I'm Stumped-- Horse is VERY food aggressive
My first post... I'll try to keep it short!
I've owned my horse for 3.5 years. I purchased her as a two year old, and she had been in 5 other homes before the age of two, but I don't think she was neglected.
Basically, she's got an attitude, and plenty of it. She is very sweet most of the time, I've started her and she's very responsive and willing under saddle. She's got some weird quirks, but nothing I can't deal with, except feed aggression.
Don't even think about trying to halter her mid-hay pile or grain. She lives outside 24/7, and she's gotten better... when she was stalled she was an absolute terror, made huge messes, would scrape her teeth on the bars, would flip out if the horse next to her was too close to the wall of the stall she was closest to.... bleh. Like I said, now that she lives outside she's much more sane, but she is very protective of her hay pile and will turn her rump to you if you go out there while she's eating. It can/could be dangerous to people that don't know this trait.
I don't really know what to do about it. I've tried being aggressive back, I took the lunge whip out while I brought her hay and laid it down... I stood by the pile and whenever she came in for it, I drove her away. When she moved away and stood, I'd praise her by moving away from the pile and allowed her to eat. I'd let her eat for a bit, drove her away again, and did the same thing. I did this several different days, and she seemed to get it, but I can't walk out to her while she's eating and get near her hay pile at all. The nice guy approach clearly won't work with her.....
Have any of you dealt with this and effectively fixed the issue? I usually have a solution or several ideas to fix a certain problem, but I'm really stumped. She's a very sweet horse in the arena, crossties, on the lunge, under saddle, etc... food though... man.
I appreciate any ideas!
My project horse last year was very food aggressive as well...I didn't really figure out just how bad he was til I brought him home, where he was boarded (prior to me getting him, he stayed at my parents, and was pastured only). Well after a workout and consecutive cooling out, etc, I brought out his grain...well he about bowled me over...ears pinned, teeth beared, etc...I simultaneously set bucket down, and started bumping his halter, and made him move back...then kept him back about 4 feet...I would bump the halter and flick the lead at his chest if he started invading my space. He eventually grasped that I wanted him to 'stay back'...then I proceded to ask him to come to me; he came with ears pinned...so I sent him back...I just kept on with the 'dance' till he understood that 1) you don't invade my space till I ask 2) when I do invite you into my space, you come in with a friendly expression, NOT with ears pinned and all grouchy.
I eventually started doing the same thing in the pasture; there was a round pen type enclosure where I could 'mimic' feeding him; I would turn him loose, go get some hay, and walk out there, with dressage whip in tow. When he came up all demanding like, I sent him back, smacking his chest with the whip if I had too. I would then proceed to walk toward the middle of the pen...if he crowded me, I would send him away...if he followed me at a respectful distance, I let him be. I would then set the hay down, and stand beside it, and we could continue our 'be nice' exercise. If he came up with a friendly expression, would allow him a couple of mouthfuls. Then I would walk toward his shoulder, and click to him, asking him to move over...not away...just move your body, because I am asking you too. If he got grouchy, I would send him out with my crop and we would start over. When he got to where I could control him around the hay, I would then start haltering him, or slipping a lead over his neck and asking him to leave it, like as if I were taking him out of the pasture where they had a round bale.
Your mare seems to just know how far she can push her food aggression...don't take it, that's all...if she won't let you halter her near a hay pile, then move her away from it, and halter her where there isn't any hay...as long as you are able to control the response, you will be able to get her a little more respectful.
My gelding also had a very mild version of this problem--if you tried to halter him during feeding time, he pins his ears/fake lunges at you. I know that he's bitten other people before, but never me. I started taking a crop whenever I'd go to get him out of his stall and driving him away from the hay to the back wall of his stall. It took three weeks of continuous use of the crop (not just for his stall, but also anytime we walked or even when I was riding), but eventually he got the routine down. I'd open the stall door and hold up his halter. He'd raise his head and stand quietly, then stick his nose through the halter when I got it on him. As a reward, he'd get to grab another bite of hay before we left! He's only needed one reminder of it, and I started maybe three months ago. You might just have to persevere with the lunge whip, and perhaps slowly graduate down to nothing?
Yep, my warmblood was food aggressive when I got him. Basically your original idea was pretty correct, driving her away from the hay, but I want to tweak on it some.
Here is what I did. First, of course, I made sure he respected my space and all that in my groundwork. When I said move he moved. I could easily move his front and hind end around, but especially his front end. I could back him up with a driving action (not physically touching him), etc. Now when I would do anything with him at Liberty (feeding, watering, etc) I ALWAYS had my stick with me. He's not a mean horse, he's just very dominant and will test you. I made sure he wasn't scared of it of course. The MOMENT I saw one bit of nasty behavior (ears back, swishing tail, etc) I drove him away STRONGLY. I didn't yell or act aggressive, but I was assertive. I did not let him come back to me/the food until his expression changed (soft expression, head low, licking and chewing, etc). I also did a lot of work on approaching him while he was eating. For him, because I knew part of his issue was defensive (from his past), I would approach and when he pinned his ears, etc. I would stop. When he relaxed I approached some more. Pinned his ears I would stop. This did NOT teach him I would stop when he pinned his ears, what I was doing was respecting his opinion. That changed him the most. Once he realized I was tuned in to his opinion he softened and now he lets me walk right up to him with no problems. For some horses that strategy may not work, some you might have to drive away, but it really depends on the horse and it's up to the person to FEEL the horse's energy and opinion and to make the right call.
When I had my own place, she wasn't aggressive at feeding time. The way she is turned out and everything is just a little bizarre, not the ideal turnout situation but the people are very nice, and I'm allowed to train out of their arena.
Basically she's the only horse in a herd of 10 that stays out at night. They don't, and never will lead the horses in individually, they just open the door and they all run to their stalls. D is used to hanging behind now, but before she'd rush the gate with all of the others and most of the time she'd get through, etc. She's an exceptionally smart horse, and she is almost always the alpha mare-- but not at this farm. She's very low on the totem pole, so I'm guessing her feed aggression is her trying to be dominant over *something*.
I'm not out there regularly enough to be there every night at feeding to be consistent right now, which really sucks. Stupid day job-- I work 7am to 6pm, and by then it is dark.
I'll have to do the mimic of feed time like mom2pride said. That's a good idea.
She's good about listening to me, though she did challenge me a lot when I was starting her. I'd get on, and the first 10 minutes or so she'd challenge me, considering bucking, head up, ears back, etc.... and if I just say a stern "NO" she'd stop and immediately soften.
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