Feeding is submissive - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 21 Old 02-12-2020, 07:44 PM Thread Starter
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Feeding is submissive

Hi, I am a first time horse owner with an Arab and Thoroughbred. I've been feeding & occasionally grooming (+ barefoot farrier) while I get my work duties under control. I've noticed they are getting quite hard to manage when picking feet up - even the Thoroughbred who is ex-show jumper. I know it's because I'm not doing any groundwork...but have also heard that being their feeder doesn't help.

Is there any truth to the rumor (?) that feeding is submissive & makes it harder to work with horses?

Any tips to overcome this during feed time?

Also, what are the most effective & least time consuming techniques to keep my status as the "alpha"?

Lastly, what is the best source of info to learn about horse psychology/understand horse behaviour?

Just for laughs, I'll share this experience...so the whole time I've been greeting my horses + cows by touching noses, sometimes for an extended period. Also, I show them everything I'm going to use (during grooming) by holding under the nose. I noticed that the more I did this, the more uncomfortable they became. Then I saw a video about how stallions challenge to exert picking order dominance - they touch noses! So this whole time I've been saying to them:
" I'm challenging you "
"the brush/lotion I'm about to use is going to attack"

...no wonder they've been getting harder + harder! Think I need some advice. Help!? (Thanks!)
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post #2 of 21 Old 02-12-2020, 07:48 PM
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Don't accept no for an answer. Feeding them has nothing to do with unless you are picking up their feet and telling them they can't eat what you set out.
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post #3 of 21 Old 02-12-2020, 07:52 PM
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Give this a full watch. Lots to think about.

Also, binge watching Warwick Schiller is a great way to learn more about horse behaviour, communication, handling, and training!

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post #4 of 21 Old 02-12-2020, 09:09 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chrisssy View Post
noticed they are getting quite hard to manage when picking feet up - even the Thoroughbred who is ex-show jumper. I know it's because I'm not doing any groundwork...but have also heard that being their feeder doesn't help.
If they are getting worse for you, you need to look at what you are/aren't doing that may be causing this. Yes, if you mean by groundwork, that you need to train them better for hoofcare, absolutely.

Without further details, I can only say generally that you should be rewarding the 'tries', not asking them to lift too high, for too long etc and you should make the wrong thing difficult **but stay safe in the process - turning it into a fight is not what you want - & something you're likely to lose anyway.

If the feeder is at ground level and you're asking for front feet while they're eating, yeah, that can make life difficult.

Quote:
Is there any truth to the rumor (?) that feeding is submissive & makes it harder to work with horses?
...
Also, what are the most effective & least time consuming techniques to keep my status as the "alpha"?
I believe the whole 'submissive/alpha' theory about horses is based on incorrect premises. It's not even correct for wolves or dogs, but is 'borrowed' for horses too, from faulty studies on a wolf 'pack'. IMHO you should strive to be a good leader, but NOT an 'alpha'/dominant/domineering. Anyway, won't waffle on further about that...

No, I've not heard & wouldn't give credence to the idea that you are being 'submissive' if you feed your horse, as a general principle. *HOWEVER food can be a great motivator, strong positive reinforcement, and you need to remember every time you interact with a horse, you are 'training' it, one way or another. And if for eg. you reward/positively reinforce/feed the horse when he's being 'bossy' or 'rude', that is what you are training it to think is correct behaviour. If every time the horse yanks his hoof away - or keeps it away from you - in order to more easily access his feed, and it works for him, that is what he is being trained to do more of!

So... not in the least against hand feeding horses, or for that matter, distracting them with a bucket of feed while doing their feet or such, but you need to be fully conscious of everything that is going on at the time, what you may be rewarding & ensure you only reward behaviours you want more of.

Quote:
Lastly, what is the best source of info to learn about horse psychology/understand horse behaviour?
There are many, many sources on the theory of it. Try googling equine ethology, or horse psych or behaviour, or horse bodylanguage. And for better understanding the principles of behavioural training, I reckon you'll get a good grasp studying 'clicker training' principles **On that note, you will find people who teach/do purely positive reinforcement only training - eg. no pressure/release(negative reinforcement) or punishment involved. IMO I find using 'conventional' methods of pressure/release are also invaluable, and it follows the same principles as using positive reinforcement, so you should better understand how to be effective there too, from learning about c/t.

