I never think of horses who try to get the food from my pocket or bum-bag as pushy, rude, impolite or any of those “bad horse” labels.
And it isn’t mugging – which implies that the horse is trying to rob us.
It’s perfectly natural and normal for a healthy confident horse to try to find food when they can smell it or have become aware of the source of it.
In fact when I am training a wary horse or pony I usually give a little cheer when they start to investigate the bum bag.
Those kinds of “bad pony” words like “rude”, “pushy”, “bargy”, “invading my space” or “mugging” are likely to lead to people judging their equine friends as being badly behaved, impolite or violent thieves, none of which are true.
They are behaving naturally.
But this judgmental language is much more likely to lead to the person feeling justified in using aversive corrections or reacting defensively to a horse who shows natural foraging behaviour or who feels a need to protect her food from other horses or people.
Horses forage for food. They will move bits of hay or other plants aside with their muzzle in order to try to get to the bits they want.
Also, if you watch babies suckling (I always think sheep are the best example of this) they have to nudge the udders to get the milk to flow. When horses nudge us this is often the same behaviour happening in a different context, and it is completely normal.
Sometimes, once they have seen us move our arm and hand to the food bag or pocket, they will then try to nudge our arm or hand to get it to move to get out the food. This just shows how fast horses are to learn by observing what happens before what happens happens.
They really aren’t pushy or mugging or impolite or barging. They are simply very good at detecting food, and excellent observational learners.
Until we train them how to get additional or different food to what they already have (never train a horse without some other forage available if you want them calm and unconflicted) they are doing what mother nature genetically predisposes them to do to stay alive.
Horses who don’t try to get to food when they can identify that we have it, are either unwell, too wary, they have enough already, or they are well trained.
Please share this to help people to understand more about the true nature of horses just doing what Mother Nature made them to do.
The words “bad / no / good manners”, “polite / impolite”, “rude”, “pushy” are not helpful descriptors of behaviour, they don’t reflect the true nature of horses and the danger is that they tend to lead us towards judgmental language, a corrective mindset and a predisposition to feel justified in using correction with horses doing what has for eons saved them from becoming extinct.
When you hear or see people using this language it’s useful to model a different way of talking about horses, that paints them in a more positive, and non judgmental light.
I’d really like to see folk use the expression “foraging” or “food-seeking” rather than “mugging”, and if your horse is pushing or nudging you for food, take that as your cue to change the environment and put a barrier between you. That will enable you to move away so he can’t be doing it, while you get to work on training.
In the end if what we want to achieve is a horse who does not try to take food from our pockets or bag, then it comes down to a few basic things. Horse-appropriate horse-keeping (access to friends, forage and freedom), good health, and of course correct use of food to train them to do what we DO want.