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Posts Tagged ‘pecking order’

Hi Cherry,

I am a very inexperienced horse person, but I want to get more involved with horses.  I had my first official training session the other day and everything went really well.  I just have a question about how the horse, a 22 yr old mare, behaved at the end of the ride.  I was leading her back to her regular stall, but had to stop walking for just a second to talk to someone.  She stopped and stood there relaxed for a few seconds, but then out of nowhere she nudged me on the side/arm.  It wasn’t rough enough to put me off balance, but it was sudden enough for me to get a little nervous.  I am wondering what this meant and when/how to react to it.  I keep reading different opinions – some saying it’s affection others saying it’s disrespect.  I doubt it was affection as this horse doesn’t know me.  All I did was tell her “hey, no girl” in a firm voice and she didn’t do it again.
She was so close to me that I couldn’t really see what the rest of her body was doing, legs, rear etc…  Any advice or interpretation?  I want to make sure I did the right thing, and if not what to do next time. Thank you!

Merri

Hi Merri,

The mare was probably testing the waters, checking to see if she could nudge into your space or push you a little bit, so in a way, it is
a form of disrespect…….like if someone interrupted you while you were talking and wanted you to get going…….you reacted perfectly.

If she, or another horse does this again, stand your ground – in other words, don’t move yourself, keep your feet planted and flick your elbow at the horse to tell it to stay in its own space, and you can use a short voice command like “No” or “Go on”. The important thing is to not move yourself or the horse “won”.

If you watch horses interact with each other, they tell other horses to stay out of their space in various ways. They might do it with a nudge or a bite, kick, lunge, strike, body slam….so this mare was using a mild form of pushiness, but pushiness nonetheless.

More articles:

Teach Your Horse Respect for Your Personal Space

Personal Space – Don’t Crowd Me

To read more about horse behavior, refer to How to Think Like a Horse.

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Hello Cherry,

I had an experience last night that I do not want repeated.  I went into the pasture to feed my 3 horses their evening hay  ration and all was well until all of a sudden my 10 yr old QH/Arab mare whom I have owned for 5 years now flew at my 5 yr old daughter striking with her with her front foot on the forehead. The mare had her hay in front of her with no competition around. It came out of the blue with no warning signs.  My daughter was about 4 feet from me waiting patiently for me to finish my task.  My mare acted as if my daughter was one of the herd and she had to put her in her place.  This mare is very aggressive toward other horses (who were on the other side of the fence at the time) during feeding time but she has never shown this behavior towards humans before.  Any suggestions?  Needless to say I am questioning the wisdom of having an unpredictable horse such as this around given that I have 2 children ages 7 and 5 that I would like to experience the wonderful world of horse ownership.  Any suggestions?  My daughter was fortunate not to be hurt just very frightened.

Lee

Hi Lee,

This seems to be, as you suggest, a pecking order move and could also be caused by hormones in the mare’s cycle. So although we try to understand How to Think Like a Horse, it is essential we teach them boundaries of behavior around humans.

There are certain lessons that that every horse should know. If you are capable of conducting ground lessons such as I outline in the articles here on this blog, on my website and in my books, that would be good. I’m talking about respect and personal space lessons.

First in an enclosed area. Then in an enclosed area with feed. Then in a pasture group. Then with feed. It is a progression outlined many times before since these types of things seem to come up often as questions. I’ve hyperlinked some articles within this answer and you can go to my Horse Information Roundup to find a complete list of online articles and related Q&As.

Definitely keep you children safe and only add them to the situation if you feel confident you have established respect and personal space with this mare beforehand.

Best of luck with it.

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Cherry,

My 20 year old niece has 5 horses one being a 4 year old paint. He has become very territorial of his field so much so that he will charge anyone that walks through the field. He has even charged up to the fence if someone is standing near by. How can we work with him to change this behavior?

