Self-Mutilation or Pain?

I have a horse that I believe is displaying a form of self-mutilating behavior, and I’m wondering if you have
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Q: I have a horse that I believe is displaying a form of self-mutilating behavior, and I’m wondering if you have any insight that can help us to manage this.

A veterinarian estimated that our gelding Pal was 10 years old when we purchased him about a year ago. The only thing I know about his past is that he came off a working cattle operation. With gall mark scars on his withers and underbelly, he looks like he was worked hard. When we brought him home, he would not eat a carrot, apple, or horse treat–it was like he had never been given or seen such a thing. He would not eat from a bucket.

He is a very willing horse that wants to please. My daughter is 9 years old, and she can do anything on him. He has never once offered to buck or bite; he’s a great ride for her and her confidence. He is turned out in a large pasture, and we trail ride on a regular basis.

When we first got him, I kept him in a pen with my mare and my 3-year-old gelding (see a video below). I had to take the mare out when Pal became aggressive with her. He was trying to breed her and not letting any other horses around her. Then, when we pastured Pal with my very old pony gelding, Pal would herd him nonstop around the pasture. It seemed like he was doing this out of boredom, like he needed a job to do. I had to remove the pony because of his age and the fear Pal was going to hurt him

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Written by:

Sue M. McDonnell, PhD, is a certified applied animal behaviorist and the founding head of the equine behavior program at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine. She is also the author of numerous books and articles about horse behavior and management.

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