How to Solve This Common (and Annoying) Problem
by Raye Lochert
Everywhere I go I often hear the same question: “How do I get my horse to stop pawing?” Horses paw in all sorts of places including the trailer, outside the trailer, at the tie rail, and in the stall. They dig large holes, knock off hubcaps, and damage fenders. People try to stop the pawing in many ways including yelling at their horse or throwing rocks at him. Usually these methods are unsuccessful and produce negative results.
You can’t stop your horse from pawing unless you understand why he paws. He paws because he is anxious or afraid. These are emotions that make him uncomfortable. You can’t physically stop a horse from pawing, but you can teach him to handle his emotions.
Teaching your horse to be comfortable is not accomplished by yelling at him, throwing things at him, or causing him to fear you. These actions only raise his emotional level higher risking a fight or flight response. Never punish a horse while he is tied. This will cause the horse to pull back which creates a whole new set of problems. Keep in mind that when teaching your horse a new skill you want to set him up for success. This means that you give him only what he can handle. Remember that the goal is for your horse to be comfortable. Punishing your horse will only take you further from your goal.
The first step is to be sure your horse is comfortable giving to pressure. Your horse needs to know how to move towards the pull of the halter. If he pulls back then he’s not ready to be tied.
Next you need to find a safe place to tie your horse. Look for a good tie rail or ring that is located in an area free of clutter or other dangerous obstacles. A good place to start could be his stall. You must always be sure that you work with your horse in an area that is as safe as possible for you and your horse in case he panics.
What you will be doing in this lesson is raising your horse’s emotions only as high as you think they can go before he starts pawing. Just when you think he has reached his limit you will lower his emotions. In each step you will raise his emotions higher and higher until the pawing stops altogether.
- Tie your horse up near a buddy or with some hay and stay close by. Tie him for a very short time – maybe a couple of minutes or less. Then untie him and walk away. Remember: You want to untie your horse BEFORE he starts to paw.
- Continue this process, gradually increasing the period of time he is tied.
- Once he is standing without pawing for 15 minutes, remove the hay or his buddy for a very short amount of time and then bring it back. Don’t take the buddy so far away that your horse begins to paw.
- Gradually increase the amount of time the buddy/hay is removed. Remember: You are not trying to make the horse feel comfortable standing tied; you are letting him learn to be comfortable.
Repeat this lesson over several days. Take lots of breaks. You can practice other lessons in between sessions. Gradually work up to leaving your horse tied alone for an hour or two. Be sure to never leave him tied in the hot sun, other unsafe inclement weather, or in an environment where he could get hurt when panicked or spooked.
Keep in mind that we will have our horses for many years so don’t rush the next few minutes, hours, or days. When your horse learns in a positive environment you have a much better horse.
Published December 2011 Issue