodated, as the gelding has successfully communicated his wishes clearly that the best pasture for him is the one with that certain mare. Horses form strong pair bonds with other horses, and their social nature is not going away. For behavioral health and prosperity, each horse requires a strong pair bond with another horse of their preference. It appears that it will best serve the horses (and humans) to let the OTTB gelding stay with the mares, please. He has been separated from mares long enough, and the memory of that idyllic life with his dam will not be forgotten. He knows all about mares. His mother taught him so. He needs them for security and companionship.
Even numbered groupings are best, but horses can make do with trios and quints, mixed sexes, as well. Horses are made to live together, so they often find a way when resources are plentiful. Solo horses do not thrive, as a pair-bonded other horse is essential for behavioral fulfillment, and behavioral fulfillment is essential for overall health.
Please appreciate that most all horses require a significant pair-bonded other horse. You cannot expect the social horse to live without a pair-bonded other.  American Pharaoh has Dusty, you know. In Germany and other European countries, it is illegal to keep a horse alone. Solitary confinement of horses is considered a welfare issue, and horses and veterinary behaviorists do not like seeing horses isolated without abundant measures to provide equid companionship, along with abundant daily locomotion and constant forage availability. When horses are stabled apart from one another, they have be able to smell, see, hear, communicate with, and hopefully touch other horses on a regular if not constant basis to maintain their health. 
Horses treasure grazing and foraging along with other horses. It is their most preferred activity. Humans are obligated to fulfill this requirement. Humans who know how to please horses have horses who are happy to please humans, you know, such is the nature of our domestic relationship with Equus caballus.
You are obligated to find the gelding a pair bonded other, and the good news is that it appears your search is over. Get him over with those mares, and everyone will be content. If you want the gelding to sometimes separate from his mare-friend, you have to make his being with you a better deal than being with the other horse. This is accomplished by grooming, riding, hand grazing the best grass, and other creative measures to enrich the gelding’s lifestyle while he is temporarily separated. This can be accomplished with time and finesse when applied with an appreciation of the nature of the horse. 
Geldings and mares can live together harmoniously if the resources of forage, space, and socialization are abundantly provided and the process is properly orchestrated in a sequential, horse-sensitive fashion. There is no need to separate geldings from mares  in properly managed stable situations. This requires 24/7 appropriate forage availability and the space to forage without interference while connected with the other horses visually. If the horses are heavy, they need more activity, space, and exercise rather than extended periods of forage deprivation. Deprivations of socialization, forage, and locomotion lead to stereotypies such as weaving and cribbing. Most all horses, especially stabled horses, require miles of daily walking, and the horse’s preference is miles of casual grazing while connected with others. You don’t want that, so let the horses be hoses together, please. Most all horses, especially stabled horses, require miles of daily walking, and the horse’s preference is miles of casual grazing while connected with others.  In natural settings, all horses of all sexes and ages live together with the exception of transient bachelor bands. Separating gelding and mares is not necessary in properly managed stables and pastures. It is an amateur tradition. 
Most all horses, especially stabled horses, require miles of daily walking. Other horses help with that. The horse’s preference is miles of casual grazing while connected with others. Try to re-create the natural situation as best you can, and you will have happy, quiet, content, and healthy horses. Physical health is dependent upon behavioral health, and behavioral health is dependent upon abundant socialization with other horses.
Sid Gustafson DVM
Equine Behavior Educator

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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