Setting Hidalgo freeee...mental illness and horses. - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 34 Old 02-03-2010, 08:14 PM Thread Starter
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Setting Hidalgo freeee...mental illness and horses.

I love good horse movies and I love all the old ones too.
Black Beauty, National Velvet,Flicka,and even The Black Stallion.

Movies are a very powerful influence in our society and they inspire people to dream of all kinds of things and that is good.

Having owned a boarding facility for almost 20 years,I have seen some different boarders with more to come.

We keep between 10 to as many as 15 horses in a twenty acre pasture and the herd is generally "happy".
The interaction is what I would call "normal"with the horses well adjusted to there environment and each other.
When a new horse is introduced into the herd then it is done very carefully and in stages as this can be very dangerous for all concerned.

So there was the last scene in Hidalgo that Viggo Mortensen is having a "Walt Disney moment" with his horse,up on a bluff and looking down on "THE HERD" and Hidalgo is given the choice to rejoin the wild ( I get a lump in my throat thinking about it).
The music rises as Hidalgo runs off to rejoin the herd.

So people come to our place and look at our herd and want to reenact that scene for their horse and themselves.

Now we have a horse that has been living in a stall situation there whole life and being taken from the stall to the cross tie to the arena to the wash rack to the stall for 15 years and the owner wants the "Hidalgo moment".

This is a VERY delicate proposition and we have actually been able to pull it off a few times under limited conditions.
Some horses have lost their ability to do this completely and the herd terrifies them.
They do not possess the complex social skills necessary to deal with the overload of stimulus and the other horses know it.

I feel that in some cases this can cause a horse more harm than good as the horse has been institutionalized by the system.
People say "Oh,just throw them out there and let them work it out" and I say"you pay the vet bill".

I have had some success by starting a kind of sub herd made up of the one 's that can't mix well and they come along in time.

My hope is that this thread can talk about herd social ills and disorders,horse mental illness and the stress that it causes.

What do you think?

"The greatest strength is gentleness."
- Iroquois Proverb
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post #2 of 34 Old 02-03-2010, 08:26 PM
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Another good thread.

I have and OTTB who spent the first ten and some odd months years of his life without much social interaction with other horses, except running past them. I don't think he is necessarily mentally ill, but he doesn't do well in a herd unless he can be the leader of the group. He is turned out by himself and does very well over the fence with other horses. He's also managed to make a mare friend through his stall wall.
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post #3 of 34 Old 02-03-2010, 08:29 PM
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I agree that some horses do not initially have the skills to negotiate herd hierarchy. My OTTB was retired at age 5. He spent the first 4 years of his life in a stall and then suddenly thrown out into a herd of 15 horses. He looked like a pin cushion. He had no concept of alpha/omega and would stand there while horses bit him. He didn't know to move away from a higher ranking horse and would continually make the mistake of standing first in line at the gate waiting to come in for dinner. The higher ranking horses would run up and proceed to beat him up since he didn't know how to defend himself. Once I became his owner, I moved him to a barn where he was in with just one other horse. It gave him the opportunity to figure things out with not so much at stake. Three years later, he's figured out what all this horse stuff is about and would probably fall into the upper 3rd of any herd. I'm not sure if I would ever put him in with a herd again. I think I would leave that for truly wild horses. That's a bit scary that your boarder wants to do it with her horse because she saw it in a movie.

You just have to see your don't have to like it.
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post #4 of 34 Old 02-03-2010, 08:38 PM
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That is why i think it is soooo important for horses to be horses and have contact with other horses their whole lives. When i know the situation, and the horse, and the herd, i will just let a new horse out into the pasture with them. i watch for a little bit, but really, any horse i have ever had was always with a herd so they understand when a horse pins his ears and give all the signs.

i like this thread, its very informational one!

If there are no horses in heaven... im not going.
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post #5 of 34 Old 02-03-2010, 09:11 PM
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Well... First of all I'm not a big fan of big herds. We don't have too much grass Nov - April, so if the BO doesn't provide enough hay horses start fighting around the bales and some can get hurt (I've seen that happened).

