Paddock Ins And Outs

Our 12-year-old gelding, Ringo, has become difficult to bring in from the pasture. He sometimes drags us through the barn door. Then he barges through the stall door and straight to his grain tub. There’s almost no stopping him. For a couple

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Our 12-year-old gelding, Ringo, has become difficult to bring in from the pasture. He sometimes drags us through the barn door. Then he barges through the stall door and straight to his grain tub. There’s almost no stopping him. For a couple of days we tried waiting until he got there to put the grain in the tub, but he still rushed in and only seemed angry when the tub was empty. Lately, we have been carrying a crop to try to make him behave. Now he pins his ears, tosses his head, or rears, and just charges ahead, paying no attention to the crop.


This started gradually last fall. At first, he would get impatient just as we entered the stall. He would twirl around quickly to his grain tub, pulling the shank right out of my hand. Over the winter the rushing started sooner and sooner, so that now the battle begins at the pasture gate. He’s getting more and more impatient and aggressive. To be honest, we’re all afraid of him now, and I think he knows it. Yesterday, my son was opening the gate for me. Ringo lunged at him, and bit the sleeve of his jacket. He got away from me and ran straight into the stall.


Otherwise, Ringo is very nice to ride and work around. On the way out to the pasture he is a perfect gentleman. He is managed like all our other horses, and none of them do this.


As you seem to realize, Ringo’s behavior problem likely relates to feeding. He has learned that rushing into the barn is almost always rewarded with grain in the tub. If he can simply unlearn that association, the rushing and aggression should diminish. There probably are many ways to undo the association of coming into the barn with feed. For horses in good health and condition that are in light work like Ringo, I find the easiest way to eliminate this habit is to just stop feeding grain. Most horses stop rushing to the stall after about a week of no reward. If you need to feed grain, feed it somewhere else-maybe over the pasture fence, when he’s on the other side of the pasture. Or you can have a delay between coming into the barn and feeding hay or grain

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Written by:

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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