Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Pet Peeves

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?


t_orchosky said...

I agree these horses should be seperated or put in with one or 2 horses that can handle them. My son's horse is like this, I have wanted to sell him many times over, but he is never aggressive towards humans. When my son started riding him, his choice not mine, this horse wholeheartedly takes care of my son. I have never seen this horse so caring towards a human, I raised him from the time he was a one year old and he don't like me that much. My son rides him in the pasture with no halter or saddle. ( I found this out after looking out a window and spotting him on the horse). His horse won't hardly move when he does this and if he happens to lean and fall while riding, horse will stop dead in his tracks and wait for him to climb back on. 2 years ago I put him in a pasture with a very dominant mare who gets along great and resigned myself to the 2 of them always having a seperate pasture. If the horse wasn't so great towards my kid, he would be gone.
So I agree these horses can be dangerous to other horses, but there are some that will give their heart to a human, they just tend to me one-man horses, in my opinion.

Leslie said...

I have been around aggressive horses, but the two on my list were mares. Yeah,here we go again, blaming the mares. But that's what we had at the riding facility, majority mares. We had to separate these two making sure they were in pastures with horses who were submissive to them or at least stayed out of their way. Like you, I did not particularly like these two and would avoid any kind of contact with them whenever I could. There were other staff members who believed, horses will be horses. I do to, to an extent, but your descriptions of the aggressive geldings goes beyond looking the other way.

My own Bo is on the bossy side with his pasture buddy. Aggressive? I suppose that would have to be the definition, but it's not on the level of seeing it all the time. He's not constantly running Spirit all over the field or keeping him from the water or the hay. They seem to have a mutual understanding although Bo will on occasion turn up the heat.

I feel part of my Bo's problem right now is simply lack of my attention. When I ride him, his aggressive bossy side declines.

Now, I know that's not what you're talking about here. The cases you mentioned are definitely on the hot end. Some horses, just like people, will always be aggressive and bossy, but dangerous is a whole different ball game. Yes, they should be separated. No, I don't think you were that far off base.

One of my pet peeves? People who buy a two-year old horse for their kid when they themselves know nothing about horses, and think they can keep it in the back yard like a dog.

Mary Paine said...

I was very careful about group turnout for Spencer especially since he was aged. I was always afraid he would break a bone if he was kicked by an aggressive horse or just in trying to get away from one.

IMHO a horse who could endanger any of the other horses needs to be turned out separately for everyone's safety.

lopinon4 said...

A few years back, a wonderful gelding owned by a client (now he is owned by me, for various reasons) was boarded at a pretty nice facility. There were multiple areas for turnout, and when a new horse would come in, the manager didn't do test runs to find a good place for the newbie. Unfortunately, my gelding was mis-placed, and although I complained several times to the manager about the severe aggressiveness of a black gelding pastured with him, nothing was ever done. No one listens to the trainer, since they don't pay the board. Complaining to my client about it didn't help, either. One freezing cold day in mid-February (I live in Wisconsin), I received a call at work from the barn manager. My gelding was hanging from the fence, and she didn't know how long he had been there. Front half on one side, rear half suspended on the top rail. He was in shock, and covered in blood.
Thanks to the efforts of wonderful and dependable friends of mine, he was cut down with a chain saw and rushed to the equine hospital. He completely degloved his right stifle (you could put your entire arm in the hole), and had multiple lacerations on his forelegs and abdomen. Over 100 stitches, 5 days at the hospital, and 3 months of stall rest. All because my horse wanted a drink of water and black- bastard-gelding didn't want him to have it. I DEFINITELY have issues with horses that are overly aggressive.

Martha Seaman McKee said...

I don't see why you can't speak your mind - people in your company don't seem to have a problem doing so - and certainly your opinion is valid.

BTW, I agree about agressively dominant horses being dangerous. I board and so see more of this than owners who keep their horses at home. It's not common, but it's out there.
It seems to me this type is either already dominant over their human or is always trying to be - which is a pet peeve of mine. (I'm not talking about the usual stuff, but aggressive attempts to push me around.) For instance, when you go to get your horse out of the pasture, they try to interfere with what you are doing, or run you off their territory.
For my safety they are quickly taught to give me a wide berth, as I believe in protecting myself and my horses first, being a nice boarder second.
(Happily, I board at a great place.)

mugwump said...

