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  Horse Pawing

  2009 Cherry Hill   Copyright Information

  Initially, pawing signals that a horse wants or needs something, however once a horse has been allowed to paw over a long period of time, it often becomes an ingrained habit that no longer has any specific cause.  The wild horse or the pastured horse uses pawing for many practical purposes such as uncovering feed under snow, opening up a water hole, digging up roots during a dry season, inspecting an unfamiliar object, and softening the soil before rolling.  Pawing can indicate pain and restlessness as with a horse than is suffering colic or a mare that is ready to foal or is expelling a placenta.

How to Think Like A Horse by Cherry HillPawing of stalled horses is especially evident around feeding time.  A horse might paw at his grain or water pail when it is empty; some paw in a non-specific place in anticipation of being fed.  Unfortunately, giving feed or water to a pawing horse is a reward and will encourage him to repeat his behavior in the future.  He received what he wanted.

    Horsekeeping On A Small Acreage Some horses paw in response to domestication pressures.  Confinement, lack of exercise, and over-feeding often create a horse with excess energy.  Pawing can be a horse's way of saying, "I crave exercise".  As a substitute behavior, a normally active horse that is confined will paw, in some cases by banging a front foot on the stall door.  In some instances, a horse might paw without the hoof actually contacting the ground - the leg just makes repeated swipes through the air.

     Many horses put a lot of energy behind the loud clap their hoof makes with the ground.  Some bear down and really scoop up the earth with the toe of their hoof.  Both ground slapping and digging result in damage to the areas around tie rails, stall floors, hooves and joints, and shoeing.  One of the most common culprits of lost shoes is the habitual pawing horse.  From the repeated pounding he either loosens the clinches and shifts the shoe or he catches the shoe on something like a fence and pulls the shoe off.

    Continual concussion can also lead to joint problems and raises havoc with the anterior-posterior balance of an unshod hoof - the horse is constantly wearing off the toe as the hoof scrapes across the ground.

Making Not Breaking by Cherry HillPawing can also be a sign of a lack of training.  Horses that have not accepted the confinement of cross-ties, of being tied to a hitch rail, or of being enclosed in a trailer often paw out of impatience or nervousness.  Similarly, the unschooled horse at the beginning of a race or the stallion waiting to service a mare may also paw out of anticipation.  Insecure horses, when separated from preferred associates or the herd, paw from fear of being alone.

     Because pawing is damaging to the horse and to the facilities and can really wear on a person's nerves, the habit should be prevented.  Ensure that the horse receives conscientious ground training and adequate exercise and turn-out.  See that he is not being over-fed and be sure that he is not inadvertently being rewarded for pawing at feeding time.  If an adequately exercised horse seems to paw because of boredom, a stall toy may provide the necessary diversion.  Horses that paw while they are being groomed or tacked can be reprimanded by a verbal warning such as "Uh".  Even if a horse makes isolated, low intensity attempts at pawing, he should be disciplined because pawing is a behavior that tends to get worse.  But constantly berating a horse for pawing without actually making it stop simply teaches the horse that your verbal commands are meaningless.

     The more regularly a horse is worked and the more consistently he is handled, the less pawing you will see.

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