Surprise Food Aggression

Surprise Food Aggression

Yesterday I noticed some disturbing behavior as I let the horses out of the barn. We have a method of doing it that works pretty well for us, which has us releasing each horse mostly in the opposite order of herd position. In our herd, the order is:

1) Moonshine
2) Romeo
3) Valentine
4) Cash

At the moment, Romeo doesn’t have a stall (we hope to finish his new stall Saturday) so I take out a bale of hay and Romeo follows, without returning to the barn. Next goes Cash. He usually doesn’t want to leave the barn so he sniffs the ground, nibbles on stray pieces of hay, tries to get past me to explore the parts of the barn behind me, etc. But eventually he exits and then it’s Valentine’s turn. Valentine isn’t very aggressive at all but as he slowly exits the barn, it usually gives Cash enough momentum to leave too. Lastly it’s Moonshine, and she doesn’t stand for any lazy horsing around. By the time she gets to exit her stall I can tell she’s annoyed at having to wait so long for the others and each time she shoes them out to the hay.

Since each of the horses seems to have to fight for their position to enjoy the days ration of hay each and every day (even though the result is always the same – according to herd position), we split the hay ration into four equal parts, spaced well enough from each other so as to minimize sneak attacks. They play this little game that is not unlike musical chairs until I suppose they tire of chasing each other in circles and settle down to their own piles. On this particular day, I was putting out the hay and Mikki was letting out the horses. Figuring I had a few minutes before Cash would exit the barn, I gave the go-ahead signal to Mikki as I cut the twine on the bale. Romeo munched away as I carried Cash’s flakes to a location an ample distance from Romeo. But this time, Cash exits the barn right away and comes galloping up the hill to where I stand. This isn’t unusual. They’re often a little spunky after being in the barn all night and it was nice and cool out. But this time was different. Cash showed clear signs of agression – towards me! He came right at me, tried to push me aside and then spun around as if to kick me. Fortunately I was paying attention and yelled and jumped out of the way. I couldn’t believe it. I threw his hay down and he ran at me again. To be honest, it was a little intimidating…scary even. I am no match of a 1,000 pound horse.

So of course I’m wondering why he changed on this day; why he saw me as a threat to his food. Is it because he grows weary at constantly being on the bottom of the pecking order? I’m trying to think like a horse but I don’t know what I could have done to position myself as a challenger or as weak. He’s been fine since but I realize we’ll have to be especially careful to watch for this behavior going forward. It’s disheartening, though, because Cash has never been aggressive with us or the others.

Have you experienced this kind of food aggression?

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