Horse Behavior Basics - The Horse Forum
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  • 2 Post By KailynDuggan333
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post #1 of 7 Old 05-27-2013, 08:11 PM Thread Starter
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Horse Behavior Basics

I'm curious about whether there is already a comprehensive list that exists, in bullet or paragraph/chapter form, that discusses horse behavior basics. To elaborate... I see a lot of people that claim they do X to a horse because horses do X to each other in the wild, or naturally, in a herd atmosphere... not all of which seem to make sense to me if I try to put myself into a horse's shoes (har har, pun). Some responses I've seen about why we humans do a particular behavior/action, seem to be more of an excuse for humans, than for the benefit of the horse itself, or seem to exist as an incorrectly drawn correlation regarding horse behavior.

What I'm curious in, is a thread or open discussion, perhaps starting with bullet points, on observations of how horses actually interact with each other. I've seen some threads on what a horse with 'good manners' should look like, with some tips on what a person should do to have 'good manners' around their horse. I specifically want to be able to see what horses do to and with each other and what it means to a horse.

To start... maybe somebody could go into depth on the positioning and movements of EARS, or by bringing up an observation they've seen with their horses, with guesses/theories as to why it happened, and a follow up as to how it was resolved (or the end result). Have you noticed certain behavior from your horse, and learned to use it back at them? (e.g. My parrot has several different types of clicks... I can discern between the types. Most people think they're all the same... but it can be the difference between a playful 'what's going on!' and 'I'm about to bite you if you don't get out of my face'. He responds in kind, if I use them appropriately back at him).

Participation in general is very much appreciated. Videos and pictures are welcome :)
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post #2 of 7 Old 05-29-2013, 08:36 PM
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Well generally, horses live in a herd. There is an alpha mare among the band of mares and a herd sire. The alpha mare runs the herd and the stallion follows along. Foals stay with their mothers until weaning and leave the herd.

The stud colts travel in bachelor bands until they come across a stallion they believe they can beat and they will take his herd- generally and old stallion.

the babies fall in the herd with a pecking order and are taught basic herd manners. You don't beat up someone bigger than you, you eat when you're allowed to eat, do what the herd does, go where the herd goes.

A well behaved horse respects his owner like he would respect the alpha mare in the herd. Takes direction, follows obediently and does not challenge.
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post #3 of 7 Old 06-01-2013, 10:47 PM
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You really have to spend a lot of time simply watching horses communicate. Everything is usually subtle, but the more you pay attention, you see what they understand, and why they don't respond as well to voice cues. For years I took English lessons, and really had no idea about horse behavior, and natural horsemanship. I gave up those "lessons" a long time ago, and started to let the horses teach me. I learned way more in one day with the horses as my teacher than in the years of a "trainer" teaching me about horses. The horses will talk if you learn to listen.
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Last edited by Jake and Dai; 06-02-2013 at 07:19 AM.
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post #4 of 7 Old 06-02-2013, 03:34 AM
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In my observations of domesticated horses living in small herds, the relationships between horses shift and change depending on all sorts of things.
When I had three geldings, the horse whom was in work would be the herd boss. I found this really interesting.
Now I have a mare and foal and an elderly gelding who is in charge EXCEPT when his arthritis is playing up. I always know when he is a bit sore - not necessarily because he is lame but because my baby horse (7 months) is bossing him around - EVEN to the point of taking his food off him (If I am not there to grab him!) Again this fascinates me.
Zephyr's mother is a push-over - so much for the alpha mare theory! However having said that, when Zeph was first born and for the first 2 months she would have killed Persil had he been allowed in her paddock - as it was she was ghastly to him over the fence whenever he tried to entice her little boy over.
Another thing I saw the other day which got my interest was when a guy in a cart pulled by a clydey went past and Persil (my old boy) Insisted on accompanying them the length of the paddock (see photo) WHY??? The other two merely followed.
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post #5 of 7 Old 06-02-2013, 04:45 AM
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It is all very complex and not always what it seems!

