Can Horses 'Herd' Across a Fence?

Q: I know horses like to "herd" with one another, but how close do horses have to be to feel comfortable? Is having another horse across the fence suitable, or do they need to be in the same pasture? Kris, via e-mail

A: Contact across a fence with reasonable proximity that allows visual and auditory communication appears to afford horses many of the benefits of herd social contact. One conspicuous sign that horses enjoy some of the benefits of company in neighboring enclosures is seen when horses stand as near as possible on opposite sides of the fence when resting or loafing. Close proximity with or without a fence allows sharing of signals both for alarm and "okay to relax for a while" or "coast is clear." One of the group usually remains more alert than the other, and this role of sentinel might alternate among the group so that everyone gets a few minutes of standing sleep.

When not in the same enclosure, some of the herd benefits horses might not be able to share would be things like standing head-to-tail for mutual fly-swishing, or sharing the windbreak or sun/shade advantages of a group.

About the Author

Sue McDonnell, PhD, Certified AAB

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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