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Mugging for Grain

Dear Franklin,

I have a little QH/ Missouri Foxtrotter gelding who is an absolute pleasure to ride and be around, but feeding time becomes a little difficult. When I got this horse three months ago he came from a farm with 18 other horses and he was not unhealthly skinny but too skinny for my taste. He filled out nicely since I got him, but as if in his own effort to keep himself that way he likes to mug whoever feeds him for his grain. He doesn't get nasty as in bitting or kicking during feeding time, but he doesn't want to wait for you to put the grain in his bucket, he wants to eat it out of the pale you are carrying it instead. I have tried using agressive body language to make him move off, but he just stands there a looks confused and could honestly care less what you are saying with your body langage if you have a pale (full or empty) in your hand. I have seen him do this with other horses too, they will threaten to bite him to get him out of their space and he looks like he doesn't know how to react to the situation. I am just afraid that he might get a little too nuts and perhaps hurt who ever is feeding him on accident. How do I get him to stand back and wait for his grain?

Thanks, Lynelle

Hi Lynelle,

Your problem is an easy one. First make a 'flag.' Take a dressage whip or a wand of some sort about 5 feet in length. Get a small plastic shopping bag like from a super market. Cut the bag in half length wise. Fasten the half shopping bag to the end of the wand with tape or some way it won't come off. You don't want the bag to catch air. But rather just make noise and jiggle when you shake the wand. Introduce your horse to the 'flag' by hold his leadrope with some slack and slowly and with sensitivity not to scare him, let him sniff the bag or touch it with his nose. This may take a few minutes and you must go slowly and be very senisitive. Once he has touched the back with his nose, gently and slowly begin to rub his face with the bag and then slowly begin to move it and rub it down his neck and around his entire body and up and down his legs. This is part of a process called de-sensitization (sacking out). If the horse spooks from the flag lower it and begin from the beginning again slowly. Never just push it at him. Rather make it easy for the horse to get to know the flag. If you need to fold the bag in your hand a bit to get it to his nose, do it. Whatever it takes to get him OK with the flag, do it gently and slowly.

Next step is to lunge the horse on the leadrope with the flag. Do it gently. Do it slowly at first always making certain you do not scare the horse but rather use the flag judiciously and with a high degree of sensitivity. Ask the horse to back up by shaking the flag at the horse's feet. Practice backing him and get him very good at it. Once he is really good with backing away from the flag upon request (without being afraid, but rather respectful of the flag), while holding the flag, you should be able to have a bucket of grain in your hand, set it on the ground and have the horse stand 3-4 feet away from the bucket until you lower the flag and tell him it is OK to begin to eat. I have used this process numerous times with great success and have taught it to many people including children and they have doe great with it. Let me know how it goes.

Sincerely, Franklin

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