“Help!! I just got my mare a year ago, and from day one, whenever I feed her grain, she picks up her front foot. She isn’t aggressive in any way, shape, or form. Has anyone ever seen any type of behavior like this? Eating grain is the only time she does it. Thanks!!”-Kelly S.

When I watch horses eat their ‘natural’ food source, grass, it is easy to see that they have to work a little to eat it.  If you watch a horse eat grass they pull, tear or rip it up.

If you give a young horse hay or grass from your hand they gather it in their lips and pull like they are going to tear it from the ground. As they get more experience they often learn that this isn’t necessary, but it does tend to be their first response. I have even seen horses that pull apart round bales seeming to prefer to eat hay that requires them to pull on it over the loose stuff on the ground. Not all do this and some horses are content to eat the loose hay on the ground.

Low corner feeder discourages pawing while eating grain.

Low corner feeder discourages pawing while eating grain.

My theory is that the grain is easy for them to pick up but easy isn’t what they were designed for. Some horses that are picky eaters are ok with nibbling but others seem to struggle with feeling satisfied by the method of feeding. There have been entire books written about the the pros and cons of feeding grain so I will save that topic for another day.

If the grain feeder is raised the pawing is generally more animated with the leg being lifted higher. If the grain is fed on the ground the horse tends to spread it out…and then nibble around for it.

In our barn we built low corner feeders with a concrete base that was ground level and the boards were about knee height. This eliminated almost 100% of pawing in all the horses because it is more difficult to paw with their heads down and the board in the way. Occasionally a new horse would paw and bump their leg into the board but either the board or the difficulty of the position discouraged pawing and they stopped.

My horses have free choice hay and the minimum about of grain necessary. I use a ration balancing feed that doesn’t require a large amount which makes it easier to digest and they tend to eat it and then return to their hay.

We have also noticed that the horses that we have that would normally paw while eating alone in their stalls don’t tend to exhibit this as much when out in a group. They seem to know that they had better spend more time eating and less time playing if they want to get their fair share.

Try experimenting with some of the things listed above and let me know how it goes.

Have a suggestion or thought? Leave it below.