Watching horses interact with other horse.

I love watching horses interact with other horses. There is so much you can learn about them as you watch them together.

How do they approach each other?
What body language do they use to communicate?
Who is the leader in this group?
How do they treat those they lead?
Which one tends to kick?
Which one tends to bite?
How much will that one tolerate?
How much will that one push the boundaries?

Several posts ago I shared a video of Presto meeting up with Justice, the other nurse mare foal that he was raised with. In the video, Presto was very aggressive.
If you watch the progression during the video you can see how quickly Presto went from suggesting things to actually kicking with more intent.
Part of the reason that Presto escalated was that Justice also chose to leave. Justice didn’t want to be involved in a fight which gave Presto even more confidence to get more aggressive.

In this series of photos, there are three horses. Presto (dark appy), Gabby (bay mare), and a new sorrel mare that was just introduced.
I think it is interesting to watch how the communication went and Presto’s role in the interaction. All of this happened in less than one minute.

Background: Presto and Gabby are turned out together regularly. Gabby is clearly the leader. When the new mare came in she had questions to ask…and I enjoyed watching Presto even though he was more indirectly involved.

In photo 1 the new mare approaches Gabby who has not bothered to turn and investigate her. The new mare approached quickly and with boldness. I clicked the photo just as things began to shift.

In photo 2 Gabby took a step back. She did not seem rushed but did seem very solidly confident. The new mare begins to turn. Notice Presto hasn’t moved.

In photo 3 Gabby begins to turn toward the new mare, who has not moved far, and her ‘energy’ level is up. You can see that Presto is now stepping away from this energy even though Gabby is turning away from him.

In photo 4 both the new mare and Presto are stepping away. Things appear to have ended.

In photo 5 Gabby has essentially pivoted and is facing the other way. She is standing very firm and confident while the new mare approaches with a lot of energy. The new mare squeals, bucks and kicks out directly behind herself. Notice Gabby’s feet don’t move between this photo and the next.

In photo 6 the new mare strikes out alongside Gabby…who still doesn’t move her feet. Presto can be seen watching from a distance.

In photo 7 Presto can be seen approaching Gabby in a questioning manner. Can you see how he lowers his head and reaches out with his neck without a big ‘presence’?

When watching horses interact it is important to watch all the horses in the pasture. While the two mares were more active, Presto was still giving plenty of signs as to how he was reading the situation and how he fit in the situation.

I’ve received several questions like this one, “My questions are: were there challenges with Presto missing some basic body language cues that he would have learned from his mother? Did Presto have any issues learning personal space and boundaries due to his upbringing by humans?”

Although Presto wasn’t raised by a mare, I did begin turning him out with adult horses at the age of four months. I was careful to turn him out with docile horses at first but as he grew and learned I began introducing more horses. Much of his learning took place in the pasture during interactions like this one.

It was very easy to see that during his yearling and two-year-old years, the horses he was turned out with had a huge impact on how he behaved with me. For example, as Presto grew bolder if he was turned out with a very lenient horse he would test me more when he came out of the pasture. I also noticed that when he was then turned out with a more assertive horse he would come out of the pasture in a much more docile state.

While I recognized the impact his pasture mates were having on him I still maintained my own standards for how he was allowed to behave.
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I’ve owned Presto now for four years. He has grown so much and I’m finally ready to start sharing his adventures. You can find all of his posts on my website (stacywestfall_com_)
What questions do you have for me about Presto?
#PressonRegardless #Presto #Equithrive

2 Comments

  1. Pam Krull on June 22, 2020 at 3:07 pm

    This is very timely, something I am currently facing and admittedly stressing over. In order to make it more affordable for me, I need to start sharing a 5 acre paddock I rent for my 2 horses. I have an 11 year old mare (very much the Boss, she kicks and bites her pasture mate) and a 22 year old gelding (previously the Boss, he bites, not much of a kicker). They’ve been together for about 6 years. I want to introduce a friend’s 11 year old gelding. (No info on his past herd behavior). My thoughts are to make the initial introductions in a nearby 1.5 acre, neutral paddock, see how it goes for a few hours, then move them across to the 5 acre field. I know there’s no way to guarantee that someone’s not going to get kicked and injured, but how might we at least reduce the risks of something bad happening?

    • Stacy Westfall on June 23, 2020 at 6:00 pm

      When I introduce a new one, I break up the old herd as much as possible. For example, if I’m introducing a new horse to a herd of two, I will introduce them individually. New horse and non leader on day one, watch and observe. New horse and leader, watch and observe. This way you can see individual interactions before the pair is together.
      Otherwise, the old group tends to be very tightly knit and harder for the new one.
      Plus it is easier to manage two horses than three!

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