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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I am bringing this discussion over here. My Horse Has Began Attacking Other Herd Members

What do you all think of this aggressive behavior that has arisen in my young 6 year old Saddlebred gelding at a training barn?

He was a fine harness horse at a Saddlebred barn in New Jersey. Six moths ago he was sold and hauled by truck to a dressage barn in Oregon. He was thin, had ulcers (cured with Ulcerguard) and has since gained 200 pounds. He has been put into 5 days a week training schedule under saddle and now has become physically fit. . He is turned out in the gelding pasture every day and has always been the low ranking horse. He does have some horse friends.

Well, lately, in the last month or so, he has taken up the habit of standing alone in the pasture, watching other geldings, seems to be thinking about it with his ears flicking one way or the other independantly. Then, he suddenly races top speed toward the chosen victim and bites him on the butt. The other turns with a Why You! demenor attacks back. My horse instantly runs away like Oh I didn't mean it.

In addition, this week he bit the groom on the arm while she was leading him in from the paddock.






trailscout
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#31 a moment ago

PTSD? This just does not sound like normal horse behavior at all as you describe it. Does he bite his friend or just one or two of the horses? Or is he striking out randomly at any horse? Lots of details and questions. Might be best to start a new thread rather than tacking on to someone else's. say......My Horse Has Began Attacking Other Herd Members?


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AragoASB
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#32 a moment ago

I think he attacks higher ranking horses. His two horse friends he does not attack that I know of. This monday he got kicked in the hind leg, probably by one of his victims and now is on stall rest. (He's fine, getting better).



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trailscout
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#33 a moment ago

Well that doesn't sound like aggression. Sounds like normal dominance competition. Horses can play kind of rough. Sounds like he's having trouble working into the herd. It would be important to know what kind of interactions were happening before he started hanging out by himself figuring out how to best his nemesis.

And even more important would be to carefully introduce him back into the herd with detailed attention to interactions that follow.
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Yes it is obviously dominance aggression. But now it at least in one incidence become human aggression. When I first started riding him, maybe a month into it that would be last July, I was standing in the arena holding him by the bridle. and he grasped my shoulder with his teeth. He did not bite down. I instantly yelled and hit him with the reins of course and made him back up. But I wonder, since he is a cribber and wears a strap when not being ridden that he was trying to crib on me. He has a lot of funny idiosyncracies and is a sort of anxious Woody Allen kind of personality. But maybe he was trying to bite me now that he has actually bitten someone he knows well (the groom).
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 · (Edited)
I don't know what he does before he attacks the other horse. I do not live nearby so this is what I have been told, The behavior started about a month ago. He stands off by himself, flicks his ears around while looking at the other horse, Then launches himself, runs up behind them and bites them on the butt. Then instantly retreats at top speed. He seemed to have accepted his low rank up until now. I know that some other dominant horses sort of brutalized him, a couple of heavier agressive horses, but they have been sold. Also, some of his friends have recently been sold. He may have been stall kept at the New Jersey Saddlebred barn and does not know how to act in a herd. But I wonder about this increased aggression and now he has bitten someone. Of course the groom instantly gave him a you are going to die treatement for about 30 seconds.
 

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I have just not been around stalled horses so this is mostly out of my experience. Horses are very social and emotional animals. Solitary confinement can cause all kinds of psychological problems in humans and I believe it is more so in horses. That's basically what stall 'vices' are, in my readings. Cribbing is certainly not attacking the wood. It may well be that is what he is doing rather than jut biting people. It doesn't take much effort for a horse to significantly break human skin. If there were no cuts, then he was not intending harm. But, well, still, that's not safe. But being heavy handed with him could worsen things.

No way to know from even the details you have shared but it sounds like something is going on for certain with your horse. Without you being around him more, I don't know what to say.

Hopefully some of the more experienced in this area will chime in. Sounds like a bigger problem now than just dominance squabbles.

I just think he has a bunch of lingering internal issues that have not been resolved. But take that with a grain of salt.

