Question: Is there anything I can do to get my horse over an intense fear of pigs? I’ve owned my 11-year-old Thoroughbred-cross gelding, Tex, for four years and he’s always been easy to deal with. Not much upsets him. But we recently adopted a pot-bellied pig and Tex is certain that pig is going to kill him. Whenever he sees the pig, he freezes, goes on “high alert” then races to the farthest end of his stall or paddock and shakes in fear. It’s almost impossible to handle Tex when the pig is nearby or even has been recently. Is this a common fear for horses? What’s the best way to convince Tex the pig is harmless? Do we bring the pig into the stall or let Tex approach on his own terms? Any tips would be very helpful.
Answer: Many horses fear pigs, and I don’t think that’s too surprising. From a horse’s standpoint, pigs look really strange. They make a lot of noise and can be very loud. And they smell much different than a horse. They also move quickly.
In the wild, horses don’t encounter pigs very often. So think about Tex’s perspective: He’s enjoying life, hanging out in his paddock, and suddenly this odd-looking, smelly, squealing thing darts by. He doesn’t know what it is, and he doesn’t know what to expect from it. He just knows he wants nothing to do with it.
Step by step
A horse needs time to get used to the smell, sound and sight of pigs. If you are bringing pigs onto your property for the first time, I would keep them somewhere the horse can smell them but not see or hear them. Let your horse get used to one thing at a time. Once he accepts their unusual smell, pen the pigs closer to him—where he can hear but not yet see them. Once he’s ok with the smell and sound of the pigs, you can move them closer so he can see, hear and smell them.
Give them time
For many horses, acceptance is gradual and takes time: Don’t expect your horse to get used to the pigs’ smell after just a few minutes, accept their noise after a few more, and then take just a few more minutes to react calmly to the sight of pigs. That may work for some horses, but others will need days or weeks per stage.
Put some distance between them
For Tex, given that the pig is already there, one approach you may want try is to move the pig far away and see how Tex does just smelling him without the added sounds and sights of a pig, and then gradually move the pig closer.
Another approach would be to keep Tex and the pig in neighboring paddocks, as long as you have paddocks big enough to allow Tex to move far away if he needs to and let him gradually adjust. A word of caution here, though. If Tex is very fearful, he could stop eating and drinking or even try to jump out of the paddock to escape the pig. You know your horse, so you have to decide if this approach would be safe for him. If you decide to try it, be prepared to monitor the situation frequently to make sure Tex is okay.
All for retreat
Another major caution: I would not shut Tex in a stall or paddock with the pig. If he’s so fearful that he’s not safe to handle around pigs, the overload could send him leaping out of his paddock or crashing into a stall wall. The last thing you want is for him to get hurt and develop a phobia that he can never overcome.
I hope this advice helps Tex and other fearful horses to learn to live with the pigs in their lives.
Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society