Feeding Time Pawing

Feeding Time Pawing

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

Q. Do you have any suggestions for stopping a horse from pawing while he is eating his grain? This one is the worst I've ever seen. It's not just while he's waiting for me to get to his stall with the grain, it continues while he is eating the grain. I have to hang his bucket or he tips it over straight away. He digs a hole below the hanging bucket and knocks the bucket around with his knee, often tipping the grain onto the floor anyway. It's not that this horse is starved; he is really too heavy, and he could easily live fine on just grass and hay. I am tempted to cut the grain all together, but I think he would paw while the others are eating their grain. Have you ever heard the suggestion of tying a string to a horseshoe and attaching this above the knee so the horse hits himself when pawing? Does that work? This horse has done this forever, and I can't imagine whether that would stop him before he hurt himself.

Laurie, via e-mail

A. First of all, I have not heard about the string and horseshoe, and I'm not sure how it would work. I know some horses that would probably just keep banging it around anyway, just like your guy bangs his knee on the feed bucket.

If you want to stop the pawing at mealtime, your suggestion to just stop feeding grain is the best, and might be the only way. It is the highly palatable meals and anticipation that elicit this behavior in some horses. You could just keep him outside when the others are getting grain, or you could substitute a fresh flake of hay on the floor while the other horses are eating their grain. After a few days, the horse usually becomes less urgent at feeding time and will stop pawing while you are in the barn feeding as well as while he is eating.

It's interesting that you mention that he is heavy and really doesn't need grain, yet acts so urgent to get it. That situation is not unusual. It reminds me of the common stories of fat ponies that push all the other horses away from the gate or the feed bunk. Feeding urgency and food-related aggression is often common in obese horses. Just as with the pawing, food-related aggression and other temperament problems are often solved by eliminating those candy-bar type meals and returning a horse to an all-forage diet.

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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