My girlfriend's horse behaves dangerously in the company of one particular horse
by Geoff Marshall
I'm Geoff Marshall and I know little about horses but...
Here is the story of Karan and Spider.
Spider is a young male horse and his owner, my girlfriend Karan, is a long haul air hostess. She keeps her horse on her best friend's farm mostly in a box next door but one to her friend's horse. Who is called Zolash.
They are put out each day.
Karan is often away on trips for 5 days at a time and Zolash's owner looks after Spider during these periods.
Karan loves hunting (old English traditional style) but in the last few months if Zolash is present Spider starts to kick, jump, bite and is definitely dangerous to others and to Karan. He only gets this way in the company of other horses when Zolash is present and its like he cannot bear to be without Zolash as his only companion.
When they go on training sessions together (ie with no other horses present) Spider is fine.
I've read your intro page and am beginning to understand that this behaviour is probably a herd/dominance issue.
Possibly connected with Zolash getting regular attention from his owner all the time but when Karan is absent the amount of attention that Spider gets is reduced.
I wonder why Spider is exhibiting this behaviour, which means she is unable to go hunting with her best friend (Kerry, owner of Zolash).
If the horses are not together Spider is fine.
Zolash is unperturbed by it all and behaves well.
Karan, normally an uber confident person, in my view, has lost some of her confidence on horse back possibly because of the risk of getting hurt since this started happening and I suspect this doesn't help.
Can you help with any basic information that would allow us to better understand this.
I could use a bit more information to unravel this situation yet I will try and decipher some of this.
Where I have some confusion is in your note you explain that Spider cannot bear to be without Zolash (which is separation anxiety) and then you mention that Spider is okay when not with Zolash or did you mean the other horses? What I need to know is under what circumstances does Spider seem to be okay i.e. when left in his stall? When left in the paddock outside? And describe a situation other than the outing where Spider is not happy when Zolash leaves. Are there other horses were they are kept too?
What age is Spider? This makes a big difference to understand his time line in experience. How long has Karan been his guardian and what do you know about his life prior to this? What I am after is learning about Spider's upbringing because I feel it holds the key here too to his behavior. I am getting the distinct feeling Spider missed out on some very important lessons about herd social life that only other horses can teach. And it really needs to be taught from the beginning of their young lives.
When horses are removed from their mothers either too soon or with too much emotional anxiety (which means they were just suddenly taken away from their mother) then if they are separated too often from other horses they do not learn how herd social order is played. It is the mature horses in a herd that supply most of this learning. Yet they also learn through play with other youngsters too. Just like our dogs, if they do not get socialization with other dogs or humans at an early age they can show aggressiveness because they interpret situations incorrectly. And of course the same is noted in human behavior when socialization at an early age is not experienced in a good way.
A horse being stalled is just like being alone even when there is a horse next to them. They are designed to have physical contact with each other. We humans think that we are providing better living conditions by bringing horses into a stall even if it's just for the night. The reality is horses instinctual needs are to be in the wide open spaces with other herd members 24/7 for the physical and emotional well being they supply to each other. The exceptions are when additional health care needs like additional meals or healing are required. The respiratory track of horses is also very delicate and stall environments are full of dust spores and other bacteria that contribute to poor health (often not seen with or naked eyes).
At the moment it appears Spiker does not have experience and social skills because he is bond attached to Zolash. Pair bonding is normal but there still should be more members to make up a comfortable herd structure. That way if a favorite member is removed they look to the next member for the comfort they need. To them there is safety in numbers!
Spider's aggressiveness when other horses are around is more about him defending his place (pecking order) than defending his friend. He feels his position is at stake and his overreaction tells me the lack of social experience he may be missing.
But this is also related. We need Spider to look to Karan under these conditions and outings for guidance, comfort and leadership. He currently is not looking to her when these situations arise that he finds threatening.
Our expectations of horses and what horses are experiencing and understanding are quite different. It's one thing to acknowledge "Karan Loves hunting", but what is then expected from Spider to understand and want this too?
I hope this offers you something to think about yet I really need more information to go further.
It's like peeling an onion, one layer at a time! :0)
Horses by Nature