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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?
 

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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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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.
 

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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!
 

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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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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".
 

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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.
 

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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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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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It's so interesting to read what you wrote Flitterbug. I definately agree that it seems to be a very popular misconception that the most aggressive horse is the herd leader. People don't take into account the aggressiveness a horse may develop in defending it's food - it's a trait you really don't see within a herd dynamic in the wild and therefore, you really can't judge it when in domestic captivity.

In our herd, at first glance, you would assume Flika is the "leader". She's viciously aggressive, with both her food and new horses. She is the only horse in the group that concerns us when introducing new animals, because she'll run them along the fenceline relentlessly, just for "fun". I swear, if any horse has a "bullying mentality" it's her. She will go after another horse because she gets "bored". This horse will be across the pasture, minding it's own business, she'll decide to give chase.

However, she's blatantly not the leader. Cinder is. And you will virtually never see Cinder being physical with another horse. She doesn't have to. She has a presence and a soft way about her that other horses simply respect. Every so often, a youngster will mistake that softness for weakness, and then you see how quick that mare can move and how badly she can bring hell on their immature little minds, haha. Cinder keeps the herd working, she keeps it functional. Youngsters learn fairly fast that if Flika has a vendetta against them, as long as they behave nicely, they can wedge Cinder between themselves and Flika to keep Flika in order.

It's just fascinating to watch. Somedays I love nothing better then just watching the herd - and it amazes me how much the herd dynamic shifts. Jynx showed up on the farm with a hot to trot attitude - she figured she could just double barrel any horse that came near her and she'd retain her top totem pole position. I guess that was easy with fat, gimpy broodmares but she learned her lesson fast. She was covered in bites and kicks for a few weeks, but she did it ALL to herself. Now? Jynx is officially at the very bottom of the totem pole. :lol: And let me tell you, I think it did WONDERS for her attitude towards people as well! She learned that her herd attitude transfered to humans as well, making her borderline dangerous. I haven't seen a single flare up of her old problems in the last six months, so something must be working!
 

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my sisters horse was on stall rest for a year & a half, & then in his own field for another 6months. he has never been the same being turned out. he is a lot more agressive towards the other horses, when he used to be very friendly.

my horse, on the other hand, always surprises people. he was abused so he is very cautious around people, but he is always alpha in the herd. he never goes after other horses, but if they are in his way or bugging him, he will always put them in their place.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
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.


Brilliant and so true.
A good leader will just walk through the herd and the seas will part.
Every horse will step aside and yield to their path.
This clear and calm leadership gives a peace to the herd.

I have also taken that good leader out of the balanced herd and watched the leadership vacuum upset the dynamics.
The petty squabbles begin,picking on younger members,mares being chased by the geldings,big arguments at feeding time and so forth.

Introduction of a horse that is not only strange but unfamiliar with normal herd dynamics can be very upsetting to the entire herd and they will in some severe cases try to expel the new horse.

I had an old horseman explain this to me many years ago as I was trying to understand why my horse and I were having so much trouble.

He told me that my horse was sick and out of balance with his herd and did not know his role or place in the world and as a result was acting out and showing great signs of being disturbed by being anxious,nervous,and scared.
He told me that I had to do my best to be consistent and reliable and calm.
I had to provide solid base for the horses life and be someone he could look to.
I had to know what I was doing and be sure and confident in my life.

He explained that my horse was disoriented and confused and if I were to correct that,then most of the problems would vanish.

He was right.
 

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Marecare - it is very interesting what happens to the herd once the lead horse is removed. Its very easy to see who is at the place of "owning" their confidence and who is still heavily reliant on the rock of the herd. Another interesting thing that I've witnessed in the herd is when a couple of the horses got a little spooked by the neighbors setting off fireworks. While most of the horses ran away, my leader walked right to the source of the upset and stood there quietly. He could have sent the group into a frenzied panic, but being the level headed "been there done that" guy that he is, he instead completely kept his cool and let everyone else know there is nothing to worry about.

Gypsygirl - what you describe is very common. However, try this, instead of labeling him as "aggressive", look at him more as "defensive". An injury compromises the horses ability to defend themself. Considering that they are a prey animal, once they do have an injury, they defend themselves that much more, they have to test their leaders that much more. Not to mention, I know that any time I hurt myself I am not the most pleasant person to be around, once you are injured, its only normal to get defensive.
That combined with the fact that even after healing, we really don't do indepth "physical therapy" means that your sisters horse still isn't completely secure. Horses can manipulate their weight in amazing ways so they don't show deviant movement that would attract predators, but at the same time, that leaves them overbearing weight on other limbs and eventually torquing the whole skeletal system. This can be invisible to most people, but it is still affecting the horse and keeping them a bit on edge. It will commonly show up as a stronger influence with the horses physical well being later in life. If we look for correct health not only with what we put in the body, but also how we work the body, behavior problems and lameness issues tend to melt away, build a confident horse, and a safe herd.
 

