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Sheryl Prentice / The Journal Gazette
Hazel, an 11-year-old Belgian mare in the foreground, knows how to open the gate herself to enjoy eating her grain in the yard, undisturbed by Lillie and Daisy.

Belgian dinner tricks

Feeding time for our six Belgian draft horses is a little like refereeing on a playground at recess – enforce fairness and don't take what doesn't belong to you.

The Belgians are all together in a large pasture field and don't need a clock to tell them when it is time to come for dinner. They just know. They gather at the fence near the water tank and wait patiently until someone shows up with the goods. The menu – today and every day – is a large scoop of grain, dropped into a feeding pan for each one.

The first order of business: Get all of the pans out of the pasture and line them up outside the fence, with plenty of space in between.

The Belgians' patience evaporates when the feed buckets appear. Competitiveness takes over and they get excited and greedy. They jostle each other and slip a nose into another's pan to steal a mouth-grab of grain – necessitating the space between the pans. It's not wise to get between two 2,000-pound horses with dinner-plate-sized hooves and their feed.

Daisy is The Boss – the 11-year-old mare is always first in line as the rest stake out a pan for themselves. Lillie, the baby at 4 years old, usually squeezes in next to Daisy, her mother. Seven-year-old Doc and 6-year-old Dan, the bigger geldings, pick the next pans and Maggie, a shy 7-year-old mare, goes to the last pan in line.

However, it's Daisy's half-sister, 11-year-old Hazel, who has the most creative solution. Hazel had a brief illness a couple of years ago and had to be fed separately because her feed contained medication. At first, we opened the gate and led her into the yard to eat undisturbed, but she quickly learned to flip the gate open with her nose and let herself out. Even though she's fully recovered, she still opens the gate herself and waits for dinner to be served.