EQUUS - - Eq Hands On -

The nick­ers of an ea­ger horse at feed­ing time can warm your heart, but the in­ces­sant clat­ter of a horse kick­ing his stall door de­mand­ing din­ner can wear your pa­tience thin.

Thank­fully, horses rarely hurt them­selves by paw­ing for din­ner. Beyond an oc­ca­sional bruised knee, a horse who acts up at meal­time isn’t a dan­ger to him­self. How­ever, the be­hav­ior can be hard on your stall door, walls and floors.

Your first in­stinct may to be yell at a horse to knock it off, but those who paw, kick or oth­er­wise raise a racket at meal­times aren’t do­ing it sim­ply to be ob­nox­ious. The be­hav­ior is a man­i­fes­ta­tion of food-re­lated anx­i­ety that’s bet­ter ad­dressed with man­age­ment changes than with rep­ri­mands.

The best so­lu­tion is to di­vide the horse’s ra­tion into sev­eral smaller meals de­liv­ered through­out the day; four or more is ideal. Such a sched­ule lim­its any hunger and an­tic­i­pa­tion that may build up be­tween big­ger, less fre­quent meals.

If you can’t space out your horse’s meals, try feed­ing the loud­est horse first. Don’t worry: This isn’t re­in­forc­ing the be­hav­ior. He’s not go­ing to learn to be quiet if he’s the last one fed, only that he has to bang his door longer to

get food to ap­pear. Try feed­ing him first, be­fore the bang­ing be­gins, even if it’s just a quick hand­ful un­til you de­liver the rest of the ra­tion. You can also try throw­ing in a flake of hay be­fore the grain to see if that takes the edge off an anx­ious diner.

Keep in mind that some­times meal­time neigh­bors egg each other on. If two horses in ad­ja­cent stalls reg­u­larly paw and squeal at each other, try sep­a­rat­ing them for a few meals or even isolating them. Some horses feel more se­cure when they can dine pri­vately.

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