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Q&A: Horse Paws While Tied

groundwork horse training tips horsemanship problem solving q&a Nov 02, 2023

Q: My horse will stand quietly at the hitching post when no one else is around. I follow your advice and always have my horses stand tied for a period of time after a training session, but when she does stand quietly and I head to unsaddle and prep to put her away for the day, she starts pawing and acting aggressive towards me. I step away, and she stands well again. Our training sessions usually go fairly well! What might cause this and what can I do to help? Do I keep her tied? Do I put her feet to work again? Help!

A: Most likely, your horse begins pawing and acting aggressively towards you because she’s anticipating being put away for the day, and she’s being inpatient for it.  She’s trying to push you along and get to her ultimate goal of going to her stall or pasture and being fed, etc.  You can address this problem in two parts.  

First, I would go ahead and approach her and untie her as long as it’s safe to do so.  Then, I would put her to work, moving her feet forwards, backwards, left, and right.  Do so where it’s safe for you, her, and anyone around you.  Sometimes doing this close to her stall or pasture can help decrease her desire to go there right after being untied.  There are many sensitizing ground work exercises you can choose from to help put her to work.  Some of my favorites are Lunging with hindquarter and forequarter yields for direction changes, Lead Beside, Half Circle Lunging, Backing, and Side Passing.  They should be exercises that move your horse’s feet with intensity.  Make sure to review these techniques as a member of Reata Horsemanship (learn more here:

Give yourself some time to do this ground work for 10-15 minutes after untying her, or as long as you feel she needs, moving her feet to the point she is craving some rest and oxygen.  Working with her for this time period will also help you refine her ground work, which is always a good thing.  She should be wanting to slow down and get some rest after being put to work for a few minutes.  At this point, bring her back to be tied and leave her there for 10-15 minutes.  Come back and try again.  If she gets anxious, inpatient, and aggressive, untie her and put her back to work.  It’s never clear how many repetitions you may have to do.  Every horse is different.  Some may get it after one session.  Some may take multiple sessions.  You shouldn’t end the session until you see a significant change in her behavior, after which you can put her away. Over time, you should be able to reduce your sensitizing to only a minute or two, and she will be reminded that when you come back to get her from being tied up, she must go to work, which should help her remember to not get inpatient, pushy, and anticipate being taken back to her stall.  She will be in no hurry to leave being tied, because she will now have a new anticipation, being put to work.  

Another method you can incorporate and add to the method of moving her feet is to approach her and pet, scratch, groom, hang out with her, and then leave for an extended period of time.  Just help her feel comfortable and happy being around you as long as she is not getting fidgety, inpatient, pushy, etc.  If she starts jigging, untie her and put her to work again, followed by tying her up again.  Continue the process until she doesn’t anticipate going back to her stall or pasture, and will stand quietly while you hang out with and untie her.  

Be consistent, enjoy yourself as you learn her language, and always stay safe!  Thank you for the great question!