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Horse Behaviour: How to Manage a Bully in the Herd

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Horse Behaviour – Article: 2

Horse Behaviour: How to Manage a Bully in the Herd


Overview of the article:

Suggested solutions based on the science of Applied Animal Behaviour to managing situations where one horse is subjected to bullying by another in the herd. This is a brief article – for a fuller understanding of the topic we suggest the Equine Behaviour Qualification Course – see the end of the article for the link to the prospectus.


What if you decide you do want to try to manage your horse according to more natural Horse Behaviour principles and so you move him to a new yard that allows more turnout and the opportunity for your horse to spend at least part of his day in a permanent, stable herd – but you soon discover that your horse is being picked on by all the other horses when they are turned out (OR this arises as a client’s issue with you as the qualified Animal Behaviourist)? Maybe there is one particular individual that seems intent on seeking out your horse and pinning him in a corner. Very often people think that the only solution is to give up and keep the victimised horse stabled all the time. But is this really the only option? Can we look to the science of Equine Behaviour for solutions?



Let’s consider how horses in the wild usually drive away a horse that is trying to join the herd – sometimes this happens over days, even weeks. Horses seem to view time differently from the way we do; the new arrival seems to recognise that it will take time and patience to be accepted and the established herd equally makes no rush towards acceptance. We, however, tend to have an entirely opposite approach – we often expect instant (or near-instant) acceptance of the new horse and as a result we are nearly always disappointed in our expectations.

Mum knows best!

A study of Horse Behaviour shows that horses who are taken away from their mothers too early in life and also those that are not given enough opportunity to interact with other youngsters at a crucial stage in their behavioural development, grow up to be mal-adjusted in their relationships with other horses. Assuming that the mare herself has had no psychological damage, the science of Animal Behaviour shows that she is the best teacher and example for her young foal. She teaches him how to behave appropriately both with herself and the other mares.

Studies in Equine Behaviour show that as the foal develops over the first six months of life, he starts to divide his time between his mother and the other youngsters in the herd. He needs to spend this time with his peers so that he can practice his social skills through a variety of group activities from group resting through to grazing and playing together. (More on this in the Equine Behaviour Course.) This is a crucially important time in his development and if it is skipped out because of human intervention, the consequences are long-lasting and remain throughout adulthood.

Lack of early socialization can cause some horses to become bullies in later life – they learn that they can overwhelm others through physical force and intimidation. But timid horses also have had little early experience with young horses and as a result they have never learnt how to be confident around others.

If your horse is being bullied by the herd, then the easiest solution is to remove him from the herd with one other individual. The idea is that the timid horse needs to learn how to cope with just one individual – and not the whole herd at once! Allow the pair to graze in a paddock alongside the main group over a period of time (sometimes weeks), the horses will begin to sniff each other over the fence and ultimately even groom each other. (More on who to choose as a companion on the Equine Behaviour Course.)

During this period, if the bullying horse was to head towards the timid horse, he could take no physical action – the fence between them keeps the timid horse safe from injury as he is able to simply move away. At the same time, the bully learns that his behaviour is unrewarded and so he too, gradually stops behaving in a threatening way. (More on the learning theory of why Horse Behaviour gradually fades away, called extinction, on the Equine Behaviour Course.)

Ultimately, our goal is always the same: to introduce the timid horse to the existing herd as part of a smaller group. When the small group re-enters the herd, the exuberance at everyone being reunited again, seems to outweigh any concerns the members of the herd used to have with respect to the new one and all of the horses quickly settle down.


So if you want to live your passion: make helping horses your life skill.

We provide all the Animal Behaviour & training you need on the Equine Behaviour Qualification, to setup your very own practice:

 Follow the link:


Or on the website choose the ‘Animal Behaviour’ tab on the home page, then then 1st item ‘Equine, Canine, Feline Behaviour Qualifications Stage I’ on the drop down menu, scroll down and click on the picture of the horse for a free Equine Behaviour Course Prospectus.