If you have no choice but to feed your horse in a stable or barn and there is a “problem” when feeding up, then here are some ideas on how you could change things. (The rabbit ears are around the word problem, to call your attention to the fact that there really are no problems with horses – just opportunities to deepen your bond.)
This article goes with the Sixth Key to Happiness with Your Horse and I’ve written it to give you some ideas about feeding a horse who might be really scared or even aggressive. So pick and choose the ideas that suit and above all else – listen to your fear AND TAKE ACTION ON IT TO KEEP YOURSELF SAFE – AT ALL TIMES.
If you have stumbled on this article and haven’t got The 9 Keys to Happiness with Your Horse yet, click here to get those free lessons. The article has been written with the assumption that you are familiar with the first Five Keys.
So back to the ideas to solve your problem. I would hang the feed bin over the stable door to start off with so that I could keep myself safe while I change things – especially with a horse who has become aggressive or pushy.
Stay outside the stable and start with the communication you learned in the first lesson of The 9 Keys to Happiness with Your Horse. The horse can be hiding at the back of the box, you don’t even need to see them to start this communication. I personally wouldn’t be going in that box until that horse showed a relaxed interest in me. There’s not much point in trying to expand a comfort zone that doesn’t exist – it’s an impossibility!
Then use the approach and retreat that you learned in the Fourth Key – about catching your horse, to get closer and closer to the door – using Not Quite Right to know when to back away and wait for The Chew.
When you can approach and retreat from the door, without a feed in your arms and your horse can stay relaxed and interested in you, then you are ready to start working with a feed.
Be quite clear in your mind about what you are looking for. I would be looking for my horse to stand back on the other side of the stable when I asked, relaxed and waiting for me to put his feed in the feeder.
Use the smallest and gentlest of the gestures that I showed you in The Sixth Key video to ask your horse to stand back and wait while you approach the door with their feed.
Gestures like moving your hand, waving the stick in a fan pattern, sweeping the stick gently from side to side, on the ground in front of you.
In a confined space like this, there are probably two things going to be going on here while you are doing this – the horse will be learning not to be afraid of your asking them to stand back – while they are learning about your boundaries, what you want them to do.
So use your feeling of Not Quite Right that you have developed, to know when to back away and maybe even next time to use smaller ways of asking them to stand back politely and wait.
And keep approaching and retreating from the door, each time waiting for The Chew before moving forwards again – no matter how long it takes for your horse to Chew.
Do this approach and retreat until you can get to the door and put the food in the feeder with the horse relaxed and still interested in you.
If I had to deal with a really scared or upset horse, I would be doing all of the above before I even thought about going into the stable.
I would be working outside the box until my horse was relaxed and happy in this process, then I would start to think about going into the stable to feed.
I’ve come across some really upset and dangerous horses in stables, particularly in the racing industry. With a really scared or upset horse, that I wanted to be able to get in and out of the box at feed time, safely, I would break the whole thing down into baby steps and use the same procedure as above, to approach and retreat.
One baby step may be as small as opening and closing the door. Open the door, wait a moment, close the door, back away and wait for The Chew.
Another baby step may be stepping into the doorway and asking them to step away from me with a hand gesture. I would ask them to step away in my mind, then with a rhythmic hand gesture like you saw in the video, then I would stop, close the door, back away and wait for The Chew – even if they didn’t give me what I wanted. Because we don’t want to add pressure to their fear or confusion or resistance. Because that would increase their fear or confusion or aggression or resistance.
All the time, I would be using my feelings of Not Quite Right to know when to back off and each time I backed off I would be waiting for The Chew no matter how long that took.
The next baby step may be stepping inside the box. Another may be walking over to the feed bin inside the box.
All this time, holding the awareness of your own body, holding your attention inside your own body so that you can notice what changes and keep yourself safe. And help any poor, dangerous horses feel safe so that they don’t need to be dangerous any more.
And come back to me with an email if this is a problem that needs more help. NOBODY – horse or human should be feeling unsafe at feed time.