I love the idea of a big open barn or run in for shelter but how do you feed if they chase each other?

During the huge response to yesterdays blog titled Where do you live and what shelter do your horses have? Cindy asked the following question.

“I love the idea of a big open barn or run in for shelter but how do you feed? I have a piggie who will chase the others off if I try to feed together. Having the stalls lets me separate them.”-Cindy

I have done several things in this situation but I would also love to hear how others have handled this.

When I have had horses turned out I tried to put them in similar groups. I often had two pastures, one for the ‘easy’ keepers and one for the young and growing who required more calories. In those pastures I often fed different types of hay due to the calorie needs and also different amounts of ration balancer (a type of grain) or fat supplement if needed.Feeding horses with similar needs together makes things easier.

I fed the horses far enough apart that it was not very effective for the horses to move each other. If fed too close together one horse could ‘guard’ more than one feed pile but with more distance they would maybe switch once or twice but frequent switching wasn’t worth it. On the occasion that one horse was a real trouble maker we have also stood and guarded the horses that were being pushed during the grain feeding time, which is the only time this was an issue. I feed a low volume ration balancer so standing guard doesn’t take that long.

Another thing I have done is to tie the horse that pushed the others during feeding time. While tied I could then do other chores such as cleaning and then untie them when the feeding time is over. Most of our horses have free choice hay and share it well. The few easy keepers we have had were feed together and if they tried to guard the hay we just spread it out further…and they got more exercise moving around.

Unfortunately, I have seen horses in situations where people have ‘let them work it out’ and the ‘low’ horse in the pecking order didn’t get enough to eat. It is especially easy for people to over look this during the winter when the horses are very fuzzy and the human doesn’t realize how much weight the horse may be losing. Be sure to run your hands over the horses frequently to feel, rather than see, what their weight is under all that hair.

How would you answer Cindy’s question? Do you have one horse that will chase others? How did you handle it?


  1. helena on November 11, 2015 at 9:02 am

    So I have a horse who chases the other horse away from the hay piles in the barn. Then he blocks her from coming in. The wind is horrible here especially in the winter. Winds chills 10 below or more. I have to feed the hay in the barn. I don’t stall them. I can’t get the other horse out of the elements though. What can I do?

  2. michelle on January 7, 2015 at 7:57 am

    I feed 15 horses. 3 herds. Roundbales. All have a stall to come into freely. They are closed off for feeding until everyone is done…then let back out. Only way to truly make sure everyone is getting their needs.

  3. Tessa on January 6, 2015 at 11:22 am

    Good old fashioned feed bags! We have 8 horses…all get different amount of feed, some get a certain supplement when another doesn’t, some are slow eaters some are fast. With feed bags everyone gets what they need and can eat at their own rate. They also learn quickly, within 2-3 days, no one can ever steal their feed so they become relaxed at feed time. The bossy food stealers will try the first few days of using feed bags to chase off a horse and “steal” its food and it is pretty amusing to watch the look of confusion on their face when they realize they can’t. Once they realize this however they will quit trying and don’t even bother anymore. My dominant guys never mess with the less dominant ones at feed time anymore. No more chasing or drama at all, just looks like my horses are out grazing together.

    You can also easily teach them to come to the gate and reach their head over so you can put the feed bag on without even going into the paddock.

    Bonus! Horses can’t due.p the feed bag like they do feed pans, and their feed stays clean with no risk of injesting sand or shavings. Also they will be eating at a ground level natural position which is much healthier for several reasons, rather than the “human table level” feed bins in stalls.

    I have owned horses over 30 years and this is definitely my favorite and easiest way of feeding (and I have stalls to separate in if I wanted to) No drama and everyone gets what they need!

  4. Laurie on January 6, 2015 at 10:30 am

    I do similar to you – and spread the hay out – but I also put one more pile than there is horses when I have a bossy horse in the group – that way there always seems to be a pile for the low on the totem pole horse.

  5. Paula on January 5, 2015 at 2:54 pm

    The hay is out 24/7. I feed the rest in tie stalls. Each has a bucket their own color when I mix the feed so I don’t get confused. Just let them in to eat, then back out. Even the easy keeper’s get a bit of low starch feed so they feel special too .. with a small piece of alfalfa hay which takes them longer to eat. I have my stick and string handy when they come in to help the more dominant ones find their own spot instead of hi-jacking one with more feed.

  6. Kay Aubrey-Chimene on January 5, 2015 at 11:58 am

    We use slow feeder bags and always put out more bags then there are horses – and well apart. If someone wants to “guard” more than one bag, the others just move down. Since we started doing that, we have had no problems.

