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Horses: how to handle aggressive behavior in the pasture

“Hi Stacy, I have a 12yr. old TWH Blue Roan gelding… Last October a 5yr. old QH palomino gelding joined our farm family. He was a rescue of sorts…very thin, by himself w/o other horses. We did the customary quarantine, vaccinations, then introduced him to our 12 yr. old TWH with a fence in between for 2 weeks, then opened up the gate and let them “meet”. The usual pecking order happened between them, nothing that was of great concern to me. Everything was not unusual between them, and they seemed to be ok with each other… Well the next morning, went out to farm and the palomino was out of fencing. Went and got him, checked him over, had a few superficial wounds, treated him and put in corral by himself for a few days, but still had over the fence contact with the 12 yr. old.

Few days later put them back together again. Well then all was NOT OK between them. If I had not seen this myself, would never believe it could happen EVER!!! My 12 yr. old gelding walked to the trees and stood perfectly still! At least 15 minutes, as soon as the 5 yr. old got close enough, my 12 yr. old pinned his ears, opened his mouth and charged the 5 yr. old. He knocked him off his feet and was pawing and biting at his abdomen.. Seemed to me like trying to disembowel him?? Knew horses would go for throats in serious death fights, but never the abdomen! I ran in there, in my own stupidity, I just reacted, didn’t think moment, and did manage to get them apart… Put 5 yr. old in separate corral for obvious reasons, checked him over, had scrapes and bite marks on him, but was shaken up mostly… Now I can’t put them together…

Tried again, and my 12 yr. old ran him thru the fence. So now I have to keep them separated…. Do you have any suggestions on what I can do? I have asked local horse people, and they all say, keep them separated… One gentlemen that has a horse breeding farm, said he has never had studs fight like that, much less geldings. I have no mares just geldings. My 12 yr. old used to be a field trial horse for bird dogs, so was put in pasture with strange horses all the time, and never acted like this. I truly could use some advice from a someone that I look up to in the horse world. Any suggestions would be wonderful.

Thank you for your time concerning this.” -Denise from ND

Wow, that is serious fighting, or at least serious attacking as it doesn’t sound like the young one fought much. I wish there was a simple explanation that I could give you or a simple fix but I don’t have one. I can give you some suggestions, thoughts and things to consider.

We Pick Our FriendsBe very selective when it comes to choosing friends. People now a days don't know the true meaning of friendship & loyalty.

As humans we get to pick our friends. We might not pick our coworkers but when we are off the clock we have the freedom to get some distance from people we don’t want to be near. Often with horses they don’t get this same freedom. We choose who they will be with…but they don’t have to agree.

My horse Popcorn has a strong idea of what behavior he likes and dislikes in other horses. Although he isn’t as aggressive as you described he will hold a grudge against a horse who has offended him. It is possible that your new guy offended your older guy and he isn’t letting it go.

Everyone Needs Space

Even with our good friends and family there are times that we need space. Maybe they said something hurtful or maybe we are just having a bad day but either way we generally have the freedom of going for a walk or taking a drive. Often the larger the pasture the less likely this will happen. For example, a horse that likes to drive all the other horses around in a 3-4 acre pasture will often find it less fun in a 40 acre pasture or a 400 acre pasture. With more room to spread out they can often avoid violent disagreements. Unfortunately most of us don’t have this much space to work with which is why on smaller properties we often have to settle for separate pastures with a shared fence line.

Time Heals Many Things

Just this morning I was watching the Weekend Today show where they announced news anchor Jenna Wolfe was leaving. The interesting part was that Lester Holt admitted he didn’t like her, get her or hardly speak to her in the beginning. They both say it was a rough first year. What changed? Time and getting to know each other. Now years later they have become good friends.

Sometimes horse owners will report that horses who didn’t like each other will eventually come to accept each other given time. To keep horses safe during this many people use a shared fence line. If the aggressive horse is still aggressive over the fence you can feed them further away from each other in their own pastures. As they begin to accept each other you can begin to move the feed closer to the shared fence line. Even when they are accepting each other over the fence don’t expect to put them together. Watch for other signs that they are enjoying each others company; nickering or calling when the other is taken away, following as you lead the other up the fence line and a pleasant expression when near each other are good signs.

I would definately suggest taking your time and keeping them, and you, safe during the process. I would use a shared fence line for months and watch for changes in attitude of your older horse. Other things such as being stalled near each other, being ridden together and tied within sight (but not kicking distance) can also help them acclimate to each other.

One final thought is to remember that horses have emotional reactions also. I have seen many horses, who have bonded well with their owners, display jealousy when a new horse was brought home. If that is happening, then on one hand you can be happy that your horse thinks so highly of you, but also think about how you would handle jealousy if it was with a new friend. Often the ‘new horse’ gets tons of attention, what if you switched that around? Maybe tie the new horse within watching distance and give your older horse more attention than he has had in awhile; curry until your arms are sore and then spend the same amount of time brushing. I have seen older horses respond well to this, wearing a smug look on their face while glancing at the new guy.

