ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Q: We adopted a jenny to be a buddy for our elderly horse. At first she was happy to share food, but with time and confidence she has become rather bossy. I have to lock her out of the shelter at feeding time or she would aggressively devour the horse’s food. When he is done she can go in, but will state her displeasure by peeing the place up.
Dr. Nichol: Horses and their ilk (including donkeys) are social creatures who generally do best in groups. But confinement to a pen or even a generous-sized pasture, in some cases, can set the stage for bad behavior. Lower ranking animals have no escape. Whether we’re talking dogs, cats, equines, or humans, crowding and close confinement are crazy-making. Your elderly gentleman needs a break from his pesky little companion.
There is more than boredom to blame for this young jenny’s harassment of that long-suffering equine senior. You can improve everybody’s welfare by giving them the freedom to engage in natural, species-typical behaviors. Unless you turn them loose (bad idea) so they can spend the majority of their time foraging for food (their natural condition) they’ll need a reasonable substitute. Jenny and Gramps should stay busy working for their survival, exploring their environment, almost constantly on the move. Their brains are programmed to search for food.
You are already doing the right thing by separating your horse and jenny ass (female donkey) at feeding time. You can still keep them together for short periods each day but most of the time they should be separated in adjacent pens so they can forage for their subsistence. Food-dispensing toys will bring out their inner mustangs.
Boredom Busters, in a variety of shapes, can be stuffed with hay. With no access to their food trough, your beasts will stay active while manipulating their food toys by pushing them around, as they munch small mouthfuls. They’ll feel like real horses and asses. This won’t be identical to life on the range but it’ll be close. With their attention on healthier behaviors they’ll have less time for politics. An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.
Dr. Jeff Nichol, a residency-trained veterinary behaviorist, provides consultations in-person and by telephone and Zoom (505-792-5131). Each week he shares a blog and a Facebook Live video to help bring out the best in pets and their people. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Post questions on facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by mail to 4000 Montgomery NE, Albuquerque, NM, 87109.