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This just happened today and we are totally stumped by it and I'm looking for a little input.

Back Story: These 4 Horses have lived together for over 5 years peacefully, 3 mares and 1 gelding. Our "top mare" Angel was recently diagnosed with Cushings and Kidney Failure. What I'm only assuming could be sensing weakness, one of the other mares, Kira, started picking on Angel pretty heavily, stealing her grain, feed, etc. It wasn't really anything TOO concerning until today where Kira kicked Angel 6-10 times. Angel fell, got back up, walked to the barn, and then died.

I have a mustang myself, so I kind of related it to mustang habits where they will fight when they know someone is weaker to gain rank, etc. But I didn't really think it would happen with these two mares. Should we be concerned about Kira going after the other horses now? Or is it just a really bad...coincidence the way it happened?
 

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I am sorry about your loss.

I don’t know about horses in particular, but I think that it is fairly common in animal world to drive away or kill a sick herd member. (Unfortunately, and unbelievably, this still happens to humans in very poor areas.) The underlying logic is quite solid - animals don’t know whether the illness is contagious so they stop the spread any way they can. On the other hand, we have two retired mares on the yard which are currently not doing too well but the herd hasn’t turned on them. I personally would separate her from the herd but I am a known worrier.
 

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I am sorry to hear this. But yes, it does happen. We are very aware of that at my home. Years ago I had my retired mare out with our 6 other horses. She used to be the Alpha mare but as she aged one of the younger mares constantly harassed her to the point that she was losing weight and not doing well within the herd. We eventually put her in a small pen by herself next to the other horses. She was much happier. Currently we have a 21 yr old mare with Navicular she has always been mid to low on the pecking order here. We brought a new horse home at the end of April who was at first lower than her but these last few weeks with pasture thinning she has been challenging her for her spot. So we removed her (the older mare) when resources start to get thinner (ie winter coming on or pasture thinning) the horses survival instinct kicks in - and only the fittest survive. Horses don't realize that they are domesticated and are pretty much assured their next meal - so instinct kicks in.

I am sorry for the loss of your older mare. It's a horrible thing to witness
 

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Yes, it is very common among pack/herd animals to drive away or attack a sick or ill herd member as the herd is only as strong as its weakest link.



I'm sorry for the loss of your older mare.
 

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I would not take any chances with that mare killing another horse. Some horses are very aggressive and do best separate from others.

The horse retirement farm once had a herd of about 12 horses. There was one old thoroughbred mare who was extremely aggressive at feeding time. She had to be caught first and fed first to ensure the volunteers wouldn't get hurt. I always thought she needed to be moved to a different pasture for safety reasons. One day she went over and kicked the other thoroughbred in the hock, penetrating the joint capsule. They tried treating the injured horse but things went south.

It was a preventable death because that mare should have been moved long before that incident. She was dangerous and i can only imagine if it was a person she had kicked, rather than another horse. She wasn't trying to be aggressive to people but if you happened to get between her and another horse, all bets were off.

I had a mare on lease once that cornered my other horse and kicked her repeatedly. The owner of the aggressive mare said " she once came outside and found the aggressive mare standing on top of one of her other horses. " If they hadn't intervened, their other horse would have died.

My herd of mares all get along well. My gelding is aggressive and chases the mares. Every time I try putting them together he starts chasing them at a gallop. Even the mare he likes, he constantly lunges her in circles and harasses her. So he is kept permanently separate because while he isn't trying to hurt anyone, he is a complete annoyance.

I don't let him near my old mare because she won't be able to escape fast enough. Not even worth risking.

My mares are all buddies. In fact my boss mare guards and protects the old mare. She aggressively blocks any strange horses from coming near the old mare. To the point i was afraid she would try to kill the one gelding i had for training.

She wanted him Gone! In a herd environment, he would have been chased far, far away, never to return. She made it very clear, he was not welcome. She even tries to guard "her herd" from strange horses on trail rides. I don't allow that behavior under saddle though. I can only imagine if she had a foal to protect. She would be a very protective mother!
 

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I suspect this happens in areas of limited feed, and where there is competition based on pecking order. Feeding time always gives horses something to 'fight over'. That's 'survival of the fittest' - injured or ill horses use resources and cause stress to the herd because they can draw in predators. BUT I have also heard of 'safety in numbers' - some mustang herds will actually protect their injured and elderly, and they can live into their 40s. Such as what @4horses was speaking of with her mares being friends. The problem with separation is that it can just create a vacuum in the pecking order, and one of your other horses might start behaving aggressively. You might consider separating Kira during feeding time. It might cause them some stress until they get accustomed to the routine. I had to do that when I had 2 mares kept together - one was over 26 and kept getting chased away from food by the teenager.

In general, when you have a herd horse that is getting chased away from feed and has illness/injury, or is elderly, you should give that horse its own area. It's only fair and safe for that horse. I'm really sorry for your loss =( that must have been very difficult to watch!!! Many hugs!
 
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Sorry to hear OP

Firstly I would NOT at all be jumping to the conclusion that this mare(who has lived peacefully in a herd for years) is dangerous & needs to be separated from other horses.

Yes, as it is not too uncommon for sick or elderly horses to closely be 'bullied', watch herd behaviour & manage accordingly.

What exactly happened that the old mare got kicked repeatedly? Was she getting out of young mares way but not fast enough? Was she NOT backing down, yielding to her? Was she trapped in a small area that she couldn't get far enough away?
 

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Fro what I have observed over the years, this is very normal behaviour for a horse herd, especially a well established, multi generational one. My neighbour has a large herd of horses comprised of extended family members. He introduced a new mare into the group roughly nine years ago and Teddy is still an outcast to this day, interestingly her foals are all accepted members of the herd but Teddy is relegated to the edges and kept at a distance. The owner knows that once Teddy gets to old he will separate her from the rest and just turn her out in the hills on her own. He has learned this from experience having lost a few horses to the "mob Mentality". In one particular case an elderly mare - one of the once core members of the herd - was driven over a cliff by a couple of younger mares.


It is a normal part of the natural world which is so much more predatory than Disney would have us believe.
 
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