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Friendships, Part 3

By Deb M. Eldredge, DVM, December 29, 2013


Beyond equine friendships, many horses develop close bonds to animals of other species. People who have a single horse living at their home often look to find a companion animal for their horse.

Horses are herd/social animals. They do best mentally and emotionally if they have some sort of company. (There are rare horses who do best living alone – see Part 1 with Misty.) Horses who are often on the road benefit the most from a companion pet. The presence of a known and friendly animal can help a high-strung horse to relax.

Many racehorses are known to travel with their own “personal pets.” Those pets range from goats to chickens, dogs, cats and other equines such as ponies and donkeys.

Seabiscuit was known for his collection of companion animals. These included a horse named Pumpkin, a stray dog named Pocatell and even a spider monkey named Jo Jo. Pumpkin remained with Seabiscuit throughout his life. Reports claim he rejected a goat companion.  Black Caviar, a racing mare in Australia, hangs out with a magnificent Boer goat.

While my own horses have equine friends, they enjoy other animals’ company as well.

We recently lost Zoom, our goat, from old age. Zoom was a true party animal. He might hang out with the sheep or he might graze side by side with Frodo the miniature horse and Spice the donkey. Zoom would also slip under the gate and join the “big” horses to graze in the lane. He moved from species to species with no problem – at the very least tolerated by the others.

Barn cats are often equine favorites as well. There are many cute photos of horses nuzzling “their” cats. Of course, cats are naturals in the barn to begin – working as rodent patrol.

Chickens seem to be well tolerated by many horses. Our miniature horse Frodo has enjoyed watching the antics of the ducks in the stall next door. He will chase them a bit when out in the barnyard though!

Dogs are another species that often teams up in friendships with horses. Many people bring their dogs along when they ride or drive. A carriage with a Corgi or Jack Russell perched on the seat is not an uncommon sight at driving competitions. Dalmatian owners go a step further with their Road Dog trials. In these competitions, Dalmatians must travel along with a horse being ridden or driven for a number of miles. The dog must display obedience and maintain proper position – not interfering with the horse’s movement.

Of course, many of us have done roadwork with horses and dogs on an unofficial basis. My Belgian Tervurens have often accompanied me working horses in our big field. They quickly learn where to stay to be out of the horse’s way and yet keep up with us.

Our Australian Shepherds tend to take a more direct route to equine activities. They love to bark at the horses through the fence. The horses clearly are not intimidated and will often pay along. They dash up to the fence and then spin away. Both Frodo and Spice will come up to the fence almost as if to taunt the dogs and then hightail it off, frequently with a big kick/buck as they go. Because the Aussies do tend to bark up close at the horses, they do not go on rides. I have no desire to deal with a dog who has had a well deserved kick!

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Friendships, Part 1

By Deb M. Eldredge, DVM, December 18, 2013


Just as we humans have good friends, so do most of our equines. My Appaloosa mare, Cinnamon, and our Arab gelding, Monte, have been together for about 25 years. They have lived in three different barns, played polo together, done many, many miles of trails together and seen other horses come and go over those years.

Their stalls are side by side and they often hang out with their heads together. Admittedly, there are episodes of ears back and gnashing of teeth when Cinnamon finishes eating first and reaches over and around the stall wall to bug Monte. But when Monte was feeling off this fall, Cinnamon gave up hiking down the lane to the big part of the pasture with the best grazing and stayed near Monte.

Crispy, the Quarter Horse mare joined the group about 18 years ago. Like Cinnamon, she is a horse who basically gets along with everyone. (Monte was a bit of a tough guy with a swagger in his youth – especially to other geldings. He was gelded at 5 years of age, so that may be part of it. He has mellowed.)

Crispy is usually a part of a tight trio with Monte and Cinnamon. That friendship gets a bit strained when one of the mares is in heat. Monte then hangs out with the mare in heat and ignores the other mare. Sounds a bit like high school drama, doesn’t it? We get some squealing and kicking during those times, but generally there is peace in the pasture.

