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.


  1. Freddy on March 14, 2023 at 10:09 am

    Hi Stacy I have got a very nice pony but when I go to get her from the paddok she tries too kick and bite me any sugestions.

    Thank you

  2. Meliss on October 13, 2020 at 10:18 pm

    I understand that wild horses have more healthy social behavior than our domesticated horses. I am sure wild horses have more space to work out the herd dynamics and they are pretty much relaxed and lazy in nature when not on high alert for some reason. Domestic horses will get jealous. Domestic horses for the most part have some amount of PTSD as well and it’s because of humans. You can train them in a very large round pen at liberty. Pretty much treat them like kids. First work with them individually so the know your cues of when to stay put, back up, move around in the direction and speed you ask with your energy and aid of a reed. When you can control each in a round pen and you feel safe put them in one at a time together. You set them up to focus on you do the same exercises either one standing still with you and moving the other at your speed and then you’ll be able to control each of them moving together both still focusing with one ear and one eye on you at all times. They are not to look at each other or pay any attention to each other. This is how Lippazon stallions are trained together and perform together. It takes some know how and knowing the language of Equsetian but it will eventually get them to respect each other when they are working together and then eventually pastures together.

  3. Erin on June 2, 2017 at 2:17 pm

    I have a 5 year old stallion who was kept in a barn or mare motel with other horse’s most of his life with no issues then I took him home when we finally bought horse property. Being a stallion and the only horse I own he had a two acre pasture to himself for 6 months but was regularly riding and showing still with NO issues. Then I decide I need to sell him so I bring him to my trainer’s facility to be on consignment and she tells me he’s somehow turned into an extremely dangerous stallion mounting and climbing fences and getting “excited” around other horses in the facility constantly but perfectly fine for the trainer under saddle. Suddenly my sweet docile stallion has turned into a monster? I am so incredibly confused because he has been on group trail rides and shown during his time at my house with NO issues whatsoever and obviously kept with other horses before this point. My trainer has even decided to end her contract with me and requested that I come and get my “problem horse” asap. Anyone ever experience something like this? I would hate to cut him just before trying to sell especially since he’s been a perfect gentleman in every way up until coming to my trainer.

    • Camilla on December 18, 2020 at 7:05 pm

      My experiences with horses is every horse is an individual like every human is an individual and some horses like some people like going to be around one person and the person of their choice They think oh yes that person is my person like if I put my freshly eilded horse who just had his balls castrated he still the same as he was before only listens to me anybody else goes with around him or anything It’s you’re going to pay for coming in my territory horses are very territorial when I just read what you put about your stallion possibly she’s doing something very evil to him horses don’t forget They actually hold that to their hearts some actually have the nerves to actually act out on this which good horsey in that case because my two horses are freshly saved a year ago well one of them well they’re both year ago but a year and something months this one now I’m talking about what’s I got them in June and July ish around that time so he could be preferring you and she could have done something to him and no trainer my book gives up on a horse she is a faulty trainer which major issues Don’t put yourself around people like that Please do this for you and your horse perhaps your horse wants to stay with you You can always reply to this and it’ll tell me because I’m curious I studied horse behaviors in my own way horses always are telling us things we’re just stupid and we don’t listen trust me that good for me too sometimes I had hired so many different trainers all their techniques never worked for my horses I have one aggressive horse that’s my gelding He’s about to be too next month sometime next month but his mother is horse aggressive well just recently became that way You see just like us like we could say oh I don’t like that about that person horses are the same way so I really believe he’s passing his judgment on the way he would behaving He’s trying to reach out and say something everybody just needs a heart to listen to their horse The heart of listening That’s what I like to call it sometimes our horse is trying to tell a thing that we don’t understand like for instance my horse winter blames one of my mom’s new horses for another horse leaving us cuz my mom couldn’t handle her baby horse so she kind of said I need to get a horse I can handle and ride versus one that’s going to attack me 24/7 so my horse doesn’t like one horse because of that and today she calls her to jump and get stuck or she kicked her where she try to get out of the way and got stuck on on something so you got to be careful when you’re doing that like my horse is still in there because she gets along with the other horse but my horse would which is her son actually the one that just got castrated has to be by himself until January 12th but the thing is just like us horses like to feel comfortable in their own surroundings and a lot of times in a while they actually would chase a different horse from the heard if they don’t like what the horses being like so perhaps your horse like I said 1 million times probably It’s trying to tell you something

    • Freddy on March 14, 2023 at 10:12 am

      It might be because theyre is lot’s of mares around and He’s adjusting to his new enviroment.

