Monday, September 12, 2011

Horse Behavior: Feeding Your Horses According to Pecking Order

Have you ever experienced the wild melee of an equine feeding frenzy when you feed pastured horses? If you have, the reason behind this explosive and dangerous fury could solely reside with the failure of feeding the horses according to pecking order ranking.

As herd animals, horses live within an established and innate hierarchical system upon which an "alpha", or dominant, horse reigns over those of limited ranking and stature. As simply as the alphabet goes from A to Z and numbers from 0 to 10, so goes the ranking of the horses in your herd, with each horse holding a higher placement above those of subordinate positions.

Your understanding of herd ranking is very important when it comes to feeding your horses in an open pasture. When feeding grain, use buckets that can be placed within a circle and separated by no fewer than two horse lengths apart. Well-spaced buckets will prevent those horses with a higher ranking to claim or guard multiple buckets. Always place at least one extra bucket of grain to allow for the natural movement of the herd if a higher ranking horse moves a subordinate horse away from a bucket. This will allow the lowest horse in the herd to get his fair share of grain, too. Generally, the rank and file will fall into order for feeding after the alpha horse has begun eating. Always get the alpha horse engaged with its meal first. If you do not use buckets for feeding, place grain on top of a hay flake and place the hay within the same distances as described above.

Always be aware of the horses around you and know what is going on. There may be small skirmishes during feeding time as pecking orders are somewhat fluid with challenges being made as one tries to gain a higher position. Never position yourself within the inside of the herd, always work on the perimeter or outside, which will better avail you with watching the horses in front of you. Don't let a horse rush at you when feeding it in pasture. Remember that you are the true "alpha" of your herd and any rush toward you is a challenge to your authority.

When collecting the buckets after feeding, be watchful of any horses loitering around hoping for "extras". There is a potential risk of injury any time you are around horses free on pasture. Again use the perimeter approach and be aware of what horses are around you.

Happy trails! 

By: Darlene M. Cox,