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Gelding all of a sudden being aggressive

NEW AGGRESSION IN GELDING: 2 1/2 months ago we (my 13 year old daughter and I) became first time horse owners of a now 9 year old registered Morgan gelding who was "green under saddle". I know he was boarded for most of his life, but do not know if it was in a barn or run-in situation. He had very nice ground manners, and was sweet to ride, just inexperienced. We have enlisted the help of an excellent horsewoman to assist us with finishing his training and he has come a very long way, more about that in a moment.

My current "crisis" is that he is suddenly becoming very aggressive and biting one of his two herd-mates and is putting himself at risk of loosing his new home!

We keep him at the only real option on our island which is with a 19 year old Arabian gelding and a 25 + year old mare. He is very attached to the gelding, goes out on trails with him several times a week, whinnies terribly if the Arabian goes out without him, but now in the last couple weeks is suddenly biting and injuring him in the paddock and now at risk of needing to be moved! They share a small paddock during the day, and are in stalls at night. Our Morgan gets out for rides almost every day. They are on hay at will in the paddock and at night and he gets 1/2 can low-carb food and some hay extender twice a day in his stall.

Regarding his adjustment/improvements since we got him: Initially he would become very anxious and not want to leave the other two at all. We have worked with conditioning him by walking on a lead rope out of sight, then bringing him back, over and over until his anxiety would reduce. My daughter can now ride him for up to an hour by himself (long out of sight of the others) and he is fine, though certainly seems happier when he gets to go out with the other gelding which we also do 2-3 times a week.

We have similarly helped him adjust to many things such as not liking to have his bridle put over his face or being mounted by repeating behaviors with breaks (at our choice). With riding if he misbehaves he gets circled tightly which works well. Overall he has come a very long way and while he will "test" in a new situation, he also "gives up" easily and seems to really want to please. He is very sensitive to all aids and learns quickly. Overall he has become much calmer and learned quite a lot. He continues to be very good with us, and the other women who are around the barn, but the change for the worse is how he is treating his "buddy" who is his favorite when none of us are around. I will probably need to muzzle him in the interim, and am trying to carve out another paddock space adjacent to the shared paddock but that option is quite limited and I certainly don't want to keep him muzzled! When he first arrived the mare had only been with the other gelding for about 3 1/2 months and she was dominant. When Dunkin arrived he slowly went from new kid to being the dominant horse, but now is suddenly escalating his aggressive behavior in ways understandably unacceptable to the barn manager/owner of the Arabian getting hurt. Since they have been together for 2 1/2 months now I don't think this would still be an adjustment phase.

I need to change this right now before it becomes the norm. I am hoping you can help us, we really love him! The barn manager herself is quite fond of him as well, but is not willing to wait any longer for them to "work it out".

Thank you, Cynde

Hi Cynde,

First off, thank you for your generous donation to my website. It is folks like yourself who really assist in keeping this service going. I am grateful.

Several possibilities come to mind about the behavior of your gelding. Could be your horse is becoming a bully as the other horse is showing vulnerability. Second is jealousy regarding any attention or additional goodies the other horse is receiving. Either way, the following is what has worked for me in similar situations in the past. Put all the horses in a paddock together. Begin to haze (move) them all around the paddock, in the same direction, at once. Change direction occasionally. Carry a lunge whip or some such wand. You do not have to push them around fast or too hard. Just to get them all going in the same direction. Once they are moving together they will mostly not mess with each other as their attention will be on you as the herd leader. However, the gelding will show its aggression towards the other horse when close to it.

The instant you see your gelding aggress (pin its ears) at any other horse in any way, you isolate him from the rest of the group using your body language, voice, and wand. Single him out, ignore the others, and begin to move only him around. It does not matter what the other horses do during this time. The gelding may run into them, pass them, whatever, and it does not matter. All your attention is on the gelding. You can have him go faster and change direction a lot. Really work him. The others may get a bit anxious as you work the gelding, but ignore them and they will settle. Keep him isolated from the others and have only him be the focus of your attention. After 10 minutes or so of this, allow him to stand but not to go with the others. Wait a minute and then move him again. Only him. After another 10 minutes or so, walk away. You gelding will look shocked and sheepish. You should see an immediate change in his attitude when he is allowed to rejoin the others. If you see him being aggressive to any horse again while in a paddock, repeat the process. Even when you are away, his attitude should change. He does not know if you are watching him actually, whether he sees you or not.

What you are doing is replicating herd behavior that happens in the wild horse herd. The lead mare will single out and drive away from the herd, a young upstart or bully. A horse on its own is vulnerable to attack by a predator, and soon becomes fearful as there is a lot of safety within the group environment. He will then show, by his body language, his desire to rejoin the herd. Even isolating the horse in a paddock will work the same in the mind of the horse. You may need to repeat this process a few times. But generally, you will see an attitude change quickly, even if the unwanted behavior returns after some time. Do not push the group too hard, just enough to keep their attention on you as their leader.

Herd handling is generally never thought of. But once you get the hang of it, it can assist in a number of circumstances when a horse misbehaves when in a group situation, especially bullying. Sort of like be a circus horse trainer. It builds teamwork within a herd or any group of horses. Please print this out and let others see it as I know they will never have considered the possibilities of herd handling. Please do keep me posted.....

Sincerely, Franklin

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