The Pawing Horse

Horses paw at the air with their foreleg for a number of reasons. They paw to strike and show aggression, they paw when they are looking for food or treats, and they paw because they are nervous. In this article, we are going to explore pawing due to nervousness.

Your horse has been standing quietly in the crossties while you are grooming him. It is early in the day and the other horses are being led past your horse for turnout. Your horse usually gets turned out at this time as well, but for whatever reason you decided to come early today. Your horse sees his buddies being turned out and he starts to show signs of worry. His head comes up, be begins to move around in the crossties and then he starts to paw. You ignore it at first, but the pawing becomes so frantic and worsens as the other horses are taken from his view. At this point, you are afraid to get close because he is completely focused on the other horses and has no regard for you or your space.

Try to turn him loose when he is being reasonable, controlled and attentive rather then wild and pre-occupied.

Try to turn him loose when he is being reasonable, controlled and attentive rather then wild and pre-occupied.

The horse is conveying that he is upset and frustrated with the situation. Pawing is often an expression of emotion as they paw when hungry, angry, tense or for any number of things. He may also be afraid, he sees his friends leaving him and instinct is telling him that he is in danger. Not many horses are comfortable alone unless they have had an excess of training. Your horse is worried, he does not know what to do, he wants to escape and be with the other horses. Since he cannot because he is in restraint, he moves in the only way he can.

To keep the situation from escalating for the moment, even though it seems like a reward for the behavior, bring another horse back into the stable. You don’t want anyone or any horse getting hurt. If it is not possible to bring another horse back in, then take the nervous horse out to where the other horses are. If he is manageable, he can be walked around or grazed in their company until he settles down, then lead him away from them. You may find it necessary to turn him loose for a bit, then catch him and start again. Try to turn him loose when he is being reasonable, controlled and attentive rather then wild and pre-occupied. If you cannot turn him loose then put him back in his stall and give him some hay to try and take his mind off the other horses. For some, the stall represents security, whereas in the crossties they can feel vulnerable and exposed. Once he has settled you can try him again in the cross ties in small increments. Do not ignore the horse, if he is truly frightened, just like a person, he needs help and support to overcome his fears.

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