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Discussion on To Separate or Not to Separate - Preventing the Mate Sour Horse

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Dawn Anderson (Dawng)
Posted on Tuesday, Jul 31, 2001 - 3:06 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

Greetings once again, all. I've recently moved onto my own property with my two horses (mare and gelding) and have had them turned out together (as I did BRIEFLY in the past - they were at a boarding facility and generally were separated with members of their own sex and always with more than one other horse). Well, within a week's time, both are difficult to separate, even if they remain within view of each other. My new vet is of the opinion that all working horses should remain in separate pens, even if adjacent to each other, as they become psychologically dependent upon each other. I've done this, and they seem fine, but I can't shake the feeling that since they are herd animals, they should be together. What do you all think?
Much thanks,
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Holly Edwards (Hwood)
Posted on Tuesday, Jul 31, 2001 - 9:30 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

Hi, Dawn,

What about separating the horses at night but allowing them to "fellowship" during the day, or vice versa? The dynamics of the herd in one of my barns requires me to separate the horses into their stalls and paddocks for the evening feeding and during the night until after breakfast. When the more submissive horses have finished their breakfasts, then I can open all the paddocks and the horses can spend the day together in the pasture and playing "musical stalls." I know they really enjoy the opportunities to give each other back scratches and massages and just swish the flies off of eachother's faces.

Your horses will figure it out after they have gotten accustomed to their new living quarters that when you take one of them away, it won't be forever.

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Bonita (Bonita)
Posted on Wednesday, Aug 1, 2001 - 7:58 am:   Edit PostPrint Post

Hi Dawn!
If your horses get along together alright, I see no reason why they have to be separated. However, if they become semi-berserk when one is removed for riding, etc., you may need to bring the other one in & stall it with hay, etc., for the duration. They are not always smart enough to realize their buddy is coming back, and I have seen several that would run themselves ragged and actually try to jump out of a (5' board-fenced) pasture when left alone for even a short time. This behavior went on for YEARS, until the owner finally smartened up.
If they seem just as happy separated, but in sight, & remain that way when one leaves - that may work better for you.
One more thing to be very careful of (although I know that there exceptions to every rule) - if you add to your "herd" & the newcomer is another gelding, more than one gelding mixed with a mare or mares can be a dangerous combo. You would be amazed at how quickly the most placid geldings turn into "psychological stallions" when "ladies" are present.

And Holly - do be careful with your "musical stalls" arrangement. On two separate occasions at two separate barns with that type of setup; some serious injuries resulted from two (& in one of the cases, three) horses (normally close buddies) having a spat while hanging out together in one stall. Long, long layups were involved, & one of the horses was never rideable again due to the injury.

Good luck, all - Bonnie
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Holly Edwards (Hwood)
Posted on Wednesday, Aug 1, 2001 - 8:27 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post


Thanks for the heads up. So far everyone is great and behaves very well. The stalls are large with large exits and the most dominant horse is a studdy little 12.2h pony. It is because of the pony that I separate the guys (all old geldings) for feeding. The three older geldings all get lots of complete feed, while the pony gets a couple of handfuls of grain and finishes in a few seconds, so would be chasing the other guys out of the stalls to finish their grain if he could. The only way the geldings can use the pasture is if the paddocks are opened into one another.

What kinds of injuries did the horses suffer?
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Bonita (Bonita)
Posted on Wednesday, Aug 1, 2001 - 10:43 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

Hi Holly! Both incidents were at separate barns (only one of which I boarded at) where the turnout setups allowed the horses access to the barn aisle in one, and all stalls at the other.
From what I understood, in both cases all the horses involved were normally "best buddies".

In the first one (with the stall access), it was simply a situation where two horses were in one 12' X 12' stall together, and apparently the one furthest from the stall door must've felt "trapped", & a kicking spat began which ended with a serious cannon bone fracture for one of them. He recovered well enough to remain a "pasture potatoe", but was never rideable again.

In the second instance, once again a normally friendly group were allowed access to the barn (12' x 36' aisleway); a spat or spook developed while the entire band of 5 were hanging around inside, and somehow one of them either got kicked or pushed into a wall or something resulting in a hip/stifle area injury that took about 3 months of layup & handwalking to resolve itself.

I was boarding at the second barn mentioned, but did not allow my horse to join the group with barn access. I insisted on private turnout where he could be out all day in his own paddock & see them - just didn't have barn access. He seemed happy & I never had to worry about him getting hurt in what I felt was really an unsafe situation.

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Holly Edwards (Hwood)
Posted on Thursday, Aug 2, 2001 - 7:13 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

Thanks for the response, Bonnie.

I guess I'll do the best I can with the present arrangement and just keep an eye on the guys. I don't board horses, so I don't have any changes in the pasture dynamics and these old guys have been well settled in over a period of years. (It's my geriatric barn.) Too bad I can't hire a full-time barn nurse.

