Pawing Prevention for Horses

A reader looks for help for their laminitic horse who hates being stall-bound.
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Q: My daughter’s 16-year-old Appendix Quarter Horse has always hated being confined in a stall, even with a run. She has pawed and scraped her teeth on stall walls and bars. Turning her out helped, but as soon as she returned to her stall the behavior started again (after her food was gone). She now has 24/7 turnout and access to sheds and stalls at will. Even though she is not confined she still paws whenever she is impatient, primarily related to food but also at other times. Because she is an easy keeper we must monitor how much she eats. She suffered a laminitic episode recently on her dominant pawing/digging foot. We think the laminitis was a combination of too much food and concussion from compulsive pawing.

We now manage her pasture access due to her laminitic episode. She has slimmed down but the compulsive behavior remains if she can’t be eating constantly. She is a smart horse and has figured out the pasture toy with small carrot pieces inside in a matter of minutes and just rolls it back and forth with one foot until it is empty. When her hay mix is gone she digs in the dirt. She weighs about 1,100 pounds and is trim. We are feeding her about 15 pounds of this mix in four to five meals a day.

I’m guessing the behavior is so ingrained there’s nothing we can do to stop it except keep food in front of her at all times. Do you have any suggestions? The laminitis has made us desperate for a solution. p>

D.L

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Sue M. McDonnell, PhD, is a certified applied animal behaviorist and the founding head of the equine behavior program at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine. She is also the author of numerous books and articles about horse behavior and management.

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