I also second Warwick Schiller.

For learning the practical side of horse psychology/bodylanguage, nothing beats studying actual horses. Spend time watching them interact with eachother, watch their bodylanguage in different situations with other horses or with people...

Quote:
holding under the nose. I noticed that the more I did this, the more uncomfortable they became. Then I saw a video about how stallions challenge to exert picking order dominance - they touch noses! So this whole time I've been saying to them:
" I'm challenging you "
"the brush/lotion I'm about to use is going to attack"
Yeah, you will read all sorts, and usually there is some truth in most things, but it will come with experience to work out what may make sense & what may not. In the above case, yes, stallions do indeed posture and sniff eachother's nostrils and flanks when they meet, and this is often right before a 'dominance challenge'. Most horses greet strangers in this manner, not just stallions about to fight. So I'd say it is purely a way of greeting & getting to know a 'newbie' to the mob. And I sus that esp as you (I presume) know your beasts well by now, they feel no need to 'meet' you like this & are just irritated that you insist on it.
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post #5 of 21 Old 02-12-2020, 09:35 PM
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I love that video posted by @SteadyOn .


I don't think you are making yourself either submissive, OR worrying them with any kind of 'challenge'. More likely you are just boring them. They want to get back to what THEY want to do, so they don't pay you the kind of respect and importance that they should, thus they ignore you when you ask them to lift their feet.


Where does feeding come in in your grooming/visiting routine? After you groom/do feet? or do you do all this while they are eating?


Are they aggressive /possessive when you bring out their food? Do you tolerate that and allow them to come and 'take' the food as you are putting it down?


If so, that is part of this equation; you allowing them to sort of ignore you. They see the food and they want it, NOW! they really don't even 'see' you, because you have not indicated that you are important enough for them to pay attention to and take into account. You become scenery, basically.


I don't think it's a big deal if you ask them to sniff everything you put on them, but it shouldn't be necessary after the first time. It ends up becoming intrusive, and perhaps if you are in any way anxious it can transmit your emotion of unsureness by stopping the process, and pausing, hesitating, allowing them to take over this process mentally.


If they haven't reached around to inquire 'what are you doing?", there's no need to engage them in the process over and over again. Go about your business and do it with confidence and efficiency. Watch your own feet, keep your periferal vision aware of them, but just keep moving in a comforting and rythmic manner.



If they wont' lift their feet, and you know that there is no physical discomfort, you can get firmer in a variety of ways. You can have a firmer voice; "UP! lift it UP!", and even slap your own thigh to make a bit of a noise that gets their attention. you can pinch the chestnut or just pinch in between the two lower leg bones (on the front), or take the hoof pick and dig it into the underside of the fetlock. This is AFTER you've asked nicely.


The whole thing is to get their attention, really get it, and then go on.
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post #6 of 21 Old 02-12-2020, 10:49 PM
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The short answer is no, feeding is not a submissive activity.

My horses are eager to pick up their feet because when they do, I clean the hoof and then give a treat. They LOVE hoof cleaning time.

Reward the try
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post #7 of 21 Old 02-12-2020, 10:52 PM
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I don't know who came up with the theory that horses see the food provider as submissive but they need to think of the beginning. A mare may be tolerant of her foal but she is in no way submissive to the foal and she's the one providing food. Just as she can walk or nudge her foal away if it gets too aggressive during meal time, I too can take away what I provide. Maybe your horse needs to be reminded of this.

I'm going to take your post as two separate questions because while I insist on table manners from the herd I also leave them be to eat in peace. I'd liken picking out their feet during meal time to the phone ringing during my meal time, it's beyond annoying. However, getting curried or brushed while munching on hay is a win/win in their eyes because it's getting 2 favorite things done at the same time.

So about cleaning hooves, since your horse is getting worse I have a question for you. When you are done with a hoof do you or your farrier just let go or do you place the foot back down on the ground? I've seen more than one horse start to get testy about picking up their feet after they get them dropped a few times. Either give them some warning before you let go or set them down. If this is not the case then you need to start having hoof handling sessions just like you would with a youngster.