Many times horses can grow to like or at least tolerate each other but not always. No matter what, both horses must remain respectful of you whenever you are around. Do not tolerate pinning of ears or other displays of aggression when you are near. Take your time and keep everyone safe.

 
16 Comments

Posted by on September 21, 2014 in Members Question, Sunday, Thought provoking, Training

 

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We ride horses for many, many reasons…

Anything missing or pretty much sums it up?

Anything missing or pretty much sums it up?

 
9 Comments

Posted by on September 12, 2014 in Life

 

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What is your opinion about hand feeding treats to horses? Jac Review Week

“Hi Stacy,  In the Jac videos- Episode 9-you talked about the youthful stallion drive toward dominance and biting.  What is your opinion about hand feeding treats to horses?  I’ve seen other opinions stating that one should never hand feed because it puts us submissive to the horses while others disagree.  I’ve got 9 horses whose ages range from 24 to yearlings.  Two of my three yearlings like to try to get in my bubble to get at the treats, so I’m working on this personal space issue.  Interestingly, the two are stallions while the third more respectful youngster is a mare.  What’s your opinion on treat feeding?  (PS  The other six in the herd take treats respectfully, although we have a special needs gelding who suffered brain damage due to an accident before we got him so care is needed feeding him because he’s simply uncoordinated, even with his mouth!)”-Joan J.

I am not opposed to feeding treats to horses but I do set rules and conditions. Over the years I have made some observations that I turned into general rules that I use with my horses.

#1- You can’t buy love…so don’t try to with treats.

I want my horses to engage with me, respect me and, yes, even love me but I don’t use treats to get this behavior. In fact, I don’t use treats at all until the horse is already respecting me. As a general rule I don’t give treats to a horse until they are pretty well trained both on the ground and under saddle. The age of the horse really isn’t the key here, but rather the amount of training time. Personally, it is rare for me to feed treats to a horse that I have had in training for less than a year. I make exceptions to this occasionally based on the horses previous experience and individual personality but I would rather delay giving treats than start too early.

#2- Treats can be a distraction and get in the way of the relationshipRoxy loved peppermints

One reason I wait to give treats is because it is possible for horses to become ‘all about the treats.’ If the horse becomes so focused on ‘do I get a treat, now? now? now?’ then it is a good sign that the treat is becoming a distraction. If relationship is what you are trying to build then you need to ask yourself if the horse is thinking about you…or the treat. If the answer is the treat then the relationship will suffer. Have you ever seen a child who was given more and more toys? Or expected a toy every time a parent returned home? The giver may have generated interest in the child through buying stuff…but usually with a cost to the relationship.

#3- The horses that demand treats…don’t get them.

If a horse is searching the human for treats then it is likely that treat giving has gone too far. Too many horses cross the line from curious to demanding. This is usually the stage where biting begins to occur. Not all horses that are given treats progress to this stage but some do. Other horses can eat treats for years and never become pushy or demanding while others seem to become a problem after a short time. This is because the issue isn’t really the treat…it is the individual nature of each horse coming out. The nature of the horse combined with the leadership of the handler is TESTED when treats are given.

#4-Treats can be used for a reward if respect is gained and not lost.

There are horses out there that benefit greatly from receiving treats. Ironically these horses often don’t want treats. I am specifically talking about horses that have been trained with methods that discourage the horse from expressing themselves. I wrote an entire article about retraining these ‘robotic’ horses (click here) but I didn’t go into detail about using treats. I use treats with these horses specifically because it breaks the structure of the way they have been handled by humans in the past. The treats give these horses the hope that humans may have more to offer them than work alone. In essence the treat is used to enhance the mood…a bit like the difference between a candlelight dinner vs florescent lighting.

When Roxy was on the Ellen show they bought her a bucket full of these treats...she was one happy pony! Just after the show went off air she dumped the entire bucket on the floor in the studio to the amusement of the entire audience:)

When Roxy was on the Ellen show they bought her a bucket full of these treats…she was one happy pony! Just after the show went off air she dumped the entire bucket on the floor in the studio to the amusement of the entire audience:)

If I had to sum up my strongest reason for using treats it would be that it can be fun for both the horse and the rider. I fed Roxy countless treats while hanging out or waiting around for our name to be called to show. I didn’t give her any treats early in training. I never used them directly as a reward for a specific maneuver; for example I DID NOT ask her to spin and then give her a treat. I DID use them as we were waiting to show, sometimes for an hour, to keep ourselves entertained. We had both worked hard and then we both enjoyed a peppermint while waiting.

To sum it all up and give you the short answer: I do feed treats to horses…but only if they are respectful.

 
 

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How often do horses surprise you with how intelligent they are?

“After watching you work with Jac my question is; How often do horses surprise you with how intelligent they are?”-Holli H.The longer I am around horses and the more I learn about them...the more they fascinate me. Stacy Westfall quote

The answer is one of these three:

  1. Almost daily
  2. daily
  3. every day that I allow myself to recognize and enjoy it
  4. all of the above

You have discovered the key reason I love training horses!

The longer I am around horses and the more I learn about them…the more they fascinate me. The better I can read their body language, the more I understand them, which leads to more fascination, more study, more understanding and the cycle continues.