Ahem. Cough, cough. My beloved, wonderful Mort was one of those. One of the aggressive ones, mind you. When he was in pasture in a mixed group all geldings were kicked out. Permanently. Except for my little paint colt Oakie.
Mort had loved him from the day we brought Oakie home as a six-month-old.
Oakie was a bottom of the pack kind of horse, but he was allowed to tag with Mort his whole life.
As a kid I didn't know what his problem was, but as an adult I wonder if he wasn't a bi-lateral cryptorchid. It would explain a lot.

gillian said...

I don't see why it matters whether or not the behavior is typical. If it was causing undue distress in other horses its a problem horse behavior. Even if it was going to clear up eventually, how much stress should the other horses have to put up with before it does?

Laura Crum said...

Its interesting to me that t-o and mugwump had/have one of these agressive horses that was/is a really good horse. I think my friend would say that Bo was a good horse, too. So maybe I would be more tolerant of the behavior if I had owned a horse like this that I loved. Flanigan, one of my favorite horses ever, was a dominant horse; he was always the boss. But no other horse ever had a mark. No horse was ever driven off. Flanigan dominated merely with a scowl. He never hurt a soul. So I do have a soft spot for the dominant personalities; I just have a hard time with these horses that beat the crap out of other horses. I consider it a serious problem, and in my book, such a horse should not be turned out with other horses, except as T-o and mugwump describe, with a horse that they get along with. For Wino and Bo, and most of these "mean" geldings, you could turn them out with mares and they were fine. They couldn't all be bilateral cryptorchids, though, could they?

Juli said...

I have one of the quiet leader types in Merlin. He's only three right now, and there for isn't at the top of the totem pole, but you can see him getting there quickly. And I've never seen him even lay his ears back at someone. He just looks, and those lower than him move. Sometimes the leader does too. Give him a year...

I have moved my horse out of a boarding situation when there was an aggressive horse in the pasture. A horse like that needs to be segregated. I don't like doing that to a horse, but I don't like stitches and vet bills either. I wouldn't mind owning a horse that was pasture aggressive, but he'd be on individual turnout. I don't want to be responsible for my horse hurting someone or their horse.

My personal pet peeve is the horse that demands feeding. You know the one. He is sure that feed time is 6pm, so at 5:45 every evening he's standing at the gate kicking it, pawing, and otherwise making himself obnoxious. I was taking care of two of those, and it took me months to break them of it. It wasn't hard, I just varied their dinner time so much that they never knew if they were getting fed at 4pm or 9pm. Oh, and we had a few chats involving a lunge whip whenever they stood at the gate and kicked.

FD said...

Oh lord, this issue causes so much trouble at livery yards.

As a manager, I needed to keep a sharp eye on herd dynamics. I frequently caught it from owners who didn't understand that while it may be 'natural' for horses to fight to sort out their differences, in actual nature, having had the fight and getting the crap beaten out of them, the loser would have had the option of drifting off and joining up with another herd of horses. Pastured, that's not going to happen.

If I had a situation where a group wasn't settling, I'd switch around till I could find a working balance.
I mostly kept mares / geldings separate, because I found that cut down on fights. I also never fed in pasture. All horses came in to eat.

Not everyone was happy with this, but hey: they get daily turn out, but the pasture in which they do so is AT MY DISCRETION, read your contract and deal with it.

Repeat offenders of the 'chase other horses round and round and round,' or the 'bully them into a corner and beat seven bells out of them' types eventually got exiled to the 'sin bin' which was a paddock subdivided into four single turnouts.
Some people reckon you shouldn't remove the bully because the next horse up the pole will just take over beating up the underdog, but in my experience it didn't work like that. If you remove the underdog the bully just moves onto another horse.

I also had owners getting hysterical because Fluffy came in with a nip mark on him too, but that's a different problem heh.

As to mean horses being good performers, h'mm.
I've found that they are often one-person horses, which can translate as 'good performer' in the hands of a good rider.

I've also noted that very dominant horses often OK with mares. I suspect that even though they are gelded, their brains are hardwired for 'male' and when turned out in mixed groups they are following the natural pattern a stallion would and driving off their 'rivals'.

mugwump said...

The thought that the aggression is "natural" in any sense is nuts.I don't know how you can cope with it FD, you must have the patience of a saint.
In a pasture the aggresser can't actually run off the horses they are after. So the battle will happen over and over again. Even as a kid I could see what a train wreck this could be, so we rotated turn-out with Mort and the horses he went after. The only time he was in a herd situation for any length of time it was with Oakie and a group of mares.
So even though I had a horse like him I never expected other horse owners to accept his behavior. I felt like it was my resposibility to protect other horses.
My psycho mare Sonita is pretty submissive in a herd situation. She is fairly vicious everywhere else.
Mort was well behaved with other horss until he was turned out in a group. Go figure.

