Pawing is a very
natural action for horses in the wild, as well as a practical one. In the winter, pawing is how
wild horses get grass from under the snow, and how they break the ice to get to water to drink.
During a drought, horses can paw to get water from dry streambeds.
Many horses will pay
when they've been turned out, or if they've just been fed. Most horses will paw before they lie
down to roll - in this case, they're loosening the dirt the create a more comfortable area for rolling.
Pawing is an indicator
that a mare is about ready to foal, or when a horse is in the beginning stages of colic. If a horse
doesn't already have a habit of pawing, if he DOES paw, it should alert his owner that something
might be wrong.
Horses that paw in their
stalls or while standing in crossties are usually expressing their impatience and frustration, as
well as letting us know they would rather move about freely instead of being prevented from moving.
When a horse paws in a trailer, they are usually expressing nervousness, impatience, or both. Impatience
tends to frustrate a horse because he wants to move and can't, and nervousness makes a horse even
more desperate to move.
A confined horse is much
more likely to paw than a horse that is turned out all the time. A horse that is confined AND overfed
is even more likely to paw, as well as a horse that is confined in a stall without exercise. It's
basically the equivalent of a child kicking the legs of his chair - "I'm bored!! I want to DO something!"
Getting a horse to stop
pawing means providing adequate feed, plenty of hay, and as much turnout as absolutely possible.
You can put rubber mats under your horse's bedding in his stall so that pawing doesn't create holes,
or wear your horse's toes down. If, however, your horse has been pawing for years, gets plenty of
exercise and turnout, and yet he STILL paws, it's probably just become a habit. It's very rarely
worth the time and effort to punish a horse for pawing. It takes a LOT of attention and very careful
timing to get it right, and it's mostly not worth your time. Do what you can to create a better
environment for your horse to prevent pawing, and leave it at that.