  4. Ken on May 17, 2017 at 4:03 pm

    I have had problems similar to this. I have been taking care of a mare for months now since her owner is out of town frequently and she is very outwardly aggressive. They (the aggressive mare and a small pony) keep my new gelding confined to the smaller portion of the pasture and when they mingle she will literally chase after him and when she gets close enough try to kick him multiple times, even when he is not doing anything but grazing. He is so passive and does not fight back. She is probably around 15 hh and he is 17.5 hh so I am wondering if she is intimidated by his size. He did very well with his old pasture mates and is an OTTB so they are generally well socialized. Oh well.. I guess I’ll have to stick it out with him!

    • Hannah on August 10, 2017 at 6:18 pm

      This is normal herb behavior. I’d put them both in a pasture by them selves, take off the halters ect. And let them figure it out. Their horses, let them talk horse.

  5. Amy on March 26, 2017 at 10:48 pm

    I have a 15-18 year old mare who has been by herself (except for my kids’ 4H sheep; which we had part of each year and then they’d be sold off) since about a year before we got her about 5 years ago. I got some Nubian doelings recently, and our horse is acting so jealous. I brought the doelings out into the pasture with the horse, and she ran at them and kicked at them. We put the babies back in their pen. She acted like she wanted their hay, so I gave her her own. Tried taking them out again today, and she waited until I walked away and kicked one of the goats. She ran after the other one and when she realized I was coming, she took off farther into the pasture. I have only read how great goats and horses are together. How can I address this? Did I let her stay too long without a pasture mate? Can I train her to obey around the goats until she accepts them?

  6. Martha Madsen on March 8, 2017 at 2:56 am

    I am reading these comments and suggestions with interest. We are currently shipping 2 geldings (1 10yrs, 1 4), both of whom were gelded only in Oct. 2016. They will join our 12 year old gelding who has been alone here for several years. Due to lots of snow piled up, we don’t have a big turnout area for them, but 2 parallel paddocks, separated by a fence. With the deep snow in the empty paddock, the wooden fence separating them is not tall enough. I’m thinking I’ll extend the height of that fence with electric fencing, mounting the poles on the wooden fence posts. The 2 new are cold bloods, and known to be mellow guys. They will have learned to live together during their long trip in trailer together. So I guess we should let them become acquainted from 2 separate adjoining paddocks, then introduce 1 at a time to the longtime resident’s space. Their hind shoes have been removed. Any other suggestions?

  7. Katie on April 27, 2016 at 2:53 pm

    I had one gelding and two mares but just recently trailered a younger gelding to my farm and I can’t seem to get them to get along. Every time I go to check on them I find new scratches on both of them but mostly my new gelding. I love the idea of putting a grazing muzzle on my older gelding because he is the one always charging at my new horse and biting him and then my new horse tries to defend himself by kicking. I also love the idea of getting back to giving my older horse the attention that he is use to and exercising them together. what I have been doing is running my old horse in the round pin before I let him out with my new horse so he is to tired to attack the new horse but that only works until he catches his breath.

  8. Nora Hitchcock on July 2, 2015 at 5:23 am

    My 14 yr old gelding, after 5 years of boarding in the same pasture, had a mare in heat and a 2 yr old gelding introduced after a couple weeks of over the fence introduction. He now is chasing and pinning tge little guilding. Tge varn manager is introducing too many horses and has amother one he is about to introduce and the herd is not stable. This little gelding and mare were together across the fence line before both coming into my 14 yr olds pin. During pasture no issues, but at night when they come in it is a problem. There has not been enough time to acclimate the herd… also when the horses are chased around there are sharp objects off the barn and troughs the horses get hurt on. I’m trying to get the manager to work with the problem, stop introducing so to many at a time and try some other things but he is not. My gelding has had not one issue in 5 years until the two horses were thrown in. Any advise?

  9. Angela Postma on September 24, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    I have the same problem with my giant gelding. He is always over the top aggressive with newcomers even after time and acting like he likes the newcomer over the fence. So when I put him with the new horse he must wear a grazing muzzle and drag 3 lead ropes to slow him down. I also make sure he is very hungry so he will hopefully rather eat then chase. Also the big thing is I let the new horse out to learn the lay of the land days before without my mean guy out there. Then I wait with a friendly pony by the attached corral in case the new guy needs to escape and then I can hopefully slam the gate shut before the pursuer gets him. It is an ordeal but I love my gelding. Good luck. Hope this helps.

  10. Shannon on September 23, 2014 at 8:59 pm

    I totally agree w/your entire response to this, Stacy. I have a 22 year old gelding named Bugsey. He gets extremely violent w/New comers whether they’re Mares, Geldings, or sometimes even foals. He’s the worst w/Studs and young Colts who are “coming of age”. I’ve found separating them for a LONG time to help. I also noticed exactly what you said about jealousy. So I started making sure Bugsey was the 1st & the last to get a treat, to be handled /ridden, and I payed extra attention to him. It all seemed to work. However, there was a young stud on the farm that we had to rehome bc Bugsey NEVER accepted him. Lets hope that’s not the case w/you.