There are spots in the Jac episodes that capture perfectly how intelligent horses are. Some are easy for me to feel with the horse but are more difficult to appreciate on video. Others are even easy to see on video, for example Episode 26. The following two episodes contain moments where you can really see how intelligent horses are. The two videos after that are just plain funny!

Episode 26

My favorite three minutes that illustrate this perfectly are found in the beginning of Episode 26. It is easy to see how Jac’s choices and actions here are both wrong as well as a fascinating glimpse into how his mind is working.

Episode 14

At 7:45 in this video you can again see Jac making a ‘mistake’ which is really Jac trying very hard to go to the pool…something he has been rewarded for and is trying to repeat. On the surface it looks like he is being bad, when really, he is trying very hard to be good!

Other horses

If those videos don’t convince you of how intelligent horses are then check out the following two videos. While they are not my horses they also perfectly illustrate just how wonderfully intelligent these horses are. Enjoy!

This is the best video of a horse escape…maybe ever!

 

 

 

 

 
 

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On the road…again…living with change and horses on the road

Stacy Westfall Horse Trailer with horses #Tekonsha

Stacy and Jesse Westfall, the kids and the horses on the road

Change is hard because it means taking on something new.

We have lived in at least eight different places over the last six months. I am aware that ‘at least’ may seem like a strange statement…but I have had some difficulty in counting. This mainly stems from the question of how to identify a place we have lived vs a place we have passed through. For instance, I am currently parked at a horse show in Jackson, Ohio. The photo here is from a few hours ago. Everything the five of us…plus our horses…have used to live for the last six months is in this rig pictured here or in our mini van. Does that mean we are ‘living’ here?

The change we signed up for was giving up a permanent base of operation a.k.a. our home. The new part has been learning how to live on the road. We knew it wouldn’t be easy because change never is.

We also knew that we would be the most tempted to jump back to the ‘safety’ of a familiar lifestyle during the first few months of change. As we passed the six month mark last week I can say that this new ‘normal’ of living on the road…with horses and three kids, is starting to get comfortable!

Comfortable! Yep, we are getting pretty good at moving around and none of us regret what we are doing. In fact, now that we have made it through the early phase of learning this new lifestyle we are actually MORE excited than we were in the beginning.

CS Lewis bird

I don’t know what the future holds…but who among us really does? I am spending time with my family and my horses, seeing many new places and meeting new people.

Nope, change isn’t easy but it can be rewarding.

 

 

 

P.S.-I’m thinking about having a map added to our website where I can drop a pin everyday so you can see where we are and where we have been…what do you think?

 
55 Comments

Posted by on August 21, 2014 in Life, quote

 

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How dangerous are horses? Injuries, accidents and ranking against other sports

Bruised leg from being kicked by a horse

What is the worst wreck you have been in or witnessed?

Injuries happen. At the last horse show I was at I saw a man in a cast and the first thing I asked was, “Horse related accident?” to which he responded, “No, I just tripped.” We both laughed and I told him he really needed a better story, or at least a better build up. But the incident got me thinking. Horses can be dangerous, but so can many other hobbies. This spring my 14 year old nephew broke his ankle/leg when he landed wrong during basketball. Another friend injured her knee in the same way. Several people I know hurt themselves simply walking, or rather, while simply walking.

Horses can be dangerous but there are ways that we can make them safer including educating both the horse and the rider and by simply being aware.

Here are some interesting statistics;

  • one in five injuries related to horses happens before mounting up
  • most dismounted injuries are more serious than mounted injuries
  • dismounted injuries tend to be kicks
  • mounted injuries tend to be falls

Total pro sports ranked horseback riding at #7 in comparison with other sports-

  1. Football
  2. Basketball
  3. Cycling
  4. Skateboarding
  5. Baseball
  6. Softball
  7. Horseback riding
  8. Ice hockey
  9. Lacrosse
  10. Golf
  11. Tennis

There are many interesting products out there to help reduce the chance of injury. Riding helmets are the most widely known and recommended piece of safety equipment. Others include safety vests and break away stirrups.

How dangerous do you consider horseback riding to be? What is the worst wreck you have been in or witnessed?

P.S.-Here is an interesting video on breakaway stirrups.

 
91 Comments

Posted by on July 26, 2014 in Life, Video

 

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Do you unload your horses to stretch when traveling?

What is the furthest you have hauled a horse without unloading? Where do you unload? Have you ever seen someone unload in a situation you thought was do not unload livestock road signdangerous?

I have written several blogs about traveling with horses.

Plus, I did an entire series of trailer loading videos, sponsored by Tekonsha (they make brake control systems for horse trailers) that is available on YouTube;

I personally don’t unload on the road very often for safety reasons. I do evaluate my horse and what kind of shape they are in, as they claim that riding in a trailer is roughly equivalent to a horse walking; 2 hours in trailer is similar to the horse walking for 2 hours. I have even been known to borrow a stock trailer if I felt that the horse needed to be able to move around more than they can in a slant load. I think each situation is different but I would love to hear how you handle hauling also.

 
18 Comments

Posted by on July 14, 2014 in Training

 

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