Why Do Horses Paw The Ground?

If your horse is pawing, it may be an indication that something is bothering him or her, or it may be a bad habit. In order to address this behavior, you have to understand it. No matter what the cause, you can be sure your horse is not just pawing to annoy you. Horses don’t think that way. Getting angry and scolding or punishing your horse for pawing won’t do any good.

Very often, pawing has an actual purpose. To determine if this is the case, you’ll need to take in the whole picture. Is your horse trying to accomplish something by pawing. If you want to address your horse’s pawing successfully, you must first identify its cause.

In this article, we will discuss why horses paw the ground and offer advice on reducing this unwanted behavior. Read on to learn more.

12 Reasons Why Horses Paw The Ground

12 Reasons Why Horses Paw The Ground


If your horse paws at feeding time, don’t give him his feed while he’s pawing. This is a reward and will encourage the behavior. It’s better to have the feed ready and then call the horse than to tie him up and have him wait while you prepare the feed.

Excess energy

A hot horse (who has a high grain diet) is likely to have more energy than he knows what to do with. Remember that a diet that is mostly grass and hay is ideal for the vast majority of horses.

Considering rolling

If your horse is pawing while standing on a sandy spot or in water, he may be preparing to lie down and roll. If that’s not something you want at the moment (e.g. your horse is saddled and/or you are in the saddle) take control of the situation and move on.

Uncovering forage

If it’s snowy out, your horse may paw to get to the grass under the snow. There’s no harm in this, but you may want to toss out some fresh hay to help him out.

Uncovering roots

In an overgrazed pasture, your horse may paw to expose roots to eat. This damages the pasture and puts your horse at risk of sand colic. Give your pasture a rest and give your horse more hay.

Puzzled or curious

If your horse is confronted with an object he has never seen before, he may sniff, snort, blow and paw in an attempt to explore and understand it. If it’s not a dangerous situation and no damage is being done, give your horse some space to explore the object. Otherwise, redirect him.


If your horse is thirsty, he may instinctively paw in search of water. Give him a drink.


Your horse may be trying to dig a hole to rest his front legs. After heavy workouts, horses often dig an actual hole to stand in with their hind legs. It seems that standing with the hind legs a little lower than the front legs takes some weight off the front legs.


If your horse is frustrated, lonely or bored, he may paw as a way of passing the time. It’s important to intervene when this is the case because this kind of pawing can become a very bad, stereotypical habit that is very hard to break.

Constant, repetitive pawing can end up damaging your horse’s hooves, not to mention tearing up whatever surface is being pawed.

Furthermore, a bored, frustrated horse may take up more serious bad habits, such as cribbing, which will sicken him and destroy wood railings and other wood structures.

On top of all that, if your horse is a stereotypical pawer and cribber, he may teach other horses these bad behaviors.

Be sure your horse has things to do. Put his hay in a hay net to make eating a bit of a challenge. Provide a jolly ball to play with. Take your horse for walks on days you don’t ride.

Perform a daily grooming schedule. Get your horse a companion. If you can’t get another horse, get a goat or a little donkey or even a barn cat or some chickens.


A horse may become frustrated and start pawing if he is expected to stand still for too long. Don’t expect your horse to stand tied for more than half an hour at a time.

If you need to have your horse tied in one place for an extended period of time, check on him every 20-30 minutes, untie him and take him for a little walk.

If you are going to stake him out, make sure the tether is long enough for him to be able to move around freely, and check on him every 15-20 minutes to be sure he is not tangled or stuck.

Confused & Anxious

Schedule changes or lack of schedule can cause your horse to be anxious. Horses are creatures of habit. If they don’t know when to expect their food or what to expect from you when you show up, it will cause a great deal of anxiety.

Feed on schedule. It doesn’t have to be to the minute, but you should always feed at about the same time every day.

When you interact with your horse, do pretty much the same things every day. Use the same call to summon your horse. Feed him in the same place.

Handle and groom him in the same way, and use the same words and voice commands to mean the same thing consistently. A consistent environment is an anxiety free environment.

Illness or Injury

If your horse is in physical discomfort, he may paw as a way of communicating this to you. Problems such as hindgut or gastric ulcers, colic and the like can cause a horse to paw. If there is no apparent external reason for the pawing, suspect illness or injury and consult your vet.

A Healthy, Happy, Well-Cared For Horse Is Unlikely To Paw The Ground

The bottom line is, a healthy horse who has ample turnout, the opportunity to graze or forage semi-naturally from a hay net, appropriate attention and companionship is unlikely to want to paw.

If he does, paw, you can usually find a reason and resolve the problem.


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