Will boys be boys?

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Will boys be boys?

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  • Geldings sparring
  • Why do geldings bite each other

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    09-20-2011, 12:03 AM
Will boys be boys?

I am not sure where to put this as there doesn't seem to be a "horse behaviour forum". Anyways, I have two geldings and a mare, all living together at home. For the last year, we just had my Arab gelding and the mare. In June, we brought our old friend Sam, a 20 year old gelding home. All three horses seem to get along very well. They eat together, scratch each other, etc. The last month or so, however, the geldings have developed this evening ritual of "sparring". They bite at each other, chase each other around, rear at each other and carry on for quite some time. There is no squealing and appears to be very minimal contact, but my Arab is getting more an more small nicks and bite marks all over his body. It doesn't appear that one horse consistently starts it, and there never appears to be a "winner". After about half an hour or an hour or so, they go back to munching grass side by side peacefully.

I will say that both of these geldings seem quite "attached" to me. The Arab is my horse, and my usual mount, so I have spent and do spend a lot of time with him. We became very close last year when I nursed him back to health after a serious injury. Sam is a horse I owned for many years and have always had a very strong connection with him. I just recently found him again after about a 4 year absence and he clearly remembers me. When I ride one, the other seems visibly jealous, following me around and even sometimes trying to knock me off the other horse.

So what is this behaviour about? Are they trying to establish who is dominant after being together for 3 months? Are they just being silly boys, fooling around for some fun and exercise? Are they trying to impress the mare? Are they jealous (or can they experience jealousy)?

Does anyone have any insights? Should I be concerned about the "sparring" escalating to full blown fighting?
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    09-20-2011, 12:59 AM
Sounds to me like they are just playing. I would be much more concerned with the fact that a horse is getting too close to you while you are riding. I don't like to ride in a paddock with other horses, as this can escalate into a dangerous situation.
    09-21-2011, 11:54 PM
The geldings "sparring" seems to be getting more frequent. Now I am seeing them go at it in the morning before I leave work as well as in the evening. It is the younger Arab that seems to start it, but now he is getting more and more beat up with small nicks and scratches. I am worried it will escalate to full blown fighting and one of the boys (most likely the Arab) will get injured more seriously.

I have never had any problems before with the horses being in mixed herds, so it baffles me as to why they are up to this. Perhaps the mare and the Arab are finally accepting the older gelding as a permanent member of the herd and so the younger boy is trying to establish himself as leader? I also wonder if the younger gelding knows the older one is getting on in years and so is trying to assert himself as more dominant. Historically, the older guy has almost always been dominant, but he's slowing down quite a bit now.

Regardless, I don't know how far to let this go before separating them. Again, when they aren't sparring they are acting quite normally grazing and grooming each other.
    09-22-2011, 12:04 AM
My old gelding made friends with a yearling once a few years (and barns) back. They were not turned out in the same paddock, but would play across the fenceline.
He has never had so many nicks and bite marks before or since. Especially on his face! They would both rear and kick, chase eachother along the fence, and sometimes just stand with their teeth out play fighting.
I still believe this is what is happening here.
However, you can certainly separate them if you feel they are getting too silly and leaving too many marks.
    09-22-2011, 12:12 AM
It certainly looks like playing from a distance, but the number of small superficial bite marks on the face and body has me a bit worried. I would think if they were truly fighting they would be hurting each other much more than that. I am OK with playing and happy for them if that is what it is but I also don't want it to get worse.
    09-22-2011, 12:17 AM
Mares make geldings do stupid things. My two geldings never "horseplay" (they are father & son) with each other until you add a mare into the mix. She don't even have to be in the same pasture or paddock. As long as there is a girl within eyeshot, the boys show off.
    09-22-2011, 12:46 AM
My boys do the same thing. They are just playing. The do get a few nicks and scratches on them, particularly their face. I'd say boys will just be boys. They are just having fun and playing a little ruff... sometimes a bit too ruff.
    09-22-2011, 03:17 AM
Is it spring where you are? They all tend to get a bit sillier in spring & yes, boys do often like to be boys & play harder. I would not ride in the paddock with the other if they're doing that to you.
    09-22-2011, 04:36 AM
They're playing. The biggest worry you'll have is the safety of their rugs! We had 2 boys who would grab each others tail flips and spin for a good ten mins.

Another game I love watching is 'slapsies' they stand nose to nose and take turns biting each other.

Make sure you've got a decent wound cream on hand and enjoy them having fun!

The only thing is watch them when it gets wet if they're galloping around grabbing hold of each other they will fall over.
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    09-22-2011, 10:15 AM
Thanks everyone! It is fall where I live and the horses are fat and sassy, ready for winter and the weather has been fantastic with no bugs. I can sort of see why they would want to play more now. Both horses also have big, impish personalities. If you turn your back, either one will dump the brush bag, steal you jacket and wave it around like a flag.

I will put one horse in the round pen when I ride the other in the paddock from now on. I have been putting out a little extra feed to keep the old guy occupied, but he'd rather follow me than eat. When it is his turn, I usually ride him off the property for a nice hack.

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