I have been around and studied horses for many years and there are still times when I do not understand what has or is going on!

There is a lead mare in a herd. She is the one to the first feed and can easily move another away from theirs. Often she has gained this position by bossing and attacking other horses.
If a new horse is introduced to the herd she is the first one there and will make sure that new horse knows she is leader. If challenged she will attack with teeth and heels. If the new horse is submissive she will allow the others below her to sort out their packing order and often the worse fighting is between the new horse and the lowest in the order of the herd.

Then you get a mare like my old girl. In over 20 years I owned her I never saw her kick or bite another horse. If they went for her she would just walk away.
Come feed time she was the last to get a feed, she would stand back and let the others start to eat before moving to a feed bowl. Anyone watching would assume she was last in pecking order.
I would run her with the yearlings and then integrate the yearlings with the brood mares and foals so when it came to weaning the foals were settled with their new herd. Later I would move the yearlings away and leave the mare with the weaners.

At times I was feeding 16 horses in the field. This can be a bit dodgy if they do not know the rules! I would use the ATV to dish out their food and do it as fast as possible.
When this was happening Madam would stand back and wait, some mares would not allow their foals to eat from their bowl so they would move to stand by Madam, often she would have three foals with her.
when she was eating she would allow the foals to eat and take very little herself. The mares would finish their feed yet they would very rarely ever go anywhere near her to try and take the feed. If they did all she would do was to shake her head with her ears slightly back - never flat back.

On one occasion the 'lead' mare, a bossy devil, was first to the feed, Madam, instead of standing back and waiting walked determinedly to that mare, ears pricked. The mare, without argument, moved on. This was continued until the other horses had eaten most of the feed. I do not know what had happened earlier but Madam was not going to let the other eat. There was no fighting, just one mare moving the other on.
To say that Madam was a 'passive leader' would be true but, if that was the case how could she, without using force, boss the more aggressive lead mare?

Another incident with her was when she went to stud. I was asked what she was like in the field, whether she was bossy or not. I said not.
The stud owner would put the bossy mares together and leave the not so together. I asked for her to be put in with the bossy ones as a matter of interest.
When we turned her out all the others rushed to the incomer, threatening, ears back squealing and tail swishing. Madam just walked past them and started to graze. Nothing induced her to challenge the others so they settled.very quickly and soon were all grazing quietly all around her.
Later another 'bossy' mare arrived and was put out with them all (only about 8 altogether) This mare was ready to take all on but the rest came over and basically walked away after an initial squeal or two.
The stud owner had never seen a herd change their reaction like this. As long as she was there peace reigned.

I miss her calming the others down she was so useful!
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post #6 of 7 Old 06-02-2013, 05:51 AM
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Originally Posted by Foxhunter View Post
It is all very complex and not always what it seems!
Agreed. The herd is certainly more complex than how we typically just rank the horses from top to bottom.

One example from the top two in our bunch,

"Mandy" (18 yrs) is the "boss". Everyone gets out of her way and is relentless at running off a horse that doesn't fall in line.
"Angel" (19 yrs) is a calm, confident "leader". They all (even boss "Mandy") follow her when she moves to a new grazing spot, and will line up behind her if something goes boo in the night.

There does appear to be a "line in the sand" between these two, however. "Angel" will put up with the occasional bossy nip from "Mandy", but if "Mandy" ever kicks "Angel", "Angel" turns into the nastiest fighter you've ever seen, and "Mandy" will end up retreating with scrapes and bites. In a real fight, "Angel" is just too smart and quick for her.
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post #7 of 7 Old 06-04-2013, 07:14 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks for the responses, guys I know the original post was very generalized, but I appreciate all the posts so far. I just signed for my first horse lease today, have taken a couple lessons now, and I like reading these so they're in the back of my mind in hopes of noticing behaviors when I'm out with the horses (or, conversely, if I see a behavior while out at the barn, maybe I can match it up with something similar here on the forums) :)
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behavior , natural communication , natural horsemanship

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