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post #8 of 21 Old 02-13-2020, 07:13 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JCnGrace View Post
So about cleaning hooves, since your horse is getting worse I have a question for you. When you are done with a hoof do you or your farrier just let go or do you place the foot back down on the ground? I've seen more than one horse start to get testy about picking up their feet after they get them dropped a few times. Either give them some warning before you let go or set them down. If this is not the case then you need to start having hoof handling sessions just like you would with a youngster.
This. I always say "Okay" before I release their foot. If it's a horse that is used to me and knows that vocal cue, I can just let go after saying it and they'll know to set it down. If the horse doesn't know what that means, I'll be more smooth about it until they get it.
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post #9 of 21 Old 02-13-2020, 10:58 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chrisssy View Post
Hi, I am a first time horse owner with an Arab and Thoroughbred. I've been feeding & occasionally grooming (+ barefoot farrier) while I get my work duties under control. I've noticed they are getting quite hard to manage when picking feet up - even the Thoroughbred who is ex-show jumper. I know it's because I'm not doing any groundwork...but have also heard that being their feeder doesn't help.

Is there any truth to the rumor (?) that feeding is submissive & makes it harder to work with horses?

Any tips to overcome this during feed time?

Also, what are the most effective & least time consuming techniques to keep my status as the "alpha"?

Lastly, what is the best source of info to learn about horse psychology/understand horse behaviour?

Just for laughs, I'll share this experience...so the whole time I've been greeting my horses + cows by touching noses, sometimes for an extended period. Also, I show them everything I'm going to use (during grooming) by holding under the nose. I noticed that the more I did this, the more uncomfortable they became. Then I saw a video about how stallions challenge to exert picking order dominance - they touch noses! So this whole time I've been saying to them:
" I'm challenging you "
"the brush/lotion I'm about to use is going to attack"

...no wonder they've been getting harder + harder! Think I need some advice. Help!? (Thanks!)

Hold up here. (warning - typical long rambling post by me and I may need to be told I have no idea what I'm talking about. In which case, I will humbly accept it)

They're telling you that you, as the person bringing the feed to your horse, is making it submissive and thus... harder to work with?

Am I getting that right?

Because that sounds like a huge pile or horse poop to me. You WANT your horse submissive at the trough so they don't get the big idea to challenge you and you get HURT when feeding them. I warn mine off with a whip if they won't behave, and they don't get to come back to the feed I put out until they drop those heads and come in politely. That's asserting my lead mare position... driving them off, esp at dinner time, and not allowing them back until I see good manners, no faces pulled, etc.

I've seen the result of one person (Daughter's ex bf) getting kicked by our older gelding when he had shoes on the back feet because they wouldn't drive him off when he was being a butt at feed time. The Old Man opened him up to the bone. (Lots of stupid human tricks happened that day - I wasn't home when it happened)

You WANT a horse recognizing and respecting you as the lead mare or stallion in their life. That's not submission - that's respect and it must be earned with fair, firm, 100% immediate and consistent treatment, even if it means disciplining and/or expecting good manners (Submission?) at feed time.

You WANT them to submit to you handling their feet... that's another way to show you're the lead mare/head stallion... you are making them move their feet by picking them up and holding them or by lifting their fores to give them a good forward stretch.

I've never heard that having a horse behave submissive to their feeder as being a negative thing, ever. I can guarantee the breeders I know, and who own show horses or performance horses, don't tolerate shenanigans at dinner time and they're the ones doing the feeding, not a groom or a ranch hand.

If you want to become that horse's lead mare, you're going to have to earn it. And that doesn't mean teaching them forced helplessness or never being relaxed and sociable with your horse. It means grooming them, showing them affection, rewarding them for trying, being prepared to quell any shenanigans that are a direct challenge to you, and learn to speak their language... spend time just sitting and watching a group of horses in a turn out together.

Pay attention to a greeting vs. a challenge, to how a lead mare, if challenged, will react and how quickly... and how fast she will be over it and moving along like nothing ever happened. Horses are creatures with a complex language, extremely good discernment abilities - they can hear your heart beat, smell a change in your scent, recognize fear, worry, distrust... they can read your body language and know you before you know you. They have facial recognition, and an understanding of human emotions... coupled with a very long memory (They're a bit like elephants - studies suggest they never forget herdmates or people... including which people were good to them and which ones were not).

