Aggression at feeding time - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 15 Old 11-22-2011, 09:05 PM Thread Starter
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Location: Jackson, Louisiana
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Aggression at feeding time

Our two trail horses, 4 and 6 years old, one being green broke and the other not even close, are very "pushy" at feeding times.
They BOTH need TONS more ground work and ground training, that I am sure of and I am working both of them on a daily basis. Round pen work and ground work. They both need better manners in general, which I am working on and seeing progress every day! (SO exciting to see them mature that way!)

They are out to pasture with each other 24/7 (with access to shelter, of course). When I come in the mornings and evenings to work with them I feed them as I am leaving. We have two "over-the-fence" feeders that we hang on the outside of the round pen on opposite sides.

When I get the bucket out of my car they practically run me down to get the bucket. (If I was to run, they would surely chase after me). I shoo them to the best of my ability and try to keep from getting hurt in the process, but this is a habit that needs to be stopped immediately, for I know it can turn quickly into a very dangerous situation.

As I come closer to their buckets, they get closer to me and more pushy. And let me just say... It is VERY difficult to dump the feed into the feeder, open the zip-lock of ground flax to dump on top, as well as add their top dressing because this whole time I am standing in front of the bucket they are pacing around, pawing, trying to push me out of the way, pinning their ears, treating to kick and strike. The more I try to push them away, the more aggressive they get. Their mentality is full of disrespect and I can just hear them thinking, "That's my food and I want it now!! Get the heck outta my way!!".

Browsing the internet today I came across this post and wondered what my fellow horse lovers thought about it..?

My first reaction to the post was that I was a little weary about shaking a stick with a noisy plastic bag attached at my horses face, for fear it would just make them head-shy and fearful of strange loud noises, which is stepping backwards on all my training thus far to calm the horses down and sack them out so that they will stand quietly to be rubbed all over with hands, training sticks, even these very same loud plastic bags.

Here is the post:

