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Q&A: Horse is Aggressive at Feeding Time

horse training tips horsemanship problem solving q&a Nov 16, 2023

Q: My horse has a bad habit of being very dominant when it comes to feeding time, oftentimes a bit aggressive. How can I address this safely?

A: This question hits home to me, as my aunt, when she was a young girl, was out feeding a group of horses some grain and had a serious accident.  One horse got aggressive towards another horse, charging him and spinning to kick him, only to accidentally reach my aunt’s head instead.  She nearly died.  People are seriously injured and even killed every year during feeding situations like you have described.  


So, first and foremost, protect yourself and demand your horse give you space to place the food, and only then allow him to come to eat.  The answer to your question can vary, depending on the circumstances of the feeding.  


If you have multiple horses you feed together and have to walk into a larger area to pour the feed or drop the hay, and your horse is dominant towards other horses and chases them off, first and foremost you must keep yourself safe.  I would recommend carrying a flag (you should have a relatively stiff 3 to 3 1/2-foot pole with a flag attached to the top).  You could also carry a stick and string instead, but just make sure it is something you can get your horse’s attention with and put pressure on when need be.  If he is aggressive towards other horses, you can’t do much about that.  That herd must figure out their own hierarchy.  When you come to feed, you become part of the herd, and you must be the dominant of the herd, moving all horses away from you and asking for a safe distance from all of them while you bring in the feed.  Don’t allow horses to push into your space, ignore you, and/or not respect you as their leader.  Put as much pressure on them as necessary to move them away from you while you place the feed.  When you do increase your pressure, which could include making physical contact, make sure to stay out of their kick zone.  


If you are referring to a horse that is in a stall or pasture that you feed separately, and the aggression he demonstrates is towards you, then you must ask him to move out of your space and stay there until you have placed the feed, and only then allow him to come to it.  If you ask for space and he doesn’t comply, you must demand it with whatever pressure is necessary.  Think about how much pressure other horses put on each other to move them out of their space.  It can be severe if necessary, with biting and kicking with tremendous force.  Many horses will get very food dominant with their owner and can push, bite, or kick their human as if you were another horse.  When this happens, your horse has become extremely dangerous.  Hopefully you can correct the behavior before it gets this dangerous, but the answer is still the same, no matter how serious the problem is.  The more aggressive the horse, the more pressure will be required early on.  Ask for space.  If your horse continues to push into your safety bubble (If your horse is close enough to reach out and touch with the flag or stick, he is too close and has entered your safety bubble), use the flag or stick and string to drive your horse away.  Start with a light cue, such as a point towards a direction away from you, add a cluck or kiss or some other verbal cue, and then start to wave the flag or stick.  If your horse doesn’t move, wave more aggressively and if you can tap your horse, do it now.  You’re being fair to him by giving him lighter cues before actually making contact with your flag or stick and string.  Be very careful of your horse spinning away and kicking out at you in these moments.  Stay out of the danger zone of being kicked as you ask him to step away or step back with increased pressure.  If he tries to walk back into your space before you allow it, put pressure on him and ask him to back or move away again.  Continue to do this until your horse will stand and wait for you to place the food.  Now step back and allow him to come to eat.  


I can’t emphasize enough how important it is that you not be timid in your request for your horse to move out of your space.  Don’t try to physically push him away.  Driving pressure through the air is necessary.  You must show leadership by standing tall and moving with purpose towards him to ask, and then demand if necessary, his moving outside your safety bubble.  Some horses will consistently try to challenge your dominance in the herd.  These will require constant vigilance and maintenance.  Others will learn and then be ok that you ask them to wait for your signal to come to eat.  In all cases, it’s important your horse listens to you and waits for his cue to come in to eat.  This will help you stay safe and continue to enjoy your 1000-pound beautiful equine friend for years to come!