  7. Sonja on January 5, 2015 at 9:56 am

    I have 4 horses and yes one is definitely Alpha. I stopped putting them in their stalls 3 years ago. I moved the feed into the garage, bought feed bags ( each has their own so if ration or feed is different…. no problem) and used a lounge whip a couple of times before everyone had the routine down. Time and effort has been reduced, and when one is finished… they can keep the bag on until they go back in the pasture. the barn is now their hangout.

  8. Liseanne Roy on January 5, 2015 at 6:35 am

    I have done a similar thing as well, keeping the easy and hard keepers separate, but it also happens the my easy keepers are a little pushy as well, my gelding will be quite possessive of hay and grain and keep my young mare far away. I feed free choice hay in slow feeders, along with extra ‘loose’ hay when needed. When it comes to grain time I take it as a training opportunity. Mac (the gelding) has always been this way, and when he was young could become quite possessive even towards me, so I would at the time ‘claim’ the grain bowl as my own, and would wait for him to ‘lick and chew’ (he was a baby at the time) before he could get more. So he understands the concept of ‘claiming’ something. I apply the same idea to my young mare Maggie. If he get too pushy towards her, I ‘claim’ the right to control the situation and basically tell him off for trying to ‘run’ MY herd. This concept seems to work very well with him, whether it’s meal time or if I want to use him to held trying Maggie (ponying etc.).

  9. Debbie B. on January 5, 2015 at 5:35 am

    I have a very alpha Tenessee walker, he will make the other 3 horses move to different piles. The pecking order will allways be there but we wait until they settle into their own before leaving the pasture.

  10. firnhyde on January 5, 2015 at 4:23 am

    My horses all live out in a herd with a run-in shelter but no stalls. I’ve used electric wire to make a set of little square paddocks for them outside of their own paddock. Each horse goes out and eats securely locked up in its own paddock. This completely eliminates competition during feeding time and is also much safer – neither I nor the horses get kicked anywhere near as much as when I tried to keep them apart manually. Hay/grass isn’t a problem as the horses have 24/7 access to ample amounts of roughage, so fighting doesn’t happen.

    • Debbie B. on January 5, 2015 at 5:37 am

      Thats what we’ll be doing once we get our own place. My husband is getting it slowly now on what I want to acheve.

  11. Jenna on January 4, 2015 at 9:53 pm

    I have 3 horses now. The low man in my herd is also my horse of most need in the fat department. We just got her a few weeks ago and we feed all three at the same time however my new gal would get pushed by my other mares if we did not stand guard. Because it’s MI and cold I got sick of waiting so I trained my Austrailuan Shepard to stand guard for her while I do my chores. If one of the other horses tries to get to close to where I have placed her she warns them once then chases them clear across the pasture lol it works pretty well so far! Cheers to the Herding instinct!

  12. Helen Johnson on January 4, 2015 at 8:54 pm

    We spread our hay piles out, at least 8 piles for 6 horses. if they move each other on then they are getting much needed exercise in the pens. In really cold weather -20c, they get free feed on round bales. The easy keepers get a slow feed hay net and if that is not sufficient they get a private pen and hand feeding. If we are feeding grain or a supplement, they are fed well apart or if it is only 1 or 2 horses getting the extra then they are fed in the barn. If the 3 hard keepers are losing weight then we pen them with a free feed round bale and the piggies in the other pen get hand fed piles of hay.

  13. Angela Castleberg on January 4, 2015 at 8:33 pm

    We feed hay all the way around a track. This way it keeps the horses constantly moving and eliminates “guarding” of hay piles. Each pile consists of only a flake. If we have a horse that needs grain, we bring them into the barn or hand feed depending on how much they need.

  14. Cindy on January 4, 2015 at 8:08 pm

    Wow – thanks Stacy!! There are some great ideas here!! I have no issues with hay – around bales or many piles of flakes and constant free choice hay and they all get along great. It’s the grain that is the kicker. I have a beastly TB and no matter what he acts like he’s never eaten before, wolfs down his food and goes to “visit” (pushed out) everyone else. I’m definitely going to try some of the ideas shared!!

    But I’m really curious about the ration balancer and the hay stretcher that makes them slow down.

    • Sonja on January 5, 2015 at 9:59 am

      Feed bags may help

  15. Laurie Spry on January 4, 2015 at 8:06 pm

    I do what Stacy does, including ‘guarding’ one older mare til she finishes the ration balancer. Another technique is to save a handful or two of the ‘grain’ (MVP) and go around sprinkling a little more in the fast eaters’ bowls to stall them for a few minutes. I also use bigger feeders (the black plastic tubs) for the fast eaters – spread the grain out thinly – and the smaller bowls for the slowpokes!

