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  • September 28, 2023 3 min read

    Harnessing Harmony: Managing Horse Behavior through Feeding and Training

    In the dynamic and vibrant world of equine management, addressing horse behaviour proves integral to fostering a harmonious relationship between horse and handler. While it may seem challenging, managing horse behaviour extends beyond the realms of rigorous training—it begins with the fundamental aspect of feeding. In this exploration, we will delve into the intricate balance of managing horse behaviour through comprehensive feeding management and nuanced training techniques.

    Feed to Lead

    Let’s start at the very beginning, where every day does – feeding time! Feeding the horse can be a trial and error - it depends on the season and how much feed is in the paddock, and it can also depend on if your horse reacts to any feedstuff. The key here is not just to feed them, but to feed them right. Balancing their diet is tantamount to maintaining a balanced behaviour. We have listed below the key elements to consider when it comes to feeding your horse. 

    1. Consistency is Key:

    Ensure that feeding times are consistent. Horses are creatures of habit. When their feeding schedules are erratic, it can lead to stress, causing behavioural issues. Keeping a consistent schedule can help keep them calmer.

    1. Balanced Diet:

    A diet that’s high in sugars and starch can make your horse more hyperactive and harder to manage. Opt for high-fibre, low-starch diets to keep their energy stable and their tummies happy. 

    1. Forage First:

    Horses are designed to graze throughout the day and night, with their digestive systems designed to be kept full. Ideally, horses should have access to forage, either grass or hay, ad lib, and should not be kept with an empty stomach for more than 4 hours. Providing plenty of quality forage helps in reducing the risk of diseases such as gastric ulcers, hindgut acidosis and colic which can affect their mood and behaviour. Further, research has suggested that horses that are fed high grain diets show significant fluctuations in plasma glucose and insulin levels. This may contribute to peaks and troughs in energy which can cause nervous or erratic behaviour.

    1. Portion Control:

    Overfeeding can cause your horse to have excess energy which may contribute to excitable behaviour. Ensure that you are feeding your horse small meals at meal time, and take into consideration the season. For example, in spring the grass starts growing, and is typically higher in sugar. If you don’t factor in your horse consuming more grass during the warmer months, then this can contribute to overfeeding, or feeding too much digestible energy, which translates into energy for your horse!

    Training Triumphs

    Once the feeding is on point, let’s trot over to training. It's like teaching a child – patience, consistency, and positive reinforcement work wonders.

    1. Understanding the Horse:

    Each horse is a unique individual with its quirks and personality. Observe your horse, understand its likes and dislikes, fears and comforts. Building a relationship based on trust is the first step in successful training.

    1. Positive Reinforcement:

    Reward-based training can be very effective. When the horse follows a command or behaves well, reward it with treats, affection, or verbal praise. This way, the horse associates good behaviour with positive outcomes.

    1. Set Clear Boundaries:

    Horses test boundaries. It’s important to be firm but fair. Set clear rules and be consistent with them. If you let your horse do something one day and scold it for the same thing the next day, it will only lead to confusion and stress.

    1. Gradual Progression:

    Don’t rush the training process. Introduce new commands and exercises gradually. Overwhelming a horse with too much, too soon, can lead to resistance and behavioural problems.

    Keeping Them Engaged

    Boredom can lead to all sorts of naughty behaviour in horses. Keeping them mentally and physically engaged is a key aspect of behaviour management.

    1. Regular Exercise:

    A well-exercised horse is a well-behaved horse. Regular exercise helps in burning off excess energy and reduces boredom. Vary the routine to keep things interesting for your equine buddy.

    1. Environmental Enrichment:

    Provide opportunities for play and exploration. Toys, scratching posts, and interaction with other horses can prevent boredom and the development of vices.

    1. Learning New Skills:

    Continuously challenge your horse by teaching it new skills or improving on existing ones. This keeps the mind engaged and the horse focused on positive behaviours.

    Managing horse behaviour might seem like a daunting task, but with the right blend of feeding management and training, it’s as smooth as a gentle canter in a blooming meadow. Remember, consistency, understanding, and patience are your best friends in this journey.

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