Overfeeding a Factor in Misbehavior in HorsesBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · June 11, 2012
A recent article in Equine Veterinary Journal reported on a behavior study that looked at 84 horses owned by 41 families associated with seven Pony Clubs in an inland region of Australia.
Owners were asked to record misbehavior events as well as details of equine housing, feeding, exercise, health care, and other management factors. Misbehavior was recorded on 3% of days when the horses were ridden. Just over half of the misbehavior events were classified as dangerous.
Factors that increased the risk of misbehavior included being at a competition, being fed concentrates daily, being turned out on good pasture, being exercised five or fewer days a month, and being ridden in months when the horse was fat or obese.
Old-time horse trainers had a suggestion that might be applicable to these misbehaving horses: “Apply a wet saddle pad.” Horses that are overfed (fat or obese, access to high-quality pasture, daily grain) and underworked (once a week or less, on average) are likely to have extra energy to put into misbehavior. Cutting back on dietary intake and increasing work (thus producing a sweaty saddle pad) are time-honored steps in producing a riding horse with better manners. However, work under saddle needs to be human-directed, preferably with the assistance of a trainer. It’s doubtful that either horse or rider will learn much in an hour of wandering around the ring or following another horse on a slow-paced trail ride. An hour of lesson work under an experienced riding instructor will be far more beneficial.
Things to keep in mind:
- For a child or an inexperienced adult rider, choose a mature horse that is well-behaved. Buying a green horse for a beginning rider is a recipe for disaster.
- Reducing the body weight of an obese horse should be done slowly over the course of several months. Cut concentrates first; then reduce grazing time if necessary, but don’t make drastic changes in type, amount, or frequency of feeding right away.
- For an obese horse, begin with brief but regular periods of exercise and progress gradually to longer, more intense work sessions. Putting an out-of-shape horse into a rigorous exercise program often results in injuries, sore muscles, and lameness.
- Enlist the help of a horse trainer and/or riding instructor to work out solutions to misbehaviors.
- At competitions, horses may be nervous because of the new sights and sounds. Riders are often worried about doing well in their classes. With both horse and rider distracted and on edge, misbehaviors are not surprising. Taking the horse to a few shows without entering classes will probably result in a better experience when it’s time to compete.