Tag Archives: biting

Introducing a new horse to an established herd

Okay, so Jazzy is a mule and not a horse but the process and experience was the same when we introduced Cash and Romeo. Well, almost the same. Jazzy only weighs about 500 pounds, half the weight of most of our horses. We knew she was more vulnerable to the bullying that comes with herd introduction. Her body couldn’t take as many kicks and she wouldn’t be able to outrun any of our horses. And she didn’t yet know the pasture.

Jazzy's introduction

Jazzy looks to the barn as Moonshine is turned out.

This is the approach we took:

  1. Barn Intro – First we put her in the barn. The horses knew immediately that another equine had just arrived and were waiting by the barn to see what was going on. Jazzy lived with horses so this wasn’t new for her. Through the barn gate everyone met (wish I snapped a picture of this). We kept Jazzy in the barn for a few days so the horses got used to her being there. Normally we would have put a new equine in a round pen in the pasture so everyone could sniff and run around in circles in the early days but we’re using the round pen sections as a temporary fence.
  2. Pasture Intro – Time to switch. We wanted Jazzy to explore her new home beyond the barn. She’d need to know the boundaries, where the natural food supply was and where she could go to get away. We also have a run-in barn for inclement weather. So the horses went into the main barn and the mule went into the pasture. We were surprised that she didn’t leave the barn area. Over the next few weeks we discovered she’s a follower and has no interest in being alone. To this day I don’t think she’s seen all of the pasture.
  3. First Horse (Valentine) – After a few days of keeping them apart, it was time to let them mingle. We started by letting out the lowest ranking horse, which is Valentine. He’s docile, not caring much about his position in the herd. He’s never started a fight. Valentine immediately went to Jazzy to smell her. Although at first she was nervous, it wasn’t long before they were eating near each other.
  4. Second Horse (Romeo) – A few hours later, it was Romeo’s turn. We thought he was our next least aggressive horse but this turned out to not be true. Romeo, an Appaloosa, is our smallest horse. It wasn’t many years ago when he was the new guy and the other horses ran him hard around the pasture. I felt sorry for him at the time but he ended up second in command. I guess he wanted to make sure Jazzy knew this because he immediately bullied her. Horses are smart. He toned it down when we were around but the minute we were out of sight he let her have it. It took Jazzy a little time to figure out she should not run into corners. Eventually Romeo settled down to eat from the hay ring but he wasn’t letting Jazzy near it.
  5. Third Horse (Cash) – A few hours went by and it was time to turn out Cash. I worry about him around other horses. He’s insecure in his position in the herd (second from the bottom) and I was afraid of what that would mean for Jazzy. Cash surprised me and mostly ignored Jazzy.
  6. Last Horse (Moonshine) – When I saw Cash wasn’t going to be trouble, I turned out Moonshine as well. I left her for last because she’s the herd boss and demands the utmost in obedience from her subjects. But she too gave Jazzy little more than a sniff and headed for the hay.
Lessons learned

It seems clear now that Romeo is the herd enforcer. He’s the right hand man for the queen, handling her dirty work. Over the next few days, the horses all ran Jazzy around the pasture briefly and it started with her running from Romeo. With horses, when one runs, they all want to run. But Jazzy’s submissive nature allowed her to integrate quicker. Within three days of sharing a pasture together, Jazzy was grazing near her new herd. They won’t allow her to eat with them when all four are at the hay ring but if one or two are there, she’s allowed to join in. She did have to endure some kicking and biting. In fact, during those first few days, she ended up with several bite marks on her back, one of which needed wound dressing. But things are good now.

Lastly, having two round bale hay feeders (or hay rings) makes a big difference when you have more than two equines or if some of them don’t get a long. We added the second one as an experiment last year. We’re able to keep round bales in two locations, far enough apart that no one horse can dominate both food sources. This has worked out very well at our place and the cost was minimal.

Love Bites, Horse Style

Someone recently commented on Bill’s post about our horses trying to eat our fingers, and it occurred to me that I really ought to address the issue of horse bites.

