How to ward off the dangers of wandering walkers.
Often, without meaning to, walkers pose one of the biggest welfare threats to our horses. Their compulsion to offer treats and titbits over the fence can have terrible and tragic consequences. Knowing how to stop people feeding your horse can seem impossible, but in this post we aim to break down some helpful and practical ways to keep the public at bay.
With the government directive to ‘stay local’ many people have become bored of their usual routes and have sought out new places to venture; however, when people’s liberty becomes more of a liability, we need to be pre-emptive and learn how to stop people feeding your horse.
In actively seeking out new and less travelled routes, people have ended up encroaching on our secluded horsey hideouts. There are so many shared ‘rights of way’ these days, and with the power of the internet, we find ourselves firmly on everyone’s map. In fact, when the Countryside Code packages our rural retreats rather nicely as an ‘adventure’ where you can have fun and make memories; it is little wonder we get more visitors than usual.
Although Covid restrictions are beginning to ease, many locals will undoubtedly continue to enjoy the beautiful rural byways they have unearthed right on their doorsteps. As much as we would love to ignore the problem and hope it will go away, we need make more of an effort to engage and educate.
A modest mistake…
People do not feed horses with the intention of causing harm, they are simply looking for a petting opportunity and want to interact with them. What they fail to realise is that horses have the most delicate of digestive systems. The vast majority of people are used to keeping smaller animals, such as cats and dogs; predatory animals who see treats as a reward or positive reinforcement.
Unlike so many domesticated animals, a horse’s complicated digestive system does not allow them to be sick, and once they have swallowed something they shouldn’t have, it is a one-way journey with no chance of reversal.
Many people also fail to understand herd dynamics and will inevitably want to feed the ‘poor horse at the back’ who they assume is being ‘left out’, not realising that drawing attention to horses further down the pecking order is the perfect way to start a fight.
Learn to love your locals
Yes, flattery can get you everywhere! We cannot determine the actions of others, neither can we dictate that they stay away; Like it or not, they have a right to share the countryside too!
When it comes to our most precious four-legged family, we are wiser to make friends with the locals than entice enemies. By becoming pushy and angry about people visiting our horses we will not do ourselves any favours, some people tend to become rebellious and sneaky in their quest to gain the attention of our horses.
They will simply wait until no one is looking before encouraging inquisitive horses to the fence. But with a little tact and tenacity, we can comfortably co-exist.
How to stop people feeding your horse: 4 helpful & practical ways
The only way to resolve some of these issues is to educate people and let them know the dangers of their good intentions. Many will innocently assume that all horses can eat grass and carrots, right? But very few are aware that grass clippings ferment rapidly and cause colic; casually thrown carrots are a perfect choke hazard and ponies with EMS and laminitis will not benefit from a belly full of grass or a sugary snack. Let people know!
We often turn to social media and newspapers when things go wrong. Why not get in there first with a helpful and light-hearted ‘good news’ story where you simply share valuable information?
2. Communicate clearly
Members of the public feeding horses has become such a huge issue that the BHS launched their #BeHorseAware Campaign a year ago. As responsible horse owners it is our duty to maintain the momentum and get the message out there. Why not download some of the BHS signs to warn people of the dangers associated with feeding horses? Displaying these signs by your fields not only lessens your liability, but also offers a simple and effective visual deterrent.
Oftentimes you are appealing to children as they may be the first to spot your horses grazing in the field, so keep it simple. Why not direct people to a reliable source and make tech work for you? The BHS has plenty of information, about the dangers of feeding horses without an owner’s permission, perhaps you could put a QR code on your poster for people to scan and have a read as they walk?
In addition to the information above, if your horse is in an area where they are likely to be seen by people regularly, why not offer your own information too. People crave a personal connection, so why not display a poster letting them know a little basic information about your horses. Simply writing a friendly note from your horse’s perspective letting know their name, age and a couple of ‘fun facts’ can be enough to satisfy curiosity and build rapport with members of the public.
Your ‘fun facts’ could include the fact that they are on a very special diet and can’t be fed chopped grass. This could be the perfect way to gently inform people that your laminitic, metabolic or elderly horse will be harmed or killed if fed anything which is not part of their special diet. It might also be a good idea to add your contact details too, so if something untoward happens or a member of the public has any concerns you will be the first to know about it.
2. Build a boundary
Although by installing an inner boundary fence you may be loosing a little of your valuable grazing, you are reducing the risk of people being able to physically interact with your horses. Electric fencing is a good option as horses will stay well back regardless of the temptation from the other side. You can also put up some bright yellow warning signs, so people are aware of the risk associated with reaching over the fence. It’s also a visual reminder that you do not grant permission to reach beyond the boundary. Once your horses realise that people cannot feed or touch them, they will soon lose interest and realise that people passing by has nothing to do with them and will ignore them completely.
2. Catch them on camera
You do not need flashy CCTV to act as a deterrent, in fact, disguise is often a better bet and less likely to be moved or tampered with. Wildlife cameras are really reasonably priced these days and will give you that added peace of mind. People are more likely to follow the rules if they are to be made accountable for their actions.
Although we have very little legal leeway, you may be thankful for valuable information in a time of need. If your horse has been fed something they should not have had, you would at least be armed with a little information for the vet such as what they may have eaten and how long ago.
No harm can be done by appealing to people’s better nature and make it perfectly apparent that what they see is in the paddock is in fact a pampered pony or herd of healthy horses. We hope this blog post gives you some great ideas on how to stop people feeding your horse, and helps you to keep your herd happy and healthy.
People generally want to do the right thing, so why not make it easy for them?
Feel free to contact us if you have any questions relating to this post!