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Aggression Within the Herd

In a recent The Willing Equine podcast episode Adele talks about some of the causes of increased aggression in domestic herds. Here is more on what was said...

"One thing we have to take into consideration when looking at aggression within the herd is the vast differences between wild herds of horses and domestic herds, and how the typical management choices in a domestic herd may exacerbate antagonistic behaviors between horses. Four main differences between wild and domestic herds are:

  1. Horses in domestic situations rarely get to choose their own band members, nor do they get to stay with those same band members throughout their life. They also cannot choose to leave that band to go join another. It is very artificial, and it is put together depending on the human's needs. Sometimes these bands are extremely small (1 or 2 horses) and other times they are extremely large (30 + horses in a single pasture.) An individual band is never that large in the wild.

  2. Artificial feeding and restricted forage access can dramatically impact the behavior of the horses in the band. If there is not constant access to forage that they can move to as a collective group, this can change the behavior of the horses and their interactions with one another. In the case of a couple of flakes of hay being thrown out once or twice a day, the horses in the band will have to "duke it out." This can create an artificial dominance hierarchy that is not seen in feral herds. It's important to note that when we see this in domestic horses, it is not normal for the species. It is man-made and artificial.

  3. Another thing to mention is the size of the space that the band is living in. The smaller the space, the more on top of each other the horses will be. Naturally, fencelines block horses from being able to escape from other horses if there are antagonistic behaviors. Cornering another horse into a pasture fence is not seen in the wild.

  4. Horses that are weaned really early from their dams do not have an opportunity to learn enough about equine social behaviors. They have limited exposure to normal social behavior, and this is exaggerated when they are continuously kept isolated from other horses. This is especially seen when the foal is only kept with its dam, and there are no foals or other herd mates for them to interact and play with. From the very beginning of their lives, many foals are isolated from other horses almost immediately after being weaned. Horses that do not grow up in a herd environment will naturally have limited social skills.

All these factors play a role in aggression and antagonistic behaviors between herd mates."

Want to learn more about aggression within the herd and how to manage it? Check out episode 35 of my podcast,"Aggression Within The Herd." Listen to it now! Another great resource I highly recommend is Lucy Rees' book, 'Horses in Company,' which dives even further into the differences between feral and domestic herds.

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