I have a 25yo gelding who was always a bit spoiled but we had many good years together and he was my best friend. A year ago we moved to a new property and I adopted an orphan filly. He took her under his wing but his whole character changed and now he seems to hate me. He often snorts loudly seemingly in disgust and his body language is standoffish showing me no respect. Do you have any advice? It is very upsetting and I am worried the filly learns this behaviour. She already mimics his snorting. For the first time in his life he has lost condition since I have started chasing them away from the house where they are pesty, demanding, rude and obnoxious. I yell at them and run at them but I feel like they are laughing at me. I used to be confident with horses and even worked mustering cattle but these terrible two seem to have it all over me. They are driving me crazy. I don't want to but am considering getting rid of them both even old 'faithful. I just don't want it to be like this.
It appears that the new kid on the block has really upset the apple cart, as it were!
This type of behaviour is not at all uncommon when a new horse is introduced, but I think with the right management you may just be able to improve the situation.
Firstly, I must tell you that I think you should enlist the help of some sort of expert in equine behaviour in your area - be it a horse whisperer, Parelli trainer, qualified riding instructor or a equine behaviourist. They will be able to see the situation in its entirety and will be able to make specific recommendations that will help you through the process that lies ahead, as well as give you the moral support you desperately need at this stage. Two little bullies can very intimidating to anyone, and your reaction to the situation is quite normal.
People very often assume that because a Stallion has been gelded, he will lose all of his "natural behaviour", as it were, and that he will behave himself like a good little human, not a horse. It is wise to remember that your gelding will still have some of the same drives and instincts that he did as a stallion, but may not be able to act on them by covering and mating with a mare. (Although there are many geldings that are able to achieve an erection and cover a mare quite successfully, although obviously there will be no pregnancy resulting!) This may lead a gelding to express himself in other ways, like the snorting and excitability that you have noticed, or even aggression. His overriding instinct is to protect.
In groupings where the there is not a `natural` mix of stallion and mares, there is often not the same level of social integration as would normally be found, for instance, in a harem group. Because there is no fixed social structure, there is very often an increase in petty aggression, and the group will often struggle to settle into some kind of hierarchy. Lower status individuals may be repeatedly harassed even though they offer no challenge to the more aggressive higher status animals. The cause of this harassment is usually linked to resource levels, like food, space and water. To complicate the group further, mares will also often assert physical dominance over geldings, because there is no hormonal or physical clue of potency.
Your gelding has crowned himself as the animal of highest status, and the filly is now his entire `harem`. Be very careful not to assume that he sees you as another horse in his herd - I do not think horses are stupid enough to think we are horses! (They will bond with us and interact with us, but I do not think they perceive us as horses). He now sees you as the outside threat, and his natural instinct to protect `his herd` has kicked in! You are the carnivore! This does not mean that he hates you or is ungrateful for the years you have spent together - he is just acting out on his natural instincts! This problem will probably be compounded and complicated when the filly comes into season. The filly has identified your gelding as the herd leader, and is taking her cues from him. Your other problem is that because the filly is an orphan, she has not had a mother who has taught her about normal horse and herd behaviour.
She is like a sponge, and is soaking up the education she is getting from your gelding. Where she would probably have formed a bond with you if she was alone with you, she has now bonded with your gelding.
What you are going to have to do (with the help of your expert) is to adjust the herd dynamic. Your gelding will have to understand that you are still in charge and that you are safe, and that you are not going to threaten his filly or him. Your filly is going to need plenty of socializing and attention from you, so that she learns acceptable behaviour from you. I would even suggest that if you have a neighbor with a mare, that you keep her with that mare for a few months. The mare will hopefully immediately assert dominance and will `teach her horsey manners`. You need to behave like a head mare or a protective stallion most importantly by regular and predictable training and socializing, and by displaying utter confidence and calmness.
Do not shy away from your horses, especially your gelding - if anything spend more time with him, riding or lunging him, or even leading him in hand on walks. The Parelli training method (http://www.parelli.com/) may very well be a very good thing for you to try with him, because it will reinforce your leadership in a fun, interesting way. Spend time with the filly too - take her for walks, teach her to stand quietly and groom her, pick up her feet, and so on, so that she learns that she has to interact positively with you too.
At worst, if there is no improvement, you may have to move or remove one of your horses, and you will probably find that the behaviour stops. (Although I would really try to fix it first!)
The most important thing is to stay calm, be consistent with your training and to be as confident as you can.
I wish you the best of luck - please remember to find someone confident to help you!