  11. cfurse on September 22, 2014 at 1:41 am

    TONIGHT my 3 year old has a big gaping wound on his hip after being chased into a trailer by an older horse who has been aggressive with him. We had been keeping them separate, but the other owner didn’t know. Rule No. 10,11, and 12: No horses out near the trailers!

    Another thing I’ve noticed about introducing horses … When you pick up a friends’ horse in your trailer to go for a ride the two previously stranger horses are now inseparable ‘best buds’ by the time you get to the trail head. That is (accidentally) how I introduced two of my horses when I took them from their separate paddocks, trailered them to the vet’s together for shots, and then took them home. Worked great in this case.

  12. Craig Gleason on September 21, 2014 at 7:48 pm

    I have had similar situations. We actually sold a nice horse because it just seemed like he wanted to kill the other horses. The horses were always full of bite marks. Bad ones sometimes. There are a LOT of horses in the world. No matter how much you love a horse, sometimes its a big relief to find them a new home to have piece in the pasture.
    I do like Nina’s comment about trailering them together. I wished I would have tried that. A 45 minute ride together could help them bond a little after comforting each other in a stressful situation. Good idea!

  13. Darlene on September 21, 2014 at 6:52 pm

    I have a 5yr old gelding that was born on my farm and raised in the herd we have now. But everytime I take him out of the pasture for any length of time gets chased and attacked by one of the other horses when I put him back in. I now have to remove the aggressive horse from the pasture when we get home and put him in a round pen over night when I put my gelding back in with the rest of the horses (herd of 10) After being ‘grounded’ overnight I am able to put the aggressor back in with the herd without issue.

    • Barrie on September 23, 2014 at 10:28 am

      I have heard that grounding a horse for bad behavior does work. I will have to give this a try with my “biter”.

  14. Nikki B on September 21, 2014 at 6:32 pm

    Never get between the new one and the old one, I did and sustained a kick to my butt that knocked me off my feet, any higher or lower and I would have had something broken. The kick came from my older horse who has never shown any sign of aggression towards me before, he was jealous of the new one and it was feeding time. All my friends that have been kicked have been in similar situations. I thought long and hard about keeping him after that – I do take some of the blame though and he hasn’t shown any aggression since so he’s on a warning. Rule no 1. – Stay safe

  15. Terri Kavanaugh on September 21, 2014 at 5:23 pm

    I have two mares one 8 1/2 and the other 3 will be 4 in April and all of a sudden one day I heard some squealing and they backed up to each other and started wailing (kicking each other), and they kept it up. I hollered and grabbed the hose and turned it on them. I took the younger one out to the back corral and she stayed there for a few hours and I turned them back out together again. A day or so later they did it again and I hollered and grabbed the hose…this time they really meant business, the younger one was kicking EVERYONE!! So now she spends her time out back away form the rest of them and she is for SALE!!!! I cannot and will not turn her back in with the others and risk having someone kicked in the head or lose a leg possibly. Too bad she is a really nice looking buckskin(no white) so if you know of any one looking email me, selling her really reasonable. So that is my experience with aggressive horses, pretty scary! Terri

  16. YaYa Gypsy on September 21, 2014 at 5:21 pm

    I had a mare whom absolutely hated my gelding. When pastured together on two occasions…my mare put my gelding through a metal barn. I didn’t know what happened the first time…though he just got hurt or something…2nd time…I was there…she cornered him in the barn between her and the horse trailer and just kicked and bit and beat him…I finally got her off of him and they were never pastured together again…however, the trailered together all the time to trail rides…she would kick at him on the trail rides as well….whom ever was riding him had to stay away from me and the mare…really crazy….(he was a very gentle gelding, bottom of the pecking order). I thought it was just him….but I had to pasture her for a week at a friends house and she did fine for a little while with about 6 horses…then one day she trapped two horses….a mare and a gelding in the barn and beat the hell out of them…so may just be the horse!! I sold my mare!! Good luck to you babe!!

  17. Carolyn on September 21, 2014 at 4:12 pm

    Some times they just don’t LIKE each other. I had a anlgo arab mare that I was in training with at another barn. I would take her down to this barn and same time I did a lesson the trainer was working her own horse a quarter horse named Pat. My mare would flash and flirt and act silly every time she saw Pat. At home I had a lease gelding that as soon as I got home she would take after him and let fly. He knew to stay away but the behavior was so obvious that you could read her mind….” I love Pat and I have to come home to this derelict”. I also had another friend leave her haflinger gelding with me and this same mare hated him so much she would go in his stall and poop in his feed bucket. Her aim was incredible.

