EquiSearch’s Ask the Vet: Bully Horse
Question: My horses are pastured with a large Thoroughbred that has back shoes on. He is very aggressive and tries to herd his buddy away from my two guys by biting and kicking at them. It’s a small area for four horses. I spoke to the owner, but she doesn’t seem to care since it doesn’t concern her horse. I’m afraid something bad is going to happen. Any advice?
Answer: In a confined space a bully horse can be very dangerous. The more they compete for food, hay and shelter, the higher the likelihood of someone getting injured. If the grouping of horses cannot be changed, it is important to make sure certain piles of hay are plentiful and well spread out. Are your horses getting enough to eat? Sometimes a bully will get the most hay, with the least dominant horses gradually losing weight. Feeding extra grain does not make up for lost hay, is not healthy for horses and can lead to digestive problems.
Unfortunately, the best solution may not be possible, which is to find a mix of horses that get along better. Depending on the situation, in some cases a new barn may be the safest solution, though not a simple one. I have seen many severe injuries when horses are not appropriately grouped, or when horses are changed in groups regularly (some barns just move horses in and out of pastures frequently).
One possible bit of help that may smooth relations in the pasture is the use of a natural set of remedies called Bach Flowers. These are available at many health food stores and there are books written about them for animals. One is listed on my website, and there are a few others if you check around on the web. You can safely put a mix of 3-5 different flower remedies into the general water tub to try to bring peace to the group. To select the appropriate ones, read through the book and pick out a couple that seem to fit the aggressive horse and a couple that fit the horse he picks on the most to help bring more courage to that one (or less challenge to the dominant horse). Place about 10 drops of each selected remedy into a small dropper bottle (from any pharmacy), fill the bottle with spring or well water and put a dropper full of the mixture into the water tub daily or a few times a day for a few weeks. See if that brings a more peaceful atmosphere.
Also, be sure the humans handling the horses do not get hurt if the bully horse chases the other horses. Good luck with this situation.
Dr. Joyce Harman is a veterinarian and respected saddle-fitting expert certified in veterinary acupuncture and veterinary chiropractic; she is also trained in homeopathy and herbal medicine. Her Harmany Equine Clinic is in northern Virginia.
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