If you own, work with, or know pasture horses, then chances are you know that every herd has the notorious “food thief”. It’s the horse that runs up and steals other horse’s food, and you’re only one person so you can’t save them all! Ideally, horses should be separated when fed to avoid this problem altogether. Obviously you never really have to worry about food thieves when the horses are stalled. If you don’t have access to stall or for some other reason can’t separate your horses during feeding time, try some of these tricks to make your life a little easier:
-Feeding outside is easier the smaller the group. Of course feeding two horses in a pasture is going to be a lot easier than feeding five horses, but not every horse owner or facility is going to be able to keep two horses to a pasture.
-Group pasture-mates together based on who gets along with who. A lot of places group horses together based on gender, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I like to think that putting horses in pastures together based on who they like the best and who makes them happiest would be more beneficial. Stallions should be separated from the herd (and mares especially!) appropriately.
-For easy keepers that only get hay outside, they should have free access to fresh hay and water. When feeding small groups of easy keepers, split hay into smaller piles to allow for a more relaxed feeding time. When feeding large groups, multiple round bales should be made available (or multiple large piles of hay), as well as multiple water sources placed away from each other, to help avoid conflict and ensure that each horse is getting their fair share.
-For small groups of hard keepers, or horses that need grain on a regular basis, start by always using separate feed buckets or pans. (Helpful hint: get buckets that attach to the fence to save time!) Space the feeders as far apart as possible to avoid tempting your food thief. Supervise from inside the pasture at first to help the horses establish boundaries. If possible, feed the same way every time using the same feeders in the same spots. This will help your horses establish a routine and get the food thief to stick to some sort of plan!
-For larger groups of hard keepers, it’s essentially the same as feeding small groups of hard keepers but you may need more than one person at first. Try spacing the feeders out evenly and as far apart as possible, or placing the food thief by itself and one side and the more trustworthy horses spaced out appropriately.
-Save yourself time and effort and prepare all of the grain beforehand.
-Find out what works for each of your groups of horses because every herd and every horse is different. For example, consider building a lean-to with stalls or partitions to use during feeding time as well as for shelter (this could be a fun summer DIY project!). Also, try feeding your food thief on a lead line just outside the pasture as a last resort to keep the peace.
This issue is mainly about respect and boundaries between the food thief, the other horses, and yourself. Good training and especially groundwork will help establish these things, so make sure to keep up on that as much as possible. Training a horse out of the habit of stealing food can be a long process if it’s already an established behavior and not something that’s just started—nip it in the bud while you can! If you feel as if the situation is unsafe or you’re not confident enough to deal with it on your own, reach out to a trainer for help.