Feeding Non-Frenzy


I was SO proud of Galahad yesterday! He had been mooning around the west pasture fence, watching me, the entire time I was with Nevada; he was still there when I put her back, planning on leaving. I wasn’t going to feed Galahad—it was 70 degrees and he for sure didn’t need additional calories. I don’t feed him every day anyway. But there he was, looking forlorn, watching me. So of course I went back to the car and got him some dinner.

Since I was feeding him in a completely different place than his normal dinner spot, I figured it would be fair to do a little training around it. He was anxious to eat (after all, a guy builds up quite an appetite standing around watching for a whole hour), and started being a little pushy. But I told him—with voice, body language, and reed—to wait, and asked him to back up a few steps, and he did. Then I asked him to come to me instead of going directly to the food—and was surprised and very pleased when he did so!

There was some head-tossing when I asked him to follow me in a circle away from the feed pan. But again, he came with me, and didn’t offer to crowd me at all. Then he stopped when asked, ten or so feet from the pan, and stood with me until I took him over to the food.

Wow. All the work I’ve done with him is really paying off.

Galahad is a horse with a big presence and lots of energy when he’s “on.” In the past, he would crowd me and sometimes actually push into me with his shoulder to get to the food pan. Because of that, I’ve spent a lot of time and energy working with him around food, so that he’s polite about it and respects my space. These days, I can lead him alongside me while carrying his pan of food, and not have to worry about him trying to circle in front of me or reach across to steal a bite. When we get to where we’re going (I don’t always feed in the same spot), I can set the pan down and have him wait, more or less patiently but at least not moving, until I tell him he can have it.

Recently, I’ve begun giving Galahad’s best friend Dancer a snack when I feed Galahad over in the corner of the pasture (this is with Dancer’s owner’s permission). When I started that, the two of them would spar over who got which spot. I didn’t feel safe with two big horses shoving each other for position, ears pinned.

The current arrangement, which took only three days to set up, is that they must stand facing the fence, quietly, and wait for me to put the feed pans down. If either one moves, neither one gets his food until they both settle down. I just wait them out.

Horses are really smart around food, and because they could see the feed pans on my side of the fence, there was no doubt in their minds about what was at stake. The first day it took some correcting with the reed when Galahad swung his hip to boot Dancer out of position. I moved my guy back into his spot and waited until they both stood still.

The second day was all about eyes, ears, and teeth. They were standing where they belonged, but not relaxed in the least. I just waited, and pretty soon, they were both at attention, focused on me.

The third day was almost flawless—a tiny bit of jockeying for position, then silence and stillness…and food.

Pretty amazing.

So all the work is paying off. This, like most of the training I do at this point, is not just to exert my dominance, or to teach tricks. It’s about my safety. Yesterday’s feeding exercise at the west fence was really about keeping me safer around a 1200-pound horse. If he’s willing to listen to me at a time like that, then I can be more confident that he’ll listen to me at other times as well.

I do love that big horse of mine. He teaches me so much.