BE­HAV­IOR Help for a stall kicker

EQUUS - - Eq Consultant­s -

Q:We have a mare at the barn who spends most of her time out in the pas­ture with her Minia­ture Horse friend. She is put in her stall next to her buddy at feeding time and only for a short pe­riod while the other horses are fed. She kicks the boards of her stall walls and door very hard if any horse gets any­where near her stall or if she can even see them. While she is loose, she will even kick the barn at horses who are in their stalls. She has bro­ken large boards, and we are afraid she is go­ing to hurt her­self. She some­times kicks out even when there are no horses around. Can you of­fer any ad­vice on how to change her be­hav­ior? Mov­ing her to an­other area is not an op­tion. Jami Robin­son Umatilla, Florida

A:The first step with any be­hav­ioral prob­lem is to rule out a phys­i­cal cause. Given that your mare oc­ca­sion­ally kicks out with no other horses around, we’d recommend sched­ul­ing a vet­eri­nary ex­am­i­na­tion. Any prob­lem that causes pain can in­crease ag­gres­sion---un­com­fort­able horses are more “grouchy,” just as many peo­ple are. You’d also want to rule out a gran­u­losa cell tu­mor, a growth in the ovaries that pro­duces hor­mones that may, among other things, cause a mare to be ag­gres­sive.

Once a phys­i­cal cause has been ruled out, the next step is to try to de­ter­mine this mare’s mo­ti­va­tion. She is not try­ing to de­stroy the barn. From your de­scrip­tion, the most likely mo­ti­va­tion is re­source guard­ing---she does not want any other horses to steal her food.

Your best ap­proach to stop­ping this be­hav­ior may be sim­ply to avoid it. If she is most ag­gres­sive in her stall at feeding time, we would sug­gest not feeding her in her stall. If she needs only hay, pro­vide that in the pas­ture. We recommend a hay net with small holes so that she will have to spend all day eat­ing to get her ra­tion. You could also try other de­vices that weigh down a bale of hay so the horse can eat it only slowly.

If your mare must have grain, she could still be fed in her pas­ture---at the end op­po­site the barn. We’d also sug­gest feeding her first. Hav­ing to wait for her feed will not make her more pa­tient; it will make her more frus­trated and, there­fore, more ag­gres­sive.

If she ab­so­lutely must be fed grain in the stall, try to min­i­mize visual con­tact by block­ing her view of other horses to the side and in front so there are fewer

Hav­ing to wait for her feed will not make the mare more pa­tient; it will make her more frus­trated and, there­fore, more ag­gres­sive.

threats to her meal. One pos­si­bil­ity is to have her wear blin­ders to min­i­mize her view to each side.

An­other in­ter­est­ing ex­per­i­ment might be to try feeding your mare in a nose­bag. Al­though she hasn’t learned that the other horses can’t get into her stall to steal her food, she might re­al­ize that they can’t get into her nose­bag.

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