EQUUS Consultants: Kicking the Habit

Question:I have a 5-year-old Appaloosa gelding named Dobber. When I bought him last year he wasn’t trained but he had no vices. Now he is trained English and can jump the moon without a doubt, although he seems to have developed some vices. He started kicking his stall walls at feeding time and now does it whenever he feels like it. He kicks the wall so hard that if I’m standing in the next stall I can feel the floor and walls quake. He has broken the wall down several times and has been losing shoes. When he isn’t kicking, he is pawing. Is there anything I can do to stop this?

Answer: I dislike the term “vices” because it implies the horse is doing something evil when it may be confinement and a high-concentrate diet that lead to the behavior you have observed. If your Appaloosa kicks the stall and paws in anticipation of feeding he probably learned that the feed follows his behavior so that even when he kicks the stall 100 times the grain arrives. The longer he has to wait, the more he’ll kick–like a gambler putting one more coin in the slot machine.

You may be able to minimize kicking by feeding him before any other horse in the barn and by making sure he has hay in front of him all the time. If he has horses on either side he may also be guarding his food, so moving in some more compatible neighbors might help. Also given that diets high in concentrates have been implicated in the development of a number of stereotypic behaviors–that is the frequent, almost mechanical repetition of a movement or posture– you might want to reduce Dobber’s grain and replace his carbohydrate calories with oil. He might benefit from a “Pasture Pal,” a device that dispenses grain when rolled around the stall. To eat his grain, the horse must nibble, take a few steps, and then nibble some more–all of which simulates grazing and is much more natural that gulping down large quantities of grain.

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