What is Pawing?
All horses paw the ground at some time or another for various reasons because it is a normal behavior in equines. However, when a horse paws the ground continuously, it can be bad for the stable flooring and your horse’s hooves and legs. It is important to find the underlying reason for the pawing to be able to stop the problem. Do not reinforce the behavior by feeding your horse after pawing, but try to find another way to keep your horse placated. It may be as simple as turning them out an hour earlier every day or allowing a longer time out.
Pawing in horses can mean many things, from boredom to serious pain. Many owners think it is just a behavioral problem, which it very well could be. However, this may not be the case with your horse. Some horses do this to show dominance, nervousness, pain in any area of the body, or maybe just as a way to gain attention.
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Symptoms of Pawing in Horses
Since pawing is actually a symptom itself, you have to watch for other signs to be able to determine the cause of the behavior. Some of the signs to watch for include:
- Flattened ears
- Rapid movement of the tail
- Kicking or biting
- Lack of appetite
- Change in behavior
- Physical - This type of pawing is done when your horse is in pain and may include other signs such as appetite and weight loss, depression, and vocalizing
- Behavioral - If there is no physical reason for pawing, the cause is usually a behavioral problem; although it is not usually dangerous, it is best if you try to find the cause and resolve the problem
Causes of Pawing in Horses
There are many different causes of pawing in horses, which include:
- Attention - Many horses will do this to get attention either from you or from other horses
- Pain - When your horse is in pain, there is no good way to express it, so pawing may be a sign of pain from any cause
- Boredom - Pawing from boredom can become a bad habit and so you should make sure there are plenty of things to do such as toys or a companion. Do not keep your horse in the stall all the time as they need to be able to run and exercise just like humans do
- Nervousness - When nervous, your horse may paw at the ground over and over in a quick fashion
- Anger or Frustration - Being tied up or held in the stall for a long time can cause your horse to become angry or frustrated, leading to pawing at the ground
- Showing Dominance - If your horse arches the neck and a front leg is held straight out while pawing, it is usually a show of dominance
- Hunger - If your horse is hungry and waiting for food, pawing may be done to get attention
Diagnosis of Pawing in Horses
Pinpointing the cause of an issue that may be a behavioral one can be a challenge. Initially, however, the veterinarian will want to eliminate possible medical causes for the pawing. A physical examination will be essential and will include close evaluation of the limb, foot, and hoof of your horse.
Evidence of pain will necessitate the need for testing such as blood work to rule out infection and imaging in the form of x-rays or ultrasound. If an underlying health condition is discovered, pertinent therapy will be prescribed.
In the event that there is no physical reason for the pawing, your veterinarian may suggest a consultation with an equine behavioral therapist.
Treatment of Pawing in Horses
Treatment depends on the cause of the pawing behavior. If there is an underlying condition, that will be treated and should solve the pawing problem. If there is no physical issue, there are several types of behavioral therapies.
Increasing your horse’s exercise program and allowing longer or more frequent field time can eliminate the problem.
Not giving your horse its food right away when pawing will decrease the pawing behavior.
Although many experts say that giving your horse extra attention may increase the behavior, that is seldom the case; a horse that is getting attention has no need for pawing.
Allowing your equine partner plenty of time with a companion in the paddock will often provide the needed stimulation and interaction required to eliminate the habit. Boredom can lead to pawing as can lack of company.
Recovery of Pawing in Horses
No matter what treatment you try, you have to tailor it to your horse. Every horse is different and will need its own treatment plan. Continue to collaborate with your veterinarian and behavioral specialist; a consistent pawing habit may become intense enough that hoof wear becomes a problem.