Should Your Mare be Turned Out with Geldings?

NOTE: when you share a story with me, I will change your name, your horse’s and that of the boarding stable where you board or have boarded just to maintain anonymity. This newsletter is not about pointing fingers. It’s about learning what can go wrong and why and what factors are involved so you don’t have to have the same experience. Maybe down the road there is a possibility of setting up a “horse approved guide of horse boarding stables”. And if stables wanted to be listed, they would have to conform to a set of standards. Let’s see what happens. I certainly have no shortage of ideas in that direction and I certainly welcome yours too :)

*** Story from a reader ***

Ronaye

Thank you for this information. I do plan on purchasing the book. I recently had a bad boarding experience which I would like to share with you.

I had my horse, Casey since 2004, she was five at the time and very green broke. I just begun riding the same time I bought Casey. A green horse and green rider doesn’t mix too well. Casey is an appaloosa who is extremely calm so I didn’t have too many accidents, I only fell off once. I kept Casey on my mom’s farm which is 2.5 hours away from where I work.

It was hard to ride Casey on the weekends, because she lacked miles and my riding skills were not up to par. I started taking riding lessons in the summer of 2004 at S&S Stable which is only 15 minutes from where I live. S&S had 3 pastures, and 10 corals. The horses were fed hay all year around. Some horses where in the pastures and were allowed to graze. I took lessons there for 3 years and decided to bring Casey to the stables to take a year of lessons on her. I brought her in May, so I spend my entire summer riding her putting on miles. She was in a small coral for the summer and she was fed hay twice a day. The only grazing she got was during our rides.

In September, lesson started up again. I was given the option to put Casey in a lesson plan in which other riders could learn to ride. I was convinced that it would be a good thing and of course I wanted to save money.

Casey was moved from her small pen to a pasture with 12 dominate geldings. Casey was dominating herself, so the stables manager thought Casey would be fine. The pasture was too small and some of the fencing was barb wire and electric, but the electric didn’t work. The geldings beat on Casey daily that she couldn’t get to a bale to eat. In addition, the stable staff rode her on the side to give her extra training. I noticed that Casey was losing weight and becoming depressed. She had no energy in my classes.

Due to the lack of room and overwork, Casey went lame. I got the vet out to determine the lameness. It was her stifle on her right hind. The vet said it was cracked and it was caused by some unexpected movement. The vet said these types of injuries are popular in barrel horse and reining horses. I never barreled or reined Casey, but the stables where I kept Casey were heavily into barrels and reining. They had classes on this, so I suspected that they were trying to train my horse for someone else’s class.

When I did approach this matter, they told me that a lot of horses get injured and recently one of their own horses got caught in some wire and ripped its leg. It would have cost them $3000 to repair, instead they shot it. They told me it was a nature of their business and they go through this all the time. They shoot one horse a year.

I didn’t feel like this was a proper place for my horse, so I took Casey back to my mom’s farm where she has free range. I currently do not take lessons at S&S anymore, because I now lack trust in their care for the horse and now I do wonder if they are in it for the money and not the horse. I am looking for a new place to bring Casey or another horseback riding stable so I can continue with my lessons. I believe your book will be very helpful.

– SM

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Thank you for sharing your story SM :)

… and let me jump in here for a minute … I’ve been given a few more details about the stables by SM, so let me quickly give those to you…

S&S Stables has roughly 70 horses on 40 acres. There are 5 pastures, 2 to 5 acres in size. They have a large indoor and outdoor, a round pen and several sheds plus a home on the property. Apart from a waiver signed for lessons, all other arrangements were based on verbal agreements. The main understanding was that they would board the horse, feed her and make sure she didn’t get hurt. S&S Stable’s main business focus is to provide lessons.

*** My comments ***

I think your decision of moving your horse back to your mom’s farm was a very wise move.

Putting your girl with 12 geldings in a field based on her being “dominant” and not keeping a very watchful eye on her is not an approach I would ever take.

Why not?

For one, I find that there is a big difference in temperament between geldings and mares. It’s not much unlike boys vs. girls. Geldings play much rougher. Their social structure is much more mucho. They’re far more competitive.

Mares on the other hand are gentler. They can be quite moody because of their cycles, at least so I’ve been told, but I find them much quieter. They play differently with each other as well and their social structure is more about sharing and taking care of each other. At least that’s been my experience.

As well, mares cycle from Spring to Fall and geldings or not, they get turned on and will not leave a pretty girl alone.

Also, when you have more than one gelding in the herd they’ll start to fight over the girls. In fact, I’ve watched my guys (Kis and Tux) herding my four girls, each trying to claim them as their herd. My girls weren’t given a moment’s rest as the two boys kept switching places. These two are the best of buds by the way but the presence of the girls changed everything.

