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