Equine Behavior Questions and Answers

The Question: Why is my gelding herding and biting my other gelding?

I have my two horses at home now. Both are Thoroughbred geldings. One is very sweet and passive (Buddy); the other (Beau) has always been sweet but very bossy toward his pasturemate. I have kept him in a pasture alone because of his behavior. But now that I've moved him to my home, I don't want to dividie my pasture. Beau also loves being near Buddy and will get very upset if he's not near him. In addition to his bossy behavior, he's started biting Buddy very hard. There are no other horses around that would provoke a behavioral problem like this.



The Answer

Howdy,

Congrats on bringing your horses home! It is an exciting time when you finally get to have your horses at home. I remember that day well! Unfortunately, having horses at home adds its own set of challenges. I do think that the benefit of having your horses outside your back door outweighs the challenges, though.

It sounds like you are experiencing some of the problems typical for those who keep horses. Your first problem is that your horses are bonded and experience separation anxiety whenever they're separated. You can read more about dealing with separation anxiety here.

Your other problem has its roots in normal equine behavior. Horses are herd animals and live in a hierarchy in the wild. This takes the form of a harem with a lead stallion who protects and herds the harem members, a lead mare who directs the horses where to go, and other mares and their foals. Bachelor bands also exist in the wild. These are groups of stallions who do not have their own herd. Either they're not old enough to have their own harem yet, or they're too old and have lost their harem to younger stallions.

It sounds like your horse, Beau, is a very dominant horse. He pushes Buddy around and tells him where to go. If Buddy ignores him or challenges his authority, he probably threatens to bite him and if Buddy continues to ignore him, he follows through by biting.

You haven't mentioned how big your pasture is and whether or not you separate your horses at feeding time. Small pastures may not allow the less dominant horse (Buddy) to move away from the more dominant one, and that results in him getting bit. Or if there are many obstacles in the pasture that "trap" Buddy, he may not be able to get away from Beau. Make sure they have plenty of room that's safe from obstacles.

Also, separate the two horses when it is time for grain or any treats. If you don't have stalls, you can build small feeding pens out of portable panels or you can tie them up to trees with their feed bucket (make sure you tie properly and supervise them while tied). Horses can be very territorial about their feed, and Beau may be biting Buddy in an attempt to get him to leave his feed so Beau can eat more.

Good luck with your horses. I hope you can make some management changes that will allow you to enjoy having your horses at home and that will allow them to enjoy being there with you.

The Equine Behaviorist


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