QUESTION: I own a 10-month-old overo filly. I really need some advice. I saw your site on the internet and hoped you could help. My filly turns and backs up to the wall or door and kicks it with her ears pinned back every time I feed her. I just don't understand, she has never been mistreated, she has never had to fight for her feed. I asked one horseman about it and she told me to whip her and tie her with no feed and water for a few hours. I don't want to do that. Another one told me just to let her alone she would grow out of it. She is the only horse I have. I feel like she's just being disrespectful. But I don't know how to correct the problem. John Lyons said in his book that you shouldn't have to fight with your horse to feed it, but he didn't say how to solve the problem. Do you have any advice, or what would you do in this situation?
REPLY: First, don't listen to that lady who said to whip her, tie her/no feed. How insane! And horrendously cruel. But I know your heart already knows that's inhumanely wrong advice. And no, she won't outgrow this on her own either. She needs leadership direction and proper guidance to find the get along, respectful spot there. It's easier to fix than you think. Let me guide you here.
Some horses get aggressive at feeding time simply because they haven't been taught not to. A young horse raised in a more natural herd/pastured with others 24/7 probably would have been taught by her elders (usually a lead mare) that this is unacceptable behavior. Unfortunately the bulk of domestic horses these days often don't have the benefit of that other-equines tutelage since we isolate them so much, so, many grow up initially not knowing the proper way to behave there. You will have to be that lead mare yourself.
I couldn't tell by your letter exactly where this feeding is taking place, sounds like a small stall. I would, if you could, work on this problem in a safer/larger area to begin with, like a round pen, or small paddock, to school her the way a lead mare would there. There is indeed a solution to this problem that works quite well, fast, too. Have a whip (cut off the whip string end), or use one of our extend-able training wands, and tie to the end of either of those a crispy plastic bag on the end, the kind you get at the grocery or drug store -- the noisier the plastic bag, the better! Poke holes in the bag so it doesn't catch wind and makes it more manageable for your purposes here. Get good at shaking it very lightly at first, then progress to very assertively and then loudly. Do this away from the horse first until you have it down, that progression upward, and your timing is reflexively quick and accurate. Role-playing this lesson with another human first is always helpful.
Then put the food out for your horse in that open area. If the horse comes in with a negative or aggressive attitude, and the horse most likely will, shake the wand first slowly, then increase to more assertively as needed & shake it toward the horse with the plastic attached, and make this sound at the same time, "SHHHH!" (very powerful sound we've found for when needing to discipline as such. The sound means: Stop it!) That's better than using the word "no," which often sounds the same as "go" and "whoa" to a horse, since horses only hear consonants.
Best place to shake the plastic is toward one eye (not making close/full contact of course!). If you direct as such toward one eye, this moves the horse's head over. Where the head goes, the feet generally follow on a horse. Back the horse off with the wand/plastic, as assertively as you have to be at first to accomplish that, and with the "shhhh" sound. The horse will probably get very wide-eyed and back up instantly; that's what you want in the beginning! It's a wake-up call for the aggressive horse to listen, to learn a new, better get along way to approach feeding time.
When the horse backs off, stop shaking the bag, lower the wand, and let it go passive near the ground. That is the release of pressure to reward for the correct behavior (backing off), and all horses learn from the release of pressure what it is you want, not from the pressure itself. Give the horse a moment to think about it, but if the horse attempts to rush back in or acts in any way aggressively yet again (which they indeed often try to do), repeat the bag-shaking assertively. Get the back-off out of the horse again, then release the pressure, drop the wand down passively; let the horse stand there off a distance, and allow the horse the moment to think, to digest what just happened. Via thinking, horses learn. Via learning, they find the more rational route that works, vs. continuing with irrational & rude behavior that you are not going to allow to work for them any longer.
It might, or might not, take a number of times, but keep doing this until the horse begins to understand that they won't be allowed to eat when coming in aggressively. When the horse works the mouth (which they usually do at that distance point, which means the horse is understanding/digesting the new expectation), you can then back away from the food and allow the horse to attempt to come in again, but this time with a better attitude as if the horse were to say, "May I come in for the wonderful meal you've provided, please?"
It's real important not to allow a horse to come into the food aggressively or even too fast. Show the "black and white zone." In the black zone, when the horse is misbehaving or coming in with any overly negative or rude attitude, the horse will be sent away with the noisy plastic and your "Shhhh" sound. In the white zone, when the horse comes in softer, more respectfully, more politely and more slowly, all is good and calm for them -- no plastic waving at them, and life is very good, then they are allowed to eat. Don't accept anything even remotely in the black zone as being acceptable. (No "gray areas" allowed!) You call the shots there, not the horse. This is about SAFETY and you must take charge there for everyone's safety sake. My program is always 100% about safety, which we gain through proper leadership abilities and making clear our expectations to our horses.
Bad, especially unsafe, behavior on a horse's part must be met with more assertive behavior: yours, though that never means abuse. If a horse did try to stampede over you there, however, ignoring your initial "move off" directives, they WILL run into the wand with plastic, but that is more about they ran into the wand all by themselves, not you hitting them. They understand the difference, believe it or not. Remain safe during this exercise and keep yourself protected at all times via being as assertive as needed to keep the horse off of you from the start!
In natural horsemanship, we say: Resistance meets resistance. Make the right thing easy/comfortable and the wrong thing difficult and uncomfortable. If your release timing is good when the horse backs off/acts more respectful, the horse will get it real fast and change the attitude. And it is directive language all horses are born understanding, from birth, since they are herd/pecking order animals and communicate move-off messages to one another nonstop.
There is a saying, an innate rule, in the prey animal psychology world (what a horse instinctively lives by every day of that horse's life as a prey animal) and it goes like this: He who moves the other's feet is higher up on the pecking order. Your horse has simply learned to move your feet probably, especially there at feeding time, and therefore climbed higher up that pecking order in your little "herd" of two there. Time to turn the tables on the horse and take back the higher pecking order leadership position during feeding times, but using natural horsemanship applied prey animal psychology. You will not be doing the horse a disservice reestablishing that leadership there, but the opposite: the horse will be happier and will settle down into a softer, more respectful horse. All horses are actually happier, calmer and more relaxed in the follower position, because that takes less energy out of them to have to think, to make decisions; and horses, by nature, are energy-conserving creatures. They also like and respect more those higher on the pecking order from them; they have distaste and disdain for those lower on that pecking order -- just the nature of the beast! in charge of her feet and where she's allowed to put them, and where she is not, at all times, and especially at feeding times.
Use the wand with plastic to take back the herd "lead mare" position there to send her feet, and you'll see results fast. But stay calm, consistent, yet firm. If you are consistent and persistent enough in this lesson, the horse will get it quickly. Before you know it, when the horse sees you coming with food at feeding time, they will automatically exit back, wait patiently for you to set the food down and wait for your body language signals to indicate that it's now okay to approach the food. But reinforce continually that the only acceptable approach is slowly, respectfully, calmly, rationally. No black or even gray zone allowed or they get sent away again. Only white zone is acceptable.
Once she can do this well in a more open area like a round pen or small paddock, continue the lesson in her stall with the wand/plastic (if the stall is where she is being fed). Be careful there! But be consistent there, same rules you've already established, & send her away off into a corner with the wand with plastic and "shhh" sound, even in her stall, if she acts disrespectful as you bring the food in, so she knows she must show respect, act respectful and wait patiently for you to set the food down, let you leave, THEN she's allowed to come eat.
Incidentally, when you drive her away at those disrespectful times, if she keeps her rear end toward you when she halts there, keep the pressure up until she pivots/turns and faces you, then release the pressure. A horse placing a hind end toward you is showing disrepect bigtime. She wouldn't dream of turning a hind end toward a real lead mare, or that lead mare will go after her until she stops that! So, always react quickly at all times if a horse turns a hind end toward you in disdain, and ask them to turn and face you immediately. This will contribute to establishing you as their lead mare in your little herd of two and have her respecting you more.
Pretty soon, since you've planted now in her foundation the "Shhhh" sound to mean "Stop it!" all you'll need usually then is just the "shhh" sound to remind her now & then to be respectful there at feeding times and all other times such a reminder is needed.
With multiple repetitions of this exercise, the horse will embrace the parameters, will comply and will be past that problem quickly.
Incidentally, this is a good time to bring up "hand feeding" treats to horses. With most horses it's not a good idea to hand feed, as this can contribute to biting/aggressive/rudely rooting-for-food bad behavior. Better to lay the treat down on the ground or in a food bowl and let them eat it from there if you must feed a treat. I say most horses because, of course, this isn't necessarily a problem with all horses; you can't always generalize like that, as each is unique. But as a general safety rule, it's best not to "go there" to keep a horse most respectful around humans.
If you haven't already, you might want to read on my website the page entitled, "What is NH?" There you will learn a lot more about prey animal psychology and how we use that knowledge in natural horsemanship training. You will find that link page here:
I sincerely hope this information helps you there. Stay safe!

