Aggressive at feed time? – article by Georgia Bruce

Aggressive at feed time? – Solutions for training your young horse.

  • Does your sweet, friendly, quiet horse turn into an aggressive monster at feed time?
  • Does your horse lay his ears back at you, lunge at you and try to get you to put the feed down faster?
  • Do you find that you feed your horse as quickly as possible so that you don’t get hurt?
  • Do you run out of the paddock after you put the feed down, or do you have to carry a stick to defend yourself?

If you answered yes to these questions you may need some advice for training your horse at feed time.

This is a very common scenario, with many horse training myths surrounding this subject.

However these facts are very much true:

  • Your horse does not love you because you feed it.
  • Horses will bite the hand/person that feeds them.
  • The horse will repeat any behaviour they were doing immediately before they were fed.

For a start, this problem is much more common in horses that are raised as foals by inexperienced handlers.

Many people get into the habit of carrying a stick or whip while feeding and hurl swing whip the horse to get them away while they put the feed in. The horse may start off mildly pushy, but develop into a full on aggressive horse if you are to over the top about the keeping the horse away.

Using too much aggression, punishment, hitting them with whips or sticks, waving, shouting etc… tends to lead the horse to think you are challenging them for their food, they do not “submit” to this type of treatment.. instead you may actually notice that the behaviour escalates and gets worse with this type of punishment.

So what do you do to train the horse to stay away from you at feed time?

Well the answer is to think about what you want the horse to do instead of attacking you?

Wouldn’t it be be nice if the horse: stood back away from you and waited in a designated area, then turned their head politely to the side, until you walked away?

This is the important part, change your thinking, ask a better question.
“What do I want me horse to do instead of what they are doing?”

Horse Training Solution – Ground Work

1. Train a good backwards response from a light pressure cue on the halter.

– Apply a light pressure to the lead rope in a backwards direction towards the horses chest.

– Gradually increase the pressure until the horse steps back.

– Release the pressure the moment the horse steps back.

– Repeat until the horse will step back in response to a very light pressure cue.

2. Train a good backwards response from a visual cue.

– With a halter and lead rope on the horse, stand in front of them.

– Wave your finger up and down at the horse (visual cue to go backwards)

– Send small waves down the lead rope so that the halter bumps them on the front of the nose. Make the waves in rhythm and keep them going.

– Make the waves gradually bigger and firmer, so that the halter bumps them harder on the nose.

– As soon as the horse steps backwards, release, (click if clicker training) and reward the horse.

– Repeat until the horse will step back in response to a visual cue alone.

– Gradually increase the number of backwards steps the horse does.

– Then increase the duration the horse stands there at the end of the rope.

3. Clicker Training

– Teach the horse to look away, using the clicker, click and reward the horse when they turn their head to the side.

– Use the clicker to reinforce the horse for stepping back in response to a visual cue, and for stepping back in response to a visual cue. (Work on one thing at a time though!)

– You could also teach the horse to go and stand on a piece of rubber or in a specific place to earn a click and treat.

– Try doing some groundwork with the horse while holding a bucket, so that the horse learns to yield and be responsive even when you are holding a bucket.

– While holding a bucket, ask the horse to back up using your visual cue. Then send waves down the rope until the horse steps back. (Click, treat & release when the horse goes backwards.)

– Gradually increase the number of backwards steps the horse does to earn the click and treat.

– Progress until the horse will back up many steps to earn the click and treat.

– Then increase the duration the horse stands there at the end of the rope to earn the click and treat.

Retraining the horse at feed time…

So now its time to put all this practice into action. The important thing is to be consistent.

Take your clicker and a long rope with you when you go to feed your horse.

When you go into the paddock, immediately ask the horse to step backwards away from you.

Click and give them a small handfull of feed when they step back.

Repeat a few times.

Then get them to back up and wait there for a moment before you click.

Put the bucket down and walk away quickly.

The short version…

The basic idea is to make sure the horse is standing waiting politely before you put the feed down. Don’t put the feed down while the horse is pushing on you, pulling faces or being aggressive. Otherwise they will think they made you put the feed down.

Make sure the horse is standing still and waiting for their feed before you let them eat it.
Even if you have to wait for a while, send the horse backwards or away from you with a rope every time they try to push on you or snatch food off you.

Don’t put the feed down until the horse is waiting patiently. Follow this rule every day, exactly the same!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

When you put the feed down walk away from them immediately and let them eat for a while.

Rubbing the horse while they are eating…

When the horse is eating and you have walked away, it can help to come back again and rub the horse while they are eating. Be very careful if the horse is really aggressive, use a halter and lead. Back the horse up any time they are aggressive.

It is a good idea to rub, pat, groom and brush the horse while they are eating, so that they learn that they don’t need to defend their food.

Obviously you should not do this in a confined area where you could get trapped against a wall if the horse kicked. The horse will learn: the way to make the human put the feed down is to stand quietly out of the humans space.

hope this helps you train your horse,


Georgia Bruce

Georgia Bruce is from Kuranda in Far North Queensland.She has represented Australia in Dressage on eight occasions. Most recently at the 2008 Paralympic Games where she won two bronze medals riding Carolyn Lieutenant’s 18hh horse Victory Salute. Georgia also competes successfully in open dressage to FEI level as well as cutting, western events, horse sports, hacking and reining.

Georgia specializes in training young horses and retraining problem horses. She also gives lessons and clinics around Australia helping people to get the best out of their horse and achieve their goals.

Visit her website

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