    • daleenc on January 5, 2015 at 8:04 am

      Wow, the big tub, little tub is such a good idea!! I never thought about that before!!

  16. Beth on January 4, 2015 at 7:59 pm

    I have 4, 1 being a small mini gelding that will chase the 3 big mares away, with 1 big pasture that I can close 1 gate to separate. I ground feed, so mini is put with the goats during feeding time & give a few scoops of hay pellets to occupy them (he is a VERY easy keeper!), the other 3 each have rubber bowl at the base of a fence post ( I skip every other post) it took about a week of me jostling them around until they figured out their own spot, but now when I call them they go right their own post & wait. Luckily they all eat at about the same rate so by the time the first is done there is not much if any left in the last ones bucket, although they will usually just go stand by them & not try to get the food, as they are already full.

  17. Fiona Anderson on January 4, 2015 at 7:50 pm

    We put gates across the shelter stalls so that if there is a problem we can lock one or more in. The shelter is divided by 12 ft. increments so each horse has its own feed area. I could post a picture if I knew how lol!

  18. Lauren on January 4, 2015 at 7:23 pm

    I’ve had hard keepers and easy keepers over the years. I’ve used all the techniques mentioned here. Senior hard keepers were pastured and fed separately as they couldn’t defend themselves. Currently all the easy keepers are fed together and buckets are far enough apart, it’s not an issue. One horse, who runs around like crazy, is put in a pen in pasture so he can eat calmly. The lowest horse in the herd, my riding horse, is pulled out and fed separate so he doesn’t bolt his feed but also so I can interact with him.

    As Stacy mentions, group feeding can result in the lowest horses in the herd not getting enough food. I’ve seen this a lot in rescue cases.

  19. Becky Clifton on January 4, 2015 at 7:20 pm

    I have 5, 3 mares and 2 geldings, I have one mare who is at the top of the pecking order, I divide the hay into six piles 2 piles in one run in shed, 2 piles in the other run in shed, and then 1 pile in the smaller run in shed, I then put 2 piles out in the open at least 5-6 ft apart. The top mare will check out each pile but the only time she will run some one off is if I am late getting to the barn. She actually isn’t real pushy she just lays back her ears and the others will walk away. I have 2 half sisters and boss is one of them, but they usually eat together, while my 2 geldings eat together and then I have the one mare who usually ends up eating alone or she some times will eat with boss mare, go figure! But I have often noticed that they eat in the same fashion out on the pasture, the only time my geldings will get pushy to the one mare is if boss mare tries to chase away one gelding, then my bigger TW will challenge her a little until she allows the other gelding back to eat with him. We hve a pretty large turn out area for them so I try to make it difficult for them to get to the other piles easily. This is what works for my 5 but it just depends on the day sometimes no pushing other days there is more. I watch them a lot and enjoy the interaction between them it is very interesting and tells you a lot about their personalities. I love just watching them it calms my soul and makes me happy.

  20. Andi Schreibman on January 4, 2015 at 7:19 pm

    I only have 2 horses, but one is certainly dominant. I live in northern CA and have a 12 x 24 foot 3 sided-shelter in the pasture. I have pea gravel surrounding the shelter for about 20 feet THis makes it easy to scoop poop, the pea gravel runs through the apple picker.

    The dominant horse used to chase off the other horse and hog the whole shelter, so I put a 12 foot rail down the middle of the shelter to separate it, and that did the trick! I feed with slow feeder webbed hay bags which are hung on the walls. Now if the one horse decides the other horse’s bag is more enticing, he takes over but the other horse simply trades places. Works great!

  21. Loree on January 4, 2015 at 6:50 pm

    For grain the two who “get pushed” stay in a stall to eat and then I let them out for hay. I either spread the hay in the pasture if the situation (weather, etc.) allows or if I have to feed in the barn I have several feeders. If the weather is really nasty I will leave those 2 in stalls and they don’t seem to mind. We are also working on hay feeders where they can’t get their heads in them to throw it all over 🙂 I have 5 horses right now…

  22. Ashley Bethea on January 4, 2015 at 6:11 pm

    I am in a situation where I am not able to stall my horses so I must feed them together. I have a piglet that is very aggressive to the other horses at feeding time. She was causing dangerous situations and my personal mare was dropping weight because she wasn’t able to eat. Our solution, since separating her wasn’t possible, was to place their buckets far apart and to stand guard. Our piglet has improved to finishing her meal and staying at her feed bucket and on good days she finishes and walks away to the hay. It took about 3-5 days of standing guard with a stick and now simply our presence is enough to deter her from “attacking” the others for their feed. Still occasionally, if she thinks we aren’t paying attention, she will mosey over and “share” feed but she no longer attacks the others.