Cynthia

Hi Cynthia,

The horse (I assume it is a gelding, if not, write me back and I’ll modify my answer) should be brought in from pasture to a separate training area, away from other horses and in a place that is safe to work. A 40-50 foot diameter round pen or 40 x 40 square pen works well for this.

The horse needs to learn basic in-hand and free exercises and the lessons must be repeated until the horse is obedient and submissive to humans. When a horse is dominant over other horses, that’s OK, that’s horse natural behavior. But when a horse acts dominant over humans, it is dangerous and the horse needs to be shown a different, safer way to act around humans.

Distilling things down in a smaller enclosure will help make the positive associations, then you will have a better chance of reminding the horse when you return him to the pasture group.

Some of the lessons he will need to learn are in this In Hand Checklist – a review of things he already knows will be helpful too.

Teaching him to Respect Your Personal Space is essential.

More on Personal Space here.

Here are some more pertinent articles

Grouchy Horse

Pasture Aggression.

I have hundreds of articles on horse care and training on my website. Be sure to search there for your topic of interest.

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The word submissive can sometimes have an undeserved bad connotation.  If we are talking about a bully who is forcing another person into submission and fear, yes, that is a bad thing, a very bad thing.

But when it comes to horses and their interaction with people, submission is not only necessary from a safety standpoint, it is desirable from the horse’s perspective.

Horses feel the most secure, content and untroubled when they have a fair and capable leader. When there are no questions, when roles are clear, when the (human-horse) pecking order is established, a horse is submissive, calm and content.

Once the partnership is established, often, all it takes is the touch of a hand to elicit that calmness.

Zipper and Cherry

Enjoy that good horse,

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Dear Cherry,
We might be getting 2 more horses. They are sound and calm.  We already have two horses male and female they are mean to other horses. Should we put them in their stalls and leave them there for a few days with the new horses?
Emma

Hi Emma,

Not knowing your facilities options and how mean your current horses are, I’ll give you some general advice and ideas.

First of all, many horses appear mean when actually they are just establishing their pecking order – the social order in a herd – who is top horse and who is next and so on. But some horses ARE mean – they are grouchy and aggressive. I don’t know which yours are but will refer to them as the mean horses as you did.

When the new horses arrive, if they are used to living together, you can house them together, such as in a large covered pen while they get used to the sights and sounds of their new home.

Their pen should not have a common fence line or panel line or wall with your current “mean” horses. But they should all be able to see each other.

Let them live this way for as long as it takes for everyone to settle in.

Then depending on your facilities, you can either start housing the horses closer to each other or begin mixing them. I don’t know how safe your fencing is, but if it is tall, strong and safe, you could put the least mean of your horses in a pen next to the two new ones. As long as the new horses’ pen is large enough that they can avoid being next to the mean horse if they want, eventually the 3 horses will work out some sort of agreement. It might takes several days.

Then you could return the first mean horse to his regular pen and bring the other one over to live next to the two new ones.  Once all the horses have had a chance to get used to each other, you could consider adding one of the mean horses to the group of two new horses. Be sure the area you do this in is large enough so that all three horses have enough room so as not to get cornered.

The main thing is to take the time it takes to let the horses get used to each other.

You might find that one of the mean horses isn’t really mean and shows that he prefers to live calmly with the two new horses while the other mean horse truly is mean and needs to be housed alone.

Enjoy the opportunity to observe horse behavior and be safe !

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When Good Horses Do Bad Things

©  2010 Cherry Hill © Copyright Information

Most horses are good. However, any horse can become a bad actor with improper care or handling. Certain horses have a predisposition to neurotic breakdown when faced with domestication pressures. This psychological frailty may be genetically inherited, formed from early experiences with the dam or training, or may develop later in life due to disease or trauma. Horses with neurotic tendencies often form vices.

Vices are undesirable habits that horses exhibit in the stable environment and are generally caused by confinement, over feeding, and stress. Examples are cribbing, stall kicking, and weaving.