I'll be mindful of what you've shared. Thanks.
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Karen P. King Blan (Starzmom)
Posted on Friday, Aug 3, 2001 - 10:16 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

This is for Bonnie......
Could you elaborate more on introducing a new gelding into a herd of two. I am in this predicament currently. Like the original poster I have a 4 yr old mare (Star) who lives with a twelve year old gelding (Dixie)and they really enjoy each others company. I moved Star to another facility last year for about six months and it literally put Dixie into a depressed state. When I brought her back he knew it was her before we even opened the tailgate of the trailer and was doing a joyful dance. (some horses are almost human and Dixie is one of them...and he is not mine so I am not biased).
Anyway, he had never forgotten that Star went away and is VERY protective of her. For the first couple of months that she was back he would allow her to finish his food if she so desired and let her walk all over him even though he is very much the alpha horse personality. He got over this though and they have returned to Dixie..king...Star...underling.

Now a third horse has been introduced. (Not my choice).
It is a seventeen year old Arabian gelding. He is very nervous and high strung and also very subservient to the other horses. They were in adjoining pastures with a driveway seperating them for three weeks. This new horse, Whitey, paces the fence line and has literally dug a trench along it. Star has joined him in his pasture, but she does not seem to "hang out" with him and instead they posture about and buck and then adjourn to seperate ends of the pasture. This does stop his pacing, but causes Dixie to pace from being left alone....glaring at the other two.
When all three are in the same pasture Star and Dixie have run Whitey (who was enjoying himself) until I thought one of them was going to have heat exhaustion. Scared me to death. Hosed all of them off after being able to safely seperate them. Since then, they have grudgingly been together a few times, but Whitey ends up pacing the fence even then, or off to himself being ostracized from the other two.

Will this ever change..or is it the inevitable dynamics of two males and one female???? Thanks for any info. I am particularly interested in the dynamics of a situation such as this.
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Bonita (Bonita)
Posted on Friday, Aug 3, 2001 - 11:35 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

Hi Karen!

Unfortunately, although I know there are exceptions to every rule (especially where animals are concerned), I seriously doubt the situation as you describe it will change for the better.

Over the years, the one turnout situation that I have seen fail miserably over & over again is one where you have more than one gelding turned out with one or more mares. As I mentioned above, the most placid geldings seem to become "psychological stallions", warding off all comers and/or making the lives of their male pasturemates absolutely miserable - if not downright dangerous. In your specific case the situation is probably even worse due to the original attachment between your first two horses.

Again - my experiences certainly aren't the "be all & end all", but after having boarded at many different stables over a period of 15 years, I have never seen a mixed group get along without physical and/or mental misery unless it consisted of one gelding and one or more mares. Even then sometimes the tables get turned & the odd boy gets ganged up on & ostracized by the ladies - or you have a gelding (like mine!) who would spend every waking moment running down &/or trying to mount "his" girl(s). (I, like you, have gone thru more than one of those scary, hot, & hairy separations during/after a torturous rundown!) All in all, unless you have a pair like your original two who have developed a real friendship - or congenial interdependence - I strongly believe (& practice - now that I keep my horses myself at home) in same-sex turnout groups. There just seems to be minimal to no conflicts other than those based on regular differences in personality.

While others may have had success with your arrangement, & you may wish to wait & see if things settle - don't "wait & see" if no one is going to be around to break up a real spat. I've seen horses actually run right through board fences to escape an aggressor. You certainly don't want that happening when you're not home.

Good luck, & if I can provide you with any other info, just ask. I've been thru this more times than I can count!

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Karen P. King Blan (Starzmom)
Posted on Saturday, Aug 4, 2001 - 7:15 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

Thank you...this pretty much confirms what I have witnessed. Unfortunately I am in an unusual boarding situation and do not have a choice of what horses are allowed to board. As much as I would like it to go back to the peace of just the two horses.......
This just confirms that three is a crowd in this case.
Again,thank you for the info.
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Daryl Kreager (Daryl)
Posted on Friday, Oct 12, 2001 - 5:25 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

what are the ages of the two geldings? I have 2 geldings together and I'm fascinated by herd dynamics, I keep 7 horses turned out together just about 24 hrs. a day.
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Karen Blan (Starzmom)
Posted on Saturday, Oct 13, 2001 - 9:43 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

Hello all,
To give an update to my post above, the "third shoe" gelding in our herd was asked to leave our boarding situation because of the damage he was causing with his pacing. He literally had dug a six foot wide by 100 foot long trench from pacing. I know the length because I have had to replant grass and my fifty foot soaker hose only covers half...yikes.

All three horses had been completely stressed...I never before had given much thought to the dynamics between the sexes. Wow, never again will I try to mix two geldings and a mare (not that this was my choice). You could literally cut the tension with a knife within the group.
I thought it was particularly interesting the night they came to move "Whitey" to a different facility. They happened to all three be in the pasture together that evening. I brought him out and handed him to the owner to load onto the trailer. Both my horse and Dixie saw the horse trailer and saw him get on board. They both started hopping up and down and then started tearing around the pasture at a mad gallop throwing in plenty of elated bucks. I swear they were celebrating seeing him go..the interloper so to speak. I could not believe what I was seeing. They did not even have the decency to wait until he pulled out of the driveway :)
All of the tension evaporated and everything is back to calm and blissful. Who would have thought.

Sometimes I wish they could talk.
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