Saturday, September 18, 2010

18th September, 2010 Paws.....for thought

A lot of horses learn to paw at the stable door or at the gate in order to attract our attention, invite our affection or to hurry us up with the feed. This may seem harmless and we continue to inadvertently reinforce the behaviour by doing as asked. It can seem endearing to begin with. The temptation once it gets annoying is to ignore the horse for a bit and hope that it stops but in time, the constant banging and clanging breaks through our subconscious and we give in. This actually teaches the horse to have stamina! In M's case above, she has practically dug a moat around her field through pawing and in B's case, he got his leg caught between the gate and the gate post and ended up at the veterinary hospital for a month with desperate injuries to his hoof and coronet. It takes a lot of stamina and concentration in the human to never reward this behaviour and to break a routine if that becomes necessary. Once this sort of behaviour is established, it is extremely hard to stop, and B has re-opened the wound on his foot by pawing at the fence rails while his owners are near the feed shed or working with another horse. It's a very hard habit to break and requires the horse to always be ignored while he is doing it, i.e. walk away completely and give no attention to it whatsoever, not even breathing in his direction. For that to work, you have to know that the horse isn;t going to get himself into any sort of danger. Once you are worried that he will injure himself, you cannot help but to go to him and give him attention. The other option is to consistently use some sort of sanction for the behaviour without fail - each time, every time without fail. Yesterday we shook a rattle bottle at M to see if it would put her off and indeed she did stand by the fence and gate for a good ten minutes without pawing whilst her owner actively provoked the behaviour by going in and out of the feed shed and giving attention to a horse in the yard. Practically though, it is difficult to know whether this will be effective in the long term because unless four shakes of the bottle is miraculously effective, the level of consistency that will be needed and the fact that you need two people in order to put it into action, will make it impossible to be consistent. This horse does it when she can see her owner in the conservatory!! I have my doubts as to whether it is do-able in this particular case but winter is coming and perhaps the owner can stay in the lounge!!