Best thing for the horse right now might be a human friend that he feels he can trust.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 · (Edited)
He has some charming mannerisms.When saddled and standing in the arena he makes chewing motions like a submissive colt to people. Then he ducks his head down and bites the air. He sometimes crosses his front legs like a woman. He does not like apples and must have his carrots cut into bite sized pieces. He will stall weave when the other horses in the barn are taken to the turnout and he is left behind, but only for a short time. Really, he might have been stall kept all his life.

He knows I am his friend and knows he can trust. But when I first got him, he is a big tall 16.2 horse, I was kind of scared of him. Isn't everyone a little scared of a new horse? Leading he would overwalk me and crowd me, Or pull back to go to the turnout rather than to the crossties. We straightened that out and now he leads well and respectfully. I come to have lessons in riding him the way he is being trained. Actually I've never had a riding lession in my whole life but have owned and ridden many horses including gaited Saddlebreds. He likes me, sometimes he does not see me for weeks but he neighs when he sees me again. His true human he trusts is his trainer. She rides him five times a week, that is why he is now so fit. Maybe that is why he feels he should move up in equine society.
 

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This may have nothing to do with the behavior but not liking apples and wanting carrots jumped out at me - to me that would indicate teeth trouble.

I’ve noticed that horses will become unsettled if a horse leaves the herd for good. I guess it upends the hierarchy. You mentioned that some of his friends got sold so maybe the herd is busy rearranging itself.

Our barn has a rule that herds are often rearranged so that they don’t form very strong herd hierarchy (and buddy sourness). The BO will split them up and mix them up on a daily basis. She’s formed a few different groups of horses which get on and within those she mixes it up. It works great. They can all see each other but don’t come to expect that they will always be let out with the same buddies. It also helps with riding because our arena is right next to turn out so horses don’t automatically think they will be going with their special buddy every single time.

We have this new mare who came to us with extreme separation anxiety both with horses and with people and this rotation principle helped her a lot. She used to run up and down the fence if there were people riding (even though she had other horses with her in turn out) but if she was left in her stall she would have a nervous breakdown. Now, with all the coming and going, she hardly flicks an ear.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
He just had his teeth floated a few months ago.

I feel sorry for horses who's friends are sold down the road. Years later they will remember them. Even old horses remember horses (and people) from their youth. Wild mares will leave a stallion's band to join up with a stallion she likes, then return after she is bred.

My BO has ~60 horses. The barn kept ones are turned out every day There is a mare pasture where the mares live outside and some barn kept mares are turned out. 7 breeding stallions that are turned out in paddocks, a mare and foal pasture and two gelding pastures. She buys, trains and sells horses and also sells them for others, so many horses come and go.
 

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@AragoASB Me too, I feel sorry for them when their friends leave. We’ve had two passings due to old age at our yard recently so unfortunately, it is just a fact of life. Their friends did look for them for a day or two but it wasn’t major drama. They had other horses to spend time with.

Having only a few horses at home is worse for that, I feel. They don’t get so attached when there are many horses around. Sorry, this may be slightly off topic but it is in the general vicinity of herd behavior.

I don’t really have any advice on your horse having a go at other horses. Other than separating them there isn’t much you can do. I’ve seen people take a problem horse out and then slowly re-integrate them by turning them out with one other horse only, cycled through the entire herd. I guess judging by your description of the yard it isn’t really an option.
 

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I only have an anecdote to share with you. I don't know if it will be helpful, but here it is.

There's a young pony in my horses' pasture named Scout. Scout is the ultimate under-pony. He is just super meek and submissive, and everyone knows it. However, a few months ago they started him under saddle. He was being ridden with some frequency. And then he made his move. All the sudden he was attacking, well, not everyone, but the three ponies that were immediately above him in the hierarchy. He moved up really quickly. That lasted for a couple of weeks, and then, well, I'm not really sure what happened. But he's back to being under-pony again. I will say that they seem like they've stopped riding him, and I wonder if that could be related. I actually almost started a thread asking about this. I wanted to know whether starting a horse could lead to that horse trying to move up in the hierarchy. Did your horse's behavior coincide with him being ridden a lot more?

