It isn’t just people who bully each other — horses do too. When horses are turned out together, it is common for there to be a pecking order. However, bullying, when one horse makes life hell for another by biting and kicking, takes this issue to a whole new level and the likely long-term scenario will be an injury — either sustained by the underdog or even by the bully horse if he or she is turned on by its victim, who can take no more of the treatment being meted out.
Bullies are difficult to deal with. You can’t train a horse to behave better in a field but there are steps that you can take to minimise the risks to his or her field companions.
If you spot bite or kick marks, which may be a sign that your horse is being picked on, watch from behind a fence to see if your suspicions are true.
If you have ample acreage, it is best to let the bully graze by himself (or herself) in a separate paddock, or divide the field into sections with an electric fence. If the bully is particularly bad you may need a ‘no man’s land’ section between him and the other group.
If the victim is being picked on by more than one horse, separate them and let them graze alone while at the same time ensuring that they can see other horses. Solo, unthreatened grazing is particularly important if the horse is young or old or if they are recovering from an injury.
There are no hard and fast rules about turning out mares with geldings, but if you are finding that one of the girls is bossing a boy, or visa versa, then try same-sex turnout.
If it is truly impossible to separate the bully from the herd make sure that he/she is not wearing back shoes so that kick injuries are less likely or less severe.
Don’t let your paddock bully become bored. If hone of your horses suddenly becomes a bad tempered pest it may be because it needs more exercise more frequently.
Don’t let your land become overgrazed or overcrowded. If you have too many horses on too small a space, you increase the likelihood of bullying. Additionally, if horses are kept hungry on restricted grazing they can act particularly aggressively at feed times. To alleviate this problem ensure that you place several buckets or piles of haylage or hay on the ground adequate distances apart and not one or two large ones very close together. This will allow the victim to move from pile to pile and still feed even if he is being chased by his aggressor.
If you are planning to introduce a new horse into the mix, you may want to do so from the other side of a fence for a few days so that they can sniff with a barrier between them. Other schools of thought urge people to throw them all in together, but whichever way you go, watch out for the resident bully and take action if the new horse instantly becomes the underdog.
Be careful if you are in a field when a horse is displaying aggressive behaviour. Never be tempted to intervene and keep your distance.
Don’t be tempted to hit or whip a bully — it won’t prevent bad behaviour. A sharp word won’t go amiss, but physical violence is not the way to deal with the problem. You could end up with a horse with serious behavioural issues.