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