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Nearly all horses paw at the ground at some time or other, but when a horse engages in pawing behavior repetitiously and for longer periods of time, it becomes a stereotypie.
Usually, when a horse consistently digs or paws at the floor or ground with its front feet, the behavior stems from boredom, frustration, or impatience. Some horses become so engaged in pawing that they seem to lose touch with their environment. When the pawing reaches this point, it has become an ingrained habit that will most likely be difficult to break.
Most horses paw at the floor or ground, but stable walls, trailers, gates, feeders, or other parts of the environment may also become targets.
Unfortunately, regular bouts of pawing lead to abnormal hoof and shoe wear. Some horses paw so consistently that their shoes come off, with the potential to cause damage to tendons, ligaments, and bones, in addition to the destruction of their environment.
- Horse uses front hooves to paw at ground, floor of stall, or other parts of environment
- Pawing may be combined with physical signs indicating the desire for attention, such as when pawing at empty feeding trough or empty water bucket
- Poor performance due to wasted energy
- Pawing may be used as a show of dominance against handlers or other horses
Boredom, frustration, impatience, hunger, excess energy, isolation, and mimicry of other horses are causes of pawing behaviors. If a horse is confined to a stall or a small area for extended periods of time, pawing may become an outlet for the need for physical activity or movement. Some horses become frustrated when they are left behind while other horses are out and engaged in work or exercise activities.
When horses are forced to wait through unevenly timed feedings or exercise periods, frustration and impatience can lead to pawing at objects in the environment. Pawing can also reflect a horse's demand or show of dominance relative to the handler or other horses.
Awareness of a horse's needs and good stable management are the best prevention of stereotypies such as pawing. Increased daily exercise, more turn-out time in a paddock or pasture, and consistent management of feeding and exercise times usually help control this stereotypy if initiated before the pawing becomes a habit.
An increased program of exercise to expend energy, combined with good stable management is the first step toward stopping pawing behavior. Since pastured horses seldom develop this stereotypy, allowing as much pasture or field time as possible will allow the horse to engage in grazing activities, interact with other horses, and help relieve boredom and frustration. .
Scheduling feeding times more than twice a day is often helpful. If a horse has a well-established stable stereotypy and other neurotic behaviors, it may take some time for them to become less severe.
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