Last Updated on May 8, 2022
If you’ve got a dominant horse, it can be difficult trying to figure out why my horse bullies other horses. Horses have a complicated herd behavior system, and if something is not right then they will start to bully each other. Let’s take a look at how to solve this difficult problem!
Why Is It That My Horse Bullies Other Horses?
Horses are herd animals, that normally live in a hierarchical relationship system. In the wild, each herd of horses will be made up of a mix of horses of different genders and ages. These will be led by a matriarch, an older female horse who has dominance over the herd.
There will also be complex relationships between all other horses in the herd, with a tiered system of dominance that gives priority to the order in which horses are allowed to access resources such as watering holes.
In our domesticated horses, we still see these behavior patterns emerging, and some other unwanted behaviors may also emerge. It can be very worrying to be told that your horse is acting aggressively towards other horses. Unfortunately, this can also be the cause of rifts and conflicts between horse owners on the same premises.
So, if your horse is bullying other horses, it is essential to get to the root of the problem and find out what is causing this behavior. This will help you to put a stop to it as soon as possible!
There are a number of reasons why your horse develops these unwanted behaviors:
- They might feel frightened or threatened by other horses.
- Discomfort and pain may be a cause of aggression in horses, leading to bullying behavior.
- Inadequate environmental enrichment leads to boredom and frustration.
- Poor social grouping, where groups of horses are kept together that do not get on.
- Inadequate socialization is a particular problem in foals that are weaned or orphaned at a young age.
- A medical problem that is affecting the temperament of the horse.
- Inadequate resources or resource guarding – this can be food, water, friends, space, or a favorite sleeping spot!
If My Horse Bullies Other Horses Can It Hurt Them?
If a horse gets the chance to corner or trap another horse, it may do some serious physical damage. A bullying horse can be quite aggressive and may kick and bite at a more submissive horse. This can cause skin wounds and even have the potential to fracture bones.
Some bullying behavior is more subtle, such as threats to kick, or head snaking. Whilst this might not cause physical damage to the horse, it may be enough to make the submissive horse fearful and unable to access resources. For example, a dominant horse may stop others from accessing a water trough, potentially leading to dehydration.
You might not notice straight away that there is bullying behavior between horses occurring, but there are some clues to look out for. A dominant horse may rip or tear turnout blankets, although this can also happen when horses are playing. If a horse stands away from the herd and is reluctant to move closer to other horses, this may be a sign that it is feeling intimidated.
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My Horse Bullies Other Horses – Problem Solving Tips
If you’ve got a bully in the herd, here are some ways to prevent or reduce this unwanted behavior:
- Ensure that the herd has plenty of space, as overcrowding is a key cause of bullying.
- Make sure the horses have plenty of mental and physical stimulation to prevent boredom and frustration.
- Always add one or two more piles of food or hay than the number of horses in the field. Spread the piles far apart so the bully cannot control access to the food.
- Make sure there are two or more drinking points in the field.
- Field shelters should have two or more exit doors, to prevent a horse from becoming trapped by a bullying horse.
If these tips don’t work, then you might need to think about altering the herd dynamics by splitting the herd or swapping one or two horses to a new herd. The bullied horse would benefit from a confident friend, so try to pair it up with a placid horse with good nurturing skills.
You could also consider removing either the horse that is doing the bullying or the horse that is being bullied.
If moving the horses is not an option, divide the field into two with electric fencing to allow you to separate the herd into two smaller groups.
My Horse Bullies Other Horses – Summary
So, as we have learned, a dominant horse may start to bully other horses if it feels threatened, or if resources such as food or water are in short supply. Bullying may also increase when a new horse is introduced to the herd, or if one is removed from the herd. Horses that are in an established herd with enough space, food, and water will rarely bully each other but may nip and threaten to kick to settle small disputes.
We’d love to hear your thoughts about why horses bully each other! Do you worry that your horse is being bullied by a dominant horse in the field? Or perhaps your horses have their herd dynamics all worked out and live harmoniously together? Leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you!
How Do You Deal With A Dominant Horse?
Horses are herd animals that have a hierarchy within their group. An established group of horses will normally have a set of complex relationships between individual horses in the group, with one horse tending to be more dominant over others. This is not normally a problem, but if there are not enough resources such as food and water then the dominant horse may stop weaker ones from accessing them.
How Do I Keep My Horse From Fighting?
Horses are not normally aggressive towards each other, unless you have two entire males which will fight over the right to mate with mares. It is not unusual to see horses nipping and kicking out at each other, but this is normally a warning sign rather than an actual fight. If your horse is fighting with others, you may need to split the herd into two groups.
What Does It Mean When A Horse Pushes You With Its Head?
If a horse pushes you with its head, this can be for a number of reasons. It might be trying to seek attention or prompt you to give it a treat. Horses may also push people with their heads if they have an itch, or if they want the person to move away from their personal space.
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then went on to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their four-legged friends.
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN EVN VN A1 PGCE