By Laura Crum
I don’t know about you guys, but a lot of horsemen have pet peeves, something that’s maybe not so important, that they just can’t tolerate in a horse. I know I do. And my biggest pet peeve is “mean” horses. Horses that in a turn out situation, will hurt or terrify other horses. I have never owned a horse like this. Somehow or other my instincts just seem to warn me away from them. I’ve had dominant horses, yes, but never horses that would really beat up on other horses, such that they hurt or truly frightened them. But I have known quite a few such mean horses in my life and I had/have very little tolerance for them.
This isn’t entirely reasonable on my part. The horse isn’t being mean in the sense that a person would be mean. The “mean” horse just has an overly dominant nature. He/she would probably be a great survivor in the wild. Still, I don’t care for them. They can be good performers, but no such mean horse that I have known was very kind or willing in general. However, the truth is its just one of my personal pet peeves.
When I was growing up, my uncle owned one of these ultra-aggressive horses. He called him Wino. Wino was a successful performer as a heel horse, some might have called him a great performer. However, to the end of his days he was an untrustworthy bastard. (Just my humble opinion.) I never liked him. But when my uncle asked to turn him out in my sixty acre pasture, I didn’t like to say no.
At the time I had a couple of mares that belonged to my uncle and two geldings that belonged to me in the field. They all got along fine. I knew that Wino was a dominant horse but figured he would just be the boss. I thought it would be no problem out in a sixty acre field. Wrong.
Wino’s first action on being put in the field was to beat my gelding, Burt, up so thoroughly that Burt went into shock. His gums were pale and he was shaky. He trembled. I put Burt in a corral for the night and turned him out the next day feeling that he and Wino would no longer need to squabble now that Wino was boss. That much was true. But to my surprise Wino proceeded to drive Burt and Lester, the other gelding, completely away from the two mares. The geldings were not allowed to be within sight of Wino and his harem, or Wino would attack them.
I put up with this situation for a few weeks. I owed my uncle a favor. He had kept my horse for several years. I figured eventually the horses would get over it. I told myself it was no big deal. But it bugged me.
I found I was growing angrier and angrier at the sight of my two horses, driven off, and worried all the time. It pissed me off. In the end, I told my uncle he had to move Wino. So Wino went back home, where he subsequently drove two other horses through a pasture fence. One of them died of its injuries.
Time passed. I have a good friend who owns another very dominant gelding. Like Wino, this horse, Bo, was a pretty good performer in his day, but I never cared for him. I thought he was a nasty untrustworthy bastard (see my feelings about Wino). A few years ago my friend was ready to retire Bo. At the time I had one very gentle crippled gelding turned out in a nearby field. My friend knew the owner of the field and asked if she could turn Bo out there, too. The owner of the field said yes. I had misgivings, but what could I say? It wasn’t my field, and the gal was my friend. And at first it seemed to work.
The small group of horses living in the field got along OK. Bo was boss. Rebby, my horse, was bottom man on the totem pole. But it didn’t seem to be a big deal. Except in the winter, when we had to feed hay. Bo would attack the other horses and drive them off all the hay until he’d eaten his fill. It didn’t matter how far apart we threw the flakes, Bo defended them all. The other horses were too scared of him to try very hard to get past him.
Still, eventually the herd was allowed to eat. It was working OK. My friend was happy that Bo was turned out. This went on for a few years. And then the owner of the field allowed a neighbor to put her young mare in with the group. Overnight things went to hell in a hand basket. I didn’t see it happen, but apparently Bo beat the crap out of Rebby and drove him away from the others. Rebby was so panicked that he stayed in one corner of the twenty acre field, far from water, scared to death. If he saw the other horses, he ran away. He didn’t even give Bo a chance to chase him. He was terrified of the whole group.
I called my friend and told her what was going on. She shrugged. “That’s just typical horse behavior,” she told me, “they’ll get over it.”
I had my doubts. I didn’t consider it typical horse behavior. I considered it asshole horse behavior. But what could I do? It wasn’t my field. She was my friend. I kept my mouth shut and brought buckets of water to Rebby and got ready to move him if things didn’t improve in a week or two.
Unknown to me the pasture owner had noticed what was going on. She had never liked Bo and resented his habit of driving the other horses off their hay. This behavior was the last straw. She called my friend and told her to get Bo out of the field. Today.
My friend called me and accused me of telling the pasture owner to do this. I honestly affirmed that I hadn’t. My friend was understandably upset at having to move her horse that very day. She said how stupid the pasture owner was and how the woman simply didn’t understand that horses did things like this. And at that point my patience went south. I said that horses in general did not do this, that overly aggressive horses were a serious and dangerous problem, and if she didn’t recall, I had removed Wino from my own field for similar behavior and I was not ignorant about horses. I reminded her that Wino had later driven two horses through the pasture fence and killed one. I pointed out that Rebby was my horse and it wasn’t making me happy to see him so scared and miserable that he was afraid to walk to water. I said that if it was her horse that was driven off she might not think it was such a nothing. Needless to say, this did not improve our friendship. My friend moved her horse back home. She never did find another place to turn him out. But we did stay friends.
And then the other night we were out at dinner with another horsewoman and the story came up again. My friend reiterated that the pasture owner was an ignorant non-horseman for removing Bo from the field for his behavior. I said, “bullshit,” (a little more politely than that). I put forth my point of view that overly aggressive horses were a real problem. The other gal told a story of a horse like that who had driven another horse through the fence and seriously injured it. And my friend shut up and I could tell she was angry at me.
OK, maybe I should have kept my mouth shut. I frequently should just keep my mouth shut. But its one of my pet peeves. So, I’m putting it out there. What do you all think? Is my friend right that its just typical horse behavior and no big deal? Or am I right that that sort of a horse is a real problem and shouldn’t be turned out with other horses?
Anybody else have any pet peeves they want to share?