Help! My Horse Keeps Tossing His Head at Mealtime!
A: Oh, boy! As I suggested in my previous commentary, there are always compelling examples of horses seeming to learn things from other horses, and this is one of them. Regardless of how he picked it up, your horse now has this behavior. It’s kind of impossible to solve particular problems without seeing the horse and the living situation in person. But I have some ideas that might help.
First, as you already acknowledged, it’s always possible that a change in behavior has emerged in association with physical problems. So it would be good to get your horse checked out by a veterinarian or referral institution. It’s possible that he has ulcers or dental problems, or maybe this is part of the headshaking syndrome we discussed previously.
Assuming it is not a physical problem, and before I go further, we should determine what to call this behavior. Unless he does this at different times and not just at feeding as you stated, I probably wouldn’t call it a stereotypy. Instead, I would at least acknowledge that this head tossing is some kind of conditioned response. All the little things we do in preparation for providing feed, as well as a predictable feeding schedule, become conditioned stimuli indicating feed is coming soon and can trigger physiological and behavioral events. This is similar to Pavlov’s dogs salivating at the sound of a bell that they learned to associate with feeding time. In lots of cases, this is manifested by horses pawing at the door; in your case, he’s tossing his
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