Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Feeding Frenzy

Heres a topic of interest (at least to me): food aggression.

Heres the story:
When I bought Milo I knew nothing about his feed schedule or attitude. It wasnt until about a week after I brought him home, the gentleman whose farm I boarded at told me, alarmed, that Milo had kicked at him in the stall while feeding him. I was shocked, but not too suprised since he was a new horse and I was still figuring him out. I apologized and told him I would work with him on it.

My first episode with him was about a month later at the County Fair. I walked into his stall with the hay net and proceeded to the back corner. He was pinning his ears so I swatted at his face. He swung around so fast and double barrel kicked at me, narrowly missing me but making contact with the water bucket. Being that I was at the fair, I couldnt do too much that week to correct him, so to get by until we got home I would grab his halter and keep his head by me while I fed.

When we got home I worked with him (in the pasture) and if he was aggressive for food I would send him away from it with my training stick and he had to wait until he gave me a polite attitude and stood still. Seemed to fix the problem.

When we moved to a new facility about a week later I worked with him in his stall and paddock. When he was aggressive, I sent him out into the paddock with my stick and he had to wait patiently outside until I was out and the door was closed. Problem solved. He even got good to where if you entered the stall with the wheelbarrow he knew to leave the stall and stand in the paddock out of the way.

We moved again about six months later, where he was again kept in a stall and paddock (with pasture turnout in the day). Problem was averted however because the feeders dropped food down from the loft above and never had to go into the stall. I soon learned that his behavior still lingered when one evening my boyfriend was at the barn with me. Wes went into Milo's stall for whatever reason, and when he went to pull him away from his food, Milo swung his rear to Wes and kicked out at him. I ran in and kicked him out of the stall again like I had before. Worked on the problem again and established that when I was in the stall with food he had to wait patiently in the paddock.

When we moved again (again Milo in a stall and paddock) we hadnt had any issues. When I put him away for the evening, he had to to wait until I told him he could eat (what I do when I let him go-anywhere, stall, pasture, arena, etc- is I take his halter off and ask him to turn his head towards me by snapping or wiggling my finger, and keep it there until I say ok or release the "asking pressure"). I noticed that he was fine, but once told "ok" he always swung around to his food away from me, which seems like a good idea expect for the fact that that means briefly he is showing his rear to me.

Ive been working pretty consistantly on him keeping his hind end away from me, disengaging etc. and he most best on a halter and lead. Ask him without a halter on and he swings it towards me, not necessarily always aggressively but still being rude.

I started to notice that when I would feed occasionally on the weekends (covering for someone else) he pinned his ears at the feeders but never did anything else (granted, the stalls have feeder doors, so again, the feeders do not have to go into the stall). I would swat at his face and wait until he gave me a good expression. Of course however, the feeders dont do this so he still has the habit of pinning ears for feeding.

To get to the point, this past weekend at the rodeo Milo was kept in a pole stall. When I walked towards his stall with hay and grain in hand, he would have ears up until about the last two feed where he would pin them back at me. What I did was swat at his face again. First time, he swung his rear around again. Now I was a bit dumbfounded; hadnt we addressed this before? Than it hit me: he has problems swinging his rear around in a stall. In a stall and paddock, I can always send him away-theres room, in a stall I cannot.

So heres the question: what can I do to address this in the stall? What exercises can I do outside of the stall? Off the halter?

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