My both mares came from absolutely opposite situations. Jemma was sold as baby and was kept in stall without interaction with other horses for 6+ months when I got her. She was a yearling when I got her and had NO knowledge what so ever about the herd behavior and what's right and wrong. I kept her for week in ring letting socialize with horses through the fence and then let her go to the herd of 20 horses or so. All I can say in month I kept her there she did NOT learn. She still tried to fight and establish herself as alpha mare EVERY SINGLE DAY. I was horrified to find her all beat up, but she was fast enough. 3 weeks later I moved her to the different place with just 4 horses in pasture. In about a month she established herself as alpha mare (she was just about to turn 2 years old) and that's how it went.

Kiara came from big wild herd (plus month in dirty stall all by herself just before she came to me). So after keeping her in a nice stall with couple hours turn-out to the ring for about a week so she'd get used to me, I let her go to Jemma's heard. That was a really funny experience. They all run like crazy all around the field for the 1st day. On 2nd day she just followed Jemma and since that she was hiding behind her anytime other horses tried to attack her. Then day by day she started to establish herself in pecking order and soon she moved her self to 2 horses above.

So the bottom line I think it totally depends on horse. Jemma never learned that she can be lower in pecking order. Despite the fact other (twice as big) horses were going after her. I think that comes both from her very alphish personality as well as the environment she was put in as a baby. Kiara, which had lots of interaction with other horses, knew exactly what's pecking order and how she should behave. So I'd be VERY careful just let go the horse, which was kept in stall for many years.
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post #6 of 34 Old 02-03-2010, 09:11 PM
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Great thread!

I can't stand it when people say "throw 'em in and they can sort it out". Fighting is normal within the herd - tossing a strange horse to an established herd is cruel and irresponsible unless you have a 50+ acre pasture. The horse NEEDS room to get away. And even then, I agree with the "herd incompetent" attitude. Domestic horses have been so removed from natural instinct, many become dangerous in their desperation to assume lead position and won't leave off a horse (in the wild, all the horse would have to do is run out of the group and the angered leader would stop) until it's seriously injured.

You can't blame them. You will have FAR less herd unrest issues if your animals are permitted to graze in a large area. Keeping herds in small pens with nothing but hay and grain twice a day is borderline suicidal in my opinion. It creates potentially dangerous and vicious animals, which is realistically very abnormal in the equine species. Food is rarely, if ever, an issue in the wild. They are able to roam and graze as they please, and social status quo is dependant entirely on behavior. When you force a relatively quiet and peaceful animal like the horse into a situation where he must literally fight for his food, you're asking for ridiculous vet bills.

My mare cannot be kept in a boarding situation. She has no ability to fight. She was raised in a 10 acre pasture with her dam and my gelding. She always had access to fresh lush grass, and the grain was poured out into seperate piles. She was spoiled anyway, because both the adults always let her steal bits of their grain anyway. Zierra learned one thing growing up - when someone is mad, get out of their space.

The result? She starved when I boarded her. She had no access to grass and was forced to fight for her food. She did not know how, and chose to simply remove herself from the "herd" and go hungry. She never learned how to fight for her food, because she was never kept in a situation where she had to.

We keep our group in a large pasture, and I'm more inclined to let them "sort it out" because the offending newcomer has TONS of room to run to. We still however, work up slowly, putting the newcomer and the lowest horse on the totem pole in a paddock with supervision. We integrate slowly, because even WE do not have a large enough pasture to be letting them sort it out, in my opinion. If the horse is not able to get itself out of sight of the herd, you DO NOT have enough room to be letting a herd "sort it out".

I hope God tells her to smash her computer with a sledgehammer.

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post #7 of 34 Old 02-03-2010, 09:25 PM
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The only horse I've known with mental issues related to other horses is Soda. He's very aggressive in the herd and has to be dominant. Before I moved him home with my one mare he was with 3 geldings and constantly put holes in the other horses. I think it was made worse by the changing hiearchies in the herd as one of the other horses got older and started challenging more. It was definitely worse in the winter when they were more confined. I don't really now though. I have no idea what his living circumstances were for the first 5-6 years of his life, so maybe there was something that caused it.

Now he's gotten better and seems to be learning to moderate his biting. Maybe it has to do with being with a mare? Or just one horse? I'm not really sure, so I worry about eventually moving him. I can't imagine other people are going to be ok with my horse eating theirs. He seems happy having just the one other horse, so we'll leave it at that for now. Also, he isn't putting actual holes in her any more.. more like drool marks now.

