The Stables

Aggression In The Herd

Working around a horse why do most readily accept grooming, picking up feet, leading in hand but turn them out in a field with other horses and they can sometimes turn into a monster? Aggression in horses is actually a natural and common behaviour which stems back to the wild protecting themselves from predators. In time, most behaviour settles but for some horses it can be a difficult attitude to manage.

High Spirits Or Anxiety

So why does your horse’s behaviour change so drastically when turned out? This could be just a show of sheer exhilaration of going out for some fresh air and grass. Or it could be a nervous reaction to being out of his secure environment in a stable. Most horses at some time during their lifetime will struggle in a herd or in a separated paddock. This can be anything from moving a horse to new situations to separation anxiety.

Loving The Ladies

Stallions and geldings can be very protective over mares. If male horses have been grazed next to a paddock of mares or together, a new arrival can invite protective or bordering aggressive behaviour over them. They feel that the mares need to be guarded and will tell a newcomer to stay away. Some geldings could also be dealing with a case of stallion tendencies if he has not been completely gelded. Sadly this is a problem which is quite common and a rig horse can be troublesome with other horses in a field.

Living Alone

Some horses have for extended periods been living alone or grazed with sheep or cattle which they readily accept. Their social skills can be affected by this and then by placing them in a herd of horses can be extremely difficult for them to deal with. Their anxiety then turns to aggression. If you are placing a horse into a herd for the first time, it is wise to separate them for a while with electric fencing. It gives them time to get used to each other and settle into one another’s company. It can take quite a few weeks for the hierarchy in a herd to settle again.

We All Need Space

A big factor in horse behaviour can be space or the lack of it. The larger the pasture the less likely you will have with behaviour issues within a herd. If there is only a couple of acres for them to graze, it is easy for the aggressor to drive all the horses around in a small area. They will find it less fun to run around during any violent disagreements when the acreage is vast. Space is however a premium but the more you can give, the better for a herd of horses. If this is a problem, then separate paddocks within the area to calm potential threating behaviour would be sensible.

Fighting Over Food

With most animals, food is a priority in their lives and anyone threatening to take their food away will provoke aggression. Feed horses separately, ideally in their stables rather than a group in the field. If they are turned out twenty-four hours a day, then make sure there is a huge gap between the horses when feeding them. Always ensure there is an ample supply of resources such as hay and water, so they have no need to fight with one another over supplies.

A Calmer Situation

By separating and giving your horses time to get to know each other is taking longer than anticipated, then you might want to consider herbal supplements that can help reduce aggression. The market is vast, so do your homework and ask your local feed supplier what supplement would help. Remember to introduce supplements slowly into their feed and watch for changes in attitude. Make sure that their energy is directed with lots of work by hacking them out as often as you can and schooling them to give them focus. Most horses need to have their mind simulated every day. This then makes grazing in the field with other horses their relaxing and calm time bringing harmony to the herd.

by Samantha Hobden

Image credit: Pixabay/Shutterstock

One Comment

  • Joanne GG Barrett

    There is a lot of mis-conception around aggression in the field and those horses being the ‘boss’. From my learning over the years, aggressive horses are insecure horses. I had one, who was very aggressive with my other horses, (sadly I lost her a few years ago) and my current mare isn’t aggressive at all, She is secure in herself, doesn’t move when other horses pull faces at her and will only retaliate when she is pushed too far. Its very interesting to observe