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Question of the Week: Grazing During Trail Rides

How do I stop my horse from trying to eat while we're trail riding?

1-Mar-11

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Q: My trail horse has a nasty habit of wanting to eat grass while we’re out on a ride. It’s annoying and embarrassing. Plus I hate to be pulling on his mouth all the time to get his head up. How can I break my horse of this?

A: Some horses seem to think they’re wandering through a buffet line or salad bar when they’re out on the trail. Yet it’s not so cute when you lose your control over your horse because his mouth is stuffed with a wad of dandelions or his head is buried in a thicket of wild oats. One tactic you can try is to nip your horse’s head up with just one rein, in a short, upward pull, and at the same time press him forward with your heel. That will force his head to come up as he temporarily increases his pace. Though it may seem like you’re nagging your horse, you have to be persistent and correct him every single time he stops to eat. The unpleasantness he experiences from you has to outweigh any satisfaction he might get from sneaking a bite.

Just to be clear, this quick nip maneuver is different from getting into a tug-of-war and simply pulling back with both reins. As you’ve discovered, you cannot out-pull a horse determined to eat on the go. If this suggestion doesn’t work, or if you simply don’t have the perseverance, then you can thwart your horse’s behavior with additional tack. A certain type of over-check rein will prevent your horse from dropping his head and grazing. Or you can try a muzzle that fits over your horse’s mouth, so he can’t get food past his lips. If you choose either of these items, make sure you get knowledgeable advice on how to fit them properly.

--Cindy Hale

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Question of the Week: Grazing During Trail Rides

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Reader Comments

J    In, OR

11/8/2011 10:12:25 AM

When my horse reaches down to get snacks on a ride, just pulling on one rein works really well, and he seems to get the point after just a few times. I think letting your horse nibble while you are stopped on a ride depends on the horse. If I let my horse sit and eat all he wants during breaks, then he thinks it is still ok to eat on the go. As a general rule, I don't let my horse eat with a bit in his mouth. If we take a break and I take his bridle off so he just has a halter, then he can snack until I put his bridle back on.

Andrea    Greenwood, DE

3/10/2011 11:52:06 AM

I have to admit I don't really mind if my horse enjoys a few quick mouthfuls of grass while we're stopped. This is especially trus during the spring, when the grass we encounter on hacks is often more lush than what's in his pasture. When we're moving, I usually just keep him too busy to think about eating.

Galadriel    Lothlorien, ME

3/6/2011 5:21:18 PM

I've been considering an overcheck. Or if I'm in a western saddle I'll wrap the reins around the horn.

Horselover    Somewhere, IN

3/4/2011 6:52:17 PM

Thanks for the tips. Snacking on some grass can make your horse really sick.

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