The Feeding Commandments
Last post I laid out the 11 feeding commandments that are followed in the KnP household and I promised today's post will break down all the different commandments and how they are taught and reinforced.
I should start by saying that I teach these feeding rules to every horse that gets introduced into my herd. I use feeding time as yet another means establishing respect and control. Since horses establish herd dominance by who can move the other's feet (click the link to see what I'm talking about) and by controlling the food supply I have found that I can use feeding time to establish my place as "boss mare". And the more I am seen as the herd leader the more respectful and considerate my horses will be while I am on the ground and the better my rides will be under saddle.
I rarely have to spend more than a few days teaching a new horse the rules of feeding and after being taught I rarely have them challenged. Of course I generally do not have more than one horse at a time that does not know the rules and having other horses who know the drill so the speak can really help in the training process. For the average horse owner with several horses in need of training I recommend starting to teach these rules with a single horse and adding additional horses in a timely manner rather than starting out with the whole unruly bunch, but the process of teaching one horse is the same as teaching the whole herd at once which can be done.
1. The person feeding must be allowed to complete the task at their leisure.- When I say leisure I mean that you should be able to stop to tie your shoe and smell the roses without any horse hassling you and getting in your space. I teach this by carrying a whip with me every time I feed until the horse(s) have been respectful for several days. The more aggressive and pushy the horse(s) are the father away they have to stay from me at all times. I correct the slightest space infringement by charging (just like a boss mare) and "kicking" them with my whip (since I cannot kick like them for real I use my whip instead of hind legs to make contact when possible). I like to start with a 15ft-20ft respect circle and as the horse(s) learn to automatically keep that distance I will adjust it accordingly.
Only when all horses are a respectful distance do I proceed to dump the feed and move on. Be prepared to spend quite a while outside working on this. If you have limited time to feed start the training process on the weekend when you have time to spend working on it, and if need be you can divide up feedings and spend the greater part of a day working on establishing this respect. In my experience you may have to spend nearly an hour working on this the first time but after the initial lesson the time spent should greatly decrease to just a few minutes in just 2-4 feedings and no time at all when you are finished.
2. All horses must maintain a safe and respectful distance in relation to the person feeding and will be corrected accordingly.- Rule number 2 goes hand in hand with rule number 1 and is achieved in the same manner. I correct all personal space infringements with my body language and whip. Only after the horse(s) has settled down and is not actively trying to get in to my space do I proceed forward. I do not move forward or present feed until all horses are behaving in an appropriate manner. By an appropriate manner I mean waiting a respectful distance away facing towards me with their ears and body language in a passive and non aggressive manner.
3. No bullying or aggressive behavior will be allowed towards the person feeding or the other horses.- Any horse that tries to bully another horse while I am in the pasture will be corrected. I am the "boss mare" and when I am in the pasture no horse play will be allowed. I correct the offending horse by pushing them around with my body language and whip. At times I will feed the horse that was bullied and keep the offending horse away until they have given up trying steal the others feed before offering feed to the want to be bully. (Again I am generally teaching one horse at a time in a group that already knows the rules)
4. Feed will not be offered in general until all horses have settled down and are at or near their respective feeding stations.- I may change the feeding ordered at times (I usually feed in the order of the herd from the top horse down to the bottom) but I do not change their feeding stations. No horse will be fed at the wrong station so until they decide to go to the right place they will not be fed. Using this method 99% of the time after the feeding commandments have been established all horses will go to their respective places and wait their turn.
5. Feed will not be offered until the individual horse has settled down and is at their respective feeding station.- Same as number 4, each horse is only allowed to eat at their station. If they hassle me at the other feeding stations they will be kept off again using my whip and body language and only after they submit and go to the right place will they be given their feed. (The horse being protected tends to quickly figure out that they are "safe" and will generally happily allow you to keep the other horse off for them)
6. No horse is allowed to change stations or steal from the other horses until the person feeding has completely left the area.- Especially when dealing with two or more horses the top horse in the herd will try and steal from other horses. I correct this by keeping them off as in rule number 5. I will only leave them alone when they are at the correct station.
7. All horses must walk in front or to the side of the person feeding at all times. Horses are not allowed to "push" the person feeding from behind.- As you may have already picked up on you are basically behaving like the top horse the entire time you are in pasture. The top horse always pushes the other horses and is never pushed from behind. I make every horse walk in front of me by; using my whip, body language and by not continuing forward until all horses are in my line of vision.
8. The person feeding may easily push any horse off their feed at anytime and the horse must move away respectfully and wait until the person releases their meal.- Going back into the herd hierarchy the top horse is always able to push any horses lower than them off of their feed. Since I am the top horse I am allowed to do the same. When I get a new horse I will "steal" their feed several times at each feeding. I push them off using my body language and reinforce what I say using my whip. Only when they are at a respectful distance patiently waiting will I step away and allow them to continue eating. I do this until they respectfully move away and wait immediately. After this has been taught I will at times steal a horse's food just because I can as any other top horse would. If the horse you are working with has claimed the top place in the herd you may start this lesson by working with this horse separately until they understand the concept before trying this out in the herd.
9. The person feeding may change the feeding order at anytime and all horses must respectfully wait at their stations and not try and steal from others.- Going back to rules 4 and 5 being the top horse I am allowed to feed in any order. I enforce this rule accordingly using the techniques described above.
10. The person feeding is allowed to feed only one horse if they choose and all other horses must wait a respectful distance and not try to sneak in or bully the chosen horse or person feeding.- As with the rules above I will keep any and all other horses away using my body language and whip (eventually you should be able to do all of the above by just using your body language and should no longer need the whip, if need be I will back up what I say by throwing a bucket) The chosen horse quickly learns that they are "safe" and will allow you to move to keep all other horses away. I choose to use this technique will all of the horses in my pasture being the chosen one at least once every time I introduce a new horse.
11. The person feeding is allowed to feed all horses by hand and all horses must wait patiently for their turn and not crowd or bully the person feeding or the other horses.- After all the horses have learned the above rules and are following them to your satisfaction on a daily basis I will then at times choose to feed by hand. I do this by feeding the horses who are standing where I want them and waiting their turn and pushing away any horse that tries to bully or move into my personal space. Only the good horses get a handful and the naughty ones quickly decide to follow the rules so that they too can be fed. I correct any and all steps toward me or the other horses by pushing them back into place.
As with all of these training techniques consistency is key. I never bend the rules for any reason and I am quick to correct the slightest indiscretion. When possible after I have everyone behaving to my satisfaction I like to have other people enforce the feeding commandments so that my horses learn that the rules apply to any person that feeds. Again you and any other person you have feed must be willing to enforce the rules at any time. While the task may seem daunting a first the time you spend teaching these commandments will greatly pay off in long run when you are able to effortlessly feed in the future and they can at times be a life saver when you find yourself injured, otherwise less than able, or in need of someone else to feed for you.