Arizona Horse Slashing Mystery Solved

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The necks of more than 20 horses were mysteriously slashed near their jugular veins at Tanque Verde Guest Ranch in Tuscon, Ariz., beginning in July, 2003. The attacks launched an investigation, and concern about area horses' safety erupted. Tuscon law officials recently discovered the culprit wasn't a criminal.  It was a pasture mate of the victims.

Dawn Barkman, public information officer and deputy at the Pima County Sheriff's Department, said, "We didn't get involved until Aug. 1 of last year, and by that point, they had already had 12 horses that were attacked." An additional 11 were attacked once the department got involved.

Wounds on the victims were one to four inches long and about an inch deep.

"All the injuries were on the same side of the neck of the horse, the same type of injury, which led us to believe it might have been caused by a human," said Barker. "At the end of the investigation, we actually discovered it was a horse doing all the damage." Deputies had been watching the horses at night during the investigation. Witnesses at the ranch saw the offending horse exhibiting aggressive behavior so the deputies began watching the one horse and determined a few months ago that he was, in fact, the culprit.

Barkman said, "I think it's a relief for the department to complete the investigation and determine what happened, and a relief for the public because it wasn't actually human caused."

Once the offending gelding was separated from the herd, the attacks ceased.

According to an archived Behavior column by Sue McDonnell, PhD, Certified AAB, "Grasping and holding onto other horses is a natural element of stallion harem formation and maintenance behavior. It is seen in stallions when they are gathering a harem or trying to get a mare to stay with the group. This grasping behavior is also a conspicuous element of play behavior among juveniles, as well as the more serious sparring behavior among bachelor stallions. The grasp is typically onto the crest of the neck and mane, but can be at the throat or jugular area.

She further explained that if the targets are other geldings, the behavior could represent "inter-male sparring typical of bachelor stallions. Many true geldings retain this and other stallion-like behaviors."

A representative from the ranch did not respond to inquiries.

The gelding has since been sold to a home where he will have no pasture mates.

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