Yes, I own two mares that want to be the alpha horse. And no, I am not insane to still own both of them, although in April 2015 I did put Cheyenne for sale for a week while I thought if I could make this work.
What is Alpha Horse…Every herd has leaders, followers, and a well defined pecking order known as a dominance hierarchy. The Alpha Horse is the dominant leader in a herd. Horses instinctively seek leadership. The Alpha Horse provides leadership and security in a herd. It is quite common for the Alpha Horse to be an old mare.
Bailey has always been the alpha horse, and she took her job seriously and was good at it. Without blood or injury, her herd knew she was the boss and all cooperated and lived in harmony when I boarded her. Bailey moved to our home as an only horse, but retained her alpha personality to visiting horses.
When Cheyenne was purchased, I had been told she was picking on the gelding in her pasture. I wasn’t concerned for her to join our herd because I had seen Bailey in action as an alpha horse. It went as I expected, the meet and greet, followed by the head nods, a few distant kicks, and alpha was established to Bailey. All was great for a day.
The next day Cheyenne decided to enter the stall area that had a large door at one end to share hay with Bailey. The two mares were in together and a difference of opinion came about with strong kicking. I was there and ended it quickly, but I realized I needed to modify the one door entrance immediately to two doors at each end for escape routes. That same day a second door was cut with the help of my neighbor and harmony was at the barn for 10 months. Bailey was the boss, Cheyenne followed. No worries…wrong!
Taken from “Dominance and the Horse”: The harem group has a clear hierarchy in which the stallion and head mare are the two most central individuals in a very literal sense. The head mare is often referred to as the lead mare, but this can easily lead to some confusion about her actual role. An easy way of thinking about the head mare is as the ‘general’ of the group. Her place is at the center of the group, where she is protected by a screen of lower status mares. She is the single most important member, and the group’s primary decision maker. Head mares are ‘elected’ to their position by group consensus. The position cannot be captured by aggressive behavior, nor can it be maintained by tyranny. So while the head mare is certainly the highest status female in the group, and is in many ways far more important to their survival than is the stallion, there is no need for her to physically dominate other mares and it would be a betrayal of her freely accorded status were she to do so. Lower status mares may improve their standing by achieving an alliance with the head mare – a win-win element of equine female social politics.
Cheyenne was waiting for the opportune time to overthrow Bailey as alpha horse. Food is the key factor to why Cheyenne asserted herself, even though the horses are never without food. 2015 winter was lasting way to long for everyone- people and horses! The snow in Syracuse had not melted and just kept accumulating all winter without a break. The horses had created paths to travel from the front of the barn to the back of the barn. The first fight happened when Bailey was traveling to the back of the barn and Cheyenne was traveling to the front of the barn, both looking for new hay from me. The horses got stuck in the path and violent kicking started. It was very intense and scary for me to watch and there wasn’t much I could do fast enough to get into the area and over the high snow to them. Bailey got injured close to her stifle and it initially looked really bad, but luckily it was fur scraped off and a few cuts. With the cold weather, I wasn’t concerned of infection, but I did treat it with triple antibiotic cream. It broke my heart to see Bailey standing back scared of Cheyenne. Her leg was wounded and stiff, and she looked totally defeated. I had read that if there is an overthrow of alpha horse, there will probably be another interaction to regain the position.
It took another week of Bailey healing, and Cheyenne as the new alpha horse until the next altercation. I was not present for that, but I can assume it was bad from the next wound on Bailey. I had gone to the barn to give them both carrots and treats. When Bailey took her treat it fell to the floor which never happens. I looked under her lip and saw a gaping cut that went right through to her gums. Unbelievable! I called the vet to come see if she would require stitches or not. I thought perhaps Cheyenne had bit Bailey while eating hay too close, but the vet said it was another kick to her lip. Yikes! Soon after the vet left, Cheyenne delivered her final blow to Bailey right in front of me. A sucker kick to Bailey’s eye, and all because Bailey was heading toward the hay pile. I could not believe how mean Cheyenne was to Bailey and I wanted Cheyenne gone!
As luck would have it (since I still have Cheyenne and love her), every barn I called to board her immediately at, was unavailable due to the harsh winter. Thank goodness for a great neighbor, because I had help from him again that day to put up some fencing to separate them between the barn and pasture. I would rotate the horses every 12 hours from the pasture area to the barn and run-out area.
After getting through those bad weeks, both horses now have separate stall areas and pasture areas 24 hours a day. I have two alpha horses that live independently together. They can co-exist as close as an electric rope fence in the pasture and a wall separation in the barn. Even separated, Cheyenne still has a strong opinion of Bailey’s presence during feeding, but other than that, they actually get along good.