I have a mare that just recently decided that she will eat grass and by golly she will eat! She’s my first horse and I’ve owned her for two years now and we just moved her to our own property about a month ago.
I’ve been training her, as she hadn’t been trained very well and I can’t figure out how to make her stop. Every time I go out for a ride she throws her head down and eats. No matter what I do I can’t bring her head up, and if she does, then it goes right back down again. Riding her has become a fight that I can’t really win and she’s no longer a joy to get on. I don’t want to be cruel and tug on her mouth and kick or use severe corrections, because I know those just put fear into the horse.
I would really appreciate it if you could give me a pointer or two if you have time. Thanks for reading this!
You can approach this situation with ground work or when you are riding. In either situation, make sure the horse has just eaten her full feed of hay and any supplements or grain she gets. Or if she is a pastured horse, be sure she has had her usual time on pasture.
For example, our horses are turned out for 12 hours overnight to graze. When we lead them out to pasture in the evening, if I would stop on the way to the pasture in spot with lush grass, it wouldn’t surprise me if my horse would start salivating and looking at that grass with an intent to dive down and grab some. But in the morning, when I jingle the horses, the last thing on their minds is to eat grass on the way back to the barn. They’ve had their fill.
So as soon after your horse finishes eating, begin your training session. You will have better chance for success on a full stomach.
First a few pointers and tips.
If you don’t feel confident doing this yourself, ask for someone to help you. Sometimes just the confidence of having someone nearby will help things go better. And its a good safety precaution.
If you feel unable to perform these exercises in a grassy area, first practice them in the arena or a pen just to get your timing down.
I suggest you review all ground training exercises to see where your horse’s strengths and weaknesses are so you can build on her strong points and work on improving her weak areas. You can see an In-Hand Checklist here.
I’d start out with ground training. I’d outfit the horse in a rope halter and you could consider putting a grazing muzzle on the horse for the early lessons. A grazing muzzle will prevent your horse from eating even if she DOES get her head down. You see, each time your horse even snatches one blade of grass when she dives down, she has rewarded herself for her behavior. Each time she does this, it becomes a more deeply entrenched habit, one that will require more persistence on your part to change. So if you can first eliminate the reward, no grass, even if she does dive down, she won’t get the grass !
Now you have several choices as to how you want to approach this.
1. Establish rules as to when a horse can and can’t eat elsewhere and then here. Like you train dogs to wait until you give them a bowl of food, teach your horse to wait until you give him the signal to approach his grain. You’ll need to develop a clean distinction between when it is fine to eat and not eat. You should be able to dump grain in a dish on the ground and your horse should wait until you give her the signal it is OK to move forward to eat. You should also be able to back your horse away from that dish while she is eating.
2. When the horse is most likely to snatch grass, be ready to give the horse something else to do. When she starts to lower her head, make her move forward right away – if ground training, send the horse out on the longe line. If riding, use your method to get the horse to move forward – use as little as you need to get the job done but as much as it takes from leg pressure to clucking to kicking to a tap with a whip to spanking across the hindquarters with a rope. The object is to get the horse to move her feet forward and raise her head. As soon as she does, stop your cues.
3. Whether you are ground training or riding, when a horse starts to dive down, turn the horse rather than pull straight back on both reins. Pulling back or up doesn’t accomplish much more than isometric arm exercise for you and banging on the horse’s mouth ! Instead turn the horse one way or the other. When riding this is best done in a snaffle bit, a side pull or a bosal using a leading rein. Bend the horse and send him forward at the same time and once you gain control, “bait” him again by giving the horse a slack rein.
4. As with many training situations, when you are riding a grass snatcher, you must always be “on” – always ready to react.
Best of luck and let me know how your horse training program progresses.