ETAL FWIW Scout's behavior wasn't like your guy's, where he seemed to be thinking about biting them and then did it. It was more typical scuffling type stuff, like they'd get hay and be playing "musical flakes" where everyone who is dominant pushes everyone who is submissive off the "best" hay. He went from being the guy who was always pushed off to the guy who was doing the pushing, in a lot of cases.
 

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If this behavior started at a new barn where there is added pressure (More then he is used to) from work, routine, new horses and people, unsettled/intense horse and human energy, etc. He could be feeling overwhelmed and defensive.

An insecure horse will appear distracted and forget about the person handling him because he wants his friends/safety. Which can lead to the walking on top of handler to get to the barn, pasture, etc.

Biting a human could be defensive behavior. A reaction to how that person is handling the horse. Maybe the handler is rushing and not paying attention to how he feels causing him to be worried. That leads to needing to protect himself from this intense, rushed, crazy energy person. If the work is too much for him he could get defensive thinking about what he is expected to do in the ring.

If this is his first experience in a group turn out and he was getting attacked by the other horses, he could feel discouraged and the need to protect himself and his space when horses come too close. Or he is trying to figure out how to interact with the other horses, but is not confident to truly challenge for ranking. Another possibility is he is too stressed in group turnout and is now feeling comfortable enough to act out his unhappiness. (It takes time for them to settle in to a new home and to be themselves)

He is still fairly young and probably lacking experience with worldly things such as the busy training and sales barn where horses come and go. There are probably many people working there and each person handles the horses differently. Some horses are really sensitive and can't handle a busy barn or being handled by random people. It's too unsettling for them.

As for the treats, horses that have never been given treats will sometimes refuse them. They don't know it's food. The horses that are less trusting of humans can be suspicious of treats and refuse them. Some horses don't like apples or carrots.

Good luck with him!
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 · (Edited)
Thank you Paradise for helping me try to figure this out. I will explain his situation in more detail.

If this behavior started at a new barn where there is added pressure (More then he is used to) from work, routine, new horses and people, unsettled/intense horse and human energy, etc. He could be feeling overwhelmed and defensive.

------------------------He has been at this barn for 7 months. The first month they started training under saddle since he was probably a fine harness horse (forelock shaved off from a Saddlebred barn) and turning him out in the gelding paddock with 8 or 10 other geldings. A large square bale of orchard grass hay was in there the group would feed off of so you could see he was submissive. He also had two good buddies he was also submissive to. Then I bought him and for the past 6 months his training schedule is 5 days a week. He is not being trained as a dressage horse, he is being trained as a well broke and well trained trail horse. So he is arena trained but some days he is ridden on trails and in fields. He gets ridden about an hour each time. Nothing has changed in his work schedule.

An insecure horse will appear distracted and forget about the person handling him because he wants his friends/safety. Which can lead to the walking on top of handler to get to the barn, pasture, etc.

-------------------- Yes he tried that with me one time the first month I had him leading past the turn to the gelding pasture. My trainer saw this and coached me what to do to show him you do not go where you want to go, you go where I want to go.

Biting a human could be defensive behavior. A reaction to how that person is handling the horse. Maybe the handler is rushing and not paying attention to how he feels causing him to be worried. That leads to needing to protect himself from this intense, rushed, crazy energy person. If the work is too much for him he could get defensive thinking about what he is expected to do in the ring.

-----------------------The lady he bit on the arm while leading him is the head groom and a VERY good horsewoman. She was bringing him out of the gelding pasture. She is not a rushed crazy person. In fact, she lives in the same house as the BO and they know well and discuss all the horses quite a lot.

If this is his first experience in a group turn out and he was getting attacked by the other horses, he could feel discouraged and the need to protect himself and his space when horses come too close.

------------------He has been turned out with other geldings for the last 7 months and has always been low ranking and submissive. With this attacking behavior has starting about a month ago. One thing that has changed is that he has been turned out in paddock 5 or 6 times the size with more horses. He has one friend that has been there as long as my horse has been there, a big blanket Appolusa. This ap lives there and is no danger of being sold off. They hang out, then the ap goes over to be around other horses that my horse avoids. So he is standing out there by himself, seems to think about it, then runs in, bites the horse then runs away. The behavior is not always linked with jealousy over the blanket ap. He does this when the ap friend is not in there and to seemingly random horses.