  23. Robin Bright on January 4, 2015 at 6:07 pm

    Well I only have 2 horses and feed a round bale so free feed hay is easy, it is hard to keep chasing around the bale.

    For grain I have a hard keeper and an easy keeper that get drastically different amounts of grain. So I pull the hard keeper out and feed him his grain. I used to be able to just let him be while I was outside until he decided to start visiting the neighbors once he finished so he now gets tied if I can’t be right there.

  24. PL Packer on January 4, 2015 at 6:06 pm

    I feed 5 mares (2 of whom think they are the boss) in an open feeding situation. I start at one end of the area and toss flakes every five ft. or so. I usually make a “V” formation and make sure the ends are some distance apart. I have never had issues with kicking or biting since I started doing this. If the bully decides she wants someone else’s hay, there is always a free spot to move to. With 5 horses I always make sure there is at least 8 piles, 10 is better, I spread it from the Gator or from a wheelbarrow. Everyone (including me) is a lot happier since I started doing this a couple of years ago.

  25. daleenc on January 4, 2015 at 5:54 pm

    We put the bully in our small round pen to eat and then when everyone is done eating, we turn them all out together again.

  26. susan on January 4, 2015 at 5:43 pm

    I have a friend who has a big open run in. And she has slot spots all in which have hey. They are divided by a partition, therefore each horse gets a spot and it eliminates one not getting to eat or chased. It works great for her!

  27. Jen on January 4, 2015 at 5:28 pm

    I used to separate piles, but the bully mare would chase the other mare off EVERY pile. So I also started to stand guard and actually broke the habit of one mare chasing the other by chasing off the bully mare. Now bully mare waits until I say she can eat.

  28. Janette on January 4, 2015 at 5:26 pm

    I do exactly as above. I also find nosebags very good. Nosebags are a great introduction for the horses to having something put over their ears. They willingly learn to put their head down as I put the strap over their ears. I make my own nosebags from a rolled feed bag and a piece of rope. I just make sure the horse doesn’t have access to water with nosebag on.

  29. katzarr on January 4, 2015 at 5:20 pm

    We never “group” feed. Each horse goes into their own room to eat. They have the covered arena during the day, and night after they eat. If you do not have enough stalls to feed individually, have them take turns by themselfs in the stalls you do have. Feed the more aggressive ones first, they usually eat faster than the rest. Then put the rest in the stalls, while the first group go to the arena for the evening, and more hay. We have 10 head we feed this way out of 15, some have their own paddock and stalls/cover. After a couple of days they get the idea, and don’t give too much trouble,; UNLESS we are late (5-15) minutes feeding. Then they get “mad” LOL <3 gota lov um. brats LOL

  30. stoneponyiowa on January 4, 2015 at 5:02 pm

    I live in Iowa and I pretty much do it like Stacy. I have carried a armload of hay and a bucket of grain clear around another shed to keep a timid horse from going without or lock up the bully or the timid one until they are done eating. I have guarded them with a whip in my hand. We had one horse that was kind of a bully and we had to run her off so often with a whip in our hand that she got so we could just point at her and wiggle our finger like we were shaking a whip and she would back away and go some where else. Mostly we have a shed situation where the horses can come and go as they please but our shed has 3′ tall dividers so each horse can have her own standing stall. It does not keep bullies from eating another horses food but it helps especially if there is one stall per horse. Then no matter where the bully goes there is a stall open. A lot of time a bully type horse will “claim” a certain stall and kind of stay there as long as there is enough food.

  31. Joy on January 4, 2015 at 5:01 pm

    I use feed bags and give everyone something. This lets me feed my senior more and the younger one gets her share. I have set up a feeding order so that all 4 know they will get theirs and wait.

  32. Liane on January 4, 2015 at 4:48 pm

    I have 4 horses and 3 barns open for them to come and go as they please.. I do have a new comer who gets chased away so I have divided the feeding into two of the barns and all get their food.

Leave a Comment




100% Private - 0% Spam

Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.

No one taught you the skills you need to work through these things.

Riders often encounter self-doubt, fear, anxiety, frustration, and other challenging emotions at the barn. The emotions coursing through your body can add clarity, or can make your cues indistinguishable for your horse.

Learning these skills and begin communicating clearly with your horse.

Click here to learn more.



Join the newsletter

Subscribe to get the latest content and updates by email.