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July 19, 2022 3 Comments
Except when you have to.
Good advice right?
Straight forward and simple.
Let's dive in a bit deeper. When you're hungry, what's your attention span like? Are you focused or cranky? Most of us get cranky and distracted and look for anything that resembles food. Well, guess what... horses are similar. Instead of playing nice, they get crabby, trying to eat all the time, and it quickly becomes a fight instead of fun day. It can turn a good day into a bad day.
Don't get me wrong, sometimes, you have to persist past the hunger to get a job done. Even as I sit to write this article I feel the tingle of hunger in my belly and I know I need to refuel soon. But I can certainly hold my focus in spite of it. And therein lies the challenge. When a horse is hungry it's hard to hold the focus, but sometimes, horses think they are hungry when really they are frustrated, or bored. Have you ever eaten because you're frustrated or bored? I know someone named Jon Dessop who has done the same from time to time. But the trick is knowing when it's a real need for calories and a habit of eating that ensues.
How do you know? I mean with a horse? One simple way is to feed them an hour before you ride or play. If, while you're playing they are still trying to eat, well then... you might have a habitual eater. In which case, it's okay to demand more focus and use food as a reward rather than a distraction. But if you find your horse doesn't want to eat while playing, with you or riding (up to a certain time because obviously they'll need food again) then you're in good shape. You did right by your horse by letting them fuel up before expending exercise.
Naturally it would be wise to warm up slowly, so you don't give them stomach cramps. That's always a good plan. But at least you know your horse isn't starving and slowly building resentment about being caught because he's hungry every time you ride.
If your horse is that habitual eater just because he can, and he already weighs in fifty pounds overweight then it's perhaps time to train your horse to focus in spite of the need to eat. At this point, let's not call it hunger. It's a habit and it's totally curable. Just don't allow it! Tell your horse he can have food when the job is done. Just be fair and don't change the job on him half way through. I can't tell you how many times I've had to correct that with new students. They ask for one thing only to immediately ask for a new thing that just showed up in their mind without even giving the horse a break.
Good horsemanship means you honor your horse's experience, and guide them to be smarter, calmer, braver, more responsive, less distracted, and generally, a good citizen. If your horse isn't smarter this week than last, or less distracted, or more responsive, and braver, then you're possibly missing something simple in your program. We can help. Click this link...
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PS. Tune in for another article, even more in-depth article on eating: It's about whether or not you let them eat while riding and carrying a bit. It's also about how horses aren't really 24/7 grazers. We'll also cover snack, treats, when to and when not to treat, and more. All coming soon. Subscribe to the email list to keep getting updates. Thanks for tuning in. See you soon.
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