One moment Kis would have them, and then Tux would make some clever maneuver and “steal” the girls from Kis. Back and forth they went. My girls couldn’t even eat their hay without being disturbed. In the end they just huddled together waiting for the next mad chase. I put an end to that one quickly and from that day forward I haven’t put the boys with the girls.

Of course, without me watching the herd dynamics between Casey and the 12 geldings it’s hard to say what really went on. But seeing that Casey was with the geldings starting in early fall there is a good chance that she was still going into heat.

As well … horses have a very strict herd hierarchy. In the wild their survival depends on it. And to make sure that the one above them is still worthy of their spot, they test, and test, and test … non-stop. They play dominance games. I can hardly call them “games”. They can be pretty nasty and rough and typically come paired with chunks of missing hide. They’re constantly reminding each other of who is the dominant one and therefore in charge.

Another item that alerts me … SM mentioned that the space was too small, that there was barb wire fencing with electrical wire that didn’t work.

Let me turn to you for a minute … how do YOU feel in a crowded room or city? How do you feel if someone is constantly in your personal space? How do you feel when you encounter a very dominant or aggressive person? Think about it – and now … think about HOW it CHANGES YOU?

Horses need a lot of space. They like to be close with those they get along with, but they need to be able to distance themselves from those that are either too dominant or aggressive.

When things are too crowded, it creates anger, aggression, and results in fighting and injuries. The less dominant horses get run into fences or corners and they’ll do whatever it takes to get out of the way of their opponents… DESPITE a painful encounter with barb wire fencing. And trust me, a working electric fence won’t keep them safe from the barb wires either.

Let’s also take a quick look at the eating arrangements. From an aerial I noticed big round bales … how many horses do you think can comfortably gather around a big round bale? Five? Eight? Thirteen? What when it’s half eaten? What if more horses were hungry and it wasn’t just Casey?

Hay bleaches when exposed to light. When hay loses its green color, it has no nutrients, it just becomes fiber. When horses don’t get enough nutrients they remain hungry regardless of how much they eat. Have you ever tried surviving on candy bars all day? I bet you were constantly hungry.

So remember this equation:

poor nutrition = hunger = fight/aggression

And when there is a large number of horses that are hungry and in a small space, they will be aggressive and miserable. The perfect equation for injuries.

I think you’re starting to get the picture. Perhaps it wasn’t about Casey being a mare, though I would NEVER think to put a mare with 12 geldings. That to me is like putting a pretty teenage girl with 12 rambunctious teenage boys … hmmm … I think not.

But in Casey’s case it wasn’t just that, I think all these other elements compounded the problem as well.

So, let me summarize…

For a horse to be happy and healthy,

  • They need to have appropriately matched herd buddies and play mates.
  • The amount of space they get to roam needs to be matched to their energy level.
  • They need to have their nutritional and calorie requirements met and matched to their level of exercise.
  • and more…

In comparison, at S&S Stables we had

  • Too small a space for 13 horses
  • Unsafe fencing
  • Incompatible herd buddies
  • Insufficient monitoring to make sure the horse was okay
  • Possibly poor quality hay
  • One hay pile rather than multiple to give less dominant horses a chance to eat
  • No adjustment in food quantities to accommodate the extra training

SM asked me if 70 horses on 40 acres is overcrowding…

Well, that depends. I think the above problem isn’t the result of 70 horses on 40 acres. I think 70 horses on 40 acres can be quite doable IF things are properly organized and there are enough people to take care of them all.

I also don’t think 40 acres is too small when you have well matched herds and enough cross fencing to make multiple pastures. I may have 4 to 6 horses on 1.5 acres. But they’re so good together. They don’t fight, instead they play. I don’t get injuries and my horses are never crabby because they’re not hungry.

And I sure as heck don’t have to shoot a horse a year! … Sorry, that one really irks me.

Oh, and I’m not done yet ….

Here’s another thing that really bugs me … why was Casey left with such a dominant group while injured!?

You don’t leave a horse that for one is at the bottom of the pecking order and secondly can’t defend herself in a compromised state like this. The barn manager should have taken the initiative and moved Casey out of there immediately. NO ifs, whats or buts!

Ok, I’m done ranting… but you get my point…

I’m glad you took the initiative SM, and had Casey checked out… but really the barn manager should have pulled her out right away and you should have been able to count on that support and level of expertise.

Seventy horses on 40 acres … hmmm … an hour away from me in the city, I know there is a new equestrian center which is on 3 acres. Now, get this … they have an indoor, two outdoors, the barn itself … AND they take care of 60 horses that are boarded on the premises!

Yes, 60 horses on 3 acres… Now that is overcrowded and a very inhumane environment for the horses.

