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Cowboy Bob,

I have a 17 year old Appy mare that has started to pace at the outside fence. She will do this for hours and hours. Her head is up like she is looking for something but the only thing there is a few sheep across the street. I have tried to distract her but she will go right back to the pacing. What on God's earth could be making her do this? Help an old lady help an old horse.


V. C.


As a general rule, pacing is a sign of frustration, anxiety, impatience, or sometimes aggression. Without actually seeing the behavior, I can only make some general guesses as to the cause. It seems to me that there are three main areas to consider:

1. The herd instinct. If she is in a field with no other horses, she may be expressing a desire to join those fuzzy little ponies across the road. Remember, a horse's sense of security comes from being in a herd, and being isolated is torture to a horse.

2. A horse's superior senses of smell and hearing. Ol' Willy could smell a bear more than a mile away, and would start acting nervous as a result. Especially if she is doing that pacing along a fence that faces north or west, she may be smelling something upwind of her. Did anyone within a mile or two in that direction happen to move in some horses -- or even spread a batch of horse manure? Is there any wildlife in that direction, in particular of the predator variety? If her attention is directed downwind, it's possible she is hearing something "horsey" in that vicinity.

3. "Even more than an elephant, a horse never forgets." Is she looking across the road, or down it? If she's watching down the road, she may be watching for some long-gone friend to return. Or perhaps it's as simple as the voices of kids on a school bus that passes by periodically during the day -- reminding her of fun-filled days in the past when some children used to brighten her day.

Sometimes the best way to solve this sort of puzzle is just to ask the horse. Spend some time with her in the field, just quietly observing and noticing if anything specific grabs her attention. Are there times when her nostrils really flare, or her ears prick up, her eyes widen, or she lifts her head? I've even seen times when a horse kept looking down the road for a vanished friend -- perhaps a foal that was sold. After a while, she might turn to me as if to ask, "Is he ever going to come back?" I actually gave one such critter a pat and said something like, "Sorry, friend. He's gone for good." To my amazement, that four-legged "person" gave a kinda sigh and walked away from the fence with me, holding its head down in a dejected attitude, as if to say, "I guess you're right; but I had hopes."

And folks say a horse can't talk!

If you spot any other clues to this mystery, please let me know.

And the rest of the story....

Thanks so much. I have been spending more time in the pasture with them. I have two others (geldings that aren't that nice to her) so I will see if she wants those fuzzy little ponies more than the mean old ones she is stuck with. I think she may be telling me that she wants to go for more rides down the dirt road too; that is the way we usually go. Again, thanks for the insight -- happy trails.

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