Please let me know what you think!

"There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man."
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post #2 of 15 Old 11-22-2011, 09:20 PM
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This pretty much states it. I think a lot of folks would say something like this, in half the words, but this article is very clear.
I have no problem at all hitting a horse that doesnt' listen to a good warning first.

You can even sometimes actually drive them off their food after having given it to them, but maybe that's for after this lesson is well learned.
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post #3 of 15 Old 11-23-2011, 08:02 AM
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Check out this article for some more suggestions on how to resolve this problem without aggressive methods. Feed Your Horse Safely: How to Deal With A Horse's Aggressive Behaviour at Feeding Time
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post #4 of 15 Old 11-23-2011, 09:00 AM
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I'll use a dressage whip and just wave it side to side toward the horses' chests, in a relaxed motion. (I hold onto the lash) I want them to see it. They usually don't want to walk into it but one likely will and will get a good tap. That usually backs it up or turns it away. Once this happens it is usually more respectful. Why the lunge whip is sometimes a horse will turn rump and you're far enough away to deliver a good smack before he kicks out. Usually he is too busy trying to leave when that happens.
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post #5 of 15 Old 11-23-2011, 11:12 AM
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I wait until all the horses are behaving- if there being rude they don't get fed, once everybody stops pawing pinning ears etc. even for just a second, I head over to feed, if they start, I stop turn my back whatever, and so on. it may take you a lonnnng time the first few times so plan accordingly. Once they figure it out you shouldn't have any issues
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post #6 of 15 Old 11-23-2011, 11:13 AM
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Oh yeah, and if you can, stay on the other side of the fence.
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post #7 of 15 Old 11-23-2011, 11:22 AM
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I walk through my horses until they learn to get out of my way. How you ask? Quite simple really, they don't like their shins messed with so I use my foot to tap their shins or step on the edge of a hoof (if more convenient) while not stopping and telling them "back" at the same time. It doesn't take long for them to get it. Pretty soon all you'll have to do is say "back" and they are moving.

If that is a bit to hard then it's time to break out the 'ol wheel barrow. Load your stuff in it then push the wheel barrow through them while saying back. Don't let them stop you and start eating out of it, just keep moving into them. You don't want to bang them hard with the wheel barrow but then you shouldn't have to as once again they don't like it. Doesn't hurt to essentially chase them around a bit with it so they really get the message. Once responding to the wheel barrow you should be able to quickly transfer that to just yourself.

At the same time, you also work with not letting them eat until you say they can. This is easier one at a time but doable with two if you can block off the feeder from two at a time. Make them stand there until they are quiet. Once quiet, step out of the way and give them a verbal cue, mine is "OK". Food is their reward for standing quiet so you can have this working in less then a week. Once they quiet down I only make them stand there for 10 seconds or so before release. Make it to long and they might get frustrated at first not knowing exactly what you want.
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post #8 of 15 Old 11-23-2011, 01:22 PM Thread Starter
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@AnneGage, thanks for the link!

@Darrin, this is essentially what I have been doing. I walk from my car to the feeder with some sort of "weapon" so-to-speak. I just use whatever is lying around. A rope, a stick, etc. If they try to run me over I emphasize my personal "bubble" and wave it around (letting them run into it, if they so please). It works for keeping them out of my space, but they just run around me in circles getting more and more angry by the second. By the time I get the feed mixed and into the feeder they are pawing and pacing with ears pinned back. I try to stand in front of the feeder until they can stand quietly, but that moment never comes. They never settle down and stand quietly, they just keep on and on. Once I stood there for a good 15 minutes and they never got the point, they just kept pacing.

I feel as if they don't understand my request, so eventually I just give in.
But that is not working. I want them to be able to stand quietly until I give them the chance to eat. I just don't know how to communicate my request clearly.

So why after doing all of the above posted advice do they still not understand what I am trying to accomplish?

"There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man."
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post #9 of 15 Old 11-23-2011, 01:33 PM
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If you give in their training you! No offense, but fifteen minutes is not a lot of time-take an hour or more if you have to, try to plan a day when you can, and then BE CONSISTENT.
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post #10 of 15 Old 11-23-2011, 01:43 PM
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You lose ground everytime you give up.

So it looks like dealing with two horses at once isn't helping. Tie them both up soon as you arrive to feed. Now you can deal with one horse at a time to work on their training.
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