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'Ask Cynthia' – Aggressive Feeding Behaviour - Natural Horse World

‘Ask Cynthia’ – Aggressive Feeding Behaviour

“I’ve had my new mare at home now for just over a week and she is terribly aggressive at feeding times. I have been walking into the paddock with either a lead rope or stick/string and swinging it at her as she approaches so that she doesn’t rush forward at you. In response to this, she rears, bucks, snakes her neck and double barrels at me, which is getting to be quite aggressive and scary.
She then runs in again to try and get the feed and I will send her out again. I have to do this 3-4 times and then she will stand, drop her head and start licking.
She then walks in calmly and I give her a pat and let her eat her tea.
I’ve been told I’m doing the right thing by sending her out and waiting for the dropping of the head, licking etc, but do you have any other ideas?
She has been like this every night for over a week and is actually getting worse. Last night she was particularly aggressive and I thought she was going to try and jump the fence to attack my dogs who were sitting outside it.
I don’t want to get into the situation where I’m starting to get scared of her and I want to nip this in the butt before it gets any worse.

Do you think it has become a game with her, or is she still the Alpha mare and testing me each time I go in? I have been  standing my ground and being quite forceful with her, but it doesn’t seem to have made a difference with her at all.
She was quite thin when we got her, as she came from Melbourne as a bag of bones. I don’t know whether the fact she was possibly quite hungry and is now she being fed and has put on weight has made her so excited over her feed.
She starts pacing the fence line as soon as she knows its tea time and then its ears back and very aggressive the minute I walk in the gate.
Any advice you can give me to try and stop this behaviour
would be greatly appreciated. ”

I think you are basically doing the right thing but maybe with too much energy which is why she is reacting with energy!
Perhaps you can try a slightly softer (but no less firmer) approach by keeping the feed out of the paddock – even out of sight if you have to.
In fact the first time you do this, feed at a different time to her regular feed time.
Go in and catch her – teach her to back up using rhythmic pressure until she is nice and responsive to this, then get her to come to you.
Once she does this reliably, lead her towards the feed which you could leave outside the gate.
Keeping hold of the lead, go out the gate and close it so you have a solid barrier between you then pick up the feed bucket.
Back her up and don’t invite her forward to the feed until she has her ears up.
It may take a few minutes – don’t let her move forward – just keep her backed up away from the gate using rhythmic pressure with a stick tapping on the rope if necessary.
When she puts her ears up, go through the gate and put her feed down. If she comes forward, back her up again – have your stick handy in case she doesn’t listen to the rhythm in the rope.
Then, invite her forward to eat and go on the other side of the gate while she is eating, still holding the rope, and rub the stick all over her while she eats.
Ignore her if she gets aggressive, keep rubbing and then stop when she is happy.
I’d say she’s become fearful of not getting enough food so being pushy then showing aggression has been how she’s learned to respond to that.
If you go a step further and give her lots of small feeds during the day while you are re-training her it will happen faster.
Another thing you can do to alleviate her need to feel hungry is give her free choice hay all day – it will help her not be so focused on feed time too.
It will also help her put on weight without having lots of energy food to burn so you could even reduce her grain.

Let me know how this goes – if you don’t have a lot of time to spend a day working on this, then just give her free choice hay and cut out the grain feed until you have an opportunity to reintroduce it when she is responding better to you.

Thanks for your question, Cynthia.

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