OTTB scared of other horses??
Im a bit worried about my OTTB...He's had to go stay at a friends for the week because we have fires here. My friend has a small mare and last time he went to visit they seemed to be getting on over the fence so we decided to put them in together. That went ok for about 5 minutes. But his behaviour was odd, he turned his back on her and went off grazing while she was still prancing around obviously excited at this new horse in her paddock and he was not even acknowledging her. So when he turned his back on her she bit him on the bum. It wasnt much of a bite, no broken skin etc. He took off running as if he was terrified and ran straight into the fence, cutting himself up a bit. I have had this problem before with him, its as though he doesnt know normal horse behaviour.
So now theyve been in separate paddocks for a week and are all lovey dovey over the fence. My friend just rang to say she wants to try putting them in together again. Im worried the same thing or worse will happen. So my questions are..Is this typical of OTTBs that havent had much opportunity to socialise? Is there any thing we can do to help him overcome his fear? Are there any techniques we can use?
Or maybe I should just say to my friend Im sorry I dont want him to hurt himself again and take him somewhere else if she insists on putting them in together? But it would be good for his own mental health if he can learn to socialise with another horse.
I had intended to get another horse myself to keep him company but now Im wondering if I would just end up having to keep them separated anyway.
Some horses have just not gotten a chance to be social with other horses which makes them a little confused or sometimes over excited about having contact with other horses, if I were you, if it is not too much of a hassle to keep them separated, I would, to avoid unnesisary injury.
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Okay i'm going to attempt to give my best advice here, but it was a little confusing to read your post so correct me if i'm wrong, but it looks like you have two issues here. One is you feel pressured by your friend to put your horse in with another horse, despite the fact he has retained an injury in the past from such a situation. And second, you are wondering if a horse reacting in "Fear" of a bite is strange or unnatural behavior?
First and formost, NEVER feel pressured by anyone to do something with your horse that you dont feel comfortable about. This goes beyond simple horse mechanics and into positive community relationships. If this is your friend, than she should respect your concerns and realize that having both horses in the same pen, might be detrimental to both animal's safety. Most boarding situations have either single turn out or group turn out, depending on what your bugget is and your comfort level with turning out your horse with other horses. Remember horses are social creatures, and every single one of them are different in personality, but incorporate many of the same "Body languages" seen in all horses. Meaning some horses when not previously developed into a "herd situation" can have several days to weeks of "Fighting, biting and kicking" between horses, because it is their nature to search out their place in the herd. Each horse in a group is either submissive to another horse, or dominate over the entire heard. And every new horse introduced to a herd, must "feel" their way around the herd to realize their standing within the cast system. Unfortunately horses lack vocal reasoning, so they "talk" with their mouths, and this is characterized by biting or nipping. Their lips are like their thumbs, and when telling another horse that "You are submissive to me" they "bite" them as a way of asserting physical dominance over one another. Depending on the horse, some horses are particularly aggressive when asserting dominance. Have you ever seen two stallions fighting before? However, it is more common in a gelding to gelding, or mare to mare, or mare to gelding situation for a horse to kickout, bite, rear, or in some cases, strike at another horse to demand submission from the newcomer.
The good news is that after several days, or in some cases, weeks, the newcomer will settle down into it's new "Herd lifestyle," and "get along to get along" with the other horses. (With the occasional "test" here and there, if a particular horse wants to challenge its place within the herd.)
In your situation most likely what happened is that your horse was not experiencing anything abnormal but simply "submitting" to your friends horse. Two horses can get along quite well when there's a fence between them, and that is because both horses realize the boundary to their own "territory." Have you ever seen a horse in one single paddock charge another horse in the paddock next to it for walking too close to the dividing fence? This is because the dominate horse was telling the oblivious horse that this is "My space" and you need to stay away from it! As soon as said horse removes itself from the fence, both horses go back to being happy grazers.
The same applys in a herd situation too. Most likely your friends horse was used to being the dominate horse in its paddock (especially if it never had any other paddock mates, and went unchallenged until now), so when your horse was introduced, the other horse responded naturally by asserting its dominance.
Horse language is purely physical, and can be quite violent at times. I'm sorry to hear your horse got injured because of this reality, but in order to protect your horse from future injury, I would decline your friends invitation, and pasture your horse in it's own paddock (maybe with an empty paddock between them). Then you'd have two happier, healthier horses.
Again if I'm wrong correct me, and I'll amend my advice.
Thanks for taking the time to reply. Yes I suppose I do feel a bit pressured by my friend to put them in together. She's quite a pushy character and Im pretty laidback but obviously my first priority is to protect my horse.
It wasnt so much that he reacted in fear at a bite as that it seemed an extreme overreaction and he didnt seem to know he could bite her back or kick her or indeed stand up for himself in any way. His behaviour was of course submissive but he seemed to be frightened beyond just submissive. When he ran down the paddock she wasnt chasing him, he just went into a blind panic and seemed terrified. Sorry if I didnt explain that very clearly! It has been the same every time I put him a paddock with other horses, he is extremely submissive and doesnt seem to know how to stand up for himself.He will end up just standing in a corner shaking! Its like he needs assertiveness training! He is like this in general, the easiest horse to train, he would never dream of defying me or testing me.
What I am wondering, given his obvious lack of socialising and his fear of normal horse behaviour is there anything I can do to build his confidence without endangering him? As you say it may take take a few weeks to sort out the pecking order but I cant get to the stage of having him in with another horse for a few weeks, he is so terrified he will just run into fences (or jump them!) to get away.
And yes having had an hour to think about it obviously I am going to insist that he's not going in with the mare, I was just a bit taken by surprise when my friend announced to me on the phone that she was putting them in together!
It would be fun if we could all take our horses to assertiveness classes, lol. But unfortunately thats not the reality of horse instinctual dynamics. Your horse might just be ultra submissive, and slightly sensitive to the intrusion of other horses in his comfort zone. Hoping that he become dominate is not the answer, but looking at how your horse simply is, and realizing that maybe he's very uncomfortable in a herd situation. Their are plenty of horses I have known that dont do well in groups. This is a part of individuality between horses, and just as your friends horse is special in its own right, so is yours. There is no way to train a horse to be "assertive" or "dominate" (in fact most of us want that quality out of them, lol.) So instead work with the personality that your horse exumes, and perhaps turn him out in a single paddock situation. I know it can seem like your isolating them from other horses, but thats not true. Horses are just as happy seeing other horses over the fence line and in some cases, most likely your own, do much better in such a situation. As long as your horse can see, smell, and hear other horses, he'll feel right at home, regardless of whether he's in the heard or not. Horses are social creatures, and by letting him be near horses you are for-filling that instinctual urge, while protecting your horse from possible injury. And really the most important thing is the health of your horse. :)
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