Yes, horses do bite; some more than others. Usually, it’s a natural part of horse behavior. Horses have various ways of communicating, and biting each other is a big part of that – from friendly “nips” to show love, to more insistent bites to get another horse to move, to actual biting in an aggressive way. Horses can hurt each other pretty badly this way (always be careful when introducing horses to each other – yet another future post topic), but usually the bites are light enough that they don’t do any serious damage.

It’s a different story, however, when a horse bites a human. Our skin isn’t nearly as tough as horsehide, and I can tell you from personal experience that horse bites hurt. Now, horses bite humans for pretty much the same reasons that they bite each other. We are, after all part of their herd, and they need to communicate with us too. They will nip you in a friendly way to say “hi.” They will nip you if you’re standing somewhere they don’t want you to stand to politely ask you to move. They will nip in anger or to show you they’re the boss. As you can guess, this natural behavior is another way that they can unwittingly hurt us simply because they are so much bigger and more powerful. So naturally, you need to discourage that behavior.

As we have been reminded in comments to our post referenced above, horses will also bite you if you habitually feed them treats by hand. We do indeed feed apples, carrots and other treats to our horses by hand, but this is strongly discouraged by most people. There are couple of reasons for this: one, their aim isn’t all that good and they will accidentally suck in fingers or even a whole hand with their treat. Two, once the treat is gone, they may not realize it because your hand still smells like the treat or they just expect it to be there. Three, even if your hand didn’t recently hold a treat, if you usually offer one when you greet them and didn’t bring one this time, they may just take a bite anyway. So the best advice is to feed all treats out of a bucket. That’s an easy way to prevent injury and bad habits.

So, if your horse already has the bad habit of nipping you, what do you do? Valentine was quite the nipper when we got him. I don’t think he ever meant it in a mean way; all his bites were gentle, “friendly” bites – that unfortunately left me with not-so-friendly bruises. Old-timers we talked to advocate smacking the horse when he bites you, but I personally cannot hit my horses. I yelled “No!” in a loud, firm voice and spread my arms out wide – the idea is to make yourself seem bigger. Valentine startled each time and backed up. I think that was just the reaction he needed to have. It showed that he recognized me as the boss and that he shouldn’t do whatever he just did. It worked – he hasn’t nipped me in months.

The key though, as with any bad behavior, is to not let it go on. Nip it in the bud, so to speak.

Repeat after me: I am an herbivore

We like bringing treats to our horses and usually that means an apple or some carrots we buy in bulk. But one treat they’ve been craving is something I just refuse to give them…my fingers. Well actually there is a list: fingers, hands, arms, ears and sometimes feet/shoes. My horse, Moonshine, is very gentle and uses her tongue a lot so it seems like she’s kissing you. “Aw, how sweet…HEY stop that!” I’ve found that keeping my palm open towards her keeps her from being able to vacuum my fingers into her mouth but I keep thinking, horses are herbivores, right? I mean they don’t stalk and eat small animals, that I’ve observed. Come to think of it, I almost never notice any small animals in our pasture. Oh well, I suppose my fingers are so interesting because they just held an apple or carrot. But since when did apples and carrots wiggle and move around so much, huh? So if you end up with your own horse, watch those fingers! Those of you with horses already know this I’m sure.

And as a side note, carrots this time of year can be purchased from Costco for about $5 per 10 pound bag!

Snack Time

We finally got the pasture bush-hogged today. We moved Valentine into the barn to get him away from the scary tractor. So there I was, minding my own business – in fact, protecting my precious horse from the ferocious Tractor-Monster in his pasture by standing in front of his stall, reassuring him. I was facing the other way (my mistake) and he nuzzled my hair. A little gross, but kinda sweet. Until he suddenly stuck his muzzle under my hair and BIT MY EAR. I don’t know who was more shocked when his snack jumped and yelled.

No harm done. Ear’s still there, and I reminded him that he is an herbivore and therefore shouldn’t be snacking on ears or fingers.

Now I know why cowboys always wear hats.