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Our herd hierarchy is very obvious. I just have an open area, no stalls to feed everyone separate. They all run to their feed buckets lined up along the fence. They are in order of their place in the herd. No fighting no kicking or pushing someone else off. Its the way it is and everyone knows it. Pull one of them out for a few days and its chaos till they get the order settled again.
I think how each one is trained is different as well. You can't train a lead mare the same as you train the bottom rung horse.
 

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yes i understand that flitterbug, i was just showing an example
 

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Great Thread!

In some cases I think big herds are a great idea, and others not. Big herds provide the idea of all the socially aggressive horses to "battle of the fittest" so to speak. The idea of the sub herds I believe is a great idea. Let one leader be the leader, the rest the followers, and so on. Maybe with this socially withdrawn horse, start out with putting him/her out with horses with the same attitude so the horse doesn't feel dominated. Let it build up those social skills so eventually he/she can go out with everyone else. I agree with you that just throwing them out there isn't the best idea :)
 

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Discussion Starter #18
I have noticed through the years a correlation between the horse that has large behavor problems and the same horse having trouble in the herd.

So the horse that kicks out ,bites,unplayful rearing,aggressiveness,wind sucking,chewing,listlessness,depression,weaving,and so on indicate a horse that may have problems with the herd environment.

So if they act like gangsters around people they may have similar troubles in the herd.

If I have a problem with young colts being nippy or trying to kick,then to solve the problem they live with two or three of my nasty old mares for a couple of months.
The mares teach the proper behavior for me.

This transfers because as I enter the herd,the old mares yield and show a"Normal" behavior and the young colts learn from the older members.

Kind of like when my mother would drop me of at my Grandmothers house for the afternoon,Ha!
 

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Welcome to my world. I've owned a socially awkward horse for a decade and there are times when it just does my head in. She can't be turned out in a herd. If she feels threatened by another horse, she is dangerous and will get into nasty fights. She wants to be alpha but doesn't have a clue how to be alpha. So she is aggressive. You can't put her with an alpha horse and expect them to sort it out. You'll just end up breaking up fights. The only horses she can be safely turned out with are ones who would be at the bottom rungs of any herd and are totally non threatening. She won't eat that type of horse for breakfast. However, she rarely gets that opportunity because people see how she is with horses and usually don't even want to risk her in the herd. Or at smaller livery yards, there might not be a horse who suits her.

Just to make things more complicated, she gets anxious and upset turned out alone if she can't see or interact with horses across a fence. So you can't throw her into any field or paddock by herself. It has to be the right field or paddock or she has a meltdown. But it can't neighbour a horse she doesn't like, or she might pick fights over the fence which is never a good idea.

You might think a horse with major aggression issues towards other horses would be a pain in the a**se to handle and ride, right? Not the case. She has fantastic ground manners, respects people, is very soft and obedient on the ground and under saddle, never in ten years has so much as pinned an ear at me. She's an absolute dream to handle. When you're riding or leading her around other horses, she only makes angry faces at them if they are acting out. I did quadrille with her. I have ridden in many jam packed arenas. She's not one of those horses who other riders have to give wide berth to. They can ride within inches of us and she doesn't even pin her ears at them. You can ride stirrup to stirrup with someone on a trail and so long as their horse is behaving, Gypsum is totally cool. But if that horse starts acting silly, she gets annoyed at it and makes threats. She wouldn't kick or bite while under saddle or while being handled on the ground, though. Ever. She knows it would land her in a world of trouble with me, so she restrains her desire to beat the sh*t out of horses who annoy her.

She's a weird horse. No one knows why she does half the things she does. All we can say is she probably wasn't properly socialized as a baby. But at the same time she doesn't display the lack of people skills a lot of unsocialized horses suffer; her people skills are fantastic. I feel bad that she can't have a herd but all attempts to give her social skills, like some of what you guys have mentioned above, have failed. She is the way she is and all I can do is manage it.
 

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I have noticed through the years a correlation between the horse that has large behavor problems and the same horse having trouble in the herd.

So the horse that kicks out ,bites,unplayful rearing,aggressiveness,wind sucking,chewing,listlessness,depression,weaving,and so on indicate a horse that may have problems with the herd environment.

So if they act like gangsters around people they may have similar troubles in the herd.

If I have a problem with young colts being nippy or trying to kick,then to solve the problem they live with two or three of my nasty old mares for a couple of months.
The mares teach the proper behavior for me.


This transfers because as I enter the herd,the old mares yield and show a"Normal" behavior and the young colts learn from the older members.

Kind of like when my mother would drop me of at my Grandmothers house for the afternoon,Ha!
Thats not always the case. In our herd of 4, the horse on the bottom of the herd order is the pushiest toward the human. I find that many times she wants to put me below her in the order just so she is no longer low girl.
She is the most stubborn of the bunch and the most likely to challenge my authority. Its a constant battle for respect with her.
The middle 2 are more happy to relinquish authority to me.
 
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