I guess I'm not really sure how to make him less aggressive when I'm not there. He's no longer aggressive when I am there... that's an improvement... He used to be aggressive/dominant towards Flame when I was in the paddock.

He used to be aggressive towards new horses on trail rides too, but that has gotten just about 100% better.

Last edited by MN Tigerstripes; 02-03-2010 at 09:28 PM.
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post #8 of 34 Old 02-03-2010, 09:29 PM
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This thread is great, thanks for posting!
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post #9 of 34 Old 02-03-2010, 09:37 PM
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My horse lives in a big herd with other horses but they have a huge pasture. Ive noticed that horses are able to form smaller groups of "buddys" to be and graze with within the one huge herd. Weve always just put others in after an incubation period because they have lots of room to run and fight things out. There is also tons of grass to be had for all in every season except winter and in winter there are many round bales availble. For the once stalled horses they are put in a smaller paddock with less horses and monitered, then when they have figured it all out, put in bigger pastures. it worked great for my horse, took a long while but now he is fat and happy.
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post #10 of 34 Old 02-04-2010, 08:30 AM
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hmmm, interesting. My herd does a lot of my work for me. One thing that I find interesting is how often I see "dominant" or "aggressive" interchangeable with "herd leader". I personally think that both of these traits are actually bigger signs of insecurity, which is very common when interacting horses with our "fairytale" world. This insecurity can come from mental or physical reasons. Some of the most physically compromised horses that I've seen have also been the most outwardly aggressive, due to that much stronger of a need to protect themselves and test their leader due to the fact that their "fight/flight" mechanism has been compromised.

I personally have a small herd, usually 5-10 horses, I can seperate them or put them together, it doesn't matter. However, when bringing in horses with a serious gap in their social skills, my herd does a lot of the work for me. The most recent was a mare that was brought in that was supposedly "so aggressive" that she couldn't be turned out with other horses. She is not leader material, but she is very insecure, I like to call it "bully syndrome". That mare never got a scratch, but was instantly put down to the bottom of the herd, yet over one young pony. If I give that mare too much responsibility, and only turn her out with that pony, it affects her anxiety level all the way around with the extra stress put on her. Over the few months that the mare has been here, her whole behavior has changed, along with her muscle tension releasing, coat improving, and a more pleasant demeanor. That mare has spent her whole life by herself besides a few experiments where she was deemed "dangerous". She had no problem finding her way into the acceptance of a good herd without so much as a mark on her skin.

Another example is a 3 yr old that is owned by a friend of mine. The 3 yr old was turned out with a very submissive mare, which the filly was dominant over,as well as my friend. After completely running her over a few times, I told her to bring the horse over and we would work with her. Knowing the fillies tendencies, I turned her out with my laid back, yet firm mare. I had never seen anything like it, the mare was munching on some hay and when I turned the filly out, she took off running and ran smack into the mare! The filly had no respect of personal space. Now, the funny thing, the herd could have cared less about the filly until she pushed on their space. She had to do more than respect that space to be accepted, she had to relax. Every time she let out one of her high pitched, neurotic screams, every ear in the herd was pinned back at her. I did some liberty work along with a herd, and in less than a month, her whole frame of mind had been transformed, it took a lot of stress off of her not to be in charge.

To be "herd leader" is a pretty intense position, but hopefully the person adopts that position overall. However, even the herd leader within the horses should be just that "a leader". When we post threads about how leadership involves minimal physical force, only to defend our space and how we should teach and lead rather than scold and overly discipline, shouldn't we expect the same out of our horse leaders? I see far too many "bullies" labeled as "leaders". This mentality affects the mentality of the whole herd.

I personally love using my herd, but I've seen it go the other way as well depending on the stability of the herd. I've seen herd horses get herd dependent and more neurotic than if the are by themselves. If I see this, then it is obvious that the persons position as leader has not been established.

When we bring horses into our environment, we do have a certain responsibility to them. It is far from natural, but we can offer them security and stability in our world. My lead horse is my best friend, and its nice to know that whatever horse I feel like riding in the pasture, I will not be attacked. Once I am with that horse, it is my job to protect it and no other horse will attempt to go after it while I'm on its back (if I've done my job).

Is there some risk with "setting Hidalgo free"? Sure, but I do think that a good leader horse, like a good leader human, will only use as much pressure as necessary. Unfortunately, in todays micro-managed horse society, a decent lead horse is sometimes hard to find.
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