Most scuffles at the feed “trough” don’t result in injury, but there is always that potential. Dominant horses may also push away those lower in the pecking order leaving them with too little to eat. Use these strategies to make sure all the horses in your herd get equal opportunity to enjoy each meal.
First, group horses according to compatibility. Usually, this means housing geldings with geldings and mares with mares, rather than mixing the sexes. You’ll know who gets along best by watching them in group situations. Food adds a contentious element, so be sure to check how the horses relate when food is delivered to the feeders. Some that seem relaxed might turn into aggressive bullies when food comes into the picture.
Whenever possible, try to present multiple feeding stations so less-dominant herd members have a place to access to eat in peace. This may mean dropping hay at various distances in the middle of the pasture. Remember to make sure you don’t put food in areas where a horse could get trapped next to a fence or structure. Remove all twine and wire from distributed hay, and if you use metal or rubber feeders, make sure legs won’t get entrapped during a skirmish.
The number one strategy to prevent herd fighting is to separate dominant or bullying herd members from the group. Removing aggressive horses to an isolated area during feeding might be the most logical and safest strategy to prevent food fights. Quiet conditions also minimize the danger to humans who deliver the feed.
Good common sense, careful observation, and a bit of trial and error all coordinate to create the most peaceful feeding environment that is safe for both horse and human.
By Nancy S. Loving, DVM