The last thing any horse really wants to do is fidget. No, seriously, think about it. If you’ve watched them in the pasture, when they’re not eating, they’re lazing, and if they’re young and full of energy, they’ll play for a bit and go back to eating or lazing. They’d rather be at peace than bothered, and to me, a horse that paws is a horse that’s bothered.
What pawing really comes down to is this: The horse doesn’t know how to be still. And often, instead of allowing stillness to be the easiest thing for the horse, we force them to be still – we go right to tying them up or hobbling them because we are short on time and want to ride. We’ll stick them in cross-ties, snub them up to a post, or tie them to the trailer, instead of allowing them to move. I’m sure that it may sound counter-productive but to get a horse to be still he’s got to be allowed to move his feet, so he’ll learn that the easiest thing to do is be still. As a result of us going right to tying them up once they’re caught, a few things can happen:
The horse learns to be still while he’s tied up.
He’ll paw because he has to have his body be still yet mentally he’s not ready to be still.
When we get on, our ride goes to hell in a hand-basket, because he mentally isn’t with us, and isn’t ready to be still or focus on us. He just knows if he’s not still while tied and being saddled, he’s in trouble.
To help the horse learn to be still, instead of forcing the issue, there are a couple things you can do. Brush him, while you hold him. If you see/feel him start to get ready to move, beat him to the punch – and quietly ask him to disengage his hips or lead around you. That way he thinks that you knew what he was thinking. Offer him the chance to be still, and go back to brushing him. If he can’t be still, you might change directions while you lead him. If you don’t make a plan for your horse’s feet, he will. Repeat the above steps as needed. Eventually you’ll have a horse that will stand quietly for you to groom and tack — one that can even be tied up — but first you may need to go back to square one. And remember — never do this in a spiteful, angry way. Your horse will know you’re upset and you won’t be as effective. Leaders of the horse herd never do things in an emotional way like a human would — they’re concise and true in their actions.
Make the right thing easy, and the rest will fall into place.