Do you have a horse bully or a horse being bullied? Or do you want to know how to stop the bullying and spot the signs?
Horses tend to bully other horses for many reasons. It could be due to dominating the herd and resources, discomfort from an injury or disease, or feeling stressed, bored, or irritable.
Below you will learn the proper steps to prevent bullying at your stable.
Why Horses Bully Other Horses?
Horses that show off their dominance are usually the bullies of the group. They may be establishing rank if a new horse or another horse is challenging their authority.
You will find a dominant horse forcing other horses to move either by moving its body in a particular direction or using contact with another horse.
If the other horse does not move, fighting or aggression can occur.
Threatened or Frightened
Horses can start bullying if they feel threatened or frightened. They may have had a negative experience at their previous paddock and have brought their trauma to the new herd.
If a horse feels threatened, you may find it standing its ground by nipping or squealing at other horses.
On the other hand, if the horse is frightened, you will find it either shying away, fleeing, or kicking other horses. Horses may feel this way when put in a paddock with a large herd too soon.
Keep a lookout for signs of stress, such as frightened or threatened type of behavior.
Bored or Feeling Irritated
Everyone knows what boredom and irritability feel like, and guess what? Horses can feel the same way.
Boredom may occur when a horse is in a stall or a small enclosure for long periods of time, leading them to bully other horses.
Horses can become irritated with other horses. They may want the other horse to leave them alone, so they act out by nipping, shoving, or kicking.
Injured or Disease
If your horse or another horse at the stable has a medical issue, discomfort, or pain, then it may cause them to lash out at other horses.
When a horse is in pain, it may not want other horses around, especially when the other horse will not leave them alone.
The same goes for a horse with a medical issue or disease and is not feeling 100% like themselves. They may want to stay away from the herd due to these discomforts.
You know when you have a favorite snack or drink, and you don’t want anyone touching it, so you protect it.
The same thing goes for horses, but horses tend to use this tactic to control the herd.
Horses may seek control by protecting resources, such as food, water, space, breeding partners, or any type of value object to that particular horse.
It is called resource guarding, where common aggression can occur.
Social development is vital for a horse. If a horse doesn’t understand social cues, it may become the bully or the outsider of the herd.
There are a few reasons why proper social development is not taught.
If a foal is taken away from its mother too soon, it is not able to learn the proper social skills, or it may have learned bad habits from older horses in the herd, which led them to become a bully.
Tips to Prevent Bullying Among Horses
Space and Resources
Having enough space and resources may reduce bullying patterns. Horses like to have the freedom to move around.
Being in an overcrowded paddock without enough resources may cause issues.
Make sure you provide your horses with a decent-sized paddock. This will allow them to run around and move away from the other herd members.
Add another pile of hay and water trough to the paddock, but spread them out.
The bully of the herd will not be able to keep the other horses away from the resources, which will allow the herd to grass or drink in peace.
Exercise is essential for your horse’s well-being. It allows your horse to blow off steam, be mentally stimulated, and improve agility.
Environment enrichment and supplying horse toys may help your horse move around the paddock.
You could bring your dominant horse to its own paddock to play with a toy so other horses do not get involved or keep a toy in their stall to alleviate boredom.
Incorporating this type of enrichment will support optimal psychological well-being for your horse while reducing bullying.
Give your horse plenty of exercise by working with them in the arena.
For example, free lunging helps them release pent-up energy by focusing on balance and rhythm while improving their gait, which may calm them down.
The best way to free lung your horse is by having a small or round pen. Once they have gotten the proper amount of exercise, they may stop bullying their friends.
Separate and Rotate
Separating and rotating the herd may help keep the bullying at bay. There are a few different ways that you can go about this.
You can take the horse bully to its own paddock to ensure there will be no more bullying or keep a friendly horse that can stand its ground with the bully for companionship.
Sectioning off part of the paddock or building another paddock will allow this to occur.
You may rotate horses during turnout if you want to keep the bully in the same paddock.
There might be more dominant horses that will potentially keep the bully in line; however, make sure the dominant horses don’t start bullying the bully. It is more about respectful boundaries.
How to Safely Introduce Your New Horse to the Herd?
Explore New Field
Exploring a new field with you and your horse is a good way to ease them into the herd.
You may walk your horse around the field so they understand where everything is located. This will enable them to find their bearings before being surrounded by different horses.
Introducing a new horse to the herd can be stressful, especially when trying to prevent bullying.
Plan a herd introduction day if you feel more comfortable with multiple owners being around. Doing this may help you keep track of the horse’s behavior.
Over the Fence
If you’re unsure about releasing your new horse into the herd, introducing it over the fence is another solution.
It may help them get used to each other before being in the same paddock without having disputes.
Pair up your new horse with a friendly horse. It may help the new horse adjust more quickly because it won’t be alone in a separate paddock.
When introducing a new horse to the herd, keep an eye on how they interact. You can put up a temporary double fence to monitor their interacting behavior.
You may find them grazing peacefully near each other or mutually grooming each other. Helping you understand if they are ready to be introduced into the herd or if they need more time.
Injuries and Behavior Changes
Once your new horse is in the paddock with the herd, it is vital to look for any injuries or behavior changes.
It is a good idea to examine your new horse for marks. The bully may have bitten or kicked your new horse while in the paddock.
Look out for behavior changes. If your new horse show signs of not wanting to eat or be around other horses, it could be the bully’s victim.
How to Know if Your Horse is Playing and Not Bullying?
Behavior is key to knowing when your horse is playing or bullying. When horses are comfortable with one another, they will be relaxed.
When horses play, it enables them to enhance fitness, practice survival skills, and build social relationships.
They may use signals to let the other horse know whether they are ready to play or not. If you see them being careful with each other while playing, then that is a good sign.
Nip and Shove
Nip and shove is a form of playing. Horses build trust and confidence while playing this game. They may nip around the neck and head or lean against each other.
It is a form of communication, play, and affection as long as it doesn’t progress into aggression, so keep a lookout for any behavioral changes.
Chase and Charge
Remember when you were a kid and liked to play tag or follow the leader? Well, horses play a similar game called “chase and charge.”
They may play by cantering around the field and inspiring other horses to join in, which eventually turns into chasing.
Horses play this type of game to challenge each other and build status while having a good time.
Pair bonding is a lifelong commitment when a horse forms a bond with another horse.
Horses pair-bond play by nipping and shoving, which may turn into mutual grooming and lead to bonding.
Pair bonding is a great way for horses to build mutual protection.
For example, when one horse is asleep, the other can keep a lookout for predators or keep flies away by swishing its tail next to the sleeping horse. It’s a win-win situation.