Horse Herd Behavior
 By Winniefield Park   •   22nd May 2018   •   777 views   •   0 comments

When you are buying a new horse, you might have a preference for a gelding or a mare. Some people think geldings are easier to get along with, but others might feel a mare is right for them. My personal feeling is that a well-handled mare is pretty much the same as a gelding, except perhaps for a brief period in the spring, the natural breeding time for horses. And there is always the exception to the rule. But, when you plan on bringing home a new horse, do you consider whether a mare or gelding will fit in well with the rest of your herd?

Now if your present herd is a party of one, it probably wonít matter who you bring in. Your single horse may be very glad it has a companion, and whether it is a mare or gelding wonít matter. Two mares or geldings, or a mare and a gelding combination will probably get along just fine.

Itís when there are several horses in a herd that the dynamics can change somewhat. Horses live in the wild in herds, so for the most part, any combination works. But there are people who believe that a group of mares or geldings should be kept separate from each other to prevent squabbles. That may be true in some of cases, but in my experience, and what Iíve witnessed in other small herds other than the one my horse lives in, mares can be mixed with geldings without too much trouble.

Much depends on the age and temperament of the horses then their gender. Some horses, mares or geldings are naturally dominant. Others are quite the opposite. Horses tend to sort their pecking order, and youíll often find that there are one or two are the leaders, and the rest are followers. Sometimes, a follower will vie for the leaderís job, and there may be a tiff, but it usually gets settled without anyone sustaining damage. Where my mare lives, a gelding is the boss of the small herd. This may be unusual because often itís the mares that call the shots - and thatís how it works in wild herds too.

Occasionally, there is a real underdog that everyone hates. Iíve seen situations where a group of dark colored horses shun a light colored pinto, grey or Appaloosa. Maybe there was something else about those horses that our human eyes didnít see, but it certainly looked like color discrimination. You have to be careful though, not to attribute humans behavior to horses.

Or, there can be one horse that just doesnít seem to understand the dynamics of horse hierarchy and doesnít understand the etiquette. This might include horses that were orphans and raised by humans, and horses that have been kept separate from other horses for a long time. These horses might push in where they arenít wanted or buddy up with someone who decides they donít like them. The bottom line really isnít about gender, but the individual characteristics of the horses themselves.

What horses do you really have to be careful about? Horses that are physically unable to keep up with the rest of the herd, such as a very young, unsound, or senior horse might be better off if they aren't left to run with the herd. These horses might get picked on, pushed away from food, or left to stand in the rain while everyone else huddles in the shelter. Those horses that are poorly socialized, might be better off living with one or two non-dominant horses who will help them learn about horse etiquette without getting hurt

Another big factor in how mares and geldings will get along is the environment they are kept in. Horses that are crowded are more apt to scrap, especially if they are worried about getting enough food. So overcrowding and underfeeding can cause more than health problems. Some horses may have to be fed separately.

No matter what gender combination you keep in your pastures, you still have to keep watch. As horses age, or change condition they may become more or less dominant. It could mean moving horses into other pastures to keep them safe and healthy.
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