    • Leann on September 22, 2017 at 1:08 pm

      This made me snort laugh lol! What a smart stinker

  18. Brenda on September 21, 2014 at 3:18 pm

    Very insightful, Stacey thank you!

  19. stonepony1 on September 21, 2014 at 3:14 pm

    We have had horses before that were attacked viscously by other horses. Not just one time but repeatedly battered and bruised and chased over/through fences. Even the kindest of our horses would beat them up daily.
    I studied on this and found that horses that were hand raised or had had very little other horse contact when they were young will have these problems. Horses must learn from other horses how to have proper horse manners. Some horses are more offended by improperly mannered horses then others. Sometimes the ill mannered horse will learn to become well mannered and sometimes they will not. Horses that do not learn good horse manners will often be hated by other horses all their lives. Age makes a big difference. If an ill mannered young horse gets around other horses and they beat him up a few times he will start to figure it out and learn the proper manners. But an older horse that has been alone a long time may never get it.

    • Leann on September 22, 2017 at 1:12 pm

      This is my problem at the moment except its my bottle fed gelding that is the aggressor. He is overly aggressive to my other gelding who is not a fighter at all. His rump is starting to look like ground beef. My aggressor is 13 but he is a stink and I have been able to attribute a lot of his behavior back to losing his mom so early.
      I am on here looking for a solution other than selling him and permanently separating them as neither of those are options. I thought maybe a fly sheet or a grazing muzzle? I wish I could rub Tabasco all over my little guy so Leo would get a not so great surprise when he bit him lol but I dont want to irritate his skin either

      • Stacy Westfall on September 23, 2017 at 4:35 pm

        If you do the sheet, etc you will likely need to then try the Tabasco or something to prevent pulling at that. The muzzle would be interesting…I wonder if he would stop or change his bullying behavior to include kicking or another physical expression. You’ll have to let me know.
        It is tough if one won’t stick up for themselves. We are set up to separate them when it happens by either rotating turn out or having multiple lots.

  20. Nina on September 21, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    I have heard an other, also highly respected horse/human trainer, say that it is good to take the new and “old” horse for a ride in the trailer.

    • Alice on September 22, 2014 at 12:11 am

      That method worked for me.

  21. Bobbi on September 21, 2014 at 2:13 pm

    I have seen pinning ears and aggressive kicking and some biting from my gelding when we get new horses into our barn. At first, I was concerned. But, as time went by and I was able to really think about it, it is pure jealousy. I’m so glad you said this was a possibility because I think everyone at my barn thinks I’m crazy. If a new horse/rider gets too close to us, I see him pin his ears sometimes even snap at them. I have observed that when I’m NOT riding him, he’s less aggressive. It’s almost like he’s protecting me. I correct the behavior and move him forward. But, inside I’m smiling a little. I think he just loves me. (None of the behavior has resulted in anyone or another horse being hurt. And he is corrected whether I’m on him or not. This is his reaction only with new horses for a short while and mostly with younger geldings)

  22. Angie on September 21, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    I have been struggling with issues like this, with my gelding , for the last few years. At my old barn, he was seperated from the big herd and lived alone with my friends gelding until my friend moved her horse. They had no issues while living together. He then lived with a mare for 6 months until I moved my horse, again they had no issues. At our new barn he was perfect in the big herd for a while. Then 2 horses were introduced and everything changed. He was worse then he was at our old barn, and he started mounting mares and chasing geldings
    Away and picking one one gelding
    In particular. He was seperated again, and put with my friends gelding, in a seperate paddock (same gelding as before, we followed her to the new barn) as they got along great at our old barn. No such luck, he beat up my friends gelding pretty bad and had to be separated. He is currently living with a mare , who has no issues giving
    Him some good kicks if it gets out of hand, including when he tries to
    mount her. I have had a vet out and she wanted to do a stallion test. Still waiting on the results of that, if it comes back negative we will check for ulcers.

    If the 12 year old gelding in question is suddenly aggressive you could possible check for ulcers. They can drastically change a horses behaviour. My vet told me that she was called out for a gelding that became suddenly extremely agressive , he needed to be handled with a chain over his nose and two handlers. She treated him for uncles and once they cleared up he was back
    To being as friendly as a puppy. So it’s something you could consider checking out. But It could also be that he just doesn’t like this gelding for whatever reason. Best of luck!

    • Diane on March 4, 2017 at 9:45 pm

      I know these comments are old but I had to just give my thoughts! I think that the older gelding was just plain jealous of attention to the younger ” competition” for YOU. Horses get attached to their people. I have seen and experienced a gelding “alpha” protecting .guarding. and even charging a bit when a leader female (human) enters the herd. It doesn’t always happen , but it does happen ! They get jealous. They want attention and are PREY animals that are always in fight or flight mode. I’m no expert, just an observer in love with horses.

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