Messy Gelding vs. Tidy Gelding

An equine behavior expert addresses a question about two geldings with very different poop patterns.
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Messy Gelding vs. Tidy Gelding
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Q: One of my geldings is very tidy and poops in piles, while my other gelding is messy—he poops everywhere and grinds it into the ground and his bedding. Why are they so different?

A: I don’t know exactly why your two geldings are different. But defecation habits are so interesting! Here’s a little background: Horses grazing at will tend to defecate and move on. Domestic horses at pasture tend to have latrine areas where there’s a concentration of manure piles. Since horses tend to avoid grazing near manure piles, this area is usually undergrazed, despite often having some pretty nice grass due to the nutrients from the manure.

Stallions have an elimination-marking sequence when they encounter a manure pile from another horse, which includes a ritualized sequence that goes something like this: sniff, or maybe paw at it, show a flehmen response, defecate or urinate on or near the pile, maybe sniff it again, and move on.

You will also commonly see “stud piles” of manure. A singly housed stallion will make these piles of manure, and they will also be formed by multiple stallions defecating over each others’ manure.  You’ll see these stud piles along fence lines, at gates, and in open areas where there are common stallion or harem group crossings. I saw stud piles near an asphalt road in a Mustang-populated area outside Reno, Nevada, and learned that was a favored crossing for the local bands and harem groups. Defecation might also occur amidst agonistic encounters between stallions

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Prior to attending veterinary school, Dr. Nancy Diehl completed a master’s degree in animal science while studying stallion sexual behavior. Later, she completed a residency in large animal internal medicine at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center and worked in equine practices in Missouri and Pennsylvania. Diehl also spent six years on faculty at Penn State, where she taught equine science and behavior courses and advised graduate students completing equine behavior research. Additionally, Diehl has co-authored scientific papers on stallion behavior, early intensive handling of foals, and feral horse contraception. Currently she is a practicing veterinarian in central Pennsylvania.

One Response

  1. I have an OTTB who has to have multiple small piles of hay in the winter as he will urinate/defecate in the hay. I have a mare who when stalled always mounds her manure in one big pile. The rest of her stall was always clean. She tended to only urinate when turned out. She is the only mare in my years of keeping horses that I have come across who did this. Stallions I have cared for often showed the mounding behavior in stalls and outside turnout. Horses are always interesting to watch. As owners we should do more of it. Thanks for the great articles.

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