Keeping a Calmer, Safer, Cleaner Barn Through Better Horse Placement

March 5, 2015 by Linda

Horse and stable owners are often concerned about horses buddying up and having anxiety about leaving a stall neighbor or pasture buddy. But what about when the opposite happens, and horses do not get along with their neighboring stall or paddock horses? This situation could feel to a horse as it might to us, lets say for example, when one sibling in a household feels constantly threatened by a bullying bigger sibling with bodily harm. It wouldn’t be a fun place to live and could cause all sorts of long-term problems.

Over a 12 month period, I watched two of the horses in my stable become really unhappy with each other. They are stabled every night, but out in small groups during the day. I am always careful about putting horses in paddocks together that get along. And if I had stallions, I would be very careful about their placement in the stable so they were not agitated all the time. However, I’d not thought quite so much about it inside the stable with geldings and mares.

The two horses (mares) started out fine as stall neighbors, but over time I noticed that one horse became anxious. She moved so much in her stall that her bedding was pulverized and her stall a mess each morning. She became crabby over time, and acted stall sour with people who came past as well. The two horses had started out playing through the stall bars, which seemed harmless enough to me at first. However, within a few months I would enter the stable in the morning and they would be bearing teeth, rearing and charging each other, even though they couldn’t connect physically. The most active one was slowly losing weight and I had to keep increasing her food over this time period, whereas over the previous two years she had maintained a stable weight on half that ration.

I also noticed how some of the other horses seemed more anxious too; some started chewing on wood more, and some had begun pawing at their doors the minute I came in and were more excited than they should have been. The fix was easy enough. Simply moving the anxious horse to another stall next to a non-confrontational horse did the trick almost instantly. The barn became calm again in the morning, and believe it or not, some of the stalls are cleaner, and the chewing horses have stopped. The anxious horse is back to her old, sweet self, she is no longer stall sour and is now gaining weight again on less feed.

As a stable or horse owner, it is wise to frequently consider the placement of horses that neighbor in stalls or in fences according to their personalities and how they get along. Behaviors can change over time, so we need to be especially observant about this. Placing amicable horses beside each other can provide for a safer, calmer environment and even help reduce your feed, bedding, maintenance and vet bills. A mentally healthy horse can potentially make riding and training considerably easier as well.Author: Linda Liestman

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THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A HORSE WHISPERER. There never has been and never will be. The idea is an affront to the horse. You can talk and listen to horses all you want, and what you will learn, if you pay close attention, is that they live on open ground way beyond language and that language, no matter how you characterize it, is a poor trope for what horses understand about themselves and about humans. You need to practice only three things, patience, observation and humility, all of which were summed up in the life of an old man who died Tuesday (July 20, 1999) in California, a man named Bill Dorrance. Dorrance was 93, and until only a few months before his death he still rode and he still roped. He was one of a handful of men, including his brother Tom, who in separate ways have helped redefine relations between the horse and the human. Bill Dorrance saw that subtlety was nearly always a more effective tool than force, but he realized that subtlety was a hard tool to exercise if you believe, as most people do, that you are superior to the horse. There was no dominance in the way Dorrance rode, or in what he taught, only partnership. To the exalted horsemanship of the vaquero -- the Spanish cowboy of 18th-century California -- he brought an exalted humanity, whose highest expression is faith in the willingness of the horse. There is no codifying what Bill Dorrance knew. Some of it, like how to braid a rawhide lariat, is relatively easy to teach, and some of it, thanks to the individuality of horses and humans, cannot be taught at all, only learned. His legacy is exceedingly complex and, in a sense, self-annulling. It is an internal legacy. The more a horseman says he has learned from Dorrance the less likely he is to have learned anything at all. That sounds oblique, but it reflects the fact that what you could learn from Dorrance was a manner of learning whose subject was nominally the horse but that extended itself in surprising directions to include dogs, cattle and people. If you learned it, you would know it was nothing to boast about. There is no mysticism, no magic, in this, only the recognition of kinship with horses. Plenty of people have come across Bill Dorrance and borrowed an insight or two, and some have made a lot of money by popularizing what they seemed to think he knew. But what he knew will never be popular, nor did he ever make much money from it. You cannot sell modesty or undying curiosity. It is hard to put a price on accepting that everything you think you know about horses may change with the very next horse. From an article by Verlyn Klinkenborg 'Death of a Legendary Horseman' - NY Times July 24, 1999 - Image of Bill is by Steven and Leslie Dorrance -

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