I started this path not speaking Horse myself. I have two outdoor bar stools under the lean to to our shop, and right outside my tackroom door. I can see all our horses at almost any given time, in two different pastures from there. I've had many a day just listening to music and watching. I've spent a lot of days just hanging out with them in the pasture and watching them and how they behave with one another.

I still don't know as much as I should, but I'm still learning. A day spent in Conversational Equine language class is always a good day. They're absolutely fascinating... herd politics, trough squabbles after the feed is out and I'm back to my chair, are very insightful. Nipping games, pasture races... they have their own rules to the games they play and boundaries to the chosen areas of play. I've seen a huge mare body slam an obnoxious filly and pin her to the ground until she got still and 'submissive', and once she let her up, it was like it never happened... except Oops learned to not pester Jackie Brown... or anyone else. It looked horrifically violent to me, but no one was hurt... and it never happened again.

My best advice for getting started anyway, is spend a LOT of time in observation. Don't apply human logic or morals to how they behave, and remember they evolved as food animals for predators... once you apply their instinct and intuition to survival, safety in numbers, and understand their fight or flight reactions, a lot will fall into place.

You talked about touching the end of the nose and how stallions use it to challenge... Context is everything... Mares will also do it to challenge another mare or a gelding or a stallion. It's not gender linked, in my small experience. It's often an inquiry... are we good? No? Then... *mare war cry squeal*. I also let all mine sniff anything I have in my hand that they're curious about - curry comb, saddle, saddle pad, blanket... beef jerky... doesn't matter. They express an interest to sniff or tap it with their nose, I let them. They seem to appreciate it and consider it good manners from the human to give them that opportunity to 'read' the scent on the object in hand. Oh! This isn't a scary thing! This smells like Gina... or Oops... or Trigger. Huh. Okay.. so it just goes on my back? Awesome... but... why?

I have a gelding that has a greeting ritual. If I don't patiently wait on him to come to me and ever so lightly, ever so inquiring tap my fingers to ask: Are we Good? while my fingers, palm down, arm extended, very relaxed... and then stroke him down the length of his face - he is very out of sorts. There are time the ritual must be observed or he's a nervous wreck. He's a VERY submissive horse, but very hot, very reactive. He has to be reassured that We're Good... I'm not going to tap his nose and then physically challenge him... It's all about context... it's all about the individual horse... which is why long hours of quiet observation is your best path to learning to speak their language and to understanding what A Thing means to them. It's not so simple as saying: A stallion challenges this way *by touching the nose*. Yes... and there's a whole lot of other things that can mean to horses in general and to horses individually. They're very fluid creatures and you have to adapt accordingly, depending on the conversation and the body language they offer you. If you don't understand the subtle nuances in a conversation with horse... you're gonna have a bad time.

To me, that's what makes them so darn amazing... I know lifelong horsemen and horsewomen that will humbly tell you they don't know much... and they'll follow up by saying if someone ever tells you they've learned all there is to learn about horses, they're a horrible horseman. You should be learning something new every time you're in their presence or on their backs.

I'm sorry this is so rambly... and I wish you the best of luck on your Learning to Speak Horse experience!


For your entertainment... or bemusement... I give you The Greeting Ritual. It's made all the difference in how far he's willing to trust me.



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post #10 of 21 Old 02-13-2020, 11:10 AM
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PS If you mean YOU are submissive because you feed them, then no. Not unless you're letting them push you around, dumping the feed, and getting the heck out of dodge. THAT is when they get your number and know they can bully you. If you continue to let your horse be the boss at feed time, yes. They will see you as the low horse... the low horse gets driven off the feed. If you're throwing and going with feed while your horse is acting like a tool, your horse will assume he's in charge because he was able to drive you away. The top horses do the driving away. Do not tolerate your horse driving you away. When you feed, be confident, and be prepared to drive your horse away from you and the feed by any means necessary to give their brain a factory reset on who's running the show between the two of you. Don't let him come in to eat until he drops that head and processes you're to be respected as the head horse. You do NOT want a 1200 lb animal with the intelligence of a human toddler being in charge of anything.
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