What You Need To Know About Horse Bullying


The post is developed in partnership with BetterHelp.

Humans are not the only animals that bully each other. Bullying behavior is often observed in horse herds, especially when new horses join the herd but haven’t established a rank yet. Though bullying is common, it still can cause significant distress to other horses and even physical harm.

But why do horses bully each other, and what can be done about it? This article will discuss at length the dynamics behind horse bullying behavior and how you can stop it in your herd. 

Why Do Horses Bully Each Other?

The primary reason horses may bully each other is due to their natural herd dynamics. Horses evolved into herds that have strict hierarchies. Each herd will have a leader, and every other horse will have a rank below him. In the wild, this hierarchy is established and conserved easily as the herd rarely changes. However, in a herd dominated by human decisions and behavior (such as when selling or buying new horses), the dynamics change often, which can cause tension amongst the residing horses. 

Therefore, much bullying occurs when new horses join the herd and attempt to establish a rank. It takes time for a new horse to be welcomed, but this isn’t easy if they live on a farm or ranch with limited space and cannot avoid the horses that bully them. These artificial spaces and herd dynamics created by humans force horses to cohabitate even if they don’t like each other. This can make it quite difficult for newcomers to join the herd organically and be accepted. 

Furthermore, some horses just can’t get along with each other. Even after being given time to adjust to the herd, some horses remain outcasts. If the herd does not accept a particular horse, there may be chronic tension and aggression that can have severe consequences. 

However, there are other reasons why horses may bully each other. Bullying behavior does not necessarily mean something is off with the herd dynamic. Some other reasons your horse may be bullying others include:

  • Your horse is experiencing pain and doesn’t want to be touched
  • Your horse is bored
  • Your horse is reacting out of fear from a previous trauma
  • Your horse received inadequate social development as a foal
  • Your horse has underlying medical issues that make him aggressive
  • Your horse is very protective and is guarding resources or protecting the other horses

What Does Horse Bullying Look Like? 

In most cases, bullying behavior in horses will be pretty obvious. Horses generally are tame and calm creatures, so it can be quite a change if they express any sense of hostility. They will do anything to harm or intimidate a horse they don’t like. Some of these behaviors may include: 

  • Biting
  • Kicking
  • Striking
  • Chasing
  • Pinning their ears back
  • Chasing the horse away

How To Address Horse Bullying

Dealing with a bully in the pasture can be tricky as horses don’t always react to discipline the same way a dog or other pet would. Moreover, aggressive horses can be dangerous, so you need to be careful when near a horse that is showing hostility. 

However, you can still do some things that may stop this behavior. Since most bullying results from an imbalanced herd dynamic, you can change the environment and social dynamics to restore harmony. Some examples of this include:

  • Provide more paddock space so the horses aren’t crowded
  • Separate the bully or the newcomer from the other horses
  • Place extra food in the paddock so there is less competition
  • Provide the bully with more exercise so he releases any pent up energy or aggression

As mentioned above, sometimes bullying is not due to herd dynamics but issues such as medical problems or a lack of proper socialization. This will be most evident if the horse is bullying others and not just focusing on one or two newcomers. If this is the case, you should have a vet check-up on the horse to ensure no medical problems are causing the behavior. 

Furthermore, make sure your horse is mentally healthy as well. Give them plenty of exercise and sources of fun so they don’t get too bored. If they didn’t have proper socialization as a foal, take steps to help them socialize better to integrate better with the rest of the herd. 

Final Thoughts

Bullying amongst the herd can cause great distress amongst your horses. Therefore, you need to figure out what is going on quickly to help reestablish harmony and prevent your horses from being harmed. Hopefully, this article gave you a good idea about why this bullying occurs and how you can address it. For more general information about bullying, you can find more resources at the link below: www.betterhelp.com/advice/bullying