Bad habits, such as rearing, halter pulling, or tail wringing are undesirable behaviors in response to human handling and are generally caused by rushed or improper training, uncertainty, insecurity, or resentment. A resentful horse is uncooperative and resistant. His resistance can be based on confusion, fear, disrespect, fatigue, and occasionally high spirits.

How  to Think Like A Horse by Cherry HillOften a horse’s action is interpreted by humans as misbehavior but is perfectly legitimate horse conduct. Of course, what is acceptable behavior between two horses is not between a horse and a human. Here’s where practical horse psychology, behavior modification, training, attitude adjustment, conditioning, whatever you want to call it, is essential.

Most vices and bad habits are preventable, that is, with forethought and proper management and training, most of them can be avoided. Prevention is the desirable route because once certain habits are established, they can be extremely difficult to change. Some habits are manageable, that is, certain techniques and equipment can be used to diminish the negative effects of the habit, but the underlying habit is still there. If the equipment is not used, the habit resurfaces. A few habits are curable. With carefully planned, diligent efforts, some habits can be permanently changed. Some vices and bad habits are incurable.

Vices and bad habits are best approached in a step-by-step manner:

1. Understand horse behavior and needs
2. Identify and describe the vice or bad habit
3. Determine the cause(s)
4. Make management changes (facilities, exercise, nutrition, conditioning, grooming)
5. Implement appropriate training practices
6. Consider remedial training practices
7. Consider medical and surgical solutions.

UNDERSTANDING HORSE BEHAVIOR AND NEEDS A horse’s natural behavior must be altered somewhat so that the horse can adapt to domestication. Basing these modifications on natural behaviors results in minimal stress and long-lasting results.

Whether or not there is action, there is always behavior. A sullen horse, rigid and unyielding, is “behaving” just as is the wildly bucking one. Behavior that is repeated may become habit (even though it was not a human-designed lesson). Horses are constantly learning as a result of their casual handling and their everyday environment as well as from formal training sessions.

The horse is a gregarious nomad with keen senses and instincts and highly developed reflexes. These characteristics are responsible for sending a reining horse to the winners circle as well as sending a panic-stricken horse through a wire fence. Gregarious animals are sociable herd animals. Given the choice, horses are rarely seen alone, preferring to be in close proximity to other horses; there is safety and comfort in numbers.

Horses perform daily routines in response to various needs: eating, drinking, rolling, playing, participating in mutual grooming. The desire to perform these rituals is not diminished, and in fact is probably intensified, for the horse in confinement. Humans might think a horse Cherry Hill's Horsekeeping Almanacprefers to be clean, clipped and blanketed but most horses will opt for a good roll in the mud. The old adage, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink” is based on firmly implanted habits which are governed by a biological-clock. Many behaviors are socially oriented (and contagious): eating, pawing and rolling, running and bucking, wood chewing, cribbing.

Just because horses want to be with other horses doesn’t mean all horses get along. Battles are fought to determine the pecking order or dominance hierarchy. This establishment of social rank usually makes future aggression unnecessary. Humans occupy a rung on the ladder of power and are tested by horses to see where they stand. A horse handler must convince a horse that the human is on top. Sometimes horses try to interact with humans as if they were horses. While a young horse is being groomed, he often wants to reciprocate as he would to his mutual grooming buddy in the pasture. Even though such a gesture is meant to be friendly, not aggressive, intentions don’t count. The act of nibbling must be discouraged with a clap on the horses neck or shoulder along with a firm “No”. Then get the horse busy doing something else.

Horse  For Sale by Cherry HillIf a horse has not been sufficiently socialized away from other horses and with humans, the horse will be insecure and often will desperately attempt to retain communication with or proximity to herd-mates or the barn. The chronic case is called herd bound or barn sour because the insecure horse links comfort, companionship, and food with the barn. What may originate in a young horse as a temporary insecurity may evolve into a long-standing and dangerous habit. In order to ensure that such a bad habit does not get started, handle horses separately from a very early age.

Look for upcoming posts on specific vices and bad habits.

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