Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Horses Stopping to Eat

I received an e-mail from Lacy in California who wrote ”I have a rescue horse that I am hoping can be a dressage horse. I got him after he was rehabilitated. When I walk him he pulls away to eat things on the ground. I have to pull very hard to get him to stop. A couple other boarders tell me not to let him do that and to never let him eat when he is saddled or I am in the saddle. I guess because he’ll stop to eat when I am in the saddle. I don’t know how to stop him from doing this. Do you have any ideas?

Hey Lacy. This is actually another common trait for horses. We insist on keeping them in pens and feeding them a couple times a day when they are born with the instinct to eat (graze) most of the day. I always say “horses only think about one thing – food, but they think about it in two ways – where to get it and how not to become it.” So your horse is only doing what he is, by nature, is inclined to do and what you are letting him do.

To be very frank, when you are leading him and he stops to graze – this is your fault. As you know what his tendency is, you have to be ready for him to stop and try to graze. Don’t let him stop, keep him moving. When he pulls his head away or down to the ground, rather than you trying to pull on a 1,000+ lb animal, instead give him a couple of sharp, quick bumps on the halter lead. I would also use a verbal que as well. I use a verbal que to warn the horse he is doing something wrong.  It is the disrespect or the lack of your horse seeing you as the leader that you have to fix.  

I haven't seen much, if any, of a horse with a rider, ever stop on his own accord and start feeding. I do see, all the time, riders who stop their horses, the horse drops his head to investigate if there is anything worth eating on the ground.

There are some people who think that horses under saddle, with you in it, should not graze at all – they consider this a bad habit. I think that if you control it, it can work for you and the horse. I routinely position my horse over clump of grass (however sparse it is here in West Texas), ensure he is standing quiet, then give him a head down cue so he knows it okay to graze. If I’m on the trail for many hours I think that a occasional source of food in their gut is probably a good thing.

There are also some horsemen who think that when you feed your horse, you should leave him alone. This is something I also think differently about. I routinely pick hooves, brush or just rub on my horses when they are feeding. Sometimes I ask them to back off their feed so I can put a fly mask on.  I think this is all good. I think it helps gentle them at a time when they feel safe and content.

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