When any one of the three is taken out separately there is neighing, a bit of running about and definite concern. Crispy developed EPM (Equine Protozoal Myelitis) years ago and was at Cornell for a few days. Her return was heralded with wild neighing, sniffing, snorting and then some running and bucking by the whole group.

Of course, we are happy that our horses have friendships but friendships can go wrong. Years ago my sister had a Connemara mare named Misty. Her attachment to our other horses was intense. Misty was so “herd bound” that it was almost impossible to ride her alone or away from the barn. I remember her backing a half-mile down our gravel road as she refused to go any further forward alone. When she was sold to a new owner who did not have another horse she was fine. Without a horse friend to fixate on, she gladly went off trail riding and to shows.

With Monte, Cinnamon and Crispy all around 30 years of age, we know there will be a loss at some point in our mini herd. We thought we might lose Monte this fall but he rallied and is looking good now. The last time we lost a horse was Johnny, my husband’s OTB. He was never one of the “in kids” with the group but they did all hang out together. His removal didn’t seem to bother the “in crowd” at all. Kelsey, my daughter’s Quarter Horse, went off to join Horse Journal editor Cindy’s herd a few years ago. Again, the main threesome didn’t seem especially bothered.

I dread the day we lose Cinnamon or Monte however. I expect the horse(s) left behind will truly feel the loss. Yes, I know that is a bit anthropomorphic but I think we now know enough about animal behavior to accept that they grieve.

Have you had two horses who were soul mates and enjoyed many years together? Do you have two like that now? Share your “partners” with us, you can email us stories and photos to:

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Intelligence Part 2

By Deb M. Eldredge, DVM, December 13, 2013

cinnamon-the-culpritThis time we will look at a problem-solving situation that my horses faced. The problem is opening the stall door latch. I think we can rule out the involvement of instinct here as prehistoric horses never had to deal with latches! Please excuse the dust and cobwebs – the photos were taken before my quarterly barn sweep out.

Our basic stall latch works perfectly for our Arabian gelding. Arabians are often compared to Border Collies when it comes to intelligence. In my experience they do tend to be clever equines. When it comes to stall latch opening, our particular Arab is no Einstein however.

My Appaloosa mare quickly learned to simply lift the latch up with her lips and then slide it sideways with her teeth. The Quarter Horse caught on fairly quickly too. Both mares will do this without a second thought in front of us.

This is our original stall latch.

So, to keep the mares in their stalls, we added the large snap. This blocks the horses from flipping the latch up. Effectively, we figured they were confined. This method does work for the Quarter Horse mare. Not however, for my clever Appaloosa!

version-2Our first adjustment including a snap.

But the Appaloosa mare, Cinnamon, would carefully turn the large snap sideways, so she could then lift the latch over it. The addition of the smaller snap has prevented her from turning the large snap – at least so far! With the double snaps she is confined for now.


Now, if we look at this situation as a test of intelligence, clearly Cinnamon is the Einstein of the barn. On the other hand, perhaps she just has more facile lips. Or she simply likes to tinker with things. Maybe she is the fastest eater and so has more time to fool around with things. I, of course, feel she is simply brilliant. What this example does show is that intelligence in the horse is not as easy to figure out as we might think.

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Considering Intelligence

By Deb M. Eldredge, DVM, December 02, 2013

german-team-victoryI am currently reading The Mind of the Horse by Nichel-Antoine Leblanc. This is not a book for the faint of heart or a quick, light read. It is an in-depth look at equine cognition, with historical, anatomical and scientific references all included. Some might laugh and say that it must be a short book but it is actually over 400 pages and includes scholarly footnotes and references.

Naturally when people talk about intelligence, they tend to look at the topic from a human point of view. If humans are good at it, it must be a valuable skill. If dogs were developing a schematic of intelligence they would laugh us out of the park since olfactory skills would be at the top of their list. From the book, “Each animal species has a unique cognitive profile. Rats, for example, possess good spatial intelligence, and birds good musical intelligence.”

