Monday, March 26, 2018

Bothering Horses During Feeding

Walt wrote in the ask about interacting with horses while they are feeding. "Someone told me that I shouldn't bother my horses while they are eating. The subject came up when I was using a brush to get stickers out of her tail when she was eating and a friend of mine said I should refrain from it and just let the horse eat. Is there a reason I cannot be around or touch my horse when she is eating?"

The bottom line Walt is no, I don't think there is a reason you can't groom or pet on your horse while she is eating. I know others have a different opinion as I have heard people, even one well known clinician, say 'do not bother your horse's when they eat, but let them be'. The horse would certainly be good with being left alone to eat, as the act of feeding is where I understand endorphins are released creating a positive feeling for the horse. But, I don't pretend to understand any of that, but I do believe the horse really only thinks about one thing - feed, but thinks about it in two ways: where to get it, and how not to become it. So, I can see where someone thinks that anything that interferes with feeding can put pressure on a horse and increase it's anxiety...and if you go about it in a wrong manner you would cause the horse to be troubled.

However, I can see positive things resulting with you being around and touching your horse while she eats. I do it to my horse's all the time. In the photo at top right, I am lifting a horse's tail while he has his head in the feed bin. I also rub on them, groom them, clean their feet and recently I had to put anti-fungal cream on a horse's sheath. The act of grooming while this horse was eating relaxed him where he dropped so that was useful to getting the anti-fungal cream where it need to go, but was also an indication (the FBI calls that a clue) that being groomed while he ate was no concern at all to him. You see a wet area on the horse's back where a saddle pad went - I just finished washing sweat off his back after a ride. A horse will normally roll and end up looking like pig pen with the sand sticking to his wetback, so feeding will allow his back to dry before he rolls.

Actually, I think interacting with your horse, and the process of getting them good at being interacted with while feeding, makes a softer horse. If you had a horse who showed some agitation when you were near him or touching while he was feeding (evident by tail swishing, ears pinned, moving away from you) working on being able to groom him, pick up a foot, rubbing on him, lifting his tail, etc....... by starting slow and light then building on that progress, will make a softer, gentler horse. In the beginning you may just stand there near him while he ate, then progress to rubbing him a second or two, then eventually build to brushing him all over, picking up feet, and so on.

Your horse will tell you if she has problems with you messing with her while she eats. It's hard to brush out a tail when there is tension in the tail or the horse is swishing it around. Since you wrote that you were brushing her tail out while she was eating, it is likely your horse is good with human interaction while feeding.

Thanks for writing and safe journey.

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