Or he is trying to figure out how to interact with the other horses, but is not confident to truly challenge for ranking. Another possibility is he is too stressed in group turnout and is now feeling comfortable enough to act out his unhappiness. (It takes time for them to settle in to a new home and to be themselves)

-----------------He is a lot more stressed if he is not in turnout. He will start stall weaving for instance. I feel he needs a psychiatrist. I sure do lately........ :)

He is still fairly young and probably lacking experience with worldly things such as the busy training and sales barn where horses come and go. There are probably many people working there and each person handles the horses differently. Some horses are really sensitive and can't handle a busy barn or being handled by random people. It's too unsettling for them.

---------------yes he is a definitely sensitive horse. Worried in turnout. Worried in the barn because not in turnout. Worried someone just rinsing his legs is going to give him a bath.
Worried about the hissy noise a fly spray bottle makes. Worried because the shoer pulls a shoe he puts the foot down now waving it about because it feels different. He is such a worrier he has to be on ulcer preventative.

As for the treats, horses that have never been given treats will sometimes refuse them. They don't know it's food. The horses that are less trusting of humans can be suspicious of treats and refuse them. Some horses don't like apples or carrots.

-----------------------He came from a Saddlbred barn and I was shocked that he does not know what peppermints are. Saddlebred people I have been around, Arab people too, always have peppermints in their pockets. They rattle the cellephane to get the horses to put up their ears and look photogenic. I thought for sure he would go for peppermints. Nope.

Good luck with him!
---------------------The reason he is still 100+ miles away is there was no barn at our new place and the fences are a joke. Well, now there is a new barn and we are still working on the fences. There are 1000s of square miles of National Forest to ride in here. There is a mini horse friend. I know my insecure horse will be buddy sour but at least he will have a permanent horse friend. Dinky is a pack pony. So Dinky can go on trail rides too and carry the piknik lunch.
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Some horses that are unhealthy can appear to be submissive types when in reality they have strong personalities.

I would suspect if he was 200 lbs underweight and unfit, he was in a weak, subdued state. Most likely he is naturally a more dominant horse.

My friend bought a horse off a dude string. She felt sorry for him because he was thin, wormy and the other horses pushed him around off the food. Soon she had him in good health and he gained weight, looked like a different horse.

He became the dominant horse in the pasture, and was for the rest of his life. He also would do an open-mouthed rush at horses, and if they didn't move he'd bite or kick them. Soon the other horses were all trained to give him respect.

It is possible since your horse is finding himself feeling strong and healthy, he is trying it with humans to see if his place has changed with people too. Probably a couple reminders will help him see people still need to be listened to, even if he can boss horses now.
 

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I've heard the ponys small though they are often rule the roost among much larger and stronger horses. What a cute little horse! And I don't say that often.
 
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If you think your horse is aggressive take a look at this. My 3 yo filly is a bearcat or a pyranna. My farrier says she is a stallion in a mares body. I have two horses and the other is a gelding that is 18 yo. The filly is constantly after him and biting him every time she gets a chance and chases him all over. Yes those are bite marks on him.
20201226_152534.jpg
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 · (Edited)
I've heard the ponys small though they are often rule the roost among much larger and stronger horses. What a cute little horse! And I don't say that often.
Dinky definitely has small man syndrome. He dominated and plagued my black Arabian stallion, running around and around causing the Arab to do endless 360s off his hindquarters. I wish I could have gotten him to do that. Then Dinky would suddenly dart in and bite him.The Arab had bite marks all over him. Every once in a while the Arab whould have enough, grab Dinky by the crest of the neck and throw him.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
My trainer just told me Arago is a young horse and this is how they act. He has gotten used to being there and now is trying to figure where he fits in life. Trying to see if he can dominate people too. She said all male horses bite each other. She said he's testing boundries now that he feels safe and happy and healthy. She said it is not about jealousy over the blanket ap friend, horses don't think like that. She said his kick injury from last Monday is all well now.
 
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