Even within a species there are varying degrees of different intellectual skills in individuals. You may be excellent at math but couldn’t write a poem to save your life. And who is to say that a top athlete who has trouble passing his college courses isn’t quite intelligent and gifted in other areas?

A top open jumper equine is doing amazing calculations at speed as he approaches a jump. He has to have a three dimensional concept of the situation – determining when to lift off at his current rate of speed, how much to arch, how much muscle strength to expend. Sort of like an orthopedic surgeon, architect or engineer who has to look at things three dimensionally.

Now lets consider a football tackle. The defensive player has to read his opponents’ moves, predict where the play will go and then physically stop it. What about a cutting horse? Basically both use the same type of both mental and physical calculations. 

Looking at those two examples, it is clear that any general conclusions about intelligence and capabilities of horses may need to be modified for an individual.  We can make some general statements such as the fact that horses appear to be limited in their counting. A study showed that if you put 2 apples in one bucket and 3 in another bucket while your horse is watching, the average horse would immediately go for the bucket with 3 apples when he is turned loose. If you repeat this with 4 apples in one bucket and 6 in another, he goes for either bucket at random.

Now you may have an individual equine – for some reason I am picturing a pony here! – who would consistently go for the bucket with 6 apples. In general however, horses don’t do well with “higher math.”

Next time I will look at an example of intelligence, or at least cleverness, with my own equines.

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Fall Is For Feral

By Deb M. Eldredge, DVM, November 25, 2013

deb-eldredges-spiceWe joke that our horses “go feral” in the fall. It starts when the ancient apple trees on the edges of the big field ripen. The horses choose to hang there, munching on snacks. Let me point out that these are three senior horses – all 30 years of age or older. Their work requirements are minimal – I hop on Cinnamon, my Appaloosa mare, bareback periodically and ride around the 40 acre field but mostly they are just enjoying life.

As fall deepens, the bugs start to disappear. Now the horses have even less reason to hike up the lane to the barn. Who needs to come in when you don’t need bug spray, you can drink from the creek as easily as the water trough and you have more grass than 3 horses could eat in a year at your feet?

Now throw in a visit from the farrier. That requires a grain bucket and a long hike out to round up the wild ones. Luckily greed overcomes caution and I can usually get them all caught up with minimal trouble. However, for about four days afterwards, there is no hope of catching them. Our blacksmith is excellent and Crispy, the Quarter Horse, in particular walks much better right after a trim, but old joints hate to be manipulated.

With the short days I do call them in if they will come. I bang on the metal gate and holler. Some times they lift their heads, glance my way and go back to grazing. If one decides to come, the three of them will stroll back to the culvert, troop across and then trot or gallop up the lane.

Now as we near the end of October the days are shorter. The horses generally come at least once a day on their own initiative. They drop in, get fed and immediately bang on their stall doors to go back out. I prefer to see them up close and personal at least once a day. I can pull those stick tight burrs and burdocks from their manes and tails. I can do a quick once over, checking for any injuries, swollen limbs, etc. I run a curry and a brush over them while they eat but they are always eager to head back out.

As the forecast moves into possible wintry mix or light snow showers, I make more of an effort to convince the horses to come in. Still, they sometimes choose to remain out even in light snow. When real cold weather arrives, they will choose to come and stay in for the night but for now, they are wild horses – at least in their minds.

The donkey and the miniature horse who are in sort of a dry lot in a barnyard are always willing to come in for a daily treat. It may be an apple or an alfalfa cube but they are always interested. Spice the donkey is very particular about what weather she feels she should be out in. No rain, no really hot days, no really cold days, no snow, etc. She feels donkeys deserve temperatures of 50 to 75 degrees with no precipitation. Frodo the miniature horse would like to be out with the “real” horses and try going feral.

How do your horses feel about fall and late fall weather?

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