But let’s get back to S&S stables, if there are 40 acres, why in the world are there 13 horses in a small pen!?!

This has nothing to do with 40 acres being too small. This has everything to do with the choices management has made and the perspectives that they have on what is acceptable for horses.

And here, unfortunately it’s not about the horses. It’s about the business, and for any business to survive, it’s about the money. If it was about the horse, we wouldn’t be shooting a horse a year. And we wouldn’t be leaving an injured horse amidst 12 dominate geldings!

Sorry, you’re just not going to get that one past me.

Unfortunately, this is where you as a new horse owner or new boarder are at a disadvantage … when you’re new to horse ownership or horse boarding, how will you know how to interpret the information you receive from a barn manager? How will you know to interpret that what you see around you, like pastures, shelters, corrals, number of horses, organization etc. will in fact meet your needs and that of your horse?

I know that when I started out whatever my barn manager told me was gospel … I had NO idea! And if I felt uncomfortable with what they were doing, it didn’t take much for them to put me back in my place. After all I was a rookie. And I have to admit, I didn’t feel overly inclined picking up the nearest veterinary book either. When I looked around for information I was just overwhelmed, besides, I could rely on my barn manager – not? You know, it’s that path of least resistance … we, humans, love it.

A barn manager typically comes across as someone who knows their business. Sure. And I bet some of them can be quite intimidating too. But also understand that the advice they give supports and justifies their actions and practices. And for them that’s their truth. It works for them, even if that means shooting a horse per year. It is part of their life, it’s okay for them, but that doesn’t make it okay for you or for your horse necessarily.

So the better you are in the know of what really creates a happy, safe and healthy environment for horses, the better you will be able to interpret and sift through the advice given to you by a stable manager.

And that’s what my book is all about!

That’s it for today,
I’ll talk to you shortly …

Your fellow horse lover

P.S. If you have any questions or comments, just leave them below.

P.P.S. And don’t forget to share my web site with your friends if you feel they would benefit from the information as well!

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Reader's Comments

3 Responses to “Should Your Mare be Turned Out with Geldings?”

  • Informative article, I did not know this!
    JenniferSmith,
    Site Admin watch UFC 109 online

  • Hi
    I want to thank you both for the question and the answer. I was getting close to purchasing a saddlebred mare but had doubts because she would be with four geldings and I did not want to mess up the way the 4 geldings are now geting along (they have 6 acres which is actually too much in the summer encourages obesity) but I always suspected but never knew and have been told otherwise what you said geldings: geldings or not will get turned on by a mare. thank you so much. I am not going to mix sexes!

  • I think it’s very important that if you do group housing in a sheltered pasture that the fencing should have rounded corners, so a horse can never pin one in a corner. shelter should be set up similar; there’s always a way out. I also suggest to have a ‘catch-pen’ (having to go through a 20×20 pen) at the gate to exit. That way you can prevent a horse buddy escape (double gate) when taking another horse out, or feed one separate, in case it need medication mixed with feed (or any other type of care needed, trimming, vet care, grooming etc). If there are several feeding and watering stations and not over crowded, I don’t see a problem trying to have mares out with geldings. BUT if the herd dynamics don’t work, one needs to change it to match the best horses together.

    I am proud to say after keeping between 15 and 25 horses over the past 7 years, I’ve had only 3 mild cases of colic, of which one needed seen by vet and all back healthy next day. No injuries, besides a simple scrape.

    As the temperature suddenly dropped this week and below freezing, I’m put salt on icy spots in paddocks and walk ways, feeding 2 extra bran mashes with probiotics and electrolites. , adding warm water to the buckets, adding additional hay feeding for warmth at night and check on the waters not to be frozen again, before I go to bed. AT NO EXTRA COST TO MY CLIENT BOARDERS. All boarders received a notifying call from me as well with updates. I even watered and harrowed arena’s in the know most likely no one would come out to ride….

    Our Farm is over 100 years old, it’s nothing fancy, but well kept up, and horses come first, prevention is everything. we may be $ 100 more then the competition, but I doubt that they’ll go the extra mile like we do…

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  • Do you have that nagging feeling that you may be paying too much for board and are worried that your horse may not be happy? Finding the right horse boarding stable doesn't have to be that overwhelming ... When you have the RIGHT information at your finger tips! Pick up a copy of my book How to Find Trouble Free Horse Boarding, Even if You are New to Horses.

    Do you have that nagging feeling that you may be paying too much for board and are worried that your horse may not be happy? Finding the right horse boarding stable doesn't have to be that overwhelming ... When you have the RIGHT information at your finger tips! Pick up a copy of my book How to Find Trouble Free Horse Boarding, Even if You are New to Horses.

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