Question: How do I keep my 15-month-old Quarter Horse filly from pawing at my trailer and scratching it up while she is tied to it? I have tried tying another horse with her that stands still, but that doesn’t help. She stands perfectly still while tied to a tree or hanging tire. Also, how old should she be before I start teaching her to hobble?

Answer: This question is difficult to answer because so many factors need to be examined. I will provide some general information that you may be able to apply to your situation. Three major areas are likely at the root of this problem and you’ll need to assess the situation within the framework of each area.

1. Is the problem related to the actual process of standing patiently while tied? This area is least likely to be the source of the problem because your filly will stand quietly and patiently when tied to a tree. Nor does it sound as if your filly is being willful or spoiled. She is most likely acting out of nervousness or stress. Punishment or disciplinary action would be unfair and would most likely worsen the situation.

2. Is the problem related to the environment in which your filly is tied? It would seem a safe assumption that since you are trailering your filly, she is in an environment different from her usual one. She is young and may be inexperienced and nervous in new situations. What can you do to make her feel more comfortable? Do you have a hay bag tied so that she can eat while she is standing? Even though it did not appear to help previously, it may be comforting to her to have another horse there with her. Sometimes there is simply no substitute for repetition and experience.

3. Does your filly associate being tied to the trailer with experiences that cause nervousness or anxiety? If you do not think that environment is the problem, is there some stressful event or situation that she may associate with being tied to the trailer? For example, when a horse is trailered and tied to the trailer only when she is entered in a barrel race, she may become nervous and begin to anticipate the barrel race whenever she is tied to the trailer. If you feel this is a possibility, it’s important to weaken the association between being tied and the unpleasant or stressful event.

Whatever the cause of your filly’s behavior, hobbling would not be a good way to address the problem, and in fact, it could make the situation worse. Take the time to figure out what your filly is reacting to and try to work through it. You can protect your trailer with carpets or moving blankets while you are working through the problem. She is a young filly and most likely just needs some time and patience while she adjusts and learns how to deal with new things. 

–Barbara Hannes, DVM College Station, Texas