Enjay said...

I have met several horses that were overly aggressive to other horses, but have only known two intimately. One was a mare who was in the middle of the herd but became head b***h when she had a foal at side. Her modus operendi was to segregate herself and her foal in the corner and keep everyone else away, so we just kept her in a maternity stall with isolated turn out with her foal until she calmed down, usually after a month or so. Unfortunately one year she gave birth 2 weeks early in the field and then drove a newish mare through a board fence.
The other aggressive horse was my big POA pony gelding. He was near the top of the herd, and only showed aggression to other horses in two situations. The most frequent was if I was so rude as to work with another horse before I worked with him. If I even just groomed him first and then tossed him back in the field I could do anything with any of the other horses and he'd be fine. However if he wasn't first, the ones I worked with would be driven off into the corner and held there until his nose was back in joint, usually come feeding time. The other situation was with the stallions. The place I boarded at would turn their stallions out in the same field as the geldings for exercise. My pony did not like the senior stallion, who was 16.2 hh but wasn't nearly as nimble of foot or mind as my pony, who would whale on the big stud until he began chasing him all over creation. He would execute the most complicated maneuvers that usually kept him in that tantalizingly just out of reach sweet spot. On those rare occasions when he miscalculated and the stallion got closer than he'd like, he'd slow down, grab his front leg, shoulder into him, sometimes he knocked him over, and then take off in another direction. Once the stallion pulled up and had enough we'd have to get him out of there quick because my pony wouldn't leave him alone until he was driven out to the furthest corner, and kept there in a face off. The owners of the stallion, and the farm, never thought anything of it, and this was the way it had always been (I bought the pony from them, and this was my first stable experience) so I didn't think much of it either, but in retrospect he HATED that stallion and did everything he could to humiliate him. I truly believe that the only reason he didn't do physical harm to him was because of the vast difference in their size. I did have the vets check him over for a hidden testicle, because he developed a crest that just kept getting bigger and bigger and grew less tolerant of all of the stallions as he aged, even the jr stallion who was born on the farm and had always accepted his dominance, but they gave him a clean bill. He was gelded as a 4yo, and after having bred a few mares, so perhaps that had something to do with it?

FD said...

Mugs, it's not something that came naturally, but when your job is reliant on them paying the bills...

Enjay - sounds like your horse could possibly have had a pituitary tumour actually; growing a crest and increased aggression are common side effects.
Also called 'sexy gelding syndrome' - horses in their late teens / twenties that were gelded early in life suddenly start showing sexual behaviour and aggression, up to and including teasing mares and trying cover them.

Laura Crum said...

I think the bottom line is what mugwump said. The owner of one of these really agressive horses needs to be concerned for the welfare of the other horses that are exposed to their horse. Under any circumstances. In the case of my friend, what upset me is that she refused to consider Bo's behavior a problem. I'm not sure what the best solution would have been--but assuming that the behavior was no big deal and the horses would get over it wasn't working for me. I didn't want to wait until Rebby ran through a fence trying to get away from Bo.

On the other hand, if the pasture owner had not upset the balance of the herd by putting the very young "attractive" mare in the field, such that Bo became determined to be the sole herd boss, things would have gone on being OK. From what's been said here, and what I've observed, this problem in geldings is defintely related to some of them having very much a "stallion" mentality, however this comes about. My gelding Flanigan, who was always dominant, though not particularly agressive about it, could mount a mare and get the job done--with no results of course. I never knew his history, don't know if he was proud cut, but he didn't look it. No crest, no obvious signs. It seemed to be more a personality thing.

mugwump said...

Laura-I almost wonder if your pet peeve isn't the horse, but their owners???

Laura Crum said...

mugwump, isn't that usually the case? Most horses can be dealt with--its people who are unreasonable. That said, I have to admit that the field from which Bo was removed is a much more pleasant place now that he's gone. The owner of said field kicked the young mare out, too, and I replaced those horses with a couple of gentle easy going geldings of my own. Everybody gets along great. No problems. There is definitely something to be said for horses who get along well in pasture situations (!)

Unknown said...

As a former boarding farm operator, I have a pet peeve about a similar issue. It is with horse owners who take anything said about their horse and/or its behavior as if it is a criticism of them personally. If My horse misbehaves, or has any kind of problem, it I might be worried, but not insulted. I have had clients get very angry at me when I tell them about these problems. Do we personalize these issues too often?
I have passed this info about their horses to them in a professional manner, and without judgmental remarks. I know that "Buddy is biting his pasturemates" is much more acceptable than" Your knothead crowbait gelding keeps eating the hide off anything that moves".

