Horseback riding is a unique and thrilling experience, and it might look easy enough to pull off by just about anyone. The truth is that riding a horse properly requires quite a bit of work, training, and maybe even a bit of talent in some cases. The most important thing to keep in mind when riding a horse is that you, the rider, are in control. This means that your horse is only allowed to do the things you want it to do. But what if it challenges your authority and makes decisions on its own?
One such decision is eating grass while you’re riding it. This can be frustrating for many riders, as it gives off an unsettling vibe: you’re not really in control, the horse is.
In order to correct this behavior and stop your horse from eating while you’re in the saddle, you’ll need to work on your relationship with that horse and establish your dominance. This is normally achieved through the use of pressure, whether we’re talking about mental cues or physical ones. You’ll have to issue quick corrections and even put the horse to work right after it misbehaves.
I’ll strive to elaborate further.
Why is your horse eating grass while being ridden?
The first thing we need to figure out is this: why is your horse engaging in this behavior? In order to understand this, we need to first understand herd behavior and how horses establish dominance while in a herd. Keep in mind that dominant horses eat first and drink first in a herd, and they only allow other horses to eat and drink after they’ve had their full.
If your horse thinks it can stop and eat whenever it feels like, then it doesn’t regard you as a leader in your little herd of two. The main takeaway from this is that you’ll need to go back to the drawing board and redefine your relationship with your horse. There’s no clear formula to achieve this, as different horses have different personalities.
Some of them might be easier to dominate while others might be more stubborn. There are some universal concepts that I can walk you through – basic principles that will help you gain authority in your horse’s eyes.
What can you do to fix this behavior?
Establishing dominance over a horse is no easy task, but there are some things that you can do to prevent your horse from disobeying you while you’re in the saddle. Focusing on the task at hand, our aim is to make the horse associate its spontaneous eating habits with receiving a correction or being worked hard. With this method, we’re applying both physical and mental pressure.
If your horse is grazing while being ridden, you can try to correct this behavior quickly by pulling on a single rein. You can jerk up on your rein of choice and pull it quickly in order to get the horse’s attention and to snap him out of his eating habit. This will also make the horse pull its nose to one side and away from the grass.
If you decide to pull on both reins, the horse will likely fight you and you’ll just end up in a pulling contest. The goal is not to stress the horse or to make it uncomfortable. We’re trying to communicate the following message:
What you’re doing is wrong. I didn’t give you permission to eat now. Stop that!
Another great way to prevent your horse from eating grass while riding is to put it to work. Once it starts eating without permission, issue the correction I suggested above and immediately put the horse to work. Ideally, you’ll want to make him trot in one direction and then another. Keep the horse moving and working, and its mind will eventually associate the act of grazing while being ridden with being put to work.
You might be tempted to use a horse grazing muzzle, but that won’t help you too much for a very simple reason. Those tools are used to prevent a horse from becoming overweight. Indeed, some horses eat too much and exercise too little, which causes them to become overweight. If your horse has a habit of eating grass while you’re riding it, it won’t learn to stop doing it just because you block its mouth. As soon as it gets the chance, it will do it again, and that’s not progress.
Horses learn by association, so be prepared to repeat this exercise many times until you get your message across. Be patient, consistent, and strong. Horses are strong too, and if they sense hesitation or weakness in you, they’ll make your job very difficult. Keep in mind that horses are happier when they’re in the presence of authority. They don’t mind being no.2 as long as they’re treated well and all of their needs are being met.
What if my horse doesn’t listen to me no matter what?
Horses are smart, and they have a good memory. Whenever you set out on correcting a horse’s behavior, you need to succeed. Otherwise, your horse will regard you as weak, as it will know you’ll never be able to truly bother it. It will ignore your aids, or it will challenge you whenever you issue a correction.
Fixing this kind of behavior is difficult but not impossible. It requires a complete change of pace, and you might have to give your horse over to a certified trainer. If your horse hasn’t received proper training in its young years, it might hold on to its rebellious instincts in its maturity. Find out everything you can about the horse’s past if you’re not its first owner. This will give you a good idea of where to start.
Why do horses behave this way in the first place?
I previously wrote an article titled What Kind of Food Can Horses Eat, and in that article I touched on a few general notions about a horse’s diet and its digestive system. A horse’s digestive system is designed to be in constant motion. For this reason, horses are constantly looking for something to eat.
One could say that teaching a horse to abstain from eating while it has a rider on its back goes against its very instincts. It’s hard to argue with that, but feeding your horse regularly and properly eliminates the need for it to eat constantly. The horse doesn’t need to eat all the time as long as it gets enough food on a regular basis.
We generally don’t want our horses to eat grass while we ride them. This doesn’t mean that we don’t want them to eat at all in our presence. As long as you’re on the ground, it doesn’t hurt to give your horse a snack break every now and again. Just as long as it understands that it shouldn’t do it while you’re in the saddle.
It’s clear by now there are several steps that you can take to establish yourself as a dominant figure in your horse’s eyes. By doing this, you’ll be able to prevent it from eating grass while you’re riding, and you’ll also put an end to other forms of misbehavior. Here’s a quick breakdown of what to take away from this article:
- Horses will stop and eat grass because they’re always looking for something to graze on.
- Horses will eat grass while you’re in the saddle if they don’t see you as a dominant figure.
- You can issue corrections to fix this behavior. Put the horse to work as soon as you notice it.
- Be consistent and don’t expect to see results overnight. Patience is also key.
- Make sure that your horse gets enough to eat in the first place.
- Try to be firm in your training, but don’t be mean to your horse.
- Horse grazing muzzles won’t help.
- If you don’t see results no matter what, consider giving your horse over to a professional.