Jasmine said...

Heh. I had a super aggressive one with one caveat, if he was with geldings he was bossy but fine, bring the mares into the picture and the whole thing went out the window. He could also "mount and get the job done". Our vet thought perhaps he had an undescended testicle even though there was no evidence. Or maybe "they missed a piece when they gelded him".

Cue me moving him to a new barn where the only restriction I mentioned on turn out was "No Mares" at all ever. But of course BO has "a dream of all the horses running in a beautiful natural herd!!!!!!" (gag).

I come out to the barn to find my horse in solitary 20x50 pen confinement?! Apparently they had taken down the fence between the mare field and the gelding field. My horse had become KING STALLION of the whole damn herd. You couldn't bring any one of them in, he would send them running.

So every horse was run ragged my poor guy the worst because he's constantly circling 'his' herd. What does barn owner do? Call me to come get my horse? NO! SHE DROVE HIM AROUND WITH A 4 WHEELER FOR 2 HOURS UNTIL HE WAS SO EXHAUSTED HE QUIT RUNNING AND THEN STUFFED HIM IN A STALL!!!!!!!!!!!!

Needless to say I was beyond pissed. But apparently it was all my 'bad' horse's fault for being aggressive even though I had specifically warned them!

Laura Crum said...

Jasmine, that's a good point. It isn't the dominant horse's fault. Its the people's fault. If a horse is agressive, its up to whoever's in charge to make sure that horse is not turned out with horses he might terrify or injure. I think that's what mugwump was saying, too. And Patricia, also, when she says that people take this too personally. I think that happened with my friend. I was saying that Bo's behavior was a problem, and she was defending his behavior as Ok because he was her horse and she was fond of him and wanted him to remain turned out there. A more appropriate respoinse might have been, "What can we do to fix the problem?" I was actually quite willing to try moving Rebby to another field, but the owner intervened first by kicking Bo out. So, in the end, it was really a people problem, as has been pointed out. Agressive horses need to be managed responsibly in turn out situations.

Jami Davenport said...

Whether or not it's "typical herd behavior" I stil wouldn't turn the horse out with others.

mulerider said...

A very timely post for me. I just moved my two mild mannered mules to a new place. There share about 100 acres with just 2 horses, so I never imagined there would be any serious conflict. There is, after all, plenty of room to spread out.

It has been less than a week and I am frantically looking for another place because the dominant horse is beating the crap out of my mules, chasing them mercilessly and attacking them. My young gelding looks like he was hit by a truck. I suspect he was driven into a fence or a heavily wooded area with a bunch of downed trees.

And, instead of getting better, the behavior seems to be escalating, with the second horse joining in.

I have never experienced this kind of aggresive behavior before.

lytha said...

I'm waiting for the last bite mark to heal on my gelding after quitting boarding forever in April. I finally got my own place and I'm realizing that most of his scars are from bullies. The last one would chase my horse for laps around the field as if he was lunging him. The horse's owner didn't see a problem.

I can't imagine owning an overly aggressive horse and not seeing it as a problem. I'd feel horrible if my fat bully was chasing others away from food every day and the other horses were thin and had fresh wounds every few days from not escaping fast enough.

It's a rare barn owner who sees the problem and does something about it, in my experience.

Now my horse is home, and gets as much food as he likes, is finally gaining weight, and hopefully that last scar will heal over. (His winter blanket won't be getting any more bite-holes either!) I'm frankly afraid to get him a companion, because I don't want to go through this anymore. He's really old, and he's finally at peace.

~lytha in Germany

la mexicana said...

This is a great post. All horses are different and you never know how they are going to react. I have a gelding who can be aggressive. He started out lame and starved so he was always the low horses on the totem pole. Other horses would kick and bite him, but he would not fight back.

When he started feeling better he bacame more aggressive. He is not the dominant horse in the field, but he will fight with other geldings he does not know.

We have found a solution to his problem, which won't work for all horses but it works for him. When a new horse comes it is isolated for about a week, wormed, etc. After that, the new horse is turned out with the herd and the aggressive horse is kept in a separate pen where he can see the other horses but cannot have contact with them. He is fed and exercised, but not allowed contact with the herd. (I've know people who will starve a horse to make it lethargic - not my idea of good horse management). After about a week he chills out and gets along with everyone again. If there were no mares here I think there would be no problem at all. He really isn't a bad horse, he just thinks he is a stallion